To help language learners with this need, in 2010 I
organized weekly conversation groups in San Diego,
California, and Rio de Janeiro through the
organization meetup.com. Actually, in Rio we
practice both Portuguese and English at the
same time. These groups have been meeting
regularly for a little over two years.
The Rio group meets at an open-air snack bar on Copacabana Beach every Monday at 7:30 PM. Over the first two years we’ve averaged a dozen attendees each week, but lately around 20 people have been showing up and staying until 10:00 or 10:30 PM. We have members from over two dozen countries. Travelers to Rio often hear about us on the internet or from friends, then stop by to learn some of the local language, sharpen their English, and make friends. Short-term visitors to “The Marvelous City” take advantage of the group to make contacts who help them find their way around town.
The atmosphere is informal, with no real structure other than sitting around a half dozen tables pushed together. I leave an English-Portuguese dictionary on the table (the Larousse dictionary, found in our store), some Brazilian and American magazines, and note paper for people to write down new words. English speakers help Brazilians with their English and vice-versa. Check out our group at: http://www.meetup.com/Aprenda-Ingles-Learn-Portuguese.
In San Diego, we meet at a Brazilian restaurant/store, where the members enjoy chatting with employees and Brazilians who come to have a meal or a beer. The atmosphere is informal, with people arriving around 6:00 P.M. and leaving at 8:30 or 9:00.
San Diego is close to Mexico and we have several Spanish-speakers in the group. They have a
head start on Portuguese, but need to be careful of confusions between the two similar languages.
For example “embarazado” in Portuguese means “embarrassed,” like in English, but
“embarasada” in Spanish is “pregnant”
(see an upcoming article on the relationship
between Spanish and Portuguese).
There isn’t much English practice at the San Diego
meetings since most members already speak the language.
But gringos sometimes pick up a bit of Spanish, and
even have been known to take a quick trip across the
border for a bit of Mexican food or night life. If you’re ever
in the San Diego area on a Monday evening, be sure to stop by
and say “aló”. We can be found at http://www.meetup.com/Converse-em-Portugues.
Why not start a similar group in your city? It’s surprising how many Brazilians live in the U.S. Try to find a Brazilian store or restaurant as a regular meeting place. Attendees can chat with the Brazilian employees and customers, plus buy Brazilian products like havaianas (rubber thong sandles), pão de queixo (delicious cheese bread), or guaraná, the other Brazilian energy drink.
The first step is to contact meetup.com and sign up as a group organizer. You can sponsor the group yourself or ask the Brazilian restaurant, a travel agent, or another local business to underwrite the very reasonable monthly fee.
If you do start a group, don’t forget to let me know. Tell your members about our site www.learn-brazilian-portuguese.com and we’ll give you a special mention.