Friday, December 2, 2011

First Language Limits??

Mr. Rant and I speak to each other in English. I have had just about the entire population of Brazil tell me that we should actually be speaking in Portuguese. They tell me that I would be speaking far better if we did. And every single time I just smile and inform them that we already have a challenging enough time with communication. While perfecting my Portuguese would be awesome, it would be very difficult to do if Mr. Rant and I weren’t on speaking terms.

The truth of the matter is that it is weird to speak to him in Portuguese. We have been speaking in English since the day we met! I know Mr Rant in English and that got me thinking, is there something to this? Take a Brazilian friend of mine. I met her upon her turn to Brazil after years of living abroad. She was excited to speak to me in English as that was what she was used to at the time.

Now, over a year later, we still find it odd when we speak to each other in Portuguese. We always slip back into English.

And it goes both ways. I have always spoken to my Brazilian Sister-in-law in Portuguese though she can understand, more or less, when I speak in English. Even on moments where she says to go ahead with English, I can’t. It’s weird but I feel more comfort, for many reasons, speaking to her in Portuguese.

It seems that languages aren’t merely a form of communication but also have a sort of intimacy level when it comes to who you are talking to.

Has anyone else noticed this or did I just publicly confirm my craziness?


  1. I totally know what you mean and I quickly mentioned my experience with this weird phenomenon in my blog post yesterday! ( ) My husband is Brazilian, I am American, but we met and spent the first year of our relationship together in Spain so we speak in Spanish Brazil. Spanish has been "our" language since day 1 and continues to be our language today, 3 years later. I speak Spanish to him, Portuguese to my friends/family here in Brazil and English on Skype with family and friends in the states. It can get messy up there in my head!

  2. I've noticed this, too, and I always find this topic to be interesting.

    My husband didn't know ANY English when we met, so our relationship has always been in Portuguese. Even 'til today, with him knowing English, do we still speak mostly in Portuguese. I do speak to him in English as well (out of laziness perhaps) but he will answer me in Portuguese 99.5% of the time, unless we're surrounded by Americans. So our relationship is a Portuguese one.

    I find it strange to talk to Brazilians in Portuguese if I started off speaking to them in English (like my bilingual co-workers). If we speak in Portuguese to each other out of respect when we're surrounded by monolinguals then I'll switch back to English as soon as possible.

  3. Not weird at all. I can't speak perfectly in Portuguese yet, but I can communicate full well. My sister-in-law and I always talk in Portuguese, even though her English is equivalent to my Portuguese, but that was how we first communicated. My husband, on the other hand, won't speak to me in Portuguese unless he is telling me how cute I am. Everyone else takes me seriously in Portuguese, but not him. I tell him that when we have kids he will need to speak to them in Portuguese so they can learn to communicate with family and friends, but he says, "We'll see. It's just weird to speak Portuguese in our home." I think he has the exact same thing going on in his head as you.

  4. ahhaha, people tell me the same thing "why dont you speak port at home?" because its wierd. thats why. i find it strange when my husband speaks portuguese, like i understand everyone else's portuguese, but not his. we've been speaking english for almost 5 years. im with you on this, and it's not going to change. when we have kids it wont change either. we are an english couple. easy as that!

  5. I used to prefer it when my bf spoke portuguese with me because of course i liked the sound and the way he spoke..charming and all that. Of course his german was not very good at the beginning..but then we switched to speaking german because he needed to improve to pass a test and it first you have to force yourself a little but then it becomes totally that he passed this exam we kind of switch all the time which can be fun too!

  6. Hi Rachel!!!!! I completely agree with your post...I'm experiencing the same situation at home...and when we think about "having our future babies" we're gonna go on communicating in english too..on one side they're gonna have grandpa's to speak portuguese and on the other one grandpa's to speak spanish...the perfect languague aunt to speak Finnish!!!

    Have a Nice Weekend!!! (Natalia)

  7. ro and I have talked about this a bazillion times, because the same people telling you to speak Portuguese are telling me that too.

    Weird. Can't do it. Feel silly. Also, I feel like I can't express myself in Portuguese and that my English is way clearer than Ro's Portuguese.

  8. I think Alexandre and I are the only ones who use both all the time and mix them all the time and don't feel any different using one or the other!

  9. It's the same thing in our house. We met in the US, our relationship formed in English (since I didn't know any Portuguese). Living here in Brasil for almost 8 years now...we still only speak in English, it's just weird to try to have a conversation in Portuguese, we've tried but it doesn't fit. My accent is strong, my mistakes frequent, though he is very good to help me with my written Portuguese mistakes, which are much worse than my spoken ones. Our house is split, Portuguese only between my husband and my son, English only between my husband and I, and 95% English with my son, he'll often say words in Portuguese that he doesn't yet know in English and vice-versa in Portuguese, sometimes the languages are truly intertwined sentence by sentence. But we get lots of laughs and my son is truly acquiring two languages at the same time which is awesome for him.

  10. When I met my husband we of course communicated in English. Two years later when I moved to Holland I started studying Dutch but didn't feel I could comfortably communicate with him - especially when we had to talk about health insurance, mortgages, finances... Today we barely or almost never speak anything in English. I can in a second change to other four languages, this is not strange at all. Actually I find bilingualism/multi language speaking quite a natural condition - after years and years and years of study and practice. And I keep learning new things all the time !

  11. COMPLETELY understand what your talking about! Except I only find it weird when talking to a Brazilian in English and when talking to an American in Portuguese. But I guess that is sort of like a "DUHHHH" moment.


  12. I think it is totally normal (we have eleven data points here affirming that!). In every country where I have lived this has always been the case. The language you start out in, is always the language you feel most comfortable in. I lived with French and Spanish roommates in Egypt and we always spoke Spanish. To this day my old French roommate and I still speak Spanish together even though her English is perfect. I asked my husband the other day if we will switch to Portuguse when we move to Rio and he said no. In part, I think for the same reason you state, Rachel, we need to be on speaking terms for my Porguguese to improve! In part, because we evolved in English and that is where we always revert. When we want to hide something from others or are with friends who don't sepak English, we speak in Portuguese, Spanish, or Arabic, but we always come back to English when its just us two. Same goes for our daugther. I don't think I'll ever be able to fully speak Portuguse with her and my husband won't be able to ever just speak to her in English.

  13. I find it easy to ignore people in both languages.

  14. I hated it when people in the US told my husband to speak English to me. It's none of their business.

    Now that I remember, it was only Brazilians that told us that.

    My students would agree with you, Rachel and Lindsey. They told me they think I should speak English to my husband so he doesn't forget. They're great kids.

    I just told my husband tonight that I need to only speak English with our son (who will be here in a few months) and that he needs to speak only Portuguese. We'll read him books and watch movies in both languages. And if we stay here, he can attend the bilingual school I work at (for free).

  15. It´s soo hard to switch languages when you`ve met someone in a different one. We speak Spanish at home 99% of the time, which means that my boyfriend´s English is not where it should be, but it`s very very hard to make the effort to switch. I have South American friends who I met before I spoke Spanish, and we still speak in English now even though in many cases my Spanish is better than their English! It´s very bizarre, but it´s somewhat embarrassing to switch, though I have no clue why. And I agree with Alex´s comment above-- it is super weird to speak Spanish/Portuguese with other Americans, and I really try to avoid it-- like, I realize when people want to practice, but it just seems so contrived.

  16. We just had this conversation this week. Wanderson and I only speak English to each other and he will coach me when we are shopping on what to say in Portuguese. My husband's mother and brother thinks it would be best if I only speak Portuguese and stop speaking English to my husband. My BIL in broken English said, "you no speak English to Wanderson." I was think...ummm, what are we going to talk about. I mean I only speak Portuguese to them and even if it doesn't make sense most of the time I am still trying and learning something new everyday.

  17. I was wondering what expecting couples do to name their kids when their own names aren't derived from the same language. For instance, if one Katherine Smith (American) is going to have a child with her Brazilian husband, one Pedro Mello(Brazilian) what should they name the child? I imagine it would be best to use a Latin based name in this case since the last name is Mello: so João Mello, instead of John Mello. Then again certain names - like Veronica and Victor - seem to suit both Latin and Anglo last names.
    How about if the first name and last name, if not from a common language, at least have common roots? So mix an Italian first name with a Portuguese family name, or do the same using English and German: Giovanni Mello, John Bauer, etc.
    Of course there is always the George Constanza solution: name the kid after a number.

  18. Hubby and I have been together for almost 9 years...he's Italian (with perfect English), and I'm American (fluent in Italian). We met and started off in English 9 years ago, so every time we switch to Italian, it sticks for like 2 hours, and then we revert back to English. He speaks English as if it's his native tongue, but I still have to think/reflect to speak Italian.

    And now that we have a child, we are very consistent: Daddy speaks to daughter in Italian, daughter responds to Daddy in English (though we're working on her speaking Italian), Mommy and daughter communicate both ways in English, Mommy and Daddy communicate in English, and daughter communicates with Brazilians in Portuguese.

    Code language when hubby and I don't want daughter to know what we're saying: French!


  19. AARRGGHH!! This drives me nuts! Everyone in France says that my husband and I should only be speaking French at home, but when we met, we spoke English, it's our natural language. Also, I have to speak French to everyone else outside of my home, so my home is my safe place, it's where I can feel comfortable, and relax. And also, like you, we have enough problems communicating in English, let alone in French.
    Phew! It felt good getting that off my chest and knowing that I'm not alone :-)

  20. My husband also doesn't speak English - so all our interaction, all our jokes and nicknames etc. is in Portuguese.

    Okay, my husband speaks MINIMAL English. Once he called me on my cell phone and said "Hello" (in English).

    I said, "Quem é?"

    He said, "Is me!"

    I said, "Você tá onde?"

    He said, "I in front the door."

    I literally COULDN'T manage to speak English with him!

  21. Very interesting topic. I have always spoken with my Brasilian wife in Portuguese. I insisted, that forced me to learn the language. It often required keeping a dictionary with me, but it worked....eventually. I understand her completely, we speak no English between us, though now and then she sneaks in a new word, and knows it when she does, but then I learn a new word.

    When we go out sometimes someone will speak to me in Portuguese, and I cannot understand half of what they say. Accent or whatever. My wife interprets, repeating the same words in Portuguese as the person I could not understand. Then I understand. Someone else mentioned this, it is true for me too. Must be something about the language part of the brain, which in my case desparetly needs a remodel to add space.

  22. "When we go out sometimes someone will speak to me in Portuguese, and I cannot understand half of what they say. Accent or whatever. My wife interprets, repeating the same words in Portuguese as the person I could not understand. Then I understand"

    So your wife repeats what the person you're conversing with has said, in the same language it was uttered originally, and you then understand. If I were the person who had his/her phrase repeated I would feel kind of bad, as to ask myself why you didn't understand it when I said it.
    I find this to be genius; you have elaborated a a method which makes native speakers feel doubtful about proficiency in their own language. Lol.

  23. My friends and I who speak more than two languages have always found that there is reflex for one language. It doesn't really matter how well you speak any of the other languages because outside of the reflex, the others just interfere. Maybe others have had a similar experience? Certain languages really cross wires quickly so, when both of you speak both, your head is a mess. The second you relax you switch back and forth without realizing it, (until you notice in the eyes of the other what has happened) you just go to whichever has the fasted recall.

  24. My wife and I are often told this. I remember a guy friend of hers saying to her (with me sat right next to her) "You *have* to stop speaking English with him!".

    I know there is no malice behind this (on the contrary, it is well-meant), but it really annoys me. Who is he to intrude on our relationship and demand we speak Portuguese?!

    If you have the discipline to do this then I applaud you but it ain't for everyone right?

  25. whatever language you start with is what sticks. I have American friends with whom I only speak Portuguese, because that is the way we started. I have bilingual (English-Spanish) friends that I started speaking in Spanish to and it is physically difficult to speak to them in English. I would rather trot out my now Portuguesized Spanish than which to English! There is definitely a relationship/language link and it is very hard to break.

  26. what is awesome posting for language

  27. Brazilian husband, American wife, living in the U.S. English in life. Portuguese in bed:)