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“How’s your Portuguese coming along?” Probably the only question our friends and family ask us as much as “how’s the weather?”
So, how is it coming along? Slowly is probably the most appropriate word. Having said that, it was pleasing last weekend when some guests who last visited us a couple of months ago commented that we seemed a lot more confident this time around.
On a basic level, we are doing alright. Things like going to restaurants, ordering train tickets and asking directions are second nature now and nowadays we are far less likely to need Google Translate when deciphering cooking instructions on packets of food. Even better, when it comes to using a cash machine, road signs etc. we generally know the words without translating in our heads any more.
It really helps that the vast majority of Portuguese people are so helpful and appreciative of our attempts to learn. Over the weekend at least three different people asked “Fala Portuges?” with a surprised smile when we spoke to them in the correct language. It’s a shame so few people who visit (or in some case live in) this country don’t make any attempt at all – and the hugely positive reaction we get reflects how used to this arrogance the locals have become. I can only begin to imagine the reaction someone would get in a London restaurant if they stubbornly refused even say thank you in English!
Other parts of the language learning are not proving nearly as easy. The Algarve does have a distinctive dialect, which, as far as we can tell, involves chopping both the beginning AND end off phrases. As an example, “Tudo Bem,” which is basically an informal “all good?” greeting is taught to you in language courses as a distinct three syllables. When you hear someone from the Algarve say it, it sounds more like “ooong-bay” with two syllables AT MOST! This leads on to the problem that as we pick up words and phrases by osmosis, we are learning Algarvian lingo and although we can be understood, we don’t necessarily know the actual words, let alone how to write or spell them!
The other problem is that the more convincingly we speak the words we do know, the more likely the person we are talking to is likely to fire something back at us that we don’t understand at all! Sometimes we are able to get round this by homing in on the one of two words we make out that we DO understand but this can be somewhat hit and miss.
All in all though, we are getting there slowly but surely, and we seem to have hit that critical mass of words now that we can make ourselves understood most of the time with the help of some arm waving. We do, however, have to get used to the fact that we are always going to look English, so even in several years when we are starting to approach some kind of fluency, the locals are still going to assume we don’t understand a word!