So what is it about Brazilians that make them understand
Spanish without a hitch? In Rio,
they understood my
questions, but I never understood their
answers. Now how annoying is that?
Quick question: Spanish is the official language of Brazil, right? Well of course, it’s in Latin America! Having been to
Rio de Janeiro almost a year ago, I quickly realized that Spanish
was the official language of Brazil. Now Spanish speakers
have more reason to visit this beautiful land. Are you guys getting ready to go now?
OK, with all jokes aside, and to save the patience of those who already know, Spanish is not the official language of
Brazil. For those of us who know, the answer is Portuguese. Or better yet, Brazilian Portuguese. Just like there is a difference
between Spanish and Portuguese, it is worthy to mention that Brazil has its own version of Portuguese. Different vocabulary,
grammatics, and pronunciation (this is a big one!) separate it from its European sister.
Anyways, the reason why I joked about Spanish being the official tongue of Brazil is because of an interesting
phenomenon: that’s literally all I spoke while in Rio de Janeiro. Yes, Brazilians have a special ability to understandat full speed
and with complex words, slang, and profanity thrown inSpanish speakers. I was totally dazzled. "So both Spanish and
Portuguese must be similar enough for communication," you ask yourself. Well guess whatyou’re wrong.
Cariocasnatives of Rio de Janeirounderstood my Spanish but I was unable to understand most of what they
said to me. They understood my questions, but I never understood their answers. Now how annoying is that? At times I
pretended to know what they said, as a poor attempt to fit in with such cool people, only to leave more confused. Imagine how
one-sided my relationship with my Brazilian girlfriend was!
So what is it about Brazilians that make them understand Spanish without a hitch? Brazilians would answer that
question by saying, "Deus é
brasileiro! (God is Brazilian)" It almost seems that way to me, and I’ll buy that explanation for the
time being for I can’t just samba (with all the hip movement) my way into a scholarly and technical explanation.
After almost a year of studying Brazilian Portuguese, I came to realize that in fact it is very similar to Spanish. (No, it
didn’t take all this time for me to realize; I did so from day one). And if I had been somewhere else in the country such as São
Paulo, I would have had an easier time understanding Portuguese. Turns out that the
Carioca accent is to blame for my lack of understanding. That accent is so heavy that multi-syllabled cognates such as
`pensamento’ and `banheiro’ could be
easily misunderstood for some type of odd command by the second syllable. "How could regional accents be that much of a
difference?" you may ask. Well all I have to say is, "Have you ever been to Texas?"
Anyways, in no way shape or form am I making fun of Brazilians. As a matter of fact, I’m making fun of myself. I wish
I knew how to speak Portuguese, danced samba instead of techno (yes I received all types of reactions), and behave
"properly" when I was being robbed. Turns out you should not try to act like a tourist, because that’s the reason why you’re in
that predicament to begin with! Anyways, Brazilian Portuguese is an incredibly beautiful language. In my humble opinion, it
is a lot sexier than French. So for those Spanish speakers who want to make Brazil your next vacation destination, make
sure you prep yourselves.
George Lou, born in Panama, lives in New York City. He graduate from Pace University with a BBA in
International Management. Lou speaks Spanish, Portuguese, English, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Hakka, a Chinese dialect. He has a
Brazilian girlfriend, Sandra, and would love to live in Brazil. Want to contact him? Write to