Getting by with just English and without Portuguese

From BrazilSense
Revision as of 03:01, 21 April 2014 by Bz (Talk | contribs)

(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to: navigation, search

Brazilians don't know English

If you're used to traveling in Western Europe where quite a lot of know English, you'll be surprised to discover that in Brazil the average person does not know any English at all. You can still get by, but be prepared for with at least a few polite words, gestures, and a dictionary.

Of course there are pockets of English knowledge — guides at touristy locations, students at prestigious universities, conferences involving Brazilian scientists or programmers, and one or two staff at the reception desk of a first-class hotel — but shopkeepers, restaurant employees, and random people you meet will not speak anything other than Portuguese (and not Spanish either).

In schools, Brazilians do study several years of English as a second language. Private schools that teach English are everywhere in Brazil. And you'll see advertisements for English classes on TV and billboards. So why isn't English common? As far as the English in public schools, just think about why most Americans don't speak Spanish and most Canadians don't know French despite having studied Spanish and French in school. Three hours a week of a foreign language in high school is not enough; you don't need it; you don't practice; you're not motivated to learn it; you quickly forget it. The same thing in Brazil with English. And the private schools are for affluent kids, a small segment of society.

Cheat sheet and dictionary

If you don't know Portuguese, take these 3 things:

  1. My cheat sheet (PDF) for Brazilian Portuguese. It's the absolute minimum you need to know on a single sheet. This is how I got along before learning some Portuguese.
  2. A pocket English-Portuguese dictionary.
  3. A guide to Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation. Every book on learning Portuguese has a 2–3 page pronunciation guide somewhere in the book. Photocopy it.

I find that phrasebooks are useless — there's no time to look up anything and usually you won't find a phrase that's close to what you need, so you'll have to improvise anyway.

The two pocket-sized English-Portuguese dictionaries I recommend based on looking at least 30 different ones are these:

 Oxford Colour Portuguese Dictionary
 by John Whitlam
 458 pages, 2010, ISBN-10: 019860386X, ISBN-13: 978-0198603863
 Size: 1 x 4.2 x 6 inches

Although the title doesn't make it clear, this is a Portuguese-English and English-Portuuese dictionary. I've never found this particular dictionary at any bookstore in Brazil. Buy it in the US or Canada before you go.

 Langenscheidt Pocket Dictionary Portuguese: Portuguese-English / English-Portuuese
 by Langenscheidt
 720 pages, 2011, ISBN-10: 3468980744 ISBN-13: 978-3468980749
 Size: 6.1 x 3.9 x 1.2 inches

This dictionary you can find in large bookstores in Brazil.

Funnily enough, I don't hear visitors to Brazil speaking English, not even in hotels where you'd expect foreigners to be staying. Even at beaches and resorts, I found that it's still overwhelmingly Brazilian.

Google Translate for 2-way conversation

Google Translate is great for having a meaningful two-way conversation. If you have a very patient Brazilian to speak with, you can have an in-depth conversation by typing in your respective languages into Google Translate. Google Translate works extremely well with English/Portuguese in either direction. However, it does not differentiate between Brazilian Portuguese and Portuguese from Portugal, so once in a while it uses a European Portuguese word that a Brazilian wouldn't know.

For Google Translate you'll need an Internet connection of course. Getting a data plan for a cell phone is a hassle in Brazil, but recently the cell service provider Vivo has been permitting Internet connections on its prepaid voice plan. All hotels in major cities have wifi though it's slow by North American standards. You can occasionally find wifi in coffee shops and such, but much less often than in Canada and the USA.