There are few things I'm truly proud of, things that took years of hard work and determination and effort. One of those things are my language skills.
It's hard for me to imagine that just four years ago, I could barely speak Portuguese. I took a course while studying abroad in Buenos Aires, but it was hard to learn much while being immersed in Spanish and only having one Portuguese class a week. I struggled a lot, and since I was the only American in the class, I was an instant target for the teacher, who especially enjoyed picking on me. During the final exam, I was lost for part of the written test, and I was a complete disaster during the oral exam. I couldn't help but spew a terrible amalgam of mostly Spanish with a few Portuguese words thrown in. The teacher gritted his teeth as I stumbled over my words. I just barely passed.
While traveling in Brazil shortly after, my friends and I had a rather unfortunate incident involving crossed wires and misunderstandings (though not on our part), which forced me to speak as much Portuguese as I could possibly muster. And though it was miserable and completely minimal, we communicated, and finally worked things out. It was my first triumph em portugues.
Now, my Portuguese is as good as, if not better than my Spanish. Every job I have had since graduating from college has depended on my language skills, including the jobs I have now. I listen to music, watch movies, and read books in Spanish and Portuguese. I can occasionally fool people into thinking I'm a native speaker. I have served as a bridge between people and countries. I even help others learn Portuguese. And while I'm still far from perfect, I love the challenge of learning new words and expressions.
There are so many great quotes about languages, like that a person who speaks one language is worth one person, but a person who speaks two languages is worth two people. There's Karl Albrecht, who said, "Change your languages and you change your thoughts." There's Federico Fellini, who said, "A different language is a different vision of life." And there's a Czech proverb that says, "Learn a new language and get a new soul."
Speaking Portuguse (and Spanish) is one of the greatest gifts I could ever receive, gifts I worked hard to earn. I would be lost without them.