Reblogged: Portuguese for the Perplexed

One of the best language blogs out there is Johnson from economist.com: “Our correspondents consider the use and abuse of languages around the world, in a blog named after the dictionary-maker Samuel Johnson.”

While I’ve never been to Brazil, I’ve always loved Brazilian Portuguese. So melodic and expressive a language! My mom pretty much only listens to samba music she got into while living in Rio back in the 70s, and on the coldest of New York winter days that music can just transport you to to a faraway sunset soaked Copacabana beach…

Anyway, I thought I would post this for all my friends who have spent or who are spending time in this country and learning this exuberant language.

Portuguese for the perplexed

Inspired by a popular guide to Understanding the British, I’ve put together a few entries in a Foreigners’ Guide to Understanding Brazilians. Portuguese speakers and Brazilianists are invited to add more in the comments. Hat tip to Brazil-based journalists Andrew Downie andDom Phillips, who contributed items, and Olivier Teboul, a Frenchman living in Belo Horizonte whose list of “Brazilian curiosities” (in Portuguese) has generated a huge response from amused, and sometimes bemused, locals.

What Brazilians say: Yes (Sim)
What foreigners hear: Yes
What Brazilians mean: Anything from yes through perhaps to no

What Brazilians say: Perhaps (Talvez)
What foreigners hear: Perhaps
What Brazilians mean: No

What Brazilians say: No (Não)
What foreigners hear (on the very rare occasion a Brazilian says it): No
What Brazilians mean: Absolutely never, not in a million years, this is the craziest thing I’ve ever been asked

What Brazilians say: I’m nearly there (Tô chegando)
What foreigners hear: He’s nearly here
What Brazilians mean: I’ve set out

What Brazilians say: I’ll be there in ten minutes (Vou chegar em dez minutinhos)
What foreigners hear: He’ll be here soon
What Brazilians mean: Some time in the next half-hour I’ll get up off the sofa and start looking for my car keys

What Brazilians say: I’ll show up later (Vou aparecer mais tarde)
What foreigners hear: He’ll be here later
What Brazilians mean: I won’t be coming

What Brazilians say: Let’s stay in touch, ok? (A gente se vê, vamos combinar, ta?)
What foreigners hear: He’d like to stay in touch (though, puzzlingly, we don’t seem to have swapped contact details)
What Brazilians mean: No more than a Briton means by: “Nice weather, isn’t it?”

What Brazilians say: I’m going to tell you something/ Let me tell you something/ It’s the following/ Just look and you’ll see (Vou te falar uma coisa/ Deixa te falar uma coisa/ É o seguinte/ Olha só pra você ver)
What foreigners hear (especially after many repetitions): He thinks I’m totally inattentive or perhaps mentally deficient
What Brazilians mean: Ahem (it’s just a verbal throat-clear)

What Brazilians say:  A hug! A kiss!  (Um abraço! Um beijo!)
What foreigners hear: I’ve clearly made quite an impression—we’ve just met but he/she really likes me!
Waht Brazilians mean: Take care, cheers, bye

What Brazilians say: You speak Portuguese really, really well! (Você fala português super-bem!)
What foreigners hear: How great! My grammar and accent must be coming on a lot better than I thought
What Brazilians mean: How great! A foreigner is trying to learn Portuguese! Admittedly, the grammar and accent are so awful I can barely understand a word… but anyway! A foreigner is trying to learn Portuguese!

About alicestockwellegan

Language and culture enthusiast from New York living in San Francisco.
This entry was posted in Just for Fun, Musings and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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