By Dieter Winterle
Coluna Perfil e Opinião
I started to learn Portuguese in order to better understand my wife, Felicia. I had already been interested in the language from listening to Brazilian music. It had a beautiful, musical quality that instantly made me love to hear it. At first, I learned random words here and there as they came up in the usual conversations of young love. But the first “real” Portuguese I spoke was a rehearsed speech I used to ask her parents for her hand in marriage.
I told Felicia what I wanted to say and she helped me translate it and pronounce everything correctly. I wanted to impress upon her parents that I had the utmost respect for her roots, culture, values, and family members. Thankfully, they gave us their blessing, and I’d like to think my speaking Portuguese had something to do with that.
From that moment we began to speak Portuguese together more and more frequently in anticipation of our wedding and Felicia’s family coming to visit. I wanted to be able to communicate with her family, parents especially, with more than hand gestures. It was very important to me as well to demonstrate to my future wife that I wanted to be a part of her culture and have a better understanding of where she came from.
Obviously, Felicia was and is my biggest ally and partner in this ongoing learning process. However, as one of my fellow master’s students said to me, “Why bother learning Portuguese? It’s kind of a useless language…” I found that most of the people I knew felt this way to some degree, but once they met my fiancé, now wife, they understood better how important it is. They were also very impressed with how quickly I picked up the language and could hold full conversations with my wife, her family, and friends. Portuguese has now completely supplanted German as my second language. I now have much greater facility in Portuguese than I do in German, so much so that I dream about trying to speak German and am only able to speak Portuguese.
Another “side effect” of my learning Portuguese is that I can understand my wife better in general. Our communication as a married couple is better because we both speak each other’s native languages. We have fun on a daily basis trading interesting stories about language and how funny situations randomly arise due to learning another language. We both make idiomatic and grammatical mistakes, but these always turn into a teachable moment for both of us.
We try to speak Portuguese these days on a regular basis. It can be difficult at the end of a long day of work and NYC commuting to devote energy and attention to speaking another language. However we make a point to set aside specific times and situations in which we will speak only Portuguese. For instance, when riding the subway, it is Portuguese-only time. Cooking together is also a great daily opportunity because there are so many every-day activities involved in preparing food. I also relish the chances I have to speak to Felicia’s family via Skype in Brazil, and when I am involved in her school’s activities I can have great conversations with parents of her students.
She often says I am her best marketing tool.