Thursday, October 9, 2014

Do You Speaka My Language?

Yesterday in response to an encounter with a customer in the store I posted this on Facebook:
I have lived in Brazil for over a dozen years and I am fluent in Portuguese. You have to be, you cannot survive here on English alone. Yet I still encounter fucking morons who think I don't understand what they are saying and start making hand gestures and coming up with twisted words in English to "help" me. Fuck you. If you prefer we speak in English we can do that and then we'll see who's mastered their second language.
I received a number of likes and comments, some related stories, some nonsense... typical Facebook. And then someone I know from down here posted this:
Once after about the same amount of years in Brazil, a salesperson was amazed that I "ainda não fala normal."
Yeah, and there's that.  "Ainda não fala normal" means "You still don't speak right." This comment made me think about the flip side of my belligerent comment, something that most second-language-speakers can probably relate to:  I may be "fluent" but I was wrong to say I have "mastered" my second language.  I started learning Portuguese when I was 30 years old, and even with 15 years under my belt  I still don't "speak right".  And I won't even with another 15 years - I'll always have an accent, I'll always mix up genders for words,  I'll always (unless I become an avid reader of Portuguese literature, unfortunately not likely to happen) grope for words I don't know.  And certain people will always assume I am stupid as a result.

What makes this particularly annoying for me is that I consider myself to be pretty articulate in English, with a fairly decent vocabulary at my beck and call.  I doubt that most people would consider me to be so in my second language.  That's one of the big reasons I write this blog actually - it lets me break out of my dumb mode.

All that being said, it doesn't make it any less annoying when someone assumes I don't understand basic vocabulary and conversation.