“Fala galera? Tudo bem!?” If you have IG and follow any of the native Brazilian BJJ personalities, you have probably heard them start their stories and posts with these two phrases. The problem is what does it mean? What does any of what they are saying mean?
I have dabbled in language learning for many years, which is odd as I detested any language learning at school, but as I grew older and experience more culture, I became fascinated and frustrated equally, and this is where my interest was first sparked.
In jiu-jitsu as with languages, there are many approaches to learning. Many of us can think of a person who has trained at various gyms before settling on one because “they like it more” or “find it easier to learn here”, conversely, we have each met someone who came for a bit, quit, but still talks about how much they love jiu-jitsu.
Sometimes we quit because we like the idea, but not the work, many other times it is hard because the delivery is not right, and yes things take work, but there is often a smart way to learn. I believe delivery is why I, and many others, struggle or hate learning languages in school; as open-minded adults, we vastly grow when we can connect with others and fully take in their culture, but we often have the realization that, had we started many years earlier (in school), we would be so much further along.
So yeah, as a young adult I started dabbling, first with Japanese because of anime, then Arabic because I was surrounded by sand and people who only spoke Egyptian Arabic; then Russian, which many have said was difficult, but I found came surprisingly easy, think like a bond villain and it comes naturally. I attained a level of proficiency in each that would allow me to be a great tourist, but I never really stuck to learning—“because it is hard!”
Rolling into 2020, I had not given much thought to language learning—especially not Brazilian Portuguese, and then one day it hit me, “why not?” My journey with jiu-jitsu started in September 2010, I first started learning under a brown belt and within a few months we had a black belt professor join our gym, problem was he did not speak much English, so we relied on the brown belt to translate body movements into English (if that makes sense?). Over the years I have met a few others with a limited English vocabulary and I have watched seminars delivered in Portuguese; to this day the community still has a mass of native Portuguese speakers, who have learned English, so why have many of us made no attempts to learn Portuguese?
In February this year I set a goal to not just start learning Brazilian Portuguese, but actually attain an excellent level of proficiency, and not quit—like not at all. There are a few motives behind the choice which I will list: better ability to extract knowledge from some of the most experienced practitioners, build better bonds and networks, connect with another culture and open opportunities, to be able to understand what an opponents coach is shouting to them from the side of the mat and, most of all, fuel my passion for language learning and grow as a person.
How am I doing? Bem, não muito bem, mas bem. It is a process, but step by step I make progress and find what works for me. For now, I have been using Duolingo and Pimsleur, these are the two that work best for me. All jokes aside, Duolingo has made learning fun and easy, I definitely can understand the many criticisms around the app, but it does greatly help with reading fluency; Pimsleur is great for listening and speech. The two combined give me reading, speaking, and listening, and this approach seems best.
Not that it technically matters too much to learning/progress, but I try to keep up a streak on Duolingo, and then make a vlog video for YouTube every 50 days. I am now on day 90, with a video due soon. I think the vlogs are a great way to see how far we have progressed—grown, and this provides perspective on our journeys. Just as in language learning, I get frustrated with progress in jiu-jitsu, but when we have the ability to look back, we see how far we have travelled. There is no secret to progress, other than to just show up, have passion, and keep doing it hoje, amanhã e todos os dias!