Elon International Studies: Brazil



Meet the Crew

Life in a Favela

Adventures in the

Black, White, and in
Between: Diversity
in Brazil


Biodiversity in the Amazon

Samba School

Favela Tour Opens Students' Eyes

Quality of Life
in Brazil

A Country that Runs
on Alcohol

Racial Inequality in

Ancient Indian
Remedy, New
Western Craze

Maracana Stadium

The Amazon


A Dish With Many Tastes

The Music and Dance
of Brazil as seen in
the Samba Schools

without Language

Fixing the
Race Problem

If an Entire Species is
Destroyed Before its
Discovered, Did it
Ever Exist?

The Beauty of Buzios

Salvador's Afro-
Brazilian Culture

Health Care and
Concerns in Brazil


Cristo Redentor

GST 243 Homepage

2004 Archives

Communication without Language

Nathan Rode

        If you have ever tried to learn another language then you obviously know the challenge of picking up dialects, grammar and many other aspects of language itself. Sometimes having previous knowledge of certain languages will help in the learning process of others. Before traveling to Brazil we were told that having experience in Spanish would be helpful to speaking Portuguese. Being overconfident with five years of high school Spanish under my belt I managed to put myself in the dark. I was not prepared for such a language barrier.

        Portuguese is the official language of four countries including Portugal , Brazil , Mozambique and Angola . Until 1143 A.D. Spanish and Portuguese were considered to be the same language but Portugal broke away from Spanish rule. As it evolved the language developed grammatical and phonetic characteristics that were very distinct. Brazilians used the language of the Tupi Indians and African slaves to add words. Many make the analogy that Brazilian Portuguese is to the original as American English is to British English.

        Knowing Spanish helped me pick out words here and there when reading but when it came to pronunciation and actual conversation, I was a fish out of water. If you mix Italian, French and Spanish then you can get an idea of how Portuguese works. It is extremely complicated. We took four days of Portuguese lessons to learn basic phrases that would help us in communicating with the native people. Little did we know it would be near impossible. Between mixing up words and terrible pronunciation even the Brazilians did not understand the language we were speaking. Putting any American ignorance aside we were forced to find a way to communicate since we would be in the country for 22 days.

Limited to saying please, thank you, hello, goodbye and beer we started to get a knack for communicating without language. In come the hand signals and bodily expressions. On several occasions I noticed and participated in conversations that were completely based on expression. And it was working! Rather than looking at us like stupid tourists many of the Brazilians actually found it to be intriguing. Waiters knew what we wanted by us pointing to items and describing the size of the order. Villagers asked where we were from and we described flying on a plane from “Estados Unidos” by waving our arms. We even organized a soccer game against them by pointing to a ball, field and the separate teams. Before we knew it we were locked in a friendly battle that ended with simple a simple, “Obrigado” (Thank you) and a hand shake.

Of course, the language barrier made it extremely difficult to communicate. But by putting any ignorance aside and accepting this difference in culture we were able to be creative and develop a way of communicating. Just because you do not know a language fluently does not mean you cannot communicate. It is only as difficult as you make it.

Kinkade, R. P. (2002). Portuguese language. In World Book [CD-ROM]. : World Book, Inc..