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Posted on Nov 30, 2013 in Blog, Languages, Portugal, Writing

Wrapping Up My Portuguese Class

Wrapping Up My Portuguese Class

The final written exam in my Portuguese class took place last Monday, at the same time that I participated on a panel at the NCTE/ALAN (which stands for National Council of Teachers of English/Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE) conference. That means I have to take a makeup written exam on the same day as my oral presentation. It also begs the question: What am I doing blogging when I should be studying?

A shelf of Portuguese books in the World Languages collection of the New York Public Library.

A shelf of Portuguese books in the World Languages collection of the New York Public Library.

In “Have I Met My Match?” I discussed my trepidation at taking this advanced class with students who had just spent the summer in Portuguese-speaking countries. Fortunately, the University at Albany doesn’t have grading quotas (a certain percentage get A’s, B’s, C’s, and so on), and it turned out that everyone did quite well in the course. Yes, the other students spoke more fluently and had better accents than I did, though our ability to comprehend others’ speaking was similar. I did much better on the written assignments and had less trouble with the assigned reading. In one case, the professor assigned a classic Brazilian play, “O Pagador de Promessas,” and two of the students, working together, spent three hours puzzling over the stage directions on the first page before they finally gave up reading the assignment altogether. I whipped through it pretty quickly, with only a couple of visits to my pocket dictionary.

Professor Danielle made the same comment I’ve heard numerous times in different contexts: the more you read, reading, writing, and learning in general come more easily. Language, style, vocabulary, and structure seem to come by osmosis. From reading, I was familiar with the future subjunctive and personal infinitive tenses — both of them unique to Portuguese and a few other languages (and heavily used in Portuguese) — long before I learned their specific conjugations. Her words reminded me of a comment the wise and talented Julie Larios made in one of my VCFA workshops, that smooth and elegant writing comes from a lifetime of reading.

Knowing this, I decided to study for my final exam this weekend not by going through the textbook but by finishing Mentiras e Condomínios, a novel I found in the World Languages collection located on the fifth floor of the Mid-Manhattan branch of the New York Public Library. For those of you in or going to New York City and seeking books in your native language or one you’re in the process of learning, the World Languages collection has books in dozens of languages. These include fiction, poetry, memoirs, essays, hot-to books, and translations of popular titles first published in English. Mentiras e Condomínios would fit into the genre of “chick lit.” It’s about a Portuguese woman recently returned to Lisbon after her marriage and career crashed in the United States. Once home, she finds herself in the middle of drama with her two best friends (one of whom only goes out with married men, and the other a proud stay-at-home mom whose kids constantly get into mishaps), conflicts with her old-fashioned parents, a sticky work situation, and a boyfriend who doesn’t treat her right. There’s a lot of humor and not a whole lot of depth or literary language, making this an excellent choice for a language learner (assuming chick lit is a genre s/he enjoys). And unlike “O Pagador de Promessas,” which I also finished, the novel did not require a box of Kleenex.

Adeus, livro!

Adeus, livro!

Finishing this course brings me to the end of what the University at Albany has to offer for Portuguese classes. However, I will be spending April in Lisbon, and soon I will contact my former professor from my first semester class last year to arrange additional classes at whatever level I test at. When my husband and I left last year, she said, “Is this good-bye…forever?” I’m excited to let her know that it is not.


    • It’s not over yet, Sandra! But I’ll let you know how it turns out.

  1. Woo hoo!!! Glad you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, Lyn. Mentiras e Condomínios sounds like a fun read.

  2. Thank you Linda and Sandra! I took both exams yesterday and was especially pleased with the way my oral exam turned out. I had to give a report on a Brazilian student who overcame odds to graduate from university, and I chose a young woman with Down Syndrome who received a degree in biology. I also talked about the role journalists can play in highlighting stories like this and dispelling stereotypes and preconceptions about persons with disabilities and differences.

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