English, Feeling, and Friendship in Brazil

Source: 読売新聞 (Yomiuri Shimbun): ブラジルで実感、英語との付き合い方

English, Feeling, and Friendship in Brazil

By Kotera Isaku, Former Rio de Janeiro Branch Member

When they first come to South America, the first thing out of surprised Japanese people’s mouths is often “Hontou ni, eigo ga tsuujinai desu, ne?

So it is. Since most of South America was ruled by Spain and Portugal, English isn’t even spoken much in the capital cities. Brazil, with a population of 190,000,000 and a booming economy, is no different.

In this country, however, even when it’s hard for foreigners and locals to communicate, they feel very little discomfort toward each other. Even though most Brazilians can’t speak English, they’ll kindly mix their Portuguese with body language and repeat themselves as many times as it takes to communicate with people.

European, Asian, and American people chatting in a Rio de Janeiro tapas bar
(European, Asian, and American people chatting in a Rio de Janeiro tapas bar.)

They don’t feel inferiority about their lack of English, and they have the grace not to look down on or cut off conversation with people who don’t speak Portuguese. Brazilians are proud to share their country with immigrants from Italy, Germany, Syria, Africa, and countless other places.

On the one hand, in South American airports, you’ll often see people from the U.S. become agitated because that the staff can’t speak English and then excitedly speak English faster and faster. On the other hand, in the famous tourist spots like Havana, Cuba, even when you talk to the staff in Spanish, they’ll persist in speaking English with you. Neither case leaves you with a good feeling. I don’t agree with Hugo Chavez’s proclamations that the U.S. foreign policy is imperialist, but these two cases make me think the prevailing notion that English is the world’s language is a kind of imperialism itself.

But I’m in no position to judge. When I was a student, I was in the thrall of English Language Imperialism. After I studied abroad in Australia, I took a trip to Korea and got upset when the people there couldn’t speak English; after returning to Japan, whenever I saw a foreigner I’d talk to him in English right off the bat. I’ve since realized how gravely impolite I was.

Even now, the Japanese believe that English is spoken in every country in the world, and many of us who can’t speak the language have an inferiority complex about it. Some students of the language benefit from this pressure, but there’s an attendant danger of making other students hate English. If they do, that’s a shame.

What if, like the Brazilians, we generously opened up to foreigners even if we couldn’t speak their language? “This is Japan, and I’m Japanese, so I can explain myself in Japanese”: what if we left the language question at that, and instead focused on enjoying their company? Then we could learn about them and also have a lot more fun.

In Brazil, where you mix with so many people and so many languages day after day, there’s no other way to be.

前リオデジャネイロ支局員 小寺以作











(2009年12月14日 読売新聞)

Explore posts in the same categories: Education, Interesting Places, Japan, Latinoamérica, Translations

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: