“When a person begins to think, God has the advantage.” Anon
Would you want to be a step ahead of the other travellers in making friends and learning about the culture in another land? Then learn some of that language. It can be scary to drop into another country but knowing a bit of the new language will make it easier for you. Even a few sentences break down barriers and make friends.
Would you understand the words, “a casa é sua” when a Brazilian welcomed you to their home? Translated it means, “The house is yours” but the host is saying that you are to be at home as if the house were yours. One problem—the word “sua” meaning “yours” can sound to the untrained ear just like “suja” which means dirty.
Not everyone had our opportunity to study a language. When Doris and I went as missionaries to Brazil, we had the advantage of being in a language school for a year. Added to that, every week we sat in classes that helped us to adapt to the Brazilian culture. We were thankful to have a Miss Cummings direct the school for she was an expert in phonetics.
Whether you are in a country for business, as a missionary, or a short-term visitor, know this: words of greetings and some basic conversational phrases will make friends. In Latin countries friendships are basic to getting anything done. Relationships in Brazil are vitally important in any endeavor; remember this–communication doesn’t stop at the end of a work day.
Speaking another language may be difficult even after months or years of study. When we speak English we have our share of misunderstandings and no matter how hard a person tries it happens in other idioms as well. An incident comes to mind. When I was in Haiti and still reviewing my French in classes, I missed some words as I chaired a meeting with pastors. They thought I was making fun of them and I did some quick explaining. Brazilians were quite forgiving of our mistakes though speaking a language well is a great step to avoiding conflict.
Since our children learned their first language in Brazil, it quite naturally was Portuguese. We did speak English in our home, but if we wanted either Monica or Vernon not to miss what we had to say, we used Portuguese.
Since Vernon was learning two languages at the same time he made a crucial mistake in a chorus. I recall he sang with all his heart the words from a chorus, “I’m going to heaven” but it came out “The flying truck.” Or if the inflection was a bit different it might have sounded like, “Granpa’s truck.”
Everything becomes easier when a person knows the language. Idiomatic expressions make sense; slang and swear words can be avoided. I recall using a dictionary when I was not yet fluent in Portuguese. Many times I picked the wrong word from among the choices so that a sentence made no sense. Language school only gave us the basics of the language so when we moved to the interior of São Paulo State and needed to prepare a sermon, this is how it went. With a dictionary and my rudimentary Portuguese I wrote it out every word—well it all seemed o.k. to me. Then a teacher read it, tore it apart and fixed it up. Later I read the sermon word for word but still stumbling over the pronunciation.The question is how much of another language do I need? If you are remaining in the country for years, then take classes and really learn the language. Are you going there for a couple of weeks? If so, then find the person that can help you get a few phrases and sentences down pat. It will be more than worth it in making friendships and earning respect. Your efforts will count.
We as a family with relatives and friends from Canada were visiting a church out in a country area a good distance from Port au Prince. There we learned to speak the Haitian Creole.
Wherever you are visiting for a few days, learn a bit of the language. You will find it will be more than worth the effort. Communication is an important skill and returns many dividends.
There is another language, one a person learns as he becomes part of the Christian faith. The language of the hymns I learned as a boy now move me deeply as I listen to them; one reason for that is those words express truths from the Scriptures that give me hope of Eternal Life.
May I encourage you as a reader to learn the language of the Christian faith. It brings peace in this life and it offers hope for all Eternity. Some day you will find the time and effort well spent.