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MA student writes about his experience attending the Middlebury College’s Portuguese language school

By Austin Vander Wel

For seven weeks this summer I had the privilege of attending Middlebury College’s Portuguese language school as they celebrated their 15th anniversary. This rigorous program prides itself in assuring language acquisition through complete immersion and intense exposure to the target language.

Along with five hours daily of specialized classes on grammar, pronunciation, and Lusophone culture, Middlebury’s Portuguese language school offers numerous extra-curricular activities to teach language in a relaxed environment. I decided to take advantage of this informal setting to further develop my Portuguese skills and maximize my time in the language. I read poetry, played volleyball, watched movies, and presented on the school’s weekly radio show exclusively in Portuguese, which greatly boosted my confidence in oral and written communication while building a community with other students. In our culture modules, I dove into the economic and political issues most pertinent to Brazil today, researched the rich afro-brazilian culture that continues to shape all aspects of Brazil, and found out how the myth of Orpheus and other stories live on in the symbolism of today’s Carnival celebrations.

At Middlebury, I had the opportunity to write a poem with the Portuguese writer Rui Zink and learn about the indigenous heritage of Brazil from the author Daniel Munduruku. I found that the other instructors were also extremely capable and welcoming; accepting my linguistic blunders as a necessary part of the learning process. Before long, our group saw considerable advances in our language abilities as we carried out our daily lives entirely in Portuguese.

At the heart of Middlebury’s intensive summer programs is their secret ingredient: the language pledge. While this pledge may deter fair-weather language learners, it was exactly what convinced me to apply to the program. Yes, I signed away the right to communicate in any language besides Portuguese for seven weeks, but this discipline was necessary to overcome my excessive use of “Portuñol,” or Portuguese mixed with Spanish, which had become a habit before attending Middlebury. With time and practice, I found myself resisting and eventually erasing these false cognates from my mind when speaking Portuguese. Although I still have more to learn about the language, I experienced immense linguistic growth in only seven weeks. For those interested, I highly recommend investigating Middlebury College’s language schools to see if this complete linguistic immersion interests you. Muito obrigado e boa sorte!

Click here to learn more about the Portuguese program at the UO. For more information, contact Bene Santos, supervisor of the Portuguese program, at benballe@uoregon.edu, or call (541) 346-4046.  Visit the Portuguese Courses page to see what PORT classes are currently being offered.

 

 



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