Posted in English

In Da Club

Looking at Anglo-Lusitanian clubs and societies in London to see if there are any that might be worth joining. There’s a complete list here of all clubs for lusophones in the UK, but I’m going to list the ones that are most interesting for general interest (ie, not just football of cod-admiration) in London and that don’t look defunct (e.g., if their websites only have events in the past I’m not botherin’.

Anglo-Portuguese Society – events and speeches. Quite posh. £49 to join

Academia do Bacalhau – seems to be inactive judging by how out of date its events are but you need to click on the link to see their amazing logo

Grupo Típico Português – It’s a bit full-on for me but might be of interest to some

Portuguese Chamber of Commerce – Networking for business people

Little Portugal – Not really a club as such but an interesting little project about Portuguese people in London.

Posted in Portuguese

Não Estou A Deitar Fora O Meu Tiro

Ontem à noite, eu a família fomos ao teatro Victoria Palace para vermos uma apresentação duma peça de teatro chamada “Hamilton”. Para quem não sabe, trata-se de um musical americano que conta a história de Alexander Hamilton, um dos participantes na revolução contra os ingleses*, que passou a primeiro Ministro das Finanças daquele país depois da guerra. Foi escrito por Lin-Manuel Miranda, que também escreveu a música de várias outras obras, incluindo o Moana da Disney. Já conhecíamos todas as músicas da banda sonora e já adorávamos todas mas não estávamos preparados para a maravilha de ver o espectáculo inteiro no palco.


Como devem saber, no elenco da peça, há um único actor branco – o Rei Jorge Terceiro. Todos os outros são negros, hispânicos ou de raça mista. Isto deixa a história tornar-se um veículo para vários pontos políticos sobre a história do país e o seu povo, de imigração e liberdade. É simultaneamente uma crítica ao país, um grande elogio a ele, uma lição de cidadania e muito mais! Aqui em Londres, donde vinham os “vilões” da peça, Hamilton, o herói foi protagonizado por Jamael Westman, um actor bastante novo. Na produção original em Nova Iorque, toda a gente era americana, e o único inglês – o rei – precisou de falar com um sotaque diferente, mas neste caso, Hamilton, Burr e o resto da companhia teve que falar com sotaques estrangeiros, e apenas o Rei pôde utilizar a sua própria voz. Gostei sobretudo do Burr (um dos maiores antagonistas, e também o narrador) e a Eliza, mulher de Hamilton, mas todos representaram muito bem: dançaram, cantaram e fizeram tudo com uma precisão perfeita. Foi tão dinâmico, tão bem feito, que embora conhecêssemos a história e as canções, ficámos boquiabertos. Chorámos, rimos, batemos palmas sem fim. A minha filha apaixonou-se pelo Philip (o filho) e 3481 lençóis de papel ficaram molhados de lágrimas.

Enfim, gostámos do espectáculo.


*=Quando fizeram o terrível erro de sair do nosso império pacífico e benevolente. Não faço ideia porquê. Já que elegeram o Trump, talvez sintam arrependimento. Se pedirem, ainda consideraremos deixá-los entrar novamente. Não é tarde demais para mudarem de opinião.

Muito obrigado pela ajuda Fernanda

In case anyone’s wondering about the title, it’s a pointlessly literal translation of the phrase “I’m not throwing away my shot”, but it’s more like “I’m not throwing my gunshot in the bin” rather than “I’m not wasting my chance”, which would be more like “Não vou desperdiçar a minha oportunidade”

Posted in English

Language Love and a Colourful Map

I was interested to see the reaction to “Don’t Blame Benny” a few days ago, both from the author of Loving Language, Richard Benton, and from the subject of the original post, Benny Lewis, via twitter. The debate of which it is a tiny part is still going on and I think it’s well worth a look if you are in the mood for a new perspective on languages. The latest post is here, but you can track back to earlier instalments.

I’m not planning to say anything more on the subject because I feel like I’ve had my say already. I find myself drawn to his core idea of learning languages spoken widely in your own community (see the second video on the about page for a good intro) despite already-expressed reservations about some of the specific arguments advanced in support of it.
udnwmumAnyway, in case you’re interested, here’s a map that did the rounds a year or two back of the languages most spoken in my home town of London, other than English of course. I live in LB Richmond where the second language is Polish. To be honest, I wouldn’t have guessed this as it’s so diverse around here that there isn’t one dominant group. Just thinking of children in my daughter’s class at primary school and their parents (maybe 40 kids in total over the years): Poland, Portugal, Brazil, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, America, Canada, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Jamaica, Iceland, um…. Oh Lordy, I’m sure I’m forgetting a few… she shared a class with three times as many children with Portuguese language ties as Polish, for what it’s worth.

There’s a breakdown of the numbers on randomlylondon, which I basically agree with: that it’s surprising to see Portuguese Spanish and French as dominant languages in some boroughs, and interesting that if Southwark were a bit bigger, it and Lambeth would look like a tiny map of the Iberian Peninsula. Portuguese around Streatham, Clapham, Vauxhall sounds about right though, so if you want to know where to get a decent cup of coffee or a custard tart, now you know.

What surprised me most is that Greenwich seems to be Little Kathmandu! If you’d asked me to guess I would have said that you’d need to move the entire population of Nepal to London to make an appreciable dent in the demographics, but… well, that’s what the numbers say, apparently. 26 million people live in Nepal, 50,000 in the UK and 19,000 in London. I should have been more surprised by the fact that Lithuania (population less than 3 million) seems to have so many of its citizens based out in the Essex fringes.


Posted in English

Don’t Blame Benny

I saw an interesting and controversial article on Twitter, published on the  Loving Language Blog (a blog I follow but apparently missed this the first time around!). The author, Richard Benton, seems really cool and I like his approach to learning languages and building communities in general but in this case I think he has picked the wrong target and maybe also been a little pessimistic and since twitter is a bit limited in space allowed for a reply I thought I’d do a blog post to say why I think so.

Intro: The Benny Lewis Phenomenon

Firstly, let’s start with the man mentioned in the first paragraph – Benny Lewis, aka Benny the Irish Polyglot, author of “Fluent in 3 Months“. Benny is the best known example of what I would call a “celebrity polyglot”. In other words, he is mainly famous for learning languages, quickly and publicly, watched by a huge audience on all social media channels. He has written books and in the process inspired a lot of people to change how they learn languages. Cards on the table, I am one of those people. I used to learn languages mainly from books. It didn’t work out too well I’m afraid, but I’m having a lot more success these days. largely thanks to him. I’m not a full-blown disciple, and I don’t follow him very closely, mainly because one of the languages he speaks is a hideous travesty called Brazilian Portuguese, but I have to admit if I hadn’t stumbled across his website I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have got as far as I have.

Benny and Tim

Lewis himself is part of the digital nomad movement but I wouldn’t say he was the author of it. That honour seems to go primarily to Tim Ferriss, author of “The Four Hour Work Week“, a guide for people who want to live carefree in the world by farming out their work to a third world underling. To be honest, I haven’t read any of his 6,729 published works so I am probably being unfair, but this seems to be the buzz around it. Ferriss himself started a hands-off business selling supplements through a website which apparently was  nice little earner, but I bet his income as an author and speaker has eclipsed that a long time ago. So when I read about a gathering of digital nomads who were all “white people” (I’ll come back to that later) it was Ferriss I was thinking of, not Lewis.

I share the view that encouraging people to produce as little actual value as possible and just ponce off the labour of others seems like a recipe for the worst kind of douchebaggery but I must admit that some of the followers of the four hour workweek have spawned some interesting and useful business ideas that have actually made the world better without any real harm. Benny is a pretty good example of that, and I can also think of Steve Kamb, creator of Nerd Fitness, who turns couch potatoes into ACTUAL SUPER HEROES! And I’m sure they’re not the only ones.

The Case For Benny

Shelving the wider question of digital nomads, let’s focus specifically on the polyglot angle to this. The case against Benny seems to be largely that he “gave people the tools to exploit more people in more countries”. I don’t think this is entirely fair. Rich people have always been able to exploit poor people – that’s usually how they got rich. Now maybe more knowledge is more power, but I don’t think learning language from someone makes your hosts poorer or makes you a worse human. Moreover, I don’t actually see why people shouldn’t travel while they work.

This brings me back to the “Notice how many white people are there?” comment. I find this irritating, to be honest. If someone posted a picture of a café in London and said “Look how many Asians are there?” I would find it annoying for exactly the same reasons. Being  foreign doesn’t make you bad. Let’s stick to what people are doing while they’re there. Maybe there’s a case to answer for the behaviour of the white people (and Richard certainly seems to think so, as we’ll see below) but I think starting with the skin colour is unhelpful.

The observation does have some light to shed though, in one important way: what it tells us is that here we have a lot of people from Oz, from the UK, from America, who have – so we’re told – read “Fluent in 3 Months” and spent enough time listening to locals that they can now hold a conversation. Well hallelujah! Back when I was slumming it around the world, my method of communication consisted of “Excuse me, do you speak English?” I’m not proud of that but it’s true. And all my fellow travellers – Kiwis, Yanks, Aussies, Brits – were just as bad because historically English speakers have been absolutely terrible at learning languages. Wherever we go we’ll find someone who is able to speak English well enough to direct us to the nearest photo opportunity, so why bother, right? The fact that that’s changing seems like a huge step forward. Not the whole answer but a start.

The Problems with Polyglot Culture

From a survey of various Polyglot sites and podcasts, I can see there are a few things about the whole “polyglot” thing that rub me up the wrong way. Some of those things are related to “digital nomad” culture, but when I think them through, more often than not, they are usually just aspects of the wider cult of hedonism and self-actualisation in western society, and particularly younger people of the American persuasion (I’m 47 and British so maybe I’m biased!)

  • I feel there’s an element of “trophy hunting” about it. Often the number of languages a person speaks is dropped into the conversation, with points seemingly attributed not to how they have used the knowledge but for how difficult it was to conquer.
  • It doesn’t really offer a critique of selfish, heedless attitudes to other societies. True, there are often asides about learning other cultures but they often feel like they’ve been tacked on and that often the person is more interested in getting laid* in as many countries as possible because they are the guy in the nightclub who can actually speak _______ (insert name of local language) with a cute ______ (insert own nationality) accent.
  • Generalised disapproval of the idea of global jet travel and environmental impact of travel generally. These objections are set out more clearly in a follow-up post in which Richard discusses some other people’s critiques of his ideas and sets out some of the detrimental effects of tourism bringing money into a poor economy.

However, I can’t lay any of these problems at the door of language-hacking; they’re all things that were happening anyway, but in the past they were done by people speaking (or shouting) only English and unable to understand any objections put to them. Encouraging English speakers to pay attention to people from other cultures is a huge benefit, because contrary to what the blog post implies, language-hacking doesn’t consist of drinking by the pool; you have to speak to other humans, and little by little, those language students will absorb enough actual experience from their interlocutors that in time they will come to have a broader appreciation of other cultures. And oh my god, is that ever something our world needs right now! This, to me, seems like the truly good and important thing about the trend for learning languages. It’s small but it’s significant, and I think we should encourage it.

And for those of us who don’t travel, the internet is such a huge help. I’m learning Portuguese and my daughter is learning Japanese from a native speaker on the other side of the globe. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it would have been for me, age eleven, in Preston at the dawn of the eighties to learn Japanese. That’s a whole window open in her mind that was never opened in mine. And it’s happening more and more in the Anglosphere. Thank you internet. Thank you! And thank you Benny Lewis! For all your imperfections, you beautiful Irish moustache owner. Thank you! Thank you!


*=Sorry, this isn’t an expression I use often but it seems to fit in this context!


It’s too easy, when discussing things like colonialism and race, to stray the wrong side of the line that divides debate from incivility. I hope I have stayed on the right side of that line. I am not in any way intending to disrespect the blog post or – God forbid – make any sort of daft reverse-racism aspersion about the comments about the white people in the photograph. I’ll leave such tactics to the knuckle-draggers, Alt-Right and  Trump supporters, but if I haven’t expressed any of it properly then I hope you’ll not hold my poor prose style against me!

Posted in Portuguese


Maybe it’s because I’m writing early in the morning, or maybe just because of the high-falutin’ tone of this writing but I suspect this text is even more error-prone than my usual, and since it’s in reply to someone else’s text it probably won’t get corrected. I quite liked it though because it used a lot of very unfamiliar words, so I’m transferring it here.

Parabéns! Claro que vivendo aqui melhorou as tuas habilidades em inglês. Com certeza, concordei contigo sobre os preços de imóveis no capital. É um problema serio para o eleição do prefeito do Londres em poucas semanas. Se tivesses escolhido uma cidade mais pequena, estaria mais barato, mas já não posso imaginar viver em qualquer outro lugar. Vai se sentir mais em casa depois dum tempo. Londres é uma cidade mais cosmopolita e muito etnicamente diverso agora, com gentes de tudo o mundo (no meu caso, apenas do norte da Inglaterra!) e por isso, em muitos maneiras, há muitos de nós que sintamo-nos estrangeiros, mas depois do tempo, este sentimento comum nos une a todos.

Which I hope means something like…

Well done! Living here has obviously done wonders for your language skills. I definitely agree with you about the price of property in the capital. It is a serious issue for the mayoral election in a few weeks. If you had chosen a smaller town it would have been a lot cheaper, but I can’t imagine living anywhere but here now. You’ll start to feel more at home after a while. London is a very cosmopolitan, ethnically diverse city now, with people from all over the world (in my case, only from the North of England!), so in a sense, there are a lot of us who feel like visitors, but after a while, that shared sense brings us all together.

It’s an answer to a Brazilian’s description of the moving to London.