The Leveling Off Point

After hitting the 10 year mark in my studies of all that is Brazilian, I’ve come to a conclusion that usually applies to language studies but I’m going to apply it here in a cultural sense. Most people learning another language reach a point where they slow down their studies because they’ve reached a leveling-off point where they feel confident enough in what they know to be able to put the brakes on. While it shows one’s dedication to a subject to have reached such a stage, it also points to a shift in thinking and sometimes a change in subject matter. Linguistically speaking, I am more aware of this in English-language learners as opposed to learners of other languages which I cannot call my own. All the same, it can either be seen as a form of laziness or an evolution of thought.

Lately, I have had some time to think about a lot of things and I came to the conclusion that my days of studying every free moment I had are over, at least in terms of the subject of Brazil. This doesn’t mean I’m disinterested or that I’ve somehow lost my Brazilian mojo, as it were, but I have reached the leveling-off point and that means I either need to expand the view I already have or look for greener pastures (at which point I ask myself, are there places greener than Brazil?).

We’re two weeks away from putting the candles on the cake (when Eyes On Brazil turns 2) and I realized a good part of what I post consists of interesting things I’ve found online while the other part consists of my own thoughts based on my own experiences as well as more in-depth analyses of Brazilian culture. What I hope to do now is to decrease the former and increase the latter (option 3 is to increase the former while analyzing those things I find).

For the time being, I need to focus a bit on my offline life but I hope to be back and at it soon.

22 thoughts on “The Leveling Off Point

  1. Funny you wrote how linguistically speaking, you notice this in English language learners. In reality it’s not of a linguistic nature rather a cultural one, as oppose to those learning other language. But ask yourself, all these other language learners, are they from Europe or any other country outside of the USA? Or was it just Americans? I think that should answer the question.

    • Funny how you wrote “oppose” instead of “opposed” and “language” instead of “languages”…yes, we both can point out things but I will keep my phrase as it is.

      Personally, I was speaking of people I know who were not born in the USA but “speak” English but equally so, I know Americans that do the same thing (stop learning after they know a certain amount).

  2. Oops, my regional dialect, but yes it should’ve been opposed and I totally missed the “languages” (not singular, definitely should be singular) part.

    Ok, so I stand corrected then. I assumed it had to be mostly Americans. And although I don’t know of Americans who personally stop their learning process, my assumption is based only on Americans doing that to my own culture & basically weed out things which they feel is not vital for whatever aspect they are learning of the culture, either the language, the dance, or anything else. Something makes them just slow down after a peak, but what that is I never really figured it out except to me, it seemed that they got what they needed therefore they just stopped learning more.

    • Most people I know who study other languages have stopped before they really should have. Most say they are fluent when they are mid to high intermediate. We all have different definitions for the words we use but for me, to be fluent in a language that isn’t yours means you are advanced, even if that means low-advanced. Usually, being able to understand and make jokes is a key step in being fluent but that also takes a certain level of cultural understanding.

      Of all the non-Americans who speak English, only 2-3 that I know actually speak like I do and out of all the Americans I know that have learned another language (any that I have knowledge of, at least), very few are ‘fluent’ fluent. All in all, language learning should be a really long process, in my opinion.

  3. Also, I wasn’t mocking your English, maybe that’s why you repeated exactly what I wrote. Nor was I making you feel like you should remove something from your own blog. I was only expressing my opinion based on my own personal experience.

  4. Language learning is a very long process. But i also know that it varies for certain people, even if that person has the opportunity to live in the place where the language is spoken. My friend from Rio has been in Los Angeles for about 4 years but still doesn’t have a good command of the language. My other friend from Rio has been in the US for about 8 years, her language skills are awesome, uses slangs that I don’t use. My other friend from El Salvador has been in LA for 22 years I think, his skills are good, but he feels that it isn’t, so it can vary. But you’re right, it is a long process.

  5. Bearing in mind, your blog’s birthday is on the horizon, may I compliment you for having written such an excellent and fascinating blog.

    It is rather like having a (potentially interactive) National Geographic type magazine focussed on an area that I find particularly interesting – I have been teaching myself Portuguese. Please do not stop posting, the blogosphere would be the lesser if you did. I mean that. Seriously.

    On a slightly less than serious note: Even though Kalani wrote that he was not mocking your English, one cannot help but feel that you are perhaps sensitive regarding your proficiency in the English language.

    This is understandable, you are, after all, by your own admission, a colonial, and therefore not a truly native speaker. Nevertheless, let me reassure you that your English is of a high standard, and with continued practice, in time, you may write (and possibly speak) like a native – like wot I do.

    Which leads me on to a question I have been meaning to ask: relations between Brazilians and Portuguese, are they as amicable (or not) as between Brits and Yanks?


    Yours in anticipation

    Evil Limey.

    • Only now I’m figuring out how to reply to each post which I just missed before.

      In any case, my assumption was that he was a native speaker, based on the fact that I’ve seen him posting in another forum, which is how i found these blogs. They’re great blogs too.

      But that portion caught me off guard when he repeated exactly what I said, which certainly wasn’t to mock him, but it took me a bit longer to realize that he probably misunderstood. Internet/forums, etc., it’s always harder to gauge someone’s intention.

      But for the record, I grew up speaking a creole language which we call PIDGIN. Linguists will call our Pidgin “Hawaii Creole English.” Even for those who speak more English than the creole, they still have unique features in Hawaii’s English, which is my case & still, even though I’ve been living in Los Angeles for nearly 21 years, I do mess up my speech every once in awhile.

      Which goes back to Adam’s (?) point that yes, it takes a lifetime to learn a language, even something like English which many in Hawaii would say is their first language, but like anywhere else in the world, our variations or dialectal varieties may stand out, as in my case. I know in speech I would’ve still said “oppose” not the correct “opposed”, but then again, how many people actually say, “If that ‘were’..” versus using the more colloquial “was”? Although a lot of factors should be considered like education, regionality, etc. That is just one example too.

      As for the Brazilian vs. Portuguese, I never realized there was such a rival, subtle as it may be, until my Carioca friends pointed it out. I come from a place where there are Portuguese people, but they are pretty much assimilated although retain a lot of their culture, but nothing that I’m aware of where they have this competition going on with other Portuguese speakers.

    • Thank you for the high compliments, Evil Limey. I hope to continue albeit in a way that would attract more commentors (by writing longer pieces vs posting that which I’ve merely found elsewhere).

      I believe any sensitivity was quite misread as I am Californian, born and raised and no one in my family, for more generations than I can count, has spoken anything other than English as their first language. Silly to say that “colonials” (if you are refering to Americans) are not native speakers, in fact just as silly as saying Brazilians are not native Portuguese speakers because they aren’t from Portugal.

      As for Portuguese vs Brazilians, there would be more amicability between them if Brazilians better undrstood the Portuguese people and culture (and perhaps vice versa). I don’t see that fact changing anytime soon though because there is not much interest on the Brazilian side, in my opinion.

  6. Happy 2 Years!!!

    I really know what you mean about the leveling off point. My Portuguese is good enough to communicate in almost any situation, and when I’m in Brazil I get loads of compliments and appreciation for having learned their language (once you use the personal infinitive or the future subjunctive, they start with the fala bem’s!

    Yet, I have a Brazilian book on my nightstand (Relato de um certo oriente, a present from a very sweet woman I met in Bonito last year) that I never open, since I can’t bear the snail’s pace of looking up every sixth word. So, blogs such as yours and Brazilian Podclass help me plod along, picking up a few new words/expressions along the way, and keep me from losing what I have learned.



    • I was just telling my friend that earlier in the week, I realized how many times I forgot to use the personal infinitive as I practiced Portuguese with Brazilians online. Definitely didn’t use the future subjective, although it’s not that difficult, I just forget to use it. But, they did say I spoke very well. But I think that was comparing to their English, although a few I spoke to had a very good command of the English language.

      • Personal infinitive I never use although I have an understanding of it. I never use it because no one I’ve ever spoken with or written to has employed it. Future subjunctive, on the other hand, I use all the time and I actually enjoy using it. I like writing correctly and using “tu” but when the grammar rules get too crazy, it gets a bit pointless to be so formal (as I find is the case with the personal infinitive).

      • From what I recall, I have never noticed anyone using the personal infinitive although my friend said that they do use it. But then again, she’s from Rio. The other person I know who used it used it in writing only, again, I never noticed him using it while speaking, and he’s from S. Paulo. However, he did say that he does speak less than what they’d normally do out on the street.

        I always remind Brazilians that I don’t like to write in Portuguese although I understand the rules & spell correctly. I’ve even corrected other people’s spelling, both in Portg. & Spanish.

      • Thanks for that link. My Portg. professor mentioned the days of the week, but it’s interesting that they mentioned the heathen gods, I never thought of that.

        Also, I went to the main page of that link, I think I remember reading through it before, except the page about the Hebrew influence.

  7. Thanks, I also remember reading similar comparison regarding the expression “Quem me dera” (it should happen to me?). I find that I do use the personal infinitive in a lot of situations. But maybe I just have a convoluted way of speaking Portuguese :)
    For example, para e ir ao cinema e pagar os aburdos que eles cobram, o filme deve ser muiiiito bom. Or, para nós irmos ao cinema…

  8. Pingback: The Leveling Off Point – Part Two « Eyes On Brazil

  9. I really dig the blog and wish you all the best in your off line life.

    As an American that loves Brazil and has spent about a year there for two different jobs and studying Portuguese and Spanish in college, I identify with your leveling off comments. I definitely slowed down the painful deliberate part of language learning (writing down every new word, trying to read long, complicated things in Portuguese) after I reached a certain proficiency. And part of that’s laziness, and part of that is my general trust in learning through osmosis–that just by spending time in Brazil my language will get better.

    But when people ask me if I am fluent in Portuguese I never know what to say. The honest answer is no. The more Portuguese I learn, the farther the goal posts get. I can watch TV, read novels, listen to a conversation between native speakers and get 90% of it easily. I have had Brazilian supervisors say I am fluent. So if the person asking is monolingual and from America, then I tend to say I am fluent, rather than just launch into a long explanation of what I can and can’t do.

    Why? I blame the Spanish speakers. We all know lots of people that consider themselves very good at Spanish because they can order dos cervezas on the playa in Mejico. Them running around saying they’re pretty good has screwed it up for me. :)

    But languages are endlessly fascinating. Have you had any luck with non-romance ones? I am thinking about German. I figure one a decade is a good life project.

    • Thank you for the comment, Alex

      I went through a phase when I didn’t know how to respond to that question but I just ended up saying I was fluent all the time and there usually won’t be follow-up questions to that. My Spanish has suffered a tiny bit and I’m no longer fluent in it but I’m close enough to where I say I am anyways.

      Non-romance languages, I have tried to learn but so far without much success. I’ve dabbled in about 10 of them with varying levels of disappointment. German is def. a tough one and the 16 variations of ‘that’ (das, der, dem, etc) doesn’t help either. Good luck with it though and giving yourself a decade should be about right. I’m on French now and I have the feeling I’ll stick with it til the end.


      • I never say that I’m fluent in any language, but my Brazilian friend believes me to be nearly fluent. I’m at a beginning intermediate level though & I’m sure the Brazilians who don’t speak English would believe me to be fluent but definitely not. I need to work both on oral & aural skills.

        I too have dabbled w/ non-Romance langs., I guess I find it easier b/c I’ve learned a few of them. Greek was & still is hard b/c of the different writing system. I intend on tackling Armenian…eventually, more than 16yrs. overdue. I tried Tagalog, Cebuano & Waray-Waray…hard, although very distantly to Hawaiian to which I’ve been exposed to for a very long time.

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