Is Portuguese ready to steal the limelight?

Roman Catholic Portuguese school

Portuguese schools are back in vogue! A Roman Catholic Portuguese school (Photo credit: John Collier Jr.)

I was sitting in my doctor’s waiting room the other day (“waiting” being a very apt word) when the cover of the October 2012 edition of Monocle magazine caught my eye. The main blurb under the masthead read: Generation Lusophonia: why Portuguese is the new language of power and trade. Then for some reason it added in small print: Even if you live in Jo’burg (a reference to Johannesburg in South Africa). The cover featured three models, all young but not too young, and trendy. One was supposedly a man in high places in Brasilia, because it had an arrow pointing to him and the pop-up dialogue: Why you need friends in high places in Brasilia, and a translation in smaller print in Portuguese: Por que você precisa de amigos no alto escalão em Brasilia. There was a very Portuguese-looking woman in the middle representing the Azores: Why the Azores are the islands to watch, Por que os Açores são as ilhas para ficar de olho. And there was another trendy bloke who must be important in Luanda: His box said: Who you need to know in Luanda, Quem você precisa conhecer em Luanda. But if the magazine really believed Portuguese was the new language of power, it should have put the Portuguese in bigger type than the English, surely, to demonstrate the point. Or at least give both languages equal weighting.


Far out but worth going to have a look. One of the nine volcanic islands in the Azores archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean. (Photo credit: amoosefloats)

Monocle is an impressive magazine in this day and age when print is supposed to be on its way out. This edition (issue 57) had 260 pages. As well as the cover stories, it had articles examining whether it was possible for Portuguese-speaking nations ever to form a coherent community; an interview with Brazil’s foreign minister; a look at the Brazilian coffee and retail industries; a look at 15 Lusaphone companies “making waves” in the business world; an article on why Portuguese and Brazilian middle-class tourists choose France as their top European destination; a round-up of Lusophone‘s best cultural figures; a look at Portugal’s cork industry (which I have also done myself as a journalist); and articles on Portuguese architects and a pictorial on “an African architectural gem”, Maputo.

English: Portuguese colonial residence, Maputo...

House proud. A Portuguese colonial residence, Maputo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sure, it is great to read that Luanda is buzzing, Maputo too, and of course Brazil is going to be in the international limelight when 12 of its cities host the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament and Rio de Janeiro hosts the Olympic Games in 2016. I have read one report that there has been increased interest in Portuguese at one college in London as people look forward to attending those sporting events in Brazil, but I am not greatly convinced that Portuguese is all the rage. Have a look at the language departments at any UK or US university and you’ll find Portuguese courses are pretty rare in comparison with Italian, French and Spanish, and other languages such as Mandarin. Which is sad when you consider that Portuguese is the sixth most spoken language in the world and French is just 18th and Italian 24th. (That said, there are some very interesting-looking courses at those universities that do cover Portuguese in depth.) You certainly won’t be able to specialise in Portuguese at any Australian university.

English: Joseph Blatter announcing 2014 World ...

And the winner is … Portuguese! Joseph Blatter announcing the 2014 World Cup will be held in Brazil.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What I think will happen is that Portuguese will start to take off after the World Cup in Brazil next year. Visiting soccer fans there will have a great time, their curiosity in the language and culture will be aroused, they will want to come back to explore it more, and by word of mouth they will get their friends interested too. Brazil is expecting a tourist boom not just in 2014 and 2016 but also in the period 2016-2020, because of the coverage that those sporting events will generate (people watching the games at home on television will be exposed to Brazil too). I just hope that the Lusophone countries take advantage of this and promote their languages and culture. How well prepared are they?

The Monocle magazine mentioned above offered ‘Ten tips for the Lusophone world’. The first one was: Speak up: The Portuguese language needs more promotion; Lusophone countries should club together to get their mother tongue on curriculums around the world. The Instituto Camões should adopt the gusto (and canny strategy) of the Alliance Française.”  I certainly agree with that. But the Instituto Camões is a Portuguese government initiative, and Portugual is a small country of about 11 million people and like much of Europe it is going through a period of economic austerity. It is time now surely for Brazil, which has a population of almost 200 million and now has one of the world’s leading economies, to step up to the plate and lead the promotional charge of the great Lusophone language and culture, don’t you think?


5 thoughts on “Is Portuguese ready to steal the limelight?

  1. Great post! We have a very hard time finding Brazilian Portuguese children’s books here in Tucson. The International School of Tucson has no classes or playgroups in Portuguese. The Pima County Library has no books. Bookstores have nothing. The University of Arizona has a few. We requested that our family in Brazil send us more books!

    • Hello, thanks for your feedback and for your comments, which illustrate perfectly the issues involved here. It is much the same in Sydney, Australia, where I live. There is one book store that specialises in foreign languages, and it has some shelf space dedicated to Portuguese, but not as much space as French, Spanish, Italian or German, for example. And the Portuguese books are so expensive! Let’s hope the situation improves, although to be honest I can’t see too much being done in the near future. However, the fact that Portuguese or Brazilian film festivals are starting to sprout in various places (there is a Brazilian film festival starting soon in Auckland, New Zealand, where I am this week, for example) is encouraging. Certainly do what you can to encourage your children to learn Portuguese. Being bilingual is a great gift from one’s parents, isn’t it? Boa sorte!

  2. Pingback: Where are all the Portuguese tutors and students? | My Five Romances

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