Viviane Gontijo

On April 19th, 2021, we interviewed Dr. Viviane Gontijo from Harvard University. Dr. Gontijo shared with us her educational and personal background in linguistics, as well as what she has learned through over thirteen years of experience in teaching Portuguese to Spanish speakers. We discuss methods for fostering contrastive analysis between Spanish and Portuguese, such as output analysis, as well as methods of engaging students in the classroom, both in person and online. Controversially, Dr. Gontijo shares that at Harvard University, Spanish speakers do not seem to have an easier time learning Portuguese than other students (whom she describes as already being proficient in “at least two foreign languages”). Rather their path to acquisition is simply different, as they work through the challenges of competing phonological systems.

  • Name: Dr. Viviane Gontijo
  • Institution: Harvard University
  • L3 classes taught:
    • Beginning Portuguese for Spanish Speakers I: It’s SAMBA, not Salsa! (PORTUG 10S)
    • Beginning Portuguese for Spanish Speakers II: More SAMBA, less Salsa! (PORTUG 11S)
  • Publications:
    • Colloquial Portuguese of Brazil, The Complete Course for Beginners (3rd Edition)
    • Contextos: Curso Intermediário de Português


Lucas Wright: Our first question was, can you quickly introduce yourself, anything you want to tell us, or just a general introduction is fine.

I’m Viviane Gontijo and I have a PhD in applied linguistics; more specifically in psycholinguistics. It’s a double major because I did Luso-Afro-Brazilian studies and theory, so I also have a background in literary studies, but my passion has always been in linguistics – more specifically applied linguistics – because theoretical linguistics was never something that I wanted to do. I started in Brazil, actually, looking at prejudice, and motivation and attitudes towards a foreign language or a dialect of Portuguese. This [was] back, I mean 20 years ago, [before] I moved to the US for my masters. Then I started to teach at San Diego State. I also started a business, a Portuguese language center, [and] I was doing business-to-business. I was teaching Portuguese to Latin American executives like people at Sony electronics and HP, some major companies in the field of technology. That’s back in 2004/2005. Then I moved to Massachusetts to do my PhD at UMass (Dartmouth). After that, in my 3rd year of PhD, I started at Harvard as a teaching assistant. At that point already [I] had almost 10 years of experience teaching Portuguese as a second language. And then at Harvard I started to teach Portuguese to Spanish speakers more consistently, because at San Diego State I did, but I did not really realize how different [it] was teaching Portuguese to Spanish speakers from teaching Portuguese to traditional language learners or heritage speakers. Back [at] San Diego State I didn’t have so much experience, and then at UMass (Dartmouth) I learned mostly about heritage learners of Portuguese, so I was teaching Portuguese at UMass (Dartmouth) and Bridgewater State. Then I learned about teaching Portuguese to Spanish speakers, a completely different monster. It’s a can of worms and at the same time very exciting. So I switched my PhD research, I switched a little bit of the focus of my research from heritage learners to Spanish speakers, because I thought it was more… I would say challenging and a little more exciting. Then at Harvard I developed over a dozen courses, and Portuguese for Spanish Speakers is just one of them.

Kyra Adriana Solomon: That sounds incredibly interesting. So about 10 years ago is when you started looking at teaching Portuguese to Spanish speakers in particular? Or about how long ago was that?

It’s about 13 years ago.

KAS: Your whole path, that sounds very interesting. So you started in Brazil. What motivated you to want to come to school in the United States and focus on applied linguistics in that aspect?

In Brazil, I was learning, [and] I was into applied linguistics, but before that I was actually studying literature and I was doing a double major to teach Portuguese literature and English ESL. When I was learning how to teach literature, I had professors who wanted to teach me how to come up with a dictatorship of literature, if you will. I had to learn how to teach the students in reading and interpretation, but… not teaching them how to think critically, not [teaching] them that they had the freedom to read texts and produce knowledge from that. So the way we teach literature in Brazil was very boring.

I don’t like that at all, so I got interested in a [different] project. I was teaching Portuguese to missionaries, people from Utah in the Church in Belo Horizonte. That’s when I started to fall in love with teaching Portuguese to foreigners, because I learned that it was much more rewarding. You could almost touch the progress of the students, you could see it. It was almost like seeing a baby born, when you see a new language speaker. So I loved that, and I loved the love they have for Portuguese. They wanted to learn so badly and I became friends with them. It was fantastic, I was so happy to see the results of the work. They came back to the USA, and we started to exchange letters. I don’t think you all write letters anymore, but we started exchanging letters and tape recordings like cassette tapes. We would record radio shows and music and send it to each other, so we became friends. 

And life was really hard in Brazil. I was working as a high school teacher in the public school system, and I was probably at your age, I was 19. It was one of my first jobs out of college, so I was teaching in a public school and we just go on strike all the time. And I come from a very simple family, so we didn’t have a lot of money for me to develop my foreign language skills as I wanted. And I was just [so] dissatisfied teaching at a public school and not getting paid that I decided to really focus on my masters in Brazil. Then during that time things got really hard and I just couldn’t do it because I didn’t have enough money. So I decided that I was going to sell my little old car and… finish my masters here, and here I am almost 17 years later.

LW: The next question we have jumps a little bit, but we saw that you had a book, Colloquial Portuguese of Brazil and we wanted to ask what inspired you to make a new edition, what kind of elements did you add to the book and [is there] anything [else] you want to tell us about the book as well? 

That book was an interesting project, but at the same time a little sad, because writing books is a very lonely process. I started to write this book with a friend who unfortunately passed away last year. She was actually my boss at Harvard, Professor Clémence Jouët-Pastré. She is one of the authors of Ponto de Encontro. We were friends and we started with that project, and she got ill and then I had to do the project myself. I have to be blunt with you. When you have a project, and you present it to the editors [and] to the publishers, they already have something in mind. So many times, you will not get to do what you want. You’re going to do what they want you to do. So that was that project because I never believed in teaching language, teaching a foreign language using English – I don’t speak English in my Portuguese classes. So I understood what the project was about.

So the first five chapters there are… bilingual. And then from [chapters] five to twelve it’s only in Portuguese. I’m proud that I did it while I was writing my PhD dissertation. I’m proud that I finished the project; I think it’s very good. It does not reflect 100% of what I believe for language acquisition. It’s a book for self-study. So I think it works well, like my husband learned the language using it [and] I know a lot of people who did, but it’s not meant for the classroom, and it does not have all the tools I would like to have. The newest one I’m very proud [of is] Contextos. I’m very proud of that project, because it reflects 100% of what we do in the classroom.

Andrea Miletello: What techniques do you use when teaching Portuguese to Spanish speakers, in order to help the students contrast the two languages and to help them use Portuguese more intentionally? 

What I’ve learned is that… what Spanish speakers have – and it’s a big advantage – is the comprehension of the language. Spanish speakers comprehend about 84% of what they hear in Portuguese. That’s huge! So… what we do is at Harvard we take advantage of that comprehension. We focus mostly on oral skills, and we work very much on helping the students to find the difference[s] between the language[s]. Because the similarities they will see; they will pinpoint [them], and it’s easier for them. We do this activity that I developed with one of my colleagues, Cristiane Soares; it’s called output analysis.

We do output analysis, which is the students recording themselves, and then they listen to themselves. We meet and they do that out-loud protocol or debriefing. Because many times what happen[s] with Spanish speakers [is that] they think they’re speaking Portuguese, but they’re [really] speaking Portunhol, or they’re speaking Spanish. It’s kind of like “Portuguese-ed Spanish”, if I can say that. So by having the students recording themselves and listening, we are helping to foster noticing. That helps the students to actually be able to watch, to monitor closely. It’s almost like a bad-cop type of thing, because when you’re watching it you are trying to really clean up and avoid the difference[s] of Spanish and Portuguese. So this is one of the protocols.

We [also] do journals; it’s very helpful. We do Teletandem. Teletandem has been very successful for the last six years. With Teletandem, I’ve developed some training to teach the students how to give and receive feedback. So it’s mostly helping the students to really develop focused attention to certain parts of the language that are very different from Spanish. And never, never lie to the student saying that it’s going to be easier. They will take a different path to learn Portuguese.

The other thing too, is [that] I like to help students with strategies and like to help them set up some learning goals. After each unit of the course we go back there and they revise the strategies, [finding] what worked and what didn’t work and why. And [there’s] a lot of student participation in the course, more than anything else. We use music, so we have songs for each class. It’s very effective. We do a lot of singing and recording, we record ourselves singing. We do a lot of peer review, a lot of collaborative work, as well. I think these are the most important things. I work very much with techniques to ease [and] to help students cope with language anxiety because that’s what I’ve done for research. So we do a lot of techniques to help, a lot of mindfulness activities to help students feel more comfortable and cope with language anxiety.

KAS: Thank you for that. That sounds really…even just the anxiety part, I know learning languages for a lot of [people], even outside of motivation, issues of identity come into play so that is really neat. I know you mentioned that you have developed a lot of courses [in] your time at Harvard. Do you know specifically when the first Portuguese for Spanish Speakers class was created? Or were you the first person to pioneer that class?

There was one version [of] Portuguese for Spanish Speakers. I restructured the curriculum entirely in 2014, but there was one class – I don’t know exactly which year it was developed, maybe around 2005 [or] 2006 – it has to do with the Title VI Regulation, because languages became so important back then. At Harvard back then, between 2011 and 2014, we didn’t even have to do outreach to teach Portuguese. There were a lot of prospective students, a lot of people who are coming from political science or Latin American studies. So our classes were full, we [had] a large program back then. Unfortunately now it’s not the case. Enrollment is low, is down, [which is] a national trend for foreign languages.

But I think Clémence (Jouët-Pastré) had [made] an attempt for this course – it was kind of like a trend, because we had it at Brown University. It all depends on the size of the community and the population that you expect to receive. Like at UMass (Dartmouth) we have Portuguese for heritage speakers. That course would never run at Harvard because we had one or two heritage speakers per semester, maybe. So Clémence had a course – the only difference between the Portuguese for Spanish Speakers that she had developed and the Portuguese for traditional language learners was the amount of content that was covered. I looked at that, with all due respect, because I love her, but she was not a linguist. Her background was French Literature. The course was successful, because the students come to the language class, [and] most of the time they don’t know there is a theory behind language acquisition. They get there, they do what we tell them to do, right? She had this course that would cover 11 units of the book [Pontos de Encontro]. It was really a fast-paced course, because it was under that mentality that Spanish speakers learn Portuguese faster, which is a fallacy. So when I came in, I said “No, that’s not the point – the point is we need to revamp the curriculum. We don’t need to cover more, we need to change the way we cover things”, and that’s what we did back in 2014. Nowadays we don’t even see the need to run classes for traditional language learners. [We] don’t have those anymore, students who are learning a foreign language for the first time – we don’t have them. So we have a course – intensive Portuguese for students who are learning a third or fourth language, and [another course] for Spanish speakers.

KAS: You said that it’s this perceived fallacy that Spanish speakers learn Portuguese faster. And I know that there are a lot of L3 multilingual classes that are geared towards the same amount of material, but at two times [the] speed. What would you say to that, or to correct that statement [which] says Spanish speakers learn Portuguese faster?

Spanish speakers learn Portuguese in a very unique way. And here we cannot really have Spanish speakers as a homogeneous group, because in doing my research, I learned that it was possible to divide that group in[to] four sub-groups. As Spanish speakers – and this is what makes it so complicated to teach, because if you walk in [on] the course for Spanish speakers you’re going to have heritage speakers of Spanish, you’re going to have L2 speakers of Spanish, you’re going to have native speakers of Spanish, and you’re going to have the people who took Spanish in high school and they think they speak the language. They don’t. So you have four groups there, and you have a very mixed group. It’s very complex. So you cannot really design a class for this group, you know – one single class. We do it, but we have to be very sensitive to be able to divide the class in groups, to develop customized activities for each of these subgroups, and that takes a lot of time.

KAS: Would you go as far as to say that it would be beneficial for there to be classes for native or L1 Spanish speakers vs Portuguese for Spanish speakers, but Spanish they acquired as L2? [Dr. Gontijo nodded in confirmation] Okay, interesting.

Yeah, and the other interesting thing is that I see our “traditional” language learners get intimidated if they’re taking a class with Spanish speakers. They get intimidated [and] that’s a huge source of language anxiety for them. And the Spanish speakers, there is a discrepancy between what they think they know and what they actually know, and it’s huge. It’s really big.

AM: In what ways does previous knowledge of Spanish facilitate the learning of Portuguese in the classroom?

Based on my experience and other research and data that I have collected, it’s easier for L2 Spanish speakers to learn Portuguese because they will use the recency law. It’s going to be easier for them, because they learned Spanish. Not because they learned Spanish, [but] because they learned another foreign language which is closely related. So they will look for that path, they will have more grammatical congruency, they will be able to make more comparisons, [and] to contrast better the language, and to clean up the Portuguese a little better than the native speakers of Spanish. The same can be said about Brazilians or Portuguese speakers learning Spanish. I’m going to tell you, it’s hard. It’s very difficult, I know because I’ve been through it!

KAS: Okay, interesting. This next question is a little bit more about the class and particularly about how is the nature of the class. What’s the class size at Harvard? Do mostly undergraduate students take the course or is it offered to graduate students? And then, if you need me to ask it again I can, but a follow up would be how has COVID 19 changed the structure of the Portuguese for Spanish Speakers class?

[For] the class on campus, the cap was fifteen. We were lucky enough that we rarely had fifteen, which is a large number for language learning. So we would run with twelve, fourteen. A couple of times we had fifteen, even sixteen. But mostly twelve to fourteen and it varies between spring and fall. The classes are larger in the fall. And then the difference between on campus and online, during COVID, I worked maybe between fourteen and sixteen hours a day during the summer. I had to restructure the class completely, I had to change the curriculum completely. We did have a lot of hybrid components, we [had] used VoiceThread before, [and] we’ve been using VoiceThread for about five years now, so it’s not new to us. We had a hybrid class, which is Intensive Portuguese, which also helped me with the structure of the other class. I had to redo the syllabi of all courses, but this one [especially]. There was a lot of work in transforming some of the activities into asynchronous activities, and the structure… even the grade distribution, because what I’ve learned is that if you don’t increase the percentage of the grade that will be given to participation, the classes are not going to be as interactive as they should. So we had to work on that – the grade distribution – [and to] be more creative with the forms of assessment.  We could no longer do those quizzes, those fill-in-the-blanks. Which is good, because we had already restructured our assessments before, so that part was not so difficult to do. In the end, it was successful, the evaluations were good, but I don’t think [the students] were entirely happy. They wanted to go back to campus. I liked it, I liked this experience. All things considered, I think it was a good experience. I think we saved a lot of time. I think we were so concerned about using the time wisely that we ended up not doing a lot of things that students before would say “Oh, this is busy work,” something like that. But I didn’t see that in the evaluations. I think we had much more resources. Also we had more opportunities to invite guest speakers. That was a huge success, we had a lot of guest speakers from Brazil and for all the courses it was great. I think it worked well online.

LW: So we already talked a little bit about the activities and tools you used, but how did you use implicit and explicit teaching, if you did, when you’re comparing Spanish and Portuguese? Did you ever say “It’s this way in Spanish, but it’s this way in Portuguese” or was it all an implicit “don’t do this, because that’s wrong”?

Well, it’s a very good question actually. I’m going to try to answer [by] explaining a study that I have been working on for a couple years, which is the role of feedback. And it would be a surprise to see that teachers use different types of corrective feedback and students don’t realize. So many times, the explicit [feedback] will just fly by – the students won’t see it. I think the best way to do [it] – there are probably more ways to do [it], but what has been working well – is inviting the students to participate in the learning process. To develop activities, to share activities with the classmates, to do it hands-on. Try, for instance, to ask the students to look for some clips in Portuguese, for them to… do a contrastive analysis and explain the difference between the languages. Look for the translation of a song from Spanish to Portuguese and find what are the inadequacies, what are the errors, how can we fix this. We did a lot of error analysis, and students will be writing and then exchange the text, and then a classmate will come and “play” teacher, finding mistakes, explaining why it was wrong, and how to correct it. So this was very useful. Nowadays more than ever I think our role is to guide, to inspire, to be like a mediator. It doesn’t work if you want to be there and just run your mouth like crazy, you know? We cannot use more than 30% of the time in class. The students own that class, own that time, and we need to just guide it. I think that’s what works.

AM: That makes sense. Going off that, I’ve had teachers in the past tell us that part of what they use to inspire their students is the culture. We are wondering in what ways you invited the students to learn more about Portuguese-speaking cultures?

Yeah. It’s a huge mistake when teachers try to separate those two things. Language and culture are married. They belong to each other, there’s no way to separate those two. So it, to me, doesn’t make sense when I say “I’m going to teach culture.” No, I’m teaching language; culture is part of language. When the students are watching films, when they’re watching documentaries, when they’re reading, when they’re speaking with Brazilians, when they are running pilot studies and interviewing Brazilians about some books they are reading, when they are listening to music, I mean there are just so many ways of being exposed to culture. And which culture to teach? It’s too arrogant of me to pick one specific portion, piece of Brazilian culture, and say “here.” That’s not how it works. It’s much more broad than that, it’s much more interesting than that.

So I think what I try to do is to allow the students, and to give them [the] opportunity to go and explore. I guide that. I have an activity that’s called the EP, the personal choice. So students have a list of resources to inspire them, and they do weekly research on a theme that they like, and they come and present it to the class. And that works, it’s working really well for the intermediate courses. I try to allow for the students to do what they want to explore, even if it’s the culture of business, the culture of science, the culture of medicine. I don’t know, there’s just so many ways to explore it. And I really don’t believe in that [separation]. If you check out my last book, the Contextos, it’s cultural from the first to the last page. You can’t separate those two things, it’s impossible.

We can, however, focus on grammar structure, sometimes, when it’s necessary. Vocabulary, I do a lot of work with pronunciation, for instance. For my Spanish speakers, I would dare to say that pronunciation is about 45% of the classwork. Because that’s all [they] need. The phonological system of Portuguese is so much more complex than Spanish, it’s not even a joke. It’s sad when people say things like that to the students, “now let’s add some culture.”

KAS: I think something that I’ve heard recently, that I feel kind of clicked when I heard it, described just touching briefly on cultures is like this cultural tourism. That is like “oh we’re going to talk about Cabo Verde for one day” and that’s it, and we’re never going to talk about it ever again. So it’s really good that you are very intentional about incorporating and having students also bring in aspects of culture.

You kind of already spoke… we’re speaking on culture, but how do you incorporate things from all over the Lusophone world into your classes? You talked a little bit about having students go out and explore, but how do you incorporate those things in your class [and] in your courses?

Well, I think it’s mostly like the Five C’s from ACTFL. I like that, those standards. I like the idea of communication, connection, contextualization. I think it’s very important to do comparisons. I love when the students have to compare some aspects of life in Mozambique, and then with Portugal, and then Cape Verde. I think exploring the local communities is one of the richest ways to go. You know, when the students have the connection to actually examine what’s going on in the local communities. And I think that’s about it. Even cultural products like films, documentaries, music, I mean nowadays we can’t really pick and choose. There’s so much out there, it’s easier and it’s more productive with the students participating in the creation and the selection of the material. We have teams, we have units, we have books, we have lots of teaching material, but I think the students need to participate in that. They need to bring what they want to explore and to share. I think it’s more like that. I do introduce a lot of elements of all the Lusophone countries, but I would even say that for the most part, the most interesting things that we learn about Lusophone culture in my classes are the things that the students bring. And many times the songs that I pick, the films that I choose are not the best ones. Sometimes they choose some things that are better than mine, and I have to look at that and customize the class and change things, but it takes a lot of experience. Someone who’s starting to teach this year won’t be able to do that, to just take whatever students bring to class and just like [snaps fingers], “Here, this is what we are gonna do.” It takes a lot of experience. I am sure 10 years ago I could not do that. And you have to be humble. Teachers have to be humble, we don’t know everything.

LW: Okay, so the next question is kind of a quick one. For your classes, how do you test for background Spanish knowledge, if you do at all? How do you measure how much prior knowledge they know of Spanish? 

So this is determined by the school, the Office of Undergraduate Studies. We have our Romance Languages policies, the department policies. I worked with them on that and I didn’t change that very much. What we have is the student needs to score I think above 750 on the [Spanish subtest] SAT [or in] AP Spanish, or be a native speaker. But then we go back to that subject we’re talking about earlier, about the diversity of the groups. That would probably eliminate the heritage speakers of Spanish from the class because some of them will not score that highly on the AP exam. Because they can comprehend, but they cannot speak the language, or they cannot write, many times. In that case, many times, what happens is they go to the Intensive Portuguese [class] instead… because [if] they go to the class designed for Spanish speakers and then when they get there, they start comparing themselves to the native speakers… they cannot deal with that. And sometimes they migrate to Spanish classes; they just feel like, “I gotta go learn Spanish first.”

AM: Our next question is related, because I know you’ve mentioned that you would separate the groups, or build activities based on people’s linguistic backgrounds. But this question was made with the fact [in mind] that some people at Emory will take Portuguese for Spanish Speakers, even though they have experience in other Romance languages such as French. I know someone in my class right now, who speaks Hindi and she’s taking this class geared towards third language learning. So I was wondering how you take each student’s linguistic background into account within the course?

Okay, so the students need to, besides doing the AP [or] being a native speaker, they have to respond to my questionnaire, and I interview the students, and then authorize their enrollment. It’s not like “Oh, I want to take it and… ” No. I have to interview them. And then [in] the case like you were saying, the student who speaks Hindi, that student would go to Intensive Portuguese because for Intensive Portuguese it’s required to speak at least two foreign languages. The purpose of Portuguese for Spanish Speakers is to do something very specific [and] very focused on Spanish speakers. It’s almost like a linguistics class; it’s very specific. You do a lot of work that a regular language class would not do. Why [can] we do this? We can do this because the time that we spend in the other classes, with teaching vocabulary, teaching grammar in a very exhausting way because students don’t comprehend what you are doing so you have to speak very slowly. Classes don’t move fast enough. So we don’t have enough time to do all the activities and improvisation, for instance, in a traditional language class. For Spanish speakers, we use that time and we focus on pronunciation. We focus on the difference between the languages. If you have the student speaking Hindi in that class, what is she going to be doing? She can’t perform. Because you don’t learn faster – you learn differently, but the class moves faster because you comprehend more. You know, I bet this Hindi speaker, she can’t comprehend half of what you can in Portuguese…

And the thing is, the French speakers and Italian speakers, they don’t learn Portuguese the same way that the Spanish speakers do. It’s different because Spanish and Portuguese are closely related languages. They’re sisters. It’s not the same, the same cannot be said about French and Italian. So we can’t meet to then study those things, it gets too confusing.

KAS: So, there can’t be a class that’s just generally Portuguese for Romance speakers, you would want a class specifically Portuguese for French speakers or Portuguese for Italian speakers. I think that’s how the classes used to be structured at Emory. The title was just Portuguese for Speakers of Romance Languages, but what happens is it’s normally Spanish speakers.

Yeah [laughs]. Yeah, because when you have French speakers and Italian speakers, the difficulties that they observe or they have [are] very different from Spanish speakers and you don’t have a group that is large enough to develop a class. A lot of this has to do with administration. How can you justify opening a class “Portuguese for Italian Speakers” when you’re going to have two or three students enrolled? So it’s easier for us to say, okay “Portuguese for Romance Language Speakers.” [But] what is the purpose of this class? There’s no focus. I don’t see it. The proximity of Portuguese and Spanish is just much more – they’re just much more related than the other ones, [so] I don’t see that.

KAS: Yeah that makes sense. Okay this is a question, more generally, about teaching the class. I know you mentioned that a lot of it is being humble, you said, and just gaining that experience [of] how to think critically with your students, and bringing their experiences. So do you have any overall advice for anyone who wants to teach a Portuguese class for Spanish speakers?

Okay number one advice, stop telling the students that it will be easy for them. It won’t be easier. You can tell them they will feel comfortable, because they will comprehend. You know that fear that traditional language learners have when they are in a foreign language class – “Oh, my goodness, now she’s going to ask me to speak.” – Spanish speakers don’t feel that way because they comprehend and because they can get by speaking Portunhol. You can tell the students, “Listen, you’re going to feel much more comfortable. But you’re going to have to be watching what you say, all the time, because you need to be able to separate the languages.” That’s the most difficult thing, so I think that’s what the teachers need to know and that’s what they need to tell the students. Be blunt. Because learning a language, it’s much more than the methodology that I use, it’s much more than the textbook that I use. Language and learning, it’s a lot about individual differences. It’s the students’ motivation, [and] attitude towards the community, attitude towards the language, how much [he/she] likes or dislikes the sounds of the language. Language learners are much more complex than all the other external factors that we’re talking about. So I think the teachers can help students. Inspiring them to participate [in] the language acquisition, you know, to be part of the acquisition actively, I think that’s the best way to go. Getting to class and opening the book and doing dialogues – I don’t see that very much at Harvard anymore; I hope I won’t see that anywhere else. Teaching [students] how to use the language and not teaching [them] about the language. And throw them out there to speak.

LW: One of the last questions we have is, what do you see as kind of the benchmark of success for a student? How do they know they’re prepared to move either to the next level or just know that they’ve completed the goals of the course?

Yeah that’s a very difficult question, I have to say… because it has to do [not just] with completing the goals, but how you complete the goals and how well you completed [them]. Are you able to go to Brazil or Portugal or elsewhere, and actually communicate and speak the language – a clean Portuguese without all that influence of Spanish? When you are speaking Portuguese and you’re saying “Me gusta falar com você”… and some of my colleagues would say, “No, he’s speaking Portuguese, it’s fine. I can understand.” But then again we go back to the goals: what are the student’s goals? Do they really want to speak the language or they are satisfied with communicating a little bit here and there? So it’s going to vary, it’s going to vary tremendously. I think that the biggest and the most difficult goal to achieve, is to be able to pronounce clean and clearly and to work on the intonation, which is one of the most difficult things. I think the intonation, the way we sing when we speak Portuguese, it’s hard to reproduce when you have the influence of Spanish.

KAS: Well this will be our last question for you, and I just want to say before the last question [that] we really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us. What is your favorite part about teaching the course, specifically Portuguese for Spanish Speakers? I know you talked a little bit earlier at the beginning of the interview about how it was more exciting than teaching the literature [because] you’re kind of able to be more critical. But could you talk a little bit about what you like about teaching the class and maybe what you don’t like about teaching the class?

I am going to start by talking about what I don’t like. I don’t like seeing the students believing so much in fallacies, in myths and ideas that are not true. Not factual. I don’t like when they have a very unrealistic view of themselves as a language speaker. I don’t like that. It’s irritating, it’s sad, and it’s something that when I see it, when I spot [it], I want to change it right away because it’s huge. I don’t like that, and I do everything I can to change that. To help them on that.

What I like? I like everything about teaching languages, I just love it. I love the eye contact, the way you can see the discovery. When you can see that the kids do like, “Ah! That’s how it is, that’s what it means.” [Or] “Ah! That’s how you say it!” I love that and I think with Spanish speakers it’s fascinating because they discover so much. They know so much about the similarities, but they don’t believe in it. They know, they hear it, but they almost don’t believe in it. It’s so interesting. So I love the eyes, like the faces that they make when they discover [things], when they actually pronounce something right, when they are being born again [as] Portuguese speakers. I don’t know [laughter]. It’s a big passion, I really love it. And I also have to say, I also love how they express themselves a lot of times with so many beautiful ways in writing. So sensitive, kids are so creative and they do beautiful things. I’ve been reading beautiful compositions lately.


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