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We all know that English and Spanish combine to form Spanglish, while Portuguese and Spanish together are Portuñol.  During a recent conversation with my family, I struggled to name the mix of Portuguese and English that I speak with my coworkers at the university.  My mom took a stab at it.  “Pornglish?” she offered.

The transition to speaking Portuguese has been easier than I was expecting in part because the student teachers who I work with in English without Borders have fabulous English.  They’re starting to demand more Portuguese from me outside of the classroom, but they can always use English to translate the odd word or explain a grammar rule.

The second reason that this transition hasn’t been so hard is that I had time to prepare.  In the months before coming to Brazil, the two best tools I had were Duolingo and Ta Falado.  Duolingo is a site that has users transcribe audio or translate text in sequential units, but introduces an element of competition by having points and prizes.  Ta Falado, on the other hand, is a set of podcasts focused on teaching Portuguese pronunciation and grammar to speakers of Spanish.  I managed to listen to all forty lessons before leaving.

One small lesson that Ta Falado didn’t cover, though, is the informal use of “a gente.”  Brazilians use “a gente” all the time to mean “we” or “us,” but it literally means “the people.” If you take the literal meaning, it sounds a little bit like a political speech gone wrong:

“The people are going to the cafeteria.  Do you want to come with the people for lunch?”

The real meaning is just,

“We’re going to the cafeteria.  Do you want to come with us for lunch? ”

Though it takes some getting used to, “a gente” is great if you’re taking your first steps with Portuguese.  It takes the same conjugation of verbs used for second-person singular (you) and third-person singular (he or she), so you can delay having to learn the conjugations for the more formal “we,” which in Portuguese is “nós.”

So, over a month in, I’m able to understand and respond to most of what coworkers, or housemates, or cashiers say to me in Portuguese.  Even though I still have a long way to go in terms of grammar and vocab, it’s exciting when I can use structures like “a gente” to sound a bit more Brazilian.

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Whitman news since 1896
We the People