We Don’t Speak English Here

Posted on | June 16, 2011 | 7 Comments

At my very first dinner in São Paulo, I asked the waiter if he spoke English. He replied ‘não’ with a cold face, as if I was ordering something off the menu. There was nothing wrong with him, just me.

Most people in São Paulo don’t speak English, and they are not ashamed of it. There is nothing wrong with them, just the foreigners who cannot speak their language. I kind of like this attitude.

Today, my colleague back in Toronto was shocked to receive from our Brazilian client a document all written in Portuguese. It was just a set of simple instructions to access their computer network, with screenshots. I told him to use Google Translate, but he insisted on having the document translated into English.

So I relayed the request to my Brazilian colleague, who replied with frustration, “Can’t he use Google Translate?!” He added that the Brazilians have to use English inconveniently when dealing with us. Can’t we be more considerate? Besides, the two languages are not totally incomprehensible between each other.

I really felt for him. Why do so many people expect others around the world to speak English? I don’t refer to just English native speakers. Many non-English native speakers also expect other people to speak English to them.

This is only my first week in the city, and I already appreciate many locals I met here who insist on speaking to me in Portuguese, even though I am not very conversational in the language.

Comments

7 Responses to “We Don’t Speak English Here”

  1. Gavin
    June 19th, 2011 @ 12:41 am

    Hey Edwin. I can see your frustration in this situation, I imagine there is a kind of assumption on the part many native English speakers sometimes when they travel abroad.

    You didn’t try to speak Portuguese at the restaurant? I thought you’ve been learning for a little while…those are great opportunities to try your Portuguese…but that’s okay it sounds like you’ve run into a lot of people who are giving you the opportunity to practice. If they’re insisting on speaking Portuguese to you though, does that mean that the people you’ve run into speak English too?

  2. edwin
    June 19th, 2011 @ 1:50 pm

    Gavin, I asked the waiter in Portuguese. It was my first night here. I was trying to get an idea of how wide English is spoken here.

    The only time I can speak English here is when I am working in the office, where I am kind of expected to speak English. Outside the office, I can only speak Portuguese. There is no option.

  3. Marcelo Brasil
    June 20th, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

    Hey Edwin, it’s a great surprise to see that you’re in Sao Paulo. How long are you gonna stay here? I live here in Sao Paulo close to Higienópolis. Where are you staying? Maybe we could meet up and practice some Portuguese/French/Spanish/ Cantonese. I speak ( to varying degrees of fluency) all of those languages, being French my best one among those cited above. It would be a fun language exchange!

    I would be more than happy to help you with your Portuguese, teach you some REAL Portuguese and guide you around the city. My email is marcelobrasill@hotmail.com hope to hear from you!

  4. Andrew
    June 29th, 2011 @ 8:17 am

    Please tell me you told your colleague that the Brazilians said to just use Google Translate. I really hope they didn’t give in, they’re absolutely in the right on this one–if they have to put up with dealing with stuff in English, then it’s vice-versa baby, you know?

    I like that no one there speaks English, one of the biggest complaints of language-learners when they visit the country of their target language is that everyone insists on speaking English to them and therefore it’s difficult for them to practice the local language (e.g. Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, etc.–mostly Western European countries).

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  5. edwin
    June 29th, 2011 @ 11:44 am

    No, Andrew. Unfortunately, I had to ask my colleague to translate.

  6. O nauce języków, nie tylko angielskiego – linki, czerwiec ’11 | Język Angielski dla każdego - Ucz się sam!
    July 5th, 2011 @ 1:46 pm

    […] We don’t speak English here – Nie oczekuj, że znając angielski, dogadasz się z każdym człowiekiem na ziemi. “When you start a foreign language journey you suck. Big time. The beginning is the hardest stage of all, which actually is really unfair, because it’s the point where you haven’t invested any time or energy into the language, so it seems okay to just give up.” […]

  7. Petra
    December 11th, 2013 @ 2:26 pm

    I totally agree. It´s not so difficult to learn few basic sentences and make an effort to speak the language instead of expecting everyone to speak English. Why should they?

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