Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ninguém merece estudar as conjugações!

It's been a while since I have updated this blog. Thankfully the culprit has been busyness and not my usual demon, laziness. I have been hitting the Portuguese books these days, striving in earnest to fill in the gaps in my knowledge of the language.

I'm breaking things down into easy-to-swallow portions, focusing on one element at a time. The first: verb conjugations. The most important part of any language. I spent a whole week only on an overview of verbs in the simple present and the many irregulars. Yesterday I did a blitz of all the other tenses, from preterite to conditional.

Until now I had never attempted a systematic study of verb tenses. The textbook I have been using since last year, Português básico para estrangeiros by Rejane de Oliveira Slade (given to me as a gift in 2007 by a good friend who knows me better than I know myself--at the time, I was dating the woman I would marry but had no idea I'd ever find myself in Brazil), anyway, this book is terrific in that it uses an immersion method--the entire book is written in Portuguese, and it introduces vocabulary and grammar as it goes along. But this is also its weakness--I have always benefited from a more analytical approach to learning foreign languages--I'm talking about old fashioned paradigms, laying it all out for memorization. This book features some charts, but they usually come after the usage is introduced integral to a text.

When we were last in the U.S., I picked up The Everything Learning Brazilian Portuguese Book. You've probably seen this "Everything" series...kind of like the Idiot's Guide or Dummies series. It presents the material in English, which is helpful because it helps me to stick my toe into the water before making a splash. I think I am benefiting from utilizing both approaches, though. I plan to return to the immersion book after finishing the Everything.

For the most part, I am learning English haphazardly and, until now, I haven't devoted very much time to my studies. Which makes it all the more surprising when I carry a conversation with someone, or when I understand the gist of an overheard conversation. My wife got a new cell phone, passing the old one down to me, so today I got a few of her calls, people who didn't have her updated information. And I was able to understand their requests and answer them fluently. Is there anything more encouraging than that? When I stop to think about it, though, I get a strange sensation--"How did I just do that?" As much as I hate The Matrix, I can't help but compare it to the famous scene when Keanu Reeves says "I know Kung Fu!" Sometimes it feels as if I am suddenly bilingual (well, suddenly almost bilingual).

My reading knowledge of French is as good as it ever was, which means that I struggle with it, and can read at a very basic level--and I earned that with three years of very hard work in French classes at the university level. So, immersion is the best way to learn a language, even when you spend most of your time in the house, speaking and reading your native tongue. But it's only taking me so far. Even though I haven't formally studied much over the past year, I don't think I would have gotten this far if I hadn't cracked a book. I think the exposure to native speakers has helped reinforce what I have studied, although I have learned quite a few constructions (like the past tense) from very patient friends correcting me over and over.

Well, I am happy to have taken the time to update this blog. I hope to write more, and soon.

The title of this post, by the way, means "No one deserves to study conjugations!" I am told it's a very common expression amongst native students of Portuguese. I developed quite a headache yesterday, keeping the future and conditional straight in my head. I'm still not sure I have it--so, I am off to crack the book yet again.