Reflections from the month by David Johnon. A letter head for my monthly newsletter. Black writing on a blue background with a drawing of a tree to the left

April 2023

I write this at the end of April in a small church square, Largo de São Mamede, on the edge of the Príncipe Real area of Lisbon. Tomorrow will be the end of our forth week in Portugal, the longest period of time that I have spent in this country, and we still have five and a half weeks to go.

This has been a busy month, time spent working on the house. Workmen in to get jobs done. Hang things in the concrete walls that I would not trust myself doing, without damaging the house. Hanging electrical fittings that require high reaching ladders that we don’t have, and skills that I don’t possess.

We have started building up relationships with neighbours, making new friends, getting to know the area, and I have started trying to learn Portuguese.

The latter has been a challenge due to the mantra that I have lived most of my life by, that is, ”I’m not very good at languages.” While some might have more of an aptitude towards languages, I don’t believe that this belief about myself has been very helpful to me. In a world where English is such an international language, and a multitude of language apps make translation so easy, whether I am typing in a conversation with someone, or deciphering words on a sign, I find that it is very easy for me to be lazy with any language.

However, two things make me believe that I can speak Portuguese, even if at just a very rudimentary level.

  1. When I traveled in eighties, when at best all that was available was phrase books, I was able to make myself understood, even if sign language was the best that both parties could do.
  2. I have got myself into a routine of sorts for learning Portuguese - busy work days aside, when my mind is just too tired to attempt the language. From this, I find that I am beginning to notice words when I hear people speak, and that gives me hope. I came into this language with no knowledge of it. Now I am beginning to recognise sounds. I tell myself that I just have to relax around the learning process, and put expectations aside.

Years ago, I remember a linguist friend of mine saying that to learn a language one had to be prepared to ”make a fool of yourself.” If there is a skill, along with language learning, that I don’t do very well, it is making a fool of myself. However, going back to my travels in the eighties, I’m pretty sure that I made a fool of myself once or twice! I remember walking into small restaurants in China, and then walking straight into the kitchen to point to ingredients, with the idea in my head of meals that I had had before. I always left on good terms with the staff, and with a fully belly.

On this visit to Portugal, I am beginning to notice a sense of confidence building - I whisper this! - as I start to notice that I can at times recognize what people say. I am starting to pick out words where before I just heard an apparent jumble of sounds. My hope is that the more time that I can spend in this lovely country, and the more practice that I do, that my ability to make myself understood in Portuguese will increase.

That is one area where I must make more effort - communication. Move from recognizing and understanding, to trying to make myself understood.

The posts that I share this month are a mixture of photographs from the last month here in Portugal, and reflections on what I am seeing and experiencing. I hope that you enjoy what you see here. Please get in touch if you have any comments or questions.

As ever, thank you for reading.