February 24, 2010

Sing Happy Birthday in Portuguese again... this time with the help of a cuuuuuute dog!

After seeing my post on singing happy birthday in Portuguese, the owner of a gorgeous golden retriever contacted me for help on the song. They wanted to send a video of happy birthday to the puppy's cousin in São Paulo in Portuguese! (Isn't it fun to be a blogger? How else would I get fun messages like these! ).

Unfortunately, I was away and that e-mail address was a little messed up, so I didn't see the note until it was too late... but it looks like they didn't need me anyway! Here is Golden dog's productions awesome video:

Or you can see it on their You Tube channel, here. (thanks for the video, Simon and Simon's owner!)

February 23, 2010

80's Portuguese concert in NYC again!

Quick note for those in New York and interested in a pop-cultural experience. Gig Brazil is guys are having another 80's Brazilian Rock concert this Saturday at Sullivan Hall. I am not sure I'll be able to go this time (bummer), but last time I had such a great time! Check it out if you are up to some very different Portuguese practice this Saturday night!

February 22, 2010

Expand your Portuguese through reading and music: A great book for advanced speakers

I am always on the look out for books for my advanced students that are interesting so that they can practice their reading. The only thing is that some books that I love and some of the classics can be very difficult to read for foreign language speakers and they end up giving up!* During my last trip to Brazil I found a great book for advanced learners called "Noites Tropicais", by the music journalist Nelson Motta.

The language in the book is really natural (more similar to spoken language than many books I find). As well as looking out for the abscence of language features that are mostly formal and looking for informal language while reading it (like "pulando feito pipoca"), I test drove the book by giving it to my husband (an advanced speaker) who could read it without too much trouble and really liked it!

The story is super-interesting if you like Brazilian music. The book tells the story of Brazilian music from João Gilberto until the 1990's, from a very personal perspective (the author was right in the middle of the music scene the whole time and was good friends with a lot of the musicians). Because of that, it mentions the story behind of a lot of the songs that we know and love. So you can spice up your reading by pausing to listen and have a good look at some of the songs mentioned in the book (learning through music can be very nice and break up your routine). [I have set up a Pandora station (free!) with songs *mostly* by the composers mentioned in the book. To access, click here (login required) or go to "create station" and start typing "Noites Tropicais", it should find the station and suggest it to you as you type it.]

You can see a good summary from the publisher here and a nice review here. These are in Portuguese, so if you can understand the gist of these articles well, you are in a great position to read the book... If you can't understand most of the summary and review, keep practicing (and following the blog :-)) and try again later.

As of right now, you can get the book from Amazon or you can get it through Atlântico Books, a boutique book importer which specializes on Portuguese books. There is also companion CD (or you can listen to the Pandora station, which is free :-)).

*I think is a great goal to be able to read the stuff with more complicated language (and worth it!), but I definitely don't think your first Portuguese book should be one of those (just like I don't think English learners should start by reading Shakespeare!). I recommend reading books with more current/ natural language first and then moving on to harder stuff later... even if your Portuguese is really good!

** This post is for my lovely student of the month, Thomas, who is going to read the book with me!

February 17, 2010

Impersonal expressions in Portuguese

***Warning: grammarphobes may want to skip this article. If you want to learn some of the points here more implicitly, you can practice the expressions here or here. I am adding a category 'avoid if you don't like grammar' so you can stick to the less heavy stuff.***

One of my students asked about impersonal verbs this week, so I thought I would share this with you in case you have similar questions...

...But wait. Don't Brazilians like to get personal? Fear not, you can hold on to the friendly Brazilian stereotypes :-). I don't mean impersonal in the sense of unfriendly or cold. This post is about impersonal in the sense of lacking person agreement (the different person conjugations) on the verb. If you have no idea what I am talking about, don't worry. I'll explain. (If you know what I am talking about you can skip the re-cap :-))

A. Re-cap: (Person) Verb Conjugation 101

Remember that for beginners it can sometimes be tricky to remember all those different verb endings? For example, take the verb falar (to speak) in the past (you can also look at ser and estar):

(1)Eu falei
(2)Você/ele/ela/a gente falou
(3)Nós falamos
(4)Vocês/eles/elas falaram

See how the verb endings are different depending on the subject? These different forms depending on the subject is what I am calling person agreement/ person conjugation. Compare with the English translation, where the verb doesn't change at all:

(1) I spoke.
(2) You/he/she/we spoke
(3) We spoke
(4) You/they spoke

That is because English shows no person agreement for the verb 'speak' in the past and Portuguese does.*

B. Impersonal verbs

If you have trouble remembering the endings you may like this. Not all verbs have different forms for different persons like the ones above. There are verbs that don't have different endings for different subjects... because they have no subject at all!

If you look up 'impersonal verbs' on a grammar, you will probably get the typical impersonal verbs, like some verbs describing the whether:

Nevou muito em Nova Iorque ontem.
(It) snowed a lot in New York yesterday.

The verb nevar in the simple past is always nevou. There is usually no nevei, nevamos, etc. Similarly, in English you can't use different subjects. You can only say 'it snowed', but not 'I snowed', 'we snowed'. Etc.

So we see two properties of impersonal verbs in Portuguese from the example:

Impersonal verbs:
(1) There is no subject
(2) There aren't different person conjugations.

There are other 'classic' impersonal verbs (e.g., haver/ter (= English 'there is') , meaning to exist). There are also plenty of other expressions that are not these classic impersonal verbs that are grammatically impersonal. Here are a couple of examples of informal examples that we saw on this blog:

We saw one on the last post on cair a ficha (meaning something like 'to click'), notice how the verb cair doesn't change depending on the person:

Eu não estava entendendo nada, mas ontem finalmente caiu a ficha!
I wasn't understanding anything, but yesterday it finally clicked.

Nós não estavamos entendendo nada, mas ontem finalmente caiu a ficha!
We weren't understanding anything, but yesterday it finally clicked.

Eles não estavam entendendo nada, mas ontem finalmente caiu a ficha!
They weren't understanding anything, but yesterday it finally clicked.

The verb dar in the expression dar para (meaning something like 'to be possible (for)') is also impersonal (even though the second verb is):

Não deu para eu chegar cedo ontem.
(It) wasn't possible for me to arrive early yesterday.

Não deu para eles chegarem cedo ontem.
(It) wasn't possible for them to arrive early yesterday.

Não deu para nós chegarmos cedo ontem.
(It) wasn't possible for me to arrive early yesterday.

We will certainly be seeing some more examples of impersonal verbs come up on this blog, though we won't be discussing the grammar so explicitly every time (grammar tips are good in small dosis).

1. Read the blog posts on the expressions 'cair a ficha' and 'dar para' if you haven't already done so (take your time. Don't do everything today!). Do the one exercise there.

2. Google the following phrases to get more examples of these expressions (use the double quotes). Copy 6 sentences that you understood:
a. "deu para eu", "dava para eles", "não dá pra eu", "não da pra elas" (note: pra is an informal reduced version of para)
b. "choveu", "neva", "ventou"
c. "caiu a ficha", "cai a ficha"

3. Write six sentences of your own with the expressions in 2a, b and c.

*English does have some person agreement, but it shows up in only a few cases. If you look at the verb 'speak' in the present (or any regular non-modal verb), you can see that there is a different form of the verb that depends on person. We say 'I speak' and 'she speaks'. This is an example of person agreement. Another example is the verb 'be'. In this case we also have different forms (am,are,is) for different persons, even in the past ('was', 'were').

February 15, 2010

Portuguese Expression: "Cair a Ficha"

1965 duas tribos Originally uploaded by cavern club
Used with permission by photographer

Caiu a ficha
is a very common slang which literally means for a 'the token dropped'. It means something like 'it dawned on me/someone', 'it clicked', 'I/someone got it' to start understanding something that may have taken a while to understand:

O professor explicou várias vezes o problema eu não entendia. Quando ele finalmente mostrou um exemplo, caiu a ficha.
The teacher explained the problem several times and I didn't understand. When he finally showed an example, it clicked/ I got it.

It is often used in the sense of 'taking a hint':

Eu sempre digo que estou ocupada quando ele me convida para sair, mas mesmo assim não caiu a ficha que eu não quero sair com ele!
I always say that I am busy when he asks me out, but even then, he hasn't gotten it yet!

The source of the expression becomes a little clearer if you know a little bit about Brazilian public phones. These are known as orelhão, litererally 'big ear' because of their shape (see the picture above by cavern club... can you see how it is kind of shaped like an ear?).

Back in the day, to make a call on a public phone, you needed to buy a phone token (we didn't get to use quarters like here... maybe because of the inflation, they would probably have had to change the phones too often to accept different shaped coins!). When you placed a call the token would stay up towards the top of the phone until someone picked up on the receiving end. When they picked up, the token would drop into the phone (at that point you could not get it back).

Caiu a ficha?

P.s.: I just got told that they have the same expression in hebrew! Something like "the token fell" (nafal ha asimon).

February 10, 2010

Type Portuguese Accents on the got with Easy Online Editor

I have a previous post on how to type Portuguese accents on a Mac or Windows with a Brazilian keyboard (if you are going there make sure to read the comments from very helpful readers)... but say you are not using your own computer (or not coordinated enough to type those alt combos) and you just want to type a quick couple of sentences, with all those lovely accents... You can use a simple online editor like this one.

As Tomasz Szynalski, the creator of the utility, put it on an e-mail he sent me, "[t]he idea is to spare users the pain of installing and switching keyboard layouts, memorizing Alt-codes, etc. Some people use it to quickly type a short piece of text (like a Portuguese name or address), others use it to write personal or business letters to Portuguese speakers."


February 9, 2010

Tô Voltando

Long time, no post! After crazy year and a bit with a real lot going on (job, language work plus this), I can finally reserve a little bit of time to add to this blog! ... regular posts are coming up!

Meanwhile, here is the song "Tô voltando" (I'm coming back) :-)

Intermediate and advanced students can look at the lyrics here.