How, Why and Where to Study Portuguese in Brazil
More than Sun and Samba
By Volker Poelzl
|Salvador is a beautiful lesser-known but exotic town in Brazil to study Portuguese.
Portuguese is certainly not among the most popular foreign languages in Europe and North America, but there are many reasons why it might be a good idea to consider studying the language. Portuguese is only spoken in Portugal, Brazil, and several former Portuguese colonies in Africa and East Asia. For many language students Portuguese ranks behind Spanish, French, Mandarin or Japanese in importance. However, over the past decade Brazil has risen as a new economic powerhouse in the Western hemisphere and has grown in importance for North America, not only in terms of trade, natural resources, and bio fuels, but also in regard to cooperation on environmental issues such as the protection of the Amazon rain forest and partnerships between universities and research facilities. In addition to many multi-national corporations operating and investing in Brazil, there are a huge number of international NGOs working in Brazil, both in the environmental, social service, and health sectors. Due to these increased ties between Brazil and the U.S. on many levels, Portuguese has gained importance as a foreign language, and should no longer be considered an obscure tongue only spoken in a handful of developing countries.
For those who already speak Spanish it is relatively easy to learn Portuguese since the two languages have common roots. Although Spanish is similar to Portuguese, and many Brazilians take English lessons nowadays, there is no substitute for communicating with Brazilians in their native language. Being able to speak Portuguese in Brazil brings great professional advantages in business, academic, and non-profit environments. Foreigners who try to speak Portuguese reveal respect for the country and culture and are more easily accepted, especially in a country where informal conversation is such an integral and essential part of life and business. But Portuguese is not only an attractive language from a business and professional viewpoint. Being able to speak Portuguese will not only enable you to travel around Brazil more easily, but also to make friends with Brazilians, who are generally an extremely friendly and hospitable people. Brazilians will be impressed by your efforts to speak their language and will be interested in talking to you.
The Rise of the “Sleeping Giant”
Brazil is home to 186 million inhabitants living in a country just slightly smaller than the contiguous United States. Few people know that Brazil is among the world’s ten largest economies and that it is both Latin America’s largest and wealthiest country. The U.S. and Canada are important trade partners, and Brazil’s increased opening to the world economy during the 1990s has put Brazil firmly on the political and economic map of the Americas. Trade barriers were lifted and foreign companies began to invest heavily in Brazil. Brazil’s increasingly diversified economy makes the country a growing global player in the international market place. Brazil is not only a manufacturing giant with huge exports of products from heavy industry (steel, vehicles, airplanes), light industry (textiles, leather goods), and agriculture (soy beans, corn, ethanol, citrus fruit), but also an increasingly important destination for outsourcing of software development and call centers.
Brazil has been known among economists as the “sleeping giant,” a country with enormous resources and huge economic potential that has not yet assumed its appropriate role on the international stage. However, there is increasing recognition of Brazil’s importance to the global economy. In 2007 Brazil had a record US$34 billion in direct foreign investment—a clear sign that foreign companies have confidence in Brazil’s economic future and seek to expand their commercial relations. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) published a survey in which Brazil ranked fifth on a list of the most attractive countries for foreign direct investment, behind only China, India, the United States, and Russia.
The U.S.A. is Brazil’s largest trade partner, and in 2007 it was the largest single investor. As more American companies and organizations operate in Brazil or collaborate with Brazilian businesses and institutions, Portuguese is becoming an increasingly important language in inter-American relations. As mentioned above, the relations between the U.S. and Brazil are not limited to big business, multinational corporations, and direct foreign investment. There is active collaboration between U.S. and Brazilian universities on research projects, as well as between cultural, religious, and non-profit organizations. The U.S. and Brazil recently reaffirmed their commitment to the "Partnership for Education" agreement, a document signed in 1997, which facilitates cooperation and exchanges between U.S. and Brazilian universities and research institutions.
Where to Study Portuguese in Brazil
Portuguese courses for foreigners are offered in most major Brazilian cities. What makes one course location better than another depends on the student’s interests and needs. São Paulo is Brazil’s economic and cultural capital, featuring an incredible variety of cultural activities, but it is also a fast-paced mega-city with 17 million people living in the metropolitan area. Rio de Janeiro, on the other hand, offers a more relaxed pace and is nestled between beautiful mountains along the Atlantic coast and has some great beaches. Unfortunately Rio, just like São Paulo, has urban problems such as crime, pollution and traffic congestion which detract from the quality of life. Still, Rio de Janeiro maintains a charm unsurpassed by most other Brazilian cities and remains a popular destination for foreign students.
Several other Brazilian cities are attractive for foreign students. Florianópolis, a southern coastal city and among Brazil’s most livable state capitals, is a pleasant and interesting destination with a low crime rate. Curitiba and Porto Alegre, also in Southern Brazil, are equally safe and pleasant cities. Brazil’s Northeast is rich in cultural traditions of African origin, which makes studying in Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia, a very exotic and lively experience. Maceió, the capital of the state of Alagoas, located on the coast in Northeastern Brazil, is a bit quieter, but still offers magnificent beaches and coral reefs nearby.
Selecting a Language School
Before booking a language course read the fine print and find out what exactly is included. Contact several schools and compare their prices, services, and courses. How many hours of instruction are included? What are the class sizes and what learning materials are used? Also make sure to inquire about the cancellation and refund policies in case you are not satisfied with your course. Some schools offer college credit, while others simply teach language proficiency without awarding a certificate. Keep in mind your language learning needs. Are you interested in a course that emphasizes business, technical, or medical vocabulary, or are you content with improving your general language skills? Most schools both offer one-on-one instruction catering to student’s special needs, and group instruction for general language skills.
Inquire if your school can refer home stays, which allow you to live with a Brazilian family while you attend classes. Important considerations are recreational activities, since you may have a lot of spare time on your hands depending upon your class schedule. Many schools offer outings to show regional attractions to their students. Since it takes time to make local friends such excursions are a welcome diversion for newly arrived students. Several language schools also offer volunteer opportunities, giving students the opportunity to improve their Portuguese proficiency while helping local communities.
A Selection of Portuguese Language Schools in Brazil
CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange) offers Portuguese courses at university level as well as student exchanges at universities in Buenos Aires.
Rio de Janeiro
IBEU (Instituto Brasil-Estados Unidos) offers Portuguese instruction at several locations in Rio de Janeiro.
Check out our listing of Portuguese Language Schools in Brazil.
Volker Poelzl is a Living Abroad Contributing Editor for Transitions Abroad and the author of Culture Shock! Brazil. He studied Portuguese at a university in Rio de Janeiro.