In my high school language was not prioritized. People could take a simple three years of either Spanish or French and then they’d fulfill that requirement to graduate. I took four and a half years of French, but alas I came out with having no ability to converse with anyone in French. Part of that is on me and the lack of initiative, but part was the program at my school. We’d only have to speak in French once every ten weeks for a test and other than that we were not encouraged to do so. My teacher often just gave us packets full of verbs and how to conjugate them. We’d sit at our desks and do our packets and call it a day.
The atmosphere consisted of a teacher trying to maintain classroom averages and unmotivated students.
Fast forward and I was accepted to go to Brazil for the year. My circumstances were not quite what everyone else had. I found out I had to switch programs just two weeks before I was supposed to leave to go meet everyone in California. I had no time to prepare or really look into Brazil because I was too worried about getting my visa and vaccinations.
Once arriving I began to realize everyone in my program came here with a different proficiency in Portuguese. Some like me, had no Portuguese or Spanish. Some came with a fluency in Spanish or a good understanding of it. The reason I mention Spanish is because it is so closely related to Portuguese and anyone with a fluency in Spanish picks up Portuguese much easier than those with no Spanish background. Seeing so many people already ready to excel intimidated me. It made me nervous that I was behind, but I kept a positive mindset.
After beginning language class I suppose I started to realize how much I didn’t know. Every single person in my language class had some background in Spanish or had been studying Portuguese before coming here. My class is also the only one to be based solely on location rather than our level of understanding. As the class progressed I just didn’t understand a lot of the time.
Months went by and I was finally at a place where many of my classmates began the year. I felt as if all the work I was constantly putting in to understanding and speaking just wasn’t good enough. I would hear that I need to do more and that I could be better if I tried harder.
Then, the other day I had a realization. I was talking to some fellows that I don’t normally see and we began to discuss the fact that we all had either taken French in high school or just had no background in Portuguese or Spanish. We talked and I realized there are others. On a weekly basis I face those who are much further in their language skills and I never really get to see other people who struggle like I do. I met with people who had such similar experiences and it made me feel okay. It made me realize I am putting in the work each and every day whether others can see that or not. Talking to those fellows helped me and gave me the strength to just take a deep breathe because although I don’t see it, there are others who are feeling just like me.