Thursday, September 15, 2011

Speaking the language

Part of learning capoeira is learning Portuguese. One picks up some from classes, particularly the songs, but I've also had some quasi-formal instruction. That is, we had some lessons from a Spanish professor who is a friend of the Nashville group, and I've done some Pimsleur. The formal instruction is useful, of course. But it's hard for me to make myself study as consistently as a formal, graded course would. So most of what I know I've learned through informal interaction in the capoeira classroom and talking to other capoeristas.

Learning Portuguese through capoeira is not a bad way to do it; language immersion is an effective method, of course, and there are a lot of context clues. In that respect it's like learning Sanskrit from yoga (asana is "pose"; ardha is "half"), although instead of just getting nouns and adjectives you also get commands. And even when you're speaking with native speakers, they realize your command of the language is weak.

The songs are helpful because they give me a bigger vocabulary, and I can pick up new phrases. For example, I recently learned the words to "Marinheiro sou." (Marinheiro means "sailor," which I can remember thanks to the Spanish lyrics in "Louie Louie.") One line is "Quem te ensinou a nadar?" I'm not likely to need to ask anyone, "Who taught you how to swim?" specifically, but "Who taught you?" seems practical, and now I know the verb ensinar. After all, if I aprendo, someone must ensina me.

On the down side, a lot of the nouns you learn aren't particularly practical for modern life or tourism. I don't know how to ask where the train station is ("Onde fica … o choo-choo?") is or how to tell a waiter I'm a vegetarian. I can, however, point out the following to you at a zoo: Owls, ostriches, swallows, bulls, lizards, eagles, doves, shrimp, hawks, cheetahs, scorpions, and monkeys. Definitely words all native speakers would know, but it would be a lot more helpful if I could say "dog" or "cat."

I would like to make faster progress; I've thought about taking an extension class. One great thing about New York is, of course, that with so many universities you can find some place to study almost any language at an affordable price. Still, I don't have the time for it right now. So I just muddle along, picking up what I can.

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