Back to the English language issue. I feel deep sorrow for the monoglot. When I say monoglot I’m not referring, of course, to the millions of people who never had access to an elementary education.
I am talking, yes, about those who had the chance of attending college but never showed a bit of curiosity to know at least one other language really well.
I feel privileged in this respect. I went to high school in Dom Pedrito, a small frontier town in the western part of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, with a population of probably 15 thousand at the time. In that high school, however, I learned Latin, English and French and by the time I left I was writing an impeccable Portuguese.
I even got Spanish as a bonus, given the fact that it was a border town. At age fifteen I spoke four live languages fluently and one dead language with relative ease.
The quality of teaching in Brazil has been slowly deteriorating since then. First, they removed Latin from all curricula. Next was French. English did remain, but very precariously.
Parents pay a lot of money to a school where their children are supposed to learn English but they still have to pay a private tutor if they want them to speak it fluently. The teaching of Portuguese lost all its strictness.
While fluency in the vernacular should be a sine qua non condition to enter any university, what we see today is Portuguese being taught in college courses. Even worse, these classes are not enough. Just like in the case of English, students still need to pay an outside teacher to be able to master the language into which they were born.
In other words, college today is unable to provide the basic skill expected from anyone with any hope of becoming an educated person, which is fluency in his or her own language.
Each language a person speaks besides her own is a new window open to the world. This is particularly important for Brazilians.
In a country dominated by Marxist thought for the whole past century, the ability to speak French, English or Spanish meant access to bibliographies, which were otherwise permanently unavailable due to censorship.
If I am able to understand Brazil today it is because I was able to read works which were never translated into Portuguese. The fact that the PT is in power today can only be explained by something amiss in our nation’s knowledge.
If Brazilians knew what the communist regimes really were like, its late heirs would have been thrown a long time ago into the famous dumpster of history, not in Brasília.
This is the question in the cover story of a recent Veja magazine: “Has the PT Been a Dumbing Agent for Brazil?
Pertinent question? Yes and no. No, because the dumbing of Brazil started way before the creation of the PT. It started when Latin was removed from the curricula and the teaching of Portuguese became a secondary subject in schools.
It started when universities, in order to build clientele, loosened the requirements for the vestibular to the point of allowing unlearned students to enroll in college and not only to attend class. but also to graduate and still remain unlearned.
When I was a college professor I had students in their last semester who didn’t even know if a word was spelled with an s or a ç. And I didn’t have the power to fail these students; they are now teaching and contributing to the unlearnedness of new generations.
The peak of this big march towards illiteracy occurred in 1998, in São Paulo, when the system of progressão continuada (continuing progression) was adopted in high schools.
What the system meant was that students should be automatically passed from one grade to the other and not flunk. The absurdity was so noticeable that some parents resolved to go to court so their child would fail a school year.
I doubt that such an attitude would ever be necessary in any other country in the world; only in Brazil.
The question, though, is also pertinent in the sense that the PT is itself accelerating this process towards barbarism. If the dumbing of the country started before the PT arrived in power, its climax occurs at the moment when the whole country chooses an unlearned citizen as its President.
Since the learned proved unable to set this country straight, let us try the unlearned, seems to be the thinking of most electors. An extremely cheap sophism, by the way.
It is like saying: if an honest man could not take us to prosperity, let’s elect a scoundrel. In a sense, however, I must say that the President was bright.
He had hardly taken the oath of office when he let go of all the crack-brained utopias of the PT and started to follow, to the letter, the policies of the learned man who preceded him.
If any merit exists in the Lula administration, it is the merit of having betrayed the party who created him.
Once the illiterate president is elected, a sickly feeling permeates the whole country. There is no place for education on the road to a successful life.
Fernando Henrique – regardless of the many different opinions about him – was at least an attractive calling card. A Citizen of the Third World, he spoke more languages than his European or American peers. And he speaks them not to feed his vanity, but to meet his own needs.
For Europeans or Americans, their own language is more than enough; not so for Brazilians, whose language does not enjoy free course outside of Brazil, Portugal and former African colonies.
Bush himself, who speaks the lingua franca of our days, at least cared enough to learn some Spanish.
Our Supreme Ignoramus can hardly stammer the dominant language of the continent where he lives. And I’m talking about Spanish, a sister language, one that every Brazilian willing to look two feet ahead of his own nose has the obligation to know.
From painfully impoverished Africa to prosperous Europe, including Arab or socialist nations, all countries in the world today resort to English to be able to understand each other.
It was not only diplomacy, but also commerce and tourism that had to surrender to the supremacy of the new esperanto. If you think that visiting Scandinavia is a complicated affair because they speak Swedish, Finnish, Danish or Norwegian over there, not to worry.
If you speak English, you will feel at home in any of these countries. Not only in Scandinavia, a bilingual part of the world, but also in the rest of Europe, the trend is to become bilingual. A German needs to talk to his French neighbor? His aid is the English language.
Here in Latin America, Chile has just committed to the intelligent goal of making its citizens bilingual in the next twenty years. It is not Portuguese that they intend to learn, mind you. They are preparing the new generations for the dominance of English.
In this globalized world, any prostitute knows that she won’t go very far without English. There is no street vendor in the Arab world, not even the illiterate, who does not speak a basic form of English.
In my travels I have met my share of illiterates. They may be illiterate, but they are polyglots. They can’t read even in their own language, but they are very aware that they can’t sell their wares without at least being verbally fluent in other languages.
But let’s not go that far. Let’s talk about São Paulo, for example. It’s not easy to climb up in any profession in this part of the world without fluency in English.
In a world where even whores feel the need for a lingua franca, the Brazilian minister of Foreign Relations, Celso Amorim – in consonance with the marxistoid dumbitsia in power today – hands down a directive stating that English will no longer be an eliminatory section of the examination to enter Instituto Rio Branco (Diplomats School).
The question asked by Veja, therefore, is merely a rethorical one. The interrogation point is a mere euphemism. It is clear that the PT, in its obtuse antiamericanism, is dumbing our country.
Janer Cristaldo – he holds a PhD from University of Paris, Sorbonne – is an author, translator, lawyer, philosopher and journalist and lives in São Paulo. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
Translated by Tereza Braga. Braga is a freelance Portuguese translator and interpreter based in Dallas. She is an accredited member of the American Translators Association. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.