It occurred to me the other day that being in the middle of learning a language is a pretty unique place to be. Everyone except those in the middle of doing so either already know a second language or not (or in some cases, not even one). It’s a very small minority who are in the middle of learning one. Accordingly, there are things students like us notice that everyone else doesn’t think much about.
It’s hard to think of the things we take for granted in English because, well, we take them for granted. But heck, let’s take the phrase, “Taking it for granted.” Try and teach that to someone who doesn’t speak English. “Where am I supposed to take it? Why is ‘granted’ suddenly a noun? And why is a past tense word still the same whether you are currently taking it for granted, already took it for granted, or are about to take it for granted? Shouldn’t it be ‘taking it for granting?'” Oy, I’m glad I’ve already learnded most of my English. I don’t want to be no moran.
So obviously Portuguese doesn’t have a monopoly on linguistic confusion. As a side note, I would like to compliment the inventors of Portuguese for setting up the spelling to be a lot more consistent than English. I have little trouble remembering how to spell a word. There don’t seem to be as many exceptions as in English, they’re pretty much spelled the way they sound. Now if I could only figure out what those sounds actually mean.
To help us learn Portuguese, along with our awesome tutor Natalia, we use an online program called Memrise. It’s very good. Without a live-in maid or Portuguese captive in the basement to encourage us to speak Portuguese consistently, it’s our best daily friend for reminding us how stupid our brains are.
One of the things they do is give you a Portuguese word or phrase, and then the English translation, and then below that the literal translation. Hilarity sometimes ensues.
Here’s an example as to why translations can be so challenging. They tell us “Dar uma volta.” means “to go for a walk.” Really? “To give one turn-around” is the literal translation? What if I just want to walk straight??
So if you want to take Spot out to do his doody on the neighbor’s lawn (the definition of a walk for many), you would say this. I guess it’s a good thing dogs don’t understand much of anything you say, because they’d think they were supposed to get ready for bed. (I will say it is interesting to hear them bark in Portuguese.)
The “o’s” and the “a’s” (“oh!” for male and “ah!” for female) are a constant source of annoyance for us. You really needed to add a “the” in front of “what do you want to do today?” And which word is the male noun the “o” is referring to? If it’s “hoje,” that’s way at the end of the sentence… I’ve forgotten what the “o” was even for by the time I get to the end of that. And why is it male? A day seems a lot more vaginal than penile to me.
The male or female for every noun is one of the other challenges I’ve griped about. I’d like to go back in time and find the inventor of this language, neuter him, and then ask him/her if he/she should now be referred to as a male or female, or perhaps he wants to rethink this whole gender thing? Hmm?
A friend we have in Portugal expressed the sentiment that it makes for a much richer language, indicating that English was a little more, well, dry (which may explain the English, after all). All I know is that it adds one more level of difficulty. For instance, we’ve learned that “novo” means “new.” Accordingly, “New York” is “Novo Iorque,” right? Oh no! You see, “Iorque” is a female word! I don’t even have any idea what a York or a Iorque is, but whatever it is, it means that the proper spelling of “New York” is “Nova Iorque.” That’s just not fair. And don’t even think about asking me what a Brunswick or a Hampshire is, much less expect me to know which one is supposed to have a penis or vagina.
Another idiosyncrasy (“idiossincrasia” – I do like that a lot of our words are similar, like “banana,” which is “banana” in Portuguese) involves the word “em,” which means “in.” So when you want to say, “I live in Sesimbra,” you say, “Vivo em Sesimbra.” Accordingly, if you live in Porto, you would say, “Vivo em Porto,” right? Oh no, you stupid grasshopper! You would say, “Vivo no Porto.”
“No” in Portuguese is one of the hardest words to learn, believe it or not. Part of that is because “no” is usually the second word babies learn, right after “idiosyncrasy.” Or maybe it’s “Mom,” depending on your upbringing. Anyway, it’s very difficult to see the word “no” and not automatically think of no-ness. The word “no” has saved our lives and butt-pain countless times over the years, so we react to it like most women react to spiders, or Harvey Weinstein.
In Portuguese, it means “at the.” So when you live in Porto, you live “at the Porto,” because Porto is a thing, not just a city. So do you “vivo no Nova Iorque?” Iorque is a female thing, after all. To be honest, I have no idea, yet (not that I’ll remember ten seconds after being told).
Anyway, after all this, even if I lived in New York, I’d still just say, “Sou Americano estupido.”