When I travel, mostly in Africa, I always experience interesting things. This time it is about language. While I travel with ease in countries like Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, getting to some extent along with my not so good Kiswahili, and my Norwegian English, I also disembark in countries like Mozambique where people speak Portuguese.There, I am at least for the time being totally lost in translation. Getting around in English is a challenge, even in Maputo, so when I am lost and trying to make myself understand using a few English words, people shake their heads, smile at me, and that’s it!
And then, there is also language and language! You do not necessarily understand the spoken English in any African country because you speak English. The local English, where there is one, will be sprinkled with «herbs» and slang from that country or the local community’s dialect. This often pose another challenge, and an even greater one, since local people do not necessarily understand why you do not understand!!
Now it is Portuguese and while I understand a few words and expressions, I am unfortunately not in position to formulate any sentences! I am leaning on my friends who have lived here for some years, and after they have entered the conversation, locals continue to talk with them rather than me, and I, I am utterly lost in translation, having no clue about what is being discussed over my head!
«Portuguese is an easy language to learn», many says. «Since you know English very well, you won’t have any problems to learn the language», just get started.
Weeeell, I took the challenge and started, just to realize that I had bought a Brazilian Portuguese program, which of course, according to the Mozambicans, at least, is a very different Portuguese than what they speak in Maputo, and a very, very, different one from what they speak in the provinces and villages, if they speak Portuguese there at all !!
Last time I visited, I was asked if I had any information material about Half the World in Portuguese, it would help such a lot to effectively disseminate the enterprise’s vision, mission, philosophy and programs!
A good idea, I thought, and engaged the only Portuguese person I know about, who fortunately happens to live in our village.
Graca, who is not only an expert teacher in Portuguese, but also an English teacher at our daughter’s school, fortunately took the challenge and translated swiftly my information brochure to Portuguese. Happily, I brought it along to Maputo, thinking that it would be easier to finalize the brochure here with a local bureau, and print it right away!
How wrong could I be?? I sought expert advice from an old colleague who told me that almost everything that’s being produced of printed material for use i Mozambique is designed and printed in South Africa! «Mozambique», he told me, «is the most expensive country to do any printing in! Take it home, he suggested, «and bring the brochures along in your suitcase next time you visit! And…….., by the way, ask some Maputo Mozambicans to read through your Portuguese brochure text! There is a rather big difference between the Mozambican Portuguese and the one they speak in Portugal !»
Hellooo!!! – if you thought that the same language is spoken or even written the same way everywhere, you better change your mind! No
Fortunately, I brought a few hundreds of my English brochures along and use them until I get the right version Portuguese text for my brochure and my understanding of Portuguese right.