I love this post (below) for a few reasons. First of all, el profesor Kelm is playing birimbau. As a former samba percussionist, my experience with playing birimbau is limited to a 16-measure break in the agogó part where we chant a birimbau rhythm to the word “birimbau.”
In case anybody’s wondering, my official stance on capoeira is that it may look like a lot of dancing and squatting, but one time when playing my caixa at a capoeira ceremony a massive ankle swung near my face and I realized that it could kill a man.
Back to the post: I love the title “Jump in and fake it.” That is how I feel every time every time EVERY TIME I speak a language that’s not English, that I’m just winging it. If there is a stage where I feel like I have achieved fluency, I have not reached it yet.
It’s true what el profesor Kelm says about every day being a comprehensive final; you need everything that you’ve ever learned from the first day you started learning up till the most advanced, graduate-level seminar on pronominal cliticization; you need it all, and you need it all the time, and you need it every day.
This may seem like a high-stress situation, having a comprehensive exam every day, but think about it: the consequences of getting it wrong are very low risk. All you’re doing is buying a drink. All you’re doing is prepaying your cellphone. All you’re doing is thanking someone for dinner. If you make a mistake, you just try again. Sure, sometimes people try to make you feel bad about it, but those people are dicks, and it doesn’t reflect on you. I know learners imagine themselves in very high stakes, life-or-death situations if they make a gender error or misconjugate something, but once they get out in the wild, it doesn’t take that long to realize that NOBODY CARES about your mistakes, and that if you focus on them, you’ll be the only one. Why not focus on getting it right the next time?
Benny the Irish Polyglot says “Make 200 mistakes a day.” That’s the best thing he says. If it turns out you make less than 200, then you go out and talk some more. You’re not putting on an expensive piano concerto; you’re asking the waiter for napkin. You’re asking for directions on the street. You’re not going to die if there’s a misunderstanding.
Just jump in, jump in and do it. If you don’t know what you’re doing, then fake it .
As I write this I am in Salvador, Bahia, truly one of my favorite spots in Brazil. Not only am I here with a group of students, but my wife and daughter are here with me too. My daughter Tamara has, although she will deny it, a fairly good handle on Portuguese. She isn’t totally comfortable, and there are many things that she gets stuck on, and of course there are lots of words that she doesn’t know. Still, she can get by, have a conversation with people on general topics, and in the end she can talk to tons of people. I totally consider her to be a Portuguese speaker, she isn’t sure if that is accurate.
After a few days in Salvador she hit the “my-Portuguese-is-terrible-and-why-should-I-even-try” phrase. We all hit it sometimes. It’s those days when we say to ourselves that all of our language study hasn’t really paid…
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