I have a friend who once told me the best way to learn a language in a foreign country is to get lost.
At first, I thought he was being absurd.
I questioned him, “Why would I intentionally get lost?”
“Because it’s a great way to not only practice asking questions,” he exclaimed,” but it’s also like a game of trying to decipher what strangers are telling you.”
Hmmm I thought to myself. That actually makes sense. “Tell me more,” I muttered.
You don’t actually have to get lost, just play like you are. There are a few ways to ask someone where something is; let’s look at some of the most common and simple phrases.
Oi, você sabe onde fica esse prédio? – Hi, do you know where this building is?
Onde fica esse restuarante? – Where is this restaurant?
Com licença, onde está esse hotel?– Excuse me, where is this hotel?
Com licença a senhora mas, você sabe onde tem uma praia por aqui? – Excuse me miss, but do you know where there is a beach around here?
Those are the basic phrases you need to know to form thousands of questions to ask people. Whether you need to find a bus stop or a barbershop, once you learn how to say “bus stop” or “barbershop” in Portuguese, just plug it into one of the questions above.
Why Does It Work?
There are a few reasons why “being lost” in a foreign city will increase your knowledge of a language rapidly:
- During desperate times, the human brain kicks into overdrive and works hard. Let’s say you do hop on a bus and ride for a half hour then hop off. You are in an unknown neighborhood and you have to figure out how to get back to yours. It’s almost as if you are forced to speak in a different language instead of you voluntarily wanting to. You might be surprised to see how much Portuguese you do know.
- When you ask Brazilians about where something is, you won’t understand everything the say. That’s fine; pick out the words you do understand and go from there. You will hear many different accents and words, so when you hear it again somewhere else, you may figure out what it means by context.
- Approaching strangers and initiating conversation is never easy; even if you are really lost and need help. Asking Brazilians for directions will help your listening comprehension in the long run and give you the social skills needed to improve in Portuguese. I haven’t met a person who learned how to speak a language without speaking to someone else.