By Jay Forte, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – While there are a handful of multi-national jobs that surround a foreign employee with English speakers, the vast majority of Brazilians naturally speak and work in Portuguese. In a challenging business environment, as the country has long had the reputation of a high “Brazil Cost” ailed by bureaucracy, learning the local language is the first step towards working successfully here.
Many international entrepreneurs looking to invest in Brazil, while their economy is in their deepest down cycle in modern history, need to decide when and where they will learn the language. Some opt for classes before even arriving, and then others look for intensive courses once they are here, to learn as fast as possible.
Professor Cecília Carvalho, coordinator of the extension program Portuguese for Foreigners at PUC-Rio, explains, “At PUC, we recommend courses of sixty hours. This is the minimum amount of time required for the student to really advance in Portuguese language proficiency. This is because the foreigner needs to learn not only grammar and vocabulary, but also interaction skills with Brazilian culture.”
For those foreign workers here for temporary work, like the Rio 2016 Olympics, Márcia Håberg, who owns Portugues Carioca, a smaller specialized language school in Leblon, has an alternative focus on immersion to the spoken language. This is especially helpful in Rio de Janeiro where a strong accent can add a “shh” to many words, exasperated when faced with rapid-fire conversations.
She explains the amount of time it takes to learn “all depends on the student’s goal: speaking or writing as well as the school methodology. If it is speaking, […] it takes not more than thirty hours for the student to get acquainted with the Carioca way of speaking. That is our course called “Survival”, which is primarily for travelers spending a short time in Brazil.”
Yet another approach is for those that are looking for full emersion in conversational Portuguese for daily life, and Jascha Lewkowitz of Caminhos Language Centre in Ipanema says “I would advise [students] plan at least two months for it, but more time will improve the result. For sure the best result to learn a new language is to live the language.”
Explaining, “The best way to do this is a combination of intensive language classes with living (homestay) and (volunteer) work in a setting where you only can [interact with] Brazilian Portuguese. So you will be stimulated to speak and listen 24-hours a day in Portuguese.”
The Portuguese language may seem exponentially more complex to native English speakers, and certainly those that speak another Latin-based language will find the learner curve less steep. Yet with all the nuances, even many Brazilians may not follow all the proper language rules, something that can confound the meticulous student.
Professor Carvalho at PUC-Rio says, “Portuguese is a language of high context, so there are many differences between the registry of the work environment and the environment of the streets. Teacher and student need to dedicate special attention to those differences resulting from the context of the language use.”
Adding “It is essential to try to interact everyday with native speakers and immerse yourself in Brazilian culture. Watching movies and reading magazines and newspapers in Portuguese greatly enhances learning the language.”
The type of Portuguese language course one chooses also will depend on location or proximity, cost and general chemistry with the teacher and other students, so taking a trial class is often recommended. Yet the other big factor in learning the language for a job, is what type of work environment you will be in.