The Bard is in the house!

This is the very first post in English here. Shakespeare’s language has always been my partner and I would not miss the chance to use it, obviously. It has been my bread and butter for over seventeen years and encompasses all aspects of my life, from my way of thinking to my social interactions, from professional issues to my leisure time. English language has saved me in many ways, shaped the kind of human being that I have become and taught me so much more than merely being able to communicate in a foreign language. I am not going to be able to express my love and gratitude for it, no matter how hard I try. The simple fact of using it here is bliss to me big time, I can tell you.

Big Willy
“To bitch or not to bitch, that’s the question”

I work as an instructor of English, interpreter and translator. When I first started (back in the year 2000) it used to be a lot easier to find work as interpreter, which tended to be fun, pleasant to carry out and the pay was right. I used to say that I got paid to hang out, eat decent food and meet interesting people. Have lost account of how many times I met foreigners who would come to Brazil on business for an entire week, work four weekdays and then take that so-called “day off” on Friday, when they would engage in “underground” activities, for the lack of a better word. Anyways, snitching on people ain’t my cup of tea and “a word to the wise is sufficient”, they say. All good things must come to an end, the Bard would go for that matter.

That type of interaction with foreign businesspeople has also taught me, paradoxically, a whole lot about my own country and its people. It is an indisputable fact that “the average Brazilian” (if there can be such character) looks up to the USA a great deal. Hollywood, massive propaganda and loads of “yank culture” have been bombarding the West since the end of WWII with their values and lifestyle. The land of consumerism and competition has imprinted its agenda on the minds and souls of people from many other countries (and particularly our own) in spite of supporting sanguinary dictators at its will, killing whoever gets on their way to accomplish their goals, having 5% of the world’s population and consuming 35% of its natural resources, contributing to uneasiness, conflicts and economic crisis worldwide and selling a culture of individualism, hedonism and violence that will ultimately cause the planet to collapse. Uncle Sam always manages to get away with its crimes, racks up the best share in any agreement that it gets involved in and trashes the planet without being molested. Moreover, it still gets international admiration and approval. Most middle-class Brazilian good citizens would rather be born in the US while trying to pass as “patriots” and parading wrapped in Brazilian flags to fight “corruption” perpetrated by “communists” (which is just more American baloney intended to raise fear in people in order to manipulate them more easily). Ironically, corruption has now apparently reached an all-time high here, but you will not see anybody “protesting” it because those “crooked commies” are not involved. It is a lot more about the hype created by pressure groups and boosted by the right-wing biased media than about being outraged by whatever wrongdoings our politicians get involved in. Sheer manipulation combined with willful ignorance and fifty shades of bad-mindedness. Welcome to Brazil.

Anyways, my intention is not to write an anti-American text, but rather make it clear that, while I am fully aware (and thankful even) of the very many contributions that the US has given to the international community in the fields of science, technology, literature, medicine and various others, I think that those are many times offset (if not exceeded) by the price it makes other nations pay in the form of famine, war, ignorance, deprivation of basic human rights, poverty and disease. Just wanted to see some more fairness and equality, and I know darn well that these very lines are likely to be monitored and that my plea will eventually be seen as “communism”, “terrorism” or whatever “ism” that serves their purpose. It is written in English anyway, so if we look on the bright side, that represents some sort of shortcut. I am a peaceful person though, have nothing against US people whatsoever and still believe that things will be better someday, provided that people from all nations are treated as they are: human beings who do not choose where they are born and which circumstances they are born under. Please Uncle Sam, don’t “trump this bitch” here, okay?

Back to the language of the Angles: whatever subject one needs to study, they will find way more information about it in English than in any other language. If you think this is an overstatement, just pick any topic at random and google it. Then reach for the Wikipedia entry of it and swap language to English. Bingo! The topic is extended tenfold, in most of the cases. Just try and see for yourself. That basically means to say that it is an indispensable tool nowadays to anyone who knows that information is power and seeks some kind of competitive edge over others. It used to be very common to meet people who would say that they hated English (in fact I believe roughly 7 out of 10 people who need to study it for professional purposes do not like it at all). That too has changed. My generation (people born in the 70’s and early 80’s) was the last to be able to accomplish anything professionally (at least as far as the “big business” is concerned) without speaking it.

In most cases, people’s ill-will towards English is based on a misconception: they do not like to study grammar in Portuguese and think that it works the same way for foreign languages. I have had students from France, Argentina, Netherlands and other countries who do not see grammar as an impediment, but rather as a solution. I have given up teaching Portuguese to foreigners myself, it is the type of work that is exhausting and very little rewarding. Will do it if necessary, but would rather not. English is not quite like that though. It has a century-long oral tradition and is a lot more about speaking the way people do than trying to accumulate vocabulary just for the sake of knowing meanings. The way words are used in combination with others is way more important than knowing them individually. One cannot learn from dictionaries alone. They will teach you how to use words rather than help you build up on your vocabulary.

The thing about English is that, as mentioned before, it evolved as an oral language and was used as such for centuries before there was the need to develop a lexis to meet the needs of the new knowledge which started to be improved in England by prominent members of literature, physics and other areas (see embedded video below). When the printing press was invented, the need to spell words correctly and in a standardized way became imperative, then lexicographers started to investigate the origins of terms that had been used for centuries and had by then acquired different sounds and variations. In order to compile the various words that derived from them and establish some sort of logic, the spelling was many times preserved to the detriment of pronunciation. That explains the fact that the way words are spelt is many times very different from the way they are pronounced. It tends to be the most difficult aspect to get right for learners: spelling versus pronunciation.

For those out there willing to improve their skills at using English as a second language, here is a piece of (unsolicited) advice: your objective should never be to talk like a native or perfectly, but to make progress. If every day you get the feeling that you have learned something new, you will be in the right direction. Practice every way you can and do not be prejudiced against accents or spelling. There is an entire world of English language apart from that “made in USA” (which is also extremely important and rich), and it is there for the taking. Do not compare your English to that of others. Compare it to how your own ability of using it was the day before. There is a saying which goes like “everybody wants to go to heaven, nobody wants to die”. There is a lot of truth in it. Make your bit of effort, turn it into a routine. Next thing you know, it will come to fruition. It will be under your belt, for you to expand your possibilities. It is definitely worth it!

There will be texts in English regularly here for us to practice. Read me!