Wednesday, February 01, 2006


I am getting really nervous about returning to speaking Spanish in a few months. Apparently my brain is not as large as I had previously thought, and can only comfortably hold 2, maybe 2.3 languages at once. Portuguese has brutally thrown Spanish off the territory it once proudly held in my cerebro, and I am rendered absolutely useless in my second language. Oh, Spanish, I miss you!

It's weird, sometimes I feel like Spanish and Portuguese are my two children, and I have to decide which one I love more -- obviously something every parent must decide -- and even though Portuguese is fun, quirky, and infinitely complex, something about Spanish pulls at my heartstrings. I love the rich rrrrrrs and the soft d's, and the fact that CAMERÓN is a swear word. Then again, Portugese has ões and ães and boa noite. I find the nasal intonations of Portugese both perplexing and wonderful -- for example, I love saying the words consolação (consolation) and mãe (mother) but hate the words pão (bread) and irmã (sister) because I think they sound grunty and un-lovely.

Clearly, both of these wonderful languages can not reside in my brain at the same time. I am not sure I will ever be able to switch effortlessly back and forth between them; I just get too tangled up. For example, when I met some Mexicans in a bar here in São Paulo, I ended up spouting the oddest mixture of Portuguese and Spanish I have ever heard, despite the fact that I was willing myself to speak Spanish, only Spanish. I said eu instead of yo and mas instead of pero. It just wouldn't come out right.

When I leave Brazil for Argentina and Chile in a few months, I will have been living here for 9.5 months in total -- that's a lot of Portuguese saturation. Right now I am excited and nervous about reclaiming Spanish as my own -- I know the words are in my brain somewhere, filed away alongside the 3 children's songs I can sing in Mandarin -- it's just a question of digging them out and separating them from my Portuguese lexicon. But I also suspect that once I leave this country, I'll immediately become nostalgic for Portuguese, for l's that sound like w's and the exclamation Nossa! Maybe I should just resign myself to speaking Portuñol -- combining the best of both worlds.

1 comment:

  1. I can see the problem--they are both so similar that one would seem to overpower the other.