Staying in Touch with One’s Native Language


Published originally by The NAJIT Observer, June, 2016


ABRATES-2016Week before last, I had the pleasure of going back to my country to attend and present at the seventh international conference of our national professional organization for translators and interpreters, ABRATES. The pleasure of being back home was underscored by the honor (and fear) of presenting in Brazil, in Portuguese, to native speakers after a long absence.

Being a language teacher, I am very sensitive to the musicality of different languages, so my main concern was vocabulary. I am one of those travelers who take a little notepad with them wherever they go. Old friends change meaning, some are retired, others are born. Technology makes it easier for us to keep up with those changes more readily. Yet, the fear was palpable for me: my world’s soundtrack is heavily English.

My strategy for staying abreast with language developments in my country is to listen to Brazilian television, radio (internet radio is great!), participate actively in language groups, read at least one novel in Portuguese a year, and speak it every opportunity I get, which isn’t often. I haven’t succumbed to the novelas yet. Soap operas are a staple of Brazilian evenings. Dinner is served before or after their novelas. Conversations, dates, life are scheduled that way too. Or so it feels when I talk to my family down there: Fale logo que a novela já vai começar! (Be quick, the soap opera is about to start). But I digress.

Turkey hen

Courtesy of Rue Wild Life Photos

An example I like to use regarding the evolution of words in these 31 years I have lived in the US is the word perua (//peh-ROO-uh//). When I lived in Brazil it meant a turkey hen and also a station wagon. Forward a few years, I go back to Brazil and the station wagon is off the market, the bird is still there, and now a nosy woman is also a perua. A few years after that, the nosy woman has lost her place to an excessively adorned person who now shares the word with the bird.

A single word to designate an animal, a style of automobile, and two types of human beings across time. Language. What a puzzle!

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