How I Increased My Portuguese Fluency by Watching a Soap Opera


By:  Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work in London Inc.

It’s 9:00 pm and I have given up my regular date with Peter Mansbridge on the National News preferring to watch the Belmonte family:  Jose, Carlos, Lucas, Joao and Pedro navigate their business deals in the beautiful town of Estremoz, Portugal.  The Belmonte’s came into my life quite by chance one day when I was flipping channels, just wanting to relax.  Alas!  I heard a familiar language spoken on the television –Portuguese.  This was my first language that I have lost due to lack of practice.

Out of curiousity, and out of a deep appreciation for the visually appealing men I saw on the screen, I decided to give it a few minutes of my time.  Before long, I was fully engaged and not superficially either.  It became an intellectual exercise where I challenged myself to understand, by linking linguistic similarities to English.  When I started watching Belmonte about two months ago, I only understood about 60% of what I was hearing.

I have never studied Portuguese formally.  However, I had some exposure in my family of Portuguese immigrants. I decided some time ago that I wanted to learn it better but I am not someone who enjoys taking classes or listening to tapes.  I want it to be fun and not a lot of extra work.  Voila!  Belmonte to the rescue!

Sixty days later of watching 5 hours a week, I understand about 98% of what I am hearing and my vocabulary has expanded exponentially!  This isn’t your average run of the-mill American-style soap opera peppered with affairs botoxed beauties and beaus all living in their massive homes.  Albeit, the Belmonte’s do own a vineyard, a marble quarry, an olive oil business and a park, but not everyone in Estremoz is rich or perfect.

So what have I learned from this captivating, suspenseful, picturesque, award-winning soap opera?  A whole lot such as:

  • Some business vocabulary.
  • Slang expressions.
  • Many similar idioms like:  “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”.
  • Vocabulary related to criminal investigations as one of the major plots has to do with “ o trafico de mulheres” or trafficking of women.
  • How Latin based words like “horrible”, “impossible” “incredible” etc are very similar to the Portuguese words but the “b” gets dropped for a “v”.
  • If you listen carefully many of the verbs have a Latin base and you can easily figure out what they are trying to say.
  • Portuguese is a very formal language and there are higher standards for politeness and respect for hierarchy and status.  Even the Police Sergeant uses formal titles to address suspects.  And when the characters are exchanging insults they still manage to add an:  “Desculpa”  (Sorry)  or “Boa Tarde’  (Good Afternoon)  Imagine that!
  • There are a lot of English words that have become part of the Portuguese lexicon.  For example in business:  “off-shore”; “dealer” (as in drug dealer); “okay”; “strippers” etc.

Besides increasing my vocabulary and comprehension, Belmonte has also given me a greater understanding of contemporary Portuguese issues.  For example, there are many references to how a few of the characters have lost their faith in God and don’t go to church anymore. Portugal has for centuries been one of the bastions of the Catholic faith and now it appears that even that is dying.  Poor Padre Arturo (Father Arthur) himself has decided to give up his vocation after his Italian son got killed in a motorcycle accident and the Bishop wouldn’t let him attend his funeral.  Padre Arturo is no longer counselling his parishioners about holding onto their faith but vice versa.

Then there is the issue of violence against women.  One of the plots has to do with the trafficking of women by a group of English and German investors who engage some of the business men in Estremoz in their dealings.  The show appears to want to highlight the epidemic of human trafficking in Europe but also the different aspects of violence against women.  In Sargento Susanna’s headquarters there are posters which focus on psychological abuse as a form of domestic violence.  You wouldn’t expect a poster like this in a police sergeant’s office but the producers are obviously trying to use these opportunities to disseminate important information.

On a less serious note you see how much the Portuguese love their food.  I swear Sofia Belmonte spends half of her life in front of the dining room table.  I don’t think I have ever seen so much eating in a television production outside the Food Channel!  The Portuguese use food as a cure for many ailments as you see in Belmonte. A chamomile tea is given at bed time for a sore tummy and to calm the nerves.  Victims are encouraged to eat after a trauma to gain their strength.  Sonia eats in the middle of the night to cure her insomnia. Rosario prepares a bountiful breakfast to show her love for Hugo.

Next time you are thinking of brushing up on a language don’t discount the value of actively and analytically watching a television program –even a soap opera.  You may be surprised at how it can be much more than entertainment. The key is to find an immersion activity you enjoy and stick with it.

Mature Workers: Staying Relevant


By: Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work in London Inc.

I hadn’t seen Jeff for over 30 years, since we had worked together as teenagers but somehow we recognized one another as he left the employment centre. Stopping to say hello, he recounted how he was recently laid off as a sales rep from a food manufacturer and was coming from a support group for mature workers. I hesitated for a moment and replied with: “ I can’t believe it Jeff, we are mature workers!”.   “Wow, that makes me feel old and I really don’t understand why we would need a special group!” We both agreed that at our age we were really at our prime, having gained so much knowledge and skills. Why would these assets present such a dilemma for employers?

I guess it has to do with how we perceive mature workers. Are all of those stereotypes really true? Cranky, bitter, burnt-out technology dinosaurs. This seems to be the basis for the majority of complaints. Are they really warranted? While working on an assignment with a call centre, I had a chance to test this out. I noticed first-hand why my client was unable to retain their mature workers. The rapid pace of the computer-training was too stressful and they quickly became disengaged, alienated and embarrassed by the younger trainees. I could see how it would have been beneficial to take more time in the training and “nesting phase” (time before you go live ).

Spending more time on the front end would have actually saved on training costs and protect their reputation as an employer. Having a separate training strategy for mature workers would yield better results : creating higher retention and loyalty. Consistently, I saw mature workers quit  before they were put on the chopping block.

With three generations now working together for the first time, we must find ways to integrate them all for the survival of our organizations. It is estimated that approximately 41% of the working population is between the ages of 45 and 64 (up from 29% in 1991), and this percentage will continue to increase over the coming years.   This is an astounding number we cannot ignore. It requires a new shift in workplace and societal attitudes challenging our perceptions regarding aging.

Given how common is ageism,  mature workers must also do their part to stay relevant and informed about the trends in the changing workplace:

Refrain from being overly judgemental about the younger generation’s work habits and expectations. Taking this approach will automatically distance you from them and this will only make you appear older and resistant to change.

Look for opportunities where you can work with younger employees. Many younger workers often lament a lack of mentors in the workplace. Keeping an open-mind may make you someone they can turn to for advice. Conversely, they may be able to help you acquire or understand some of the latest trends that can be beneficial to your work –including technology and social media.

Familiarize yourself with your rights and obligations as a mature worker. Recognize that in some types of jobs which require physical work you may notice a drop in your ability to perform. You may be asked to perform other work.

Avoid getting pre-screened out of a job interview. Only include the last 10-15 years of your work experience and leave out the dates of your education except for recent courses. If you have 30 years of work experience listed on your resume, the screener can easily do the math!

Be open to learning and taking any required professional development. It demonstrates engagement and your interest in staying with your job and being productive. Be honest about the kind of training you need and what approach works best for you. Many mature workers often benefit more from one-to-one or small group training over larger groups especially when it comes to learning technical skills.

Avoid the temptation to parent your co-workers. As you get older there is an increasing possibility that your supervisor will be younger than you. Taking this approach will only work against you as it undermines their talents as a boss.

Stay in touch with the language trends. If you don’t know what something means ask. Remember the language you use speaks volumes about your ability to adapt. Talking about the “good old days” creates exclusion.

Challenge your own biases about ageing and ageism.   Do you carry biases of your own that may prevent you from being your best at any age? Do you let biases about younger workers get in the way of promoting and hiring them?  Age is increasingly referred to “as just a number” and you can be the inspiration to others who decide to remain in the workplace longer.

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