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As my ten-year high school reunion nears, I am reminded of just how long I’ve been learning Spanish. But as a novice learning Brazilian Portuguese, I can relate to my students' feelings of insecurity, thirst, as well as joy in learning a new language. I was lucky enough to be required by my Latin American Studies program to take Portuguese 101. In fact, to get a head start, I had taken a Port 101 at a community college with the unforgettable mineiro, Professor Oliveira. I fell in love with this sister language and went on to take PORT 102, 103, and 104. I longed for the opportunity to put my book learning into practice. Then out of nowhere, I was recently given the opportunity to attend an event welcoming over 70 Brazilian youth to Los Angeles. About 50 of them were part of the Ikeda Humanism Brazilian Philharmonic Orchestra. Most are not professionals but form a brilliant orchestra. Of course they spoke Portuguese, not Spanish. The small victories of this weekend took... read more

After taking several years of high school or college Spanish courses, most students expect to be able to say more than an embarrassed Hola. And yet that seems to be more than most can muster after mastering considerable chunks of grammar. Where does this reticence and regret come from? And what does it take to become "conversational," even "fluent," in a language? By the time I graduated from high school, and after hours of passionately poring over all things Spanish, I was fluent. There are, of course, dozens of shades of fluency, and you never stop learning. But I should first tell you about another not-so-successful endeavor during high school. I started taking piano lessons in the third grade and continued for nine years. I remember excitedly playing Yankee Doodle and learning how to read music. But somewhere along the way, my skills and enthusiasm just flatlined. I even passed several Certificate of Merit exams. Later on in college, I met dozens... read more

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