By Lauren Hogan, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Breaking through the language barrier while traveling in a foreign country can be one of the biggest challenges to overcome, even for the most accomplished road warrior. Yet for those staying a few weeks or months in Brazil, taking a language course can make the experience more enjoyable, leaving one with more than just sun-kissed skin and caipirinha-induced memories, but also with a feeling of accomplishment.
Working to accommodate visitors’ schedules as best as possible, language centers offer a variety of course options with different hours, times and class sizes all designed to help connect with locals. “If you want to know a country and its culture, communication is essential,” attests director at Casa do Caminho Jascha Lewkowitz.
Entering their fifth year, Casa do Caminho operates on a rotating schedule, adding in new group courses every two weeks for a minimum of eight each month. The benefits of keeping such a high rotation pay off when enormous amounts of travelers flood into Rio for special occasions.
“My goal was to get to the World Cup with decent Portuguese so I wouldn’t feel like a tourist,” says American Rob Brekelman’s who arrived to Rio in April. “Originally, I signed up for twenty hours of private lessons to begin with a good baseline and then went from there.”
Founded in 1991, Mais Brazil’s long-standing methods of small group sizes and intensive training are a testament that they’ve found a style of teaching that works. Programs range from classes of two to four students to as many as eight in a class working on 10-15 hours a week. But if that’s not enough, they also offer an intensive course which teaches a full eight hours a day.
One of the newest schools on the block Curso Mundo Brasil, which opened just last year, offers both basic and intermediate courses at the start of every month, plus an advanced course every other month. They restrict class sizes to a maximum of five.
Priscila Lima of Curso Mundo Brasil points out that unlike English, only recently has Portuguese become a language studied by foreigners and why instructors are still learning the best way to teach it. Hence, the school chooses to write their own material to use in class, taking out ‘pointless’ grammar rules and adding in others to help students understand structure in a young way of speaking, sometimes even with slang.
Along with teaching Portuguese, schools like these three also offer students opportunities to become more involved with the local lifestyle. Capoeira classes, tours through the city and beach football (soccer) and volleyball are just a few cultural activities tied in to the different centers.
Even after a few weeks travelers can put their new skills to the test. “It’s easy to pick up some Portuguese if the traveler is open to make Brazilian friends and to know the whole city, not just going out to places where they know someone will speak in English with them,” stresses Lima. “Cariocas and Brazilian people in general are eager to talk and be friends with foreigners, gringos, as we kindly call them.”