The Short Answer: “Mais ou menos.” I understand the language better than I can speak it, but, at this point in my life, I am not fluent by any metric. My resume states that I have a “working knowledge” of Portuguese and Spanish.
The Long Answer
My parents always spoke both languages in the house growing up — unless they were speaking an intermediary of neither (Portuglish, I suppose). Throughout various points of my childhood, I read the Portuguese epistle at Mass, volunteered as an altar server at masses delivered in Portuguese, and participated in Portuguese prayer groups, following along with books showcasing readings and psalms in Portuguese.
As a child, I spent less than a year at “Portuguese school” (classes which were in no way connected to my small Portuguese-Catholic elementary school), learning on Hartwell Street in Fall River, Mass. I learned more Portuguese playing UNO with my grandmother than I did in those classes, but I remember performing “Noite Feliz” with the “school” at the Portuguese club on South Main Street around Christmas time — and I still think about it on Christmas to this day.
A few years later, I earned the Bilingual Award, a distinction for the top Portuguese language student in the junior high school graduating class at Saint Elizabeth School, Bristol, R.I. in 2005. In middle school, I had taken three years of Portuguese in a class that met something like once every two weeks. Nonetheless, the middle school principal (a Portuguese woman herself) had written me a letter of recommendation stating that I was fluent in Portuguese.
My high school, unfortunately did not offer Portuguese, so I took four years of high school Spanish (the only other options were French and Italian) and earned membership in Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica. I distinctly remember, standing before my sophomore Spanish class, doing an entire presentation on family (holding a poster I had procrastinated doing the night before) walking back to my seat with a bit of swagger (i.e. feeling myself), until my teacher Ms. Dimascio said, “Good job, Kayla; next time en Espanol.” Apparently, operating on little sleep, my brain had unknowingly defaulted to Portuguese as I waxed on about my family members.
The summer before my sophomore year of high school, I translated in Portuguese at a soccer camp instructed by Brazilian coaches. I was later awarded the Academic Achievement Scholarship by the Portuguese Beneficial Association’s Don Luiz Filipe before heading off to college in 2009.
In college, the journalism school required that I either take a foreign language or a computer class. I was never able to fit in the hourly demands of a three-day language course as part of my 4-year plan, so my GPA took a hit when I enrolled in a coding class filled with computer science majors.
Disappointed by being unable to take a Portuguese language course, I enrolled in a 3-credit Portuguese Culture course (taught in English and offered by the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Maryland) in which I received an A+ (the greatest achievable grade).
When I declared women’s studies as a second major, the department demanded that I illustrate competency in a foreign language. However, if I added a foreign language course to my schedule, it would have added another semester, all but ensuring that I would fail to graduate “on time” (thereby adding on to the amount of debt I was accumulating), so I decided to take the foreign language competency test.
Though I had not studied Portuguese in seven years and, as a result of living in Maryland away from my family, had used Portuguese sparingly during that time, I scored only two points off from demonstrating introductory-level Portuguese proficiency on my first try.
Though I had not studied Spanish in three years (or ever really used the language in conversation outside of the classroom), I took that exam (after taking the Portuguese one) and scored one point off from passing the introductory level.
I studied some basic Spanish for a few days and took the Spanish competency exam again (promising myself, that if I did not pass the Spanish exam on this second and final try, I would study for the Portuguese exam and, if I couldn’t pass introductory level Portuguese, I would enroll in the Portuguese course). I passed the Spanish exam, did not enroll in any college foreign language course, and graduated in four years as a double major.
Since moving back home, my Portuguese language skills have been used more regularly, but, I will admit, I am limited in the language and, certainly, not fluent these days. No one is perfect. Hope you can still appreciate this blog, despite my imperfections and limitations.