São João – the unknown Brazilian Festival

Brazil is well known in Canada (and North America generally) for Carnival, even to the point that some stereotypes of Brazil tend to focus on some traditional samba dance wear due to its association with some Carnival celebrations.

However, one of the other big Brazilian celebrations is nearly unknown outside of Brazil, that festival is called São João, also called Festas Juninas.

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Sao Joao is a festival mainly held in the North and Northeast, but can also be found in the interior of São Paulo and other large urban centers. It started as a tradition imported from Portugal associated with St. John the Baptist, whose has a Feast day in June, leading to celebrations throughout the month, and sometimes even into July.

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One major part of the tradition is the lighting of a fogueira (a bonfire) on Saint John’s Eve (June 23rd), which is symbolic of the fire lit to tell Mary of the birth of St. John.

This holiday has now become a celebration of the rural life of farmers  (called Caipira – this word has similar associations to the redneck or yokel though, so they can use it to refer to themselves, you cannot), with boys dressing up in straw hats and plaid shirts, while girls dress in country dresses and pigtails.

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They dance in “Quadrinhas” (think square dances – even the music is surprisingly similar), and the festival celebrates the fertility of the land by hosting a mock wedding as the centre of the Quadrinhas.

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A mock wedding from São João, called a casamento matuto

Common midway games from North America are also found at the festivals, including mock “fishing” for prizes, ring/dart toss, and three-legged races. One-legged races are also popular stemming from their association with the Brazilian folklore surrounding Saci – a Brazilian prankster genie, who grants wishes to those who trap him or manage to steal his cap.

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Saci by André Koehne [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D
Essentially, when trying to imagine Sao Joao, think of the Calgary Stampede, with a less rodeo, and a lot more emphasis on country dancing, and you’ll get the gist of it.

Learning Portuguese – Initial Observations

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve now been learning Portuguese for about two years. It is difficult learning a new language, although I still think my progress is going well. But, here are some of my initial observations from when I started learning.

The best way that I’ve found to learn Portuguese is on the Duolingo app for your phone. The lessons are short (15 questions), and there is significant gameification to make it enjoyable, and it slowly builds upon itself. Don’t bother with Duolingo Plus, it is a waste of money. The main benefit of it is the offline mode, but, honestly, how often don’t you have internet connection? Regular Duolingo just requires you to start the lesson when you have internet, you can go offline during the lesson without any issues, so, even an intermittent internet connection is good enough.

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From the start, it’s important to acknowledge that learning a language is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t expect to learn useful phrases right away, for those you should look for a tourism phrase book. Learning a language is a lengthy process which takes dedication and commitment. Duolingo will teach you unusual phrases, and these actually help you remember the words better, but gives you very little useful knowledge at the beginning. It takes time before it all starts to click together.

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You will learn a lot of pronouns, which are useful, but you will almost never hear them used by native Portuguese speakers. Portuguese tends to just use the conjugation of verbs in place of its pronouns. Learning the pronouns will help you to learn how to conjugate words, and will help when you are speaking. They will allow others to understand you even through the (doubtless) grammatical errors of a newbie to language.

Add don’t get upset if your initial progress slows down. Portuguese is very similar to Spanish and French, languages which many North Americans have a fair amount of exposure. This helps a lot in learning the language, as you’ll already have some basics, but you will quickly exhaust those stores of knowledge. You might think that you’ve plateaued, and that can be disheartening, but its actually that you are now at a normal learning pace. Keep going through it, and you’ll eventually hit other milestones as the rules and phrases start to click.

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Note: Duolingo doesn’t have a progress chart like this, but it should.

 

 

Learning Portuguese

 

element5-digital-352043-unsplash.jpgI was once asked what did I view as the biggest challenge in my relationship with Minha Namorada (My Girlfriend), and my answer was that I do not speak Portuguese. That is still my answer today. Luckily, Minha Namorada speaks English quite well, and that has allowed our relationship to flourish. However, it is still very important to me that I learn Portuguese. There are many reasons but one of the most important reasons is culture.

Culture helps define who we are, it tells us where we came from, where we are going, and it binds a community together. While Minha Namorada and myself are building a life together now, and while A Familia Dela (her family) always do so much to make me feel welcome, I still always feel a bit excluded from her Brazilian Culture, simply because I don’t speak enough Portuguese to participate fully. Unless there is an English translation out there, I can’t understand the shows Minha Namorada watches in Portuguese, I can’t read the books she’s read. But, even translations tend to lose much of the raw emotion and feel of the originals

As well, at the best times when families are just laughing and joking, and everyone forgets themselves, it becomes that much harder for me to follow the conversation – I am inadvertently excluded at the time when everyone is attempting to make me feel most welcome. I am never offended by this, and in fact am very touched that they are so welcoming towards me, but it does bother me that I can’t follow along with everyone.

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My favourite memories of family, mine or Minha Namorada’s, are when everyone lets loose,  laughing and enjoying each other’s company.   I just wish I could understand more when I’m with her family.

After two years, I can generally read news articles in Portuguese without too much difficulty, and I’ve learned enough Portuguese to be understood one on one. Minha Namorada’s friends and family are always impressed with how much Portuguese I’ve learned since we first met, but I still have much to go. It is a slow process, as I expected, but one which reaps many rewards. And not just in my relationship, but also in my ability to broaden my horizons. Being able to read non-english sourced newspapers gives me new perspectives on world events that I would not have known if not for those newspapers. Only about 1/7 of the population speak English, so learning languages helps me learn about the other 6/7ths of the world.

 

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So, let’s start a conversation about tips/tricks, and other observations about learning (and hopefully eventually mastering) Portuguese.