Opinion, by Sam Flowers

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – I cannot imagine trying to do business in Brazil without speaking Portuguese and thankfully after some time living and working here, I feel confident that I communicate well in the language. There are many good options for learning Portuguese (classes, private tutors, audio CDs, etc.) but the biggest hurdle when learning is to get yourself to actually speak.

Sam Flowers, owner of the Gringo Café.

I discovered a little trick to overcome the challenge of speaking. When someone asks you a question in Portuguese, respond first by repeating their question. For example, if someone asks “How are you today?” start your response with “How am I today? I am great thanks!”

Responding this way helps you speak in three key ways. First, repeating the question leads you to start talking in Portuguese and all you need to do is mimic what was already said.

Second, while you are repeating the question, you have a little time to start thinking about your answer. Finally, the vocabulary you need to respond is often included in the question itself, so while you repeat you are reminded of the words to use in your response.

This method works well in any conversation. If someone makes a statement you can respond with a question, again just repeating what was said. If one of my clients says “Hi Sam, I really enjoyed breakfast today,” I might ask “Oh, you enjoyed breakfast today? That’s great, Thanks!”

While I am fluent in Portuguese, I still struggle sometimes on the telephone or when I speak with people that talk quickly or have strong accents. In these cases I use the mimicking method to be clear I understand the other person and to confirm they understand me.

This approach is truly just an example of active listening, a method of communication where the listener will feed back what they hear to the speaker. This feed back loop improves understanding in a conversation and makes the speaker feel they are truly heard. When you are learning to speak in another language it helps to get you started speaking and it confirms understanding as well.

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Sam Flowers is an American living in Rio de Janeiro who created and founded the Gringo Café in Ipanema in 2010. A former executive and consultant with twenty years experience in Corporate Strategy, Brand Marketing and Finance, Sam also offers consulting services to foreign businesses and people entering or adapting to Brazil. Contact Sam at sam@gringocafe.com.

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