The Immediate Impact of Language

Alexandra Eakes
June 23, 2014

My first week in Rio has been very exciting. It has brought new people who are all incredibly unique. It has brought some of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. And it has brought a new way of daily life. All of these things I am sure I will learn more about as the weeks go by.

But the thing that has made the biggest impact on me thus far has been the language barrier. It started immediately. As soon as I stepped off the plane, I couldn’t read the majority of the signs. Leaving the airport, I could read even less. Everywhere I went I was unable to say anything to anyone not IES Abroad affiliated. It was a shock I don’t think I quite comprehended until it happened.

Before arriving, the only language (besides English) that I had ever studied was French. I learned quickly that Portuguese sounds nothing like French despite the fact that they have the same origin. I was hearing combinations of sounds that I had never heard before. I felt isolated in a way from everything happening around me. I found it difficult to communicate efficiently with my host mom. There were times when neither of us knew how to relate what we were trying to say. My greatest moment of frustration was when my roommate and I tried to buy a smoothie from a local shop. We were greeted, but we couldn’t respond. We were handed a menu, but we couldn’t read it. We exchanged gestures but to no avail. I was so frustrated. I really wanted that smoothie.

I realize now that I was too impatient. On Wednesday we began Portuguese classes, and communicating has been getting much better ever since. I learned that my French background is not as useless as I had thought. Many words look the same, and the structure is almost identical. I am building a very strong foundation in class.

Outside of class is even more helpful. I learned very quickly from a taxi driver how to say “left” and “right” in Portuguese and to properly pronounce my street name- that has proved to be some of my most useful vocabulary. I like to think that I have completely mastered the word “obrigada” which means “thank you”. Being forced to use the language outside of class has helped my acquisition of the language more than anything.

But what I find most fascinating about the impact of studying language through immersion is immersion’s ability to bring life to a word in a way the classroom cannot easily do. Previously when I have studied language, I have done a lot of memorizing. I’d say in my head “okay this means this, so this is what I should say to convey this English meaning.” But through immersion, I have attached essence to the words much more quickly. The words are not a code- they have their own meaning and emotion. They are full of life.

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Alexandra Eakes

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">I grew up in the small town of Tahlequah, Oklahoma where I lived with my parents and sister. I currently attend Princeton University, Class of &#39;17. I am a LEDA Scholar.</span></p>

2014 Summer 1, 2014 Summer 2
Home University:
Princeton University
Biological Chemistry
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