What's that you say? "But Michael, I thought you went to down there to teach English, not to learn a language. And why would you learn Portuguese if they speak Spanish in South America?" Well, my linguistically less-than-savvy fellow Americans, to start out they actually speak Portuguese in the largest country in the Southern Hemisphere. Go figure! It's a good thing I did a little research before plunging into this program headfirst!
As many of you may already know, I was a Spanish major in college. As some of you may know, Spanish and Portuguese are arguably the two most similar and mutually intelligible of the Romance languages. But the differences are plenty, lemme tellya. I took a couple of classes last year in "Portuguese for Spanish Speakers" more or less for fun, just to give it a try. At the time it was a less-than-attractive tongue, at least to my ear (I see an opportunity for a joke here). However, with my good friend Juste's encouragement, I stuck with. Of course, we had one of the most interesting and witty professors at Gettysburg teaching us the ins and out of a new language, which made it fun. What followed, however, were nine months of waiting around, not using Portuguese at all, save for some lessons on Livemocha.com, before I was finally plopped down in Brazil. I was not prepared, to say the least.
For anyone who thinks just speaking Spanish in Brazil will get you by, it won't, especially not for any length of time in the north or northeast of the country. Portunhol (Portugués-Espanhol hybrid) will only get you so far. Very few people up here speak or have access to Spanish. You're more likely to find people studying German and French than Spanish, from my experience. That blew my mind.
The accent here is radically different from what I was exposed to. As a comparison, I'd say my situation is equivalent to someone learning Australian English and then studying abroad in the rural south of the United States. Apples and oranges. More than anything though, it's fun! Miscommunication is usually just frustrating or funny, and rarely life-threatening. So as with many cultural differences that one must deal with when going abroad, I just smile and endure the silly, awkward, hilarious, or strange language exchanges I experience. No matter what, I come out learning something each time. For the ability to speak a new language and have the potential to communicate with millions more people, all the troubles along the way aren't really troubles at all.