I remember listening to the song Garota de Ipanema by Tom Jobin for the first time and thinking “this is the most beautiful language in the world!” I was fascinated by the exotic sounds, how every sentence sounded so effortlessly fluent, and how it was spoken so joyfully. As a Spanish-speaker I could understand some of the words, some were even pronounced and written the same way; but to me, they sounded much better in Portuguese.
I had always been interested in foreign languages and cultures, but this time I really wanted to actually learn the language fluently. Thankfully, I was able to get a full scholarship from Amazon to learn Brazilian Portuguese in Centro de Estudios Brasileños, CEB (Center for Brazilian Studies). This was back in Costa Rica during my senior year of high school. Amazon paid all the expenses for my 9-month intensive course, in exchange for doing a 2-month internship for Amazon Alexa. This was such a huge blessing! I was not only going to learn this beautiful language in 9 months, but I was also going to work speaking it in one of the world’s biggest companies.
During my first lesson, Professora Flávia played Garota de Ipanema and taught the class how to read and sing every word… I was beyond happy! From that day on, those 9 months went by so fast! I would go to class 6 hours a week, had a quiz and test every other week, and did oral presentations, performances and even a Brazilian cooking class. My experience at Centro de Estudios Brasileños was as if I had moved to Brazil for 9 months.
Professora Flávia and I
My Amazon co-workers :)
These are my top 5 favorite things about Portuguese and Brazilian culture:
They love to simplify words to make it sound more beautiful, almost like an endless song. They have many contractions to do so. For example, instead of saying ‘He lives in an apartment’, you would say ‘Ele mora num apartamento’. The contraction ‘num’ means ‘in an’. This helps the sentence sound more fluent.
Brazilian music: Samba, Bossa Nova, Funk, Tropicália, and Forró are some of the many rich and well-known Brazilian music genres. Every year millions attend the many carnivals and festivals, filled with colors, music and dance. If you grow up in Brazil you will most likely learn how to dance and sing from a very young age. It is a very special part of their culture and it brings so much joy and life to their identity as a nation.
My favorite word/phrase in Portuguese: Saudades! There is no literal translation for this word; in context, saudades is an emotional state of nostalgic and melancholic longing for an absence of someone or something that you deeply care for and love. It is not necessarily a sad expression, but more of an appreciation of how much you miss, care and love. For example, as an international student, you might say: Estou com saudade de casa, which, translated to English, just means ‘I miss home’. If you say it in Portuguese you are sharing how much you adore and appreciate your home country, besides just missing home.
‘O Jeitinho Brasileiro’, ‘the Brazilian Way’. Brazilians are known for their laid-back lifestyle. They like to look at problems and situations that arise creatively and kindly. This lifestyle has led to Brazilians being thought of as some of the happiest people, always carefree, welcoming, and having a good time. Brazilians have a deep care for family life, nature and enjoyment of life as it is.
Brazilian food: There are not enough words to describe how delicious food in Brazil is! Everything is so flavorful and exotic, just as the language. Top 3 things you must try: pão de queijo, a cheese bread that literally melts in your mouth; feijoada, a delicious mix of pork and beans; and brigadeiros; a sweet chocolaty and fudgy dessert.
Learning Portuguese gave me a new respect for a foreign culture and my own cultural identity. Being immersed in the Brazilian culture for almost a year was one of the best experiences of my life. I hope that with my experience of learning Portuguese I was able to inspire you to learn a new language as well. When you gain a new language, you are not only learning how to say words differently… you are embracing a whole new culture. Within that, you will discover a new phase of yourself you didn't know existed. So many doors will open for you: new friends, new jobs, traveling and much more! My Professor Flavia once told me: “When you learn a new language you are growing a new soul”, I am glad I now have a Brazilian soul inside of me… I hope you grow a new soul too!
Valeria Saborio is from Costa Rica and is pursuing her Industrial and Systems Engineering degree at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada.