Portuguese, Latin American, Caribbean, & Iberian Studies
I recently took a two-month trip to Europe where I visited some study abroad friends, as well as some family friends. Since returning, I am currently looking for a job, but I am hoping to move back to Brazil very soon to work either as a translator or an English teacher.
While I started at UW-Madison with intentions of studying Spanish, I ended up taking a Portuguese class a friend recommended to fill a gap in my schedule. I enjoyed the class so much that I became motivated to learn the language and learn more about Brazilian and Lusophone culture. I also studied abroad for a year in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, which has only made me more enthusiastic about the Portuguese language and that much more excited to go back to Brazil.
Learning an advanced level of Portuguese has allowed me to not only make new friends from a variety of countries, but to also learn about the cultures of Brazil, Portugal, and Lusophone, Africa. Learning Portuguese also opened up new job and travel opportunities for me around the world, which I plan to use to my advantage.
UW-Madison's Portuguese classes are very close-knit, with small class sizes and almost always the same professors and TAs. Having such a "small" department allowed me to make deeper connections with other students and professors, which helped me to not be afraid, to be myself, and to enjoy the challenges associated with learning a language.
Classroom Portuguese—regardless of the level—and Portuguese spoken by native speakers are completely different (if you studied abroad in Belo Horizonte and had to learn mineirês, you know what I mean). Nothing can replace actual practice with a native speaker, regardless of the amount of grammar or vocabulary you know. Studying abroad, therefore, was by far the most rewarding experience I had while at UW-Madison. I was able to solidify my Portuguese language skills while at the same time, acquiring more day-to-day and regional vocabulary, slang, and a better understanding of how complicated the Portuguese language actually is. While abroad, I was fortunate enough to live with a host family that spoke almost no English whatsoever. Being literally forced to communicate every single day in Portuguese was the highlight of my study abroad experience, as frustrating as it may have been for the first few months. With my host family, I was able to learn more about the subtleties of Brazilian culture and most importantly, improve my Portuguese to a level where I was confident in almost any situation—even when my vocabulary was somewhat lacking. When I returned from Brazil, I opted to live in A Nossa Casa, the Portuguese language house at UW-Madison, which only solidified my language skills. While A Nossa Casa was still in a somewhat experimental phase at the time, being able to meet new people and speak in Portuguese almost every day was extremely rewarding and a great way to maintain my language skills.
While I currently don't get much speaking practice beyond my weekly Skype calls to my Brazilian host family and friends, I am always watching Brazilian novelas, listening to music and reading as much literature as possible, which has done wonders for learning more regional slang and very specific vocabulary that you might not necessarily need to know on a day-to-day basis.
If you're studying Portuguese, go to Bate-Papo (the Portuguese conversation group) as much as possible. There are always speakers of all levels, from absolute beginners to native speakers, and it is always a great way to improve your Portuguese. In addition, you meet people from abroad and professors and TAs from the Portuguese Department. If you are serious about studying Portuguese, also look into Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships, because they can help you fund your study abroad experience(s)!