I haven’t written a language-themed post for a while because… well…my butt’s slipped off the wobbly cart. Just a bit. It’s all those cakes, you see. What triggered this post was Friday’s encounter with a real live Brazilian guy, duly dispatched to me on a mercy mission by my old language school. He endured my staccato regurgitations and mutilated phrases like a real trooper. Oh my, they could hear me scraping that barrel all the way to São Paolo.
A few days ago, I subscribed to Duolingo (it’s free), after coming across another language blogger’s recommendation. It’s a learning programme in the style of a computer game, featuring the requisite you’ve-scored/you-totally-suck sound track. You level up by gaining points and conserving your ‘hearts’. It’s strangely addictive, although I find myself translating sentences of dubious utility like “I eat apple bread”. Or maybe this is some fabled Brazilian delicacy that I’ve not yet had the pleasure of sampling…?
What really drags Duolingo down, however, is a crappy computer generated voice that sounds like a castrated chipmunk suffering a terminal bout of the hiccups. Hitting the re-play button sixty times does NOT help. On the pronunciation front, Duolingo is about as instructive as consulting the back of cereal box on how to bake a four-tiered wedding cake. I’m still going to work my way through the programme, though, as it’s good for vocab building.
To acquire an intelligible accent, I’m employing bigger guns: I’ve downloaded a Pimsleur audio course from iTunes. As any seasoned language learner knows, opinions on Pimsleur are sharply divided. I’ve had some experience with this method in the past, and, despite its many limitations, I believe that it’s one of the best things out there for getting your tongue around difficult-to-pronounce languages. I count Portuguese among those. (Spanish, not so much.)
Before opting for Pimsleur, I tested out a chapter of Michel Thomas. And although I can see that it has its merits, I found the teacher’s voice unbelievably irritating. She’s got one of those prissy British librarian voices, and you’re only just waiting for her to tell you to sit up straight and keep your knees together.
Adding to this mammoth of a bee in my bonnet, the recording features two token students, one of whom keeps making the same mistakes over and over. About 15 minutes in, I just wanted to wring her neck, rather than concentrating on what was being taught. Not that I’d do any better in a classroom situation than this hapless student, mind, but I don’t find her repetitive mess-ups very helpful as a lesson component.
As far as I can gauge from my recent (but sporadic) interactions with my frightfully busy friend Sofia, our planned three-month jaunt to Salvador in Brazil in November is still on. She’s working all the hours God sends right now to save up enough money, which explains why I hardly ever see her! I can’t wait for us to go, but I don’t want to arrive there with my Portuguese in this pitiful state. Friday’s meeting with the aforementioned Brazilian was a bit of a wake-up call. I can’t even get the basics out, dammit! And time’s ticking…