August 10, 2010

University Vocabulary in Portuguese

 Oi gente! Elena Como has submitted a great post (full of "false friends") on talking about college in Portuguese. So aqui está the first ever guest post here at Portuguese Tips:

photo: Ananda Lima
University Talk
Elena Como

 Before I studied in Brazil, during my junior year abroad at PUC-Rio, I learned a lot of Portuguese vocabulary. I remember that my Portuguese teacher at UC Santa Cruz gave us a number of ways to discuss what we majored in at the university. So I arrived at PUC and spoke about my area de concentração. And the Brazilians thought I was a graduate student. That also caused confusion, because estudante de graduação is actually an undergraduate in English. Graduação sounds like it should refer to a graduate student, but it's actually used for undergraduates. (Graduate students are called pós-graduados).

What's wrong with translating the idea of a major into "area de concentração"? It's a cultural problem--Brazilians don't really do general education, not like Americans, anyway. So they don't talk about having an "area de concentração" unless they are graduate students with a focus or concentration. Instead, Brazilians speak about their major or department the same way they would talk about their work: eu faço matemática (I am a math major), or eu estudo matemática (I study math). Faculdade means department, and it can also be used the way we use the word "school"--sort of a general way of referring to where you study.

Speaking of school, another confusion I encountered was the false cognate in the word "school." In American English, young people often use the word "school" to refer to university. In Portuguese, escola doesn't ever mean college or university, it means elementary school (and colégio is high school). So people would look at me funny when, at age 20, I would say "Eu vou para a escola." All of these terms came pretty quickly when I was living there, but it's easy to make these kinds of mistakes when the actual educational system is quite different. So to all of you who are going back to school, tenham um bom semestre!

Elena Como is the founder and president of Atlântico Books, an importer, distributor, and publisher of Portuguese-language books, CDs, DVDs, and downloads. Atlantico Books serves Portuguese students, teachers, and translators.

*I have not received anything in exchange of this post, i.e., this is not advertisement.


  1. Obrigada, Ananda!
    Adorei participar no seu blog. :)
    Elena Como

  2. oi, loved your blog. I'm Brazilian but my husband, who is English, is learning a lot...I also have a blog about London with a Brazilian 'twist'!


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