Communicating Without Words

Ara Vickers - Brazil


September 12, 2018

To preface this, my current knowledge of Portuguese is at or a peg below a native toddlers (although I’ve met some 4 year olds with a significantly broader vocabulary). I can safely navigate conversations discussing food & how hot/cold it is, but any other topic pushes me into my stretch zone. In order to communicate with me, others must speak slowly, patiently, and in the present tense. To combat the language barrier, my host mom and I have utilized ten or so words, and a variety of charade-like gestures, for four days worth of conversations. Growing up in a culture that doesn’t use motion as a main source of communication, I never understood the level of artistry needed to skillfully portray thoughts, feelings, and intentions through motions. I get it now. While I’m on track to learn Portuguese, I’m learning the equally important skill of communicating without words. In this new form of communication, every piece of information is important, and most sentences are dependant upon a cross-cultural connection to motion (though please do check which motions are offensive before visiting a country. Example: The OK sign? NOT a gesture to use in Brasil! … Especially NOT in a crowded airport ahah…). I find this quite beautiful, because when learning words in a new language you generally need other words to relate them to, and then you’re tasked with remembering the words that describe the other word, but when using motion there is only the relation between the motion & the objective described. Utilizing this, my host mom & I have “talked” about everything from how the short Brazilian school days are a hindrance to parents, to how I have an app on my phone that calculates my steps (which I urge you to attempt using “celular”, “bom”, & hand motions to communicate to someone).

I am also discovering, as I spend more time submerged in the Brazilian culture, how feeling & expression in voice carry a conversation. “Tudo bom” has just around 999 different meanings, depending on how it is said & in what context. Tone & delivery holds power here. In the United States, I could get by with using a monotone tone with a descriptive sentence. But here, I am forced to be present and engaged in every conversation. I’m finding it’s making every interaction more meaningful.


Ara Vickers