This blog post sat in the back of my mind for a while. It rambled through my mind as I sat in my Portuguese Academic Writing Course. It knocked itself around until I began to ignore the ramblings of my professor as he talked about what a good summary needs and I conducted a google search instead.
Many people can’t name the countries that have Portuguese as their official language. As someone who studied Portuguese at a collegiate level, I found it astounding that Brazilians rarely knew other Lusophonic countries outside of Portugal and Brazil…and don’t get me started on those from the U.S. that believe that Brazil speaks Brazilian…or Spanish.
Before leaving I would frequently get the question: “How is your Spanish?” To which my response was almost always: “It’s decent, but my Portuguese is pretty good so I’ll be okay.”
As I began to read more literature from authors from various African countries and as I met some international students from Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroon, the idea that native English speakers are also ignorant to other countries that speak their language.
Sure, I bet most native English-speaking, U.S. citizens could tell you the “major” Anglophonic countries. “Major” meaning colonized by the British, predominately white, and with a culture that is relatable to that of what is viewed to be the mainstream traditional culture of the U.S. However, I don’t think most of those individuals could make a list of countries in Africa and Asia that also speak English as a native language, that conduct business in English, that produce and consume entertainment in English.
Someone I know was talking about an African they work with. They were frustrated and complained that the woman hardly spoke English. Now, I don’t know the woman or her history and my friend couldn’t tell me what country she was from. However, I do know that we tend to take what little knowledge we have about someone (their heritage, their origin, their appearance, their education) and let it cloud our understanding of them. People in Brazil would misunderstand my Portuguese because the preconceived notion they had in their head of me led them to believe they already wouldn’t understand me.
I, myself, am still working on becoming less ignorant of these issues as I meet new people, research the world, and read all the books I can get my hands on. That’s not enough for me though. I need to remember to have patience with communication, to question the assumptions I make, and to remind others to do the same.
So riddle me this…do you know how many countries where English is the official/native language? Can you name them all? … Can you do it off the top of your head?