Although Portuguese has always been an important world language, it has only recently been recognized as an important language for business and international relations. As language departments are downsized, or cut altogether in U.S. universities, the demand for Portuguese is growing. The profile of today’s Portuguese student is quite different from the humanities majors, lovers of Brazilian music, or heritage learners of before. Today’s student is interested in Portuguese as a means to get ahead in the business world.
The consequence of Brazil’s economic performance in recent years and big events held in Brazil in the recent years such as 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games, was a relevant factor for more students choose Portuguese for professional reasons. Some of them are even eager to live and work in Brazil. While the demand for Portuguese language training continues to grow, so does the demand for materials that teach Portuguese for special purposes, such as business Portuguese.
Universities admit that they are having difficulty keeping up with the increased interest in Portuguese. In 2016, the Yale Daily News reported: “With Brazil becoming a global economic power, more and more students are signing up for ‘Elementary Portuguese,’ but Yale’s tiny Portuguese program does not have enough teachers to go around — or the means to hire new ones.”
Many universities have only one or two Portuguese professors, which makes pursuing Portuguese as an undergraduate student difficult, and graduate studies of Portuguese particularly challenging. Without steady course offerings in Portuguese, graduate students oftentimes find themselves filling in the gaps in their requirements with courses in Spanish or other disciplines.
Portuguese immersion programs play an important role in educating language learners and Brazil is hands down the most popular Lusophone destination. Students look for private language courses for summer study and service learning opportunities in one of Brazil’s diverse regions. Colleges are forging partnerships with binational centers and universities to take cohorts of students for more advanced language learning. At some universities, immersion is a mandatory feature of the Portuguese program. At Dartmouth College, for example, students take intensive Portuguese 1 on campus and go to Brazil for intensive Portuguese 2/3 and the other necessary courses that fulfill the foreign language requirement. Students complete the requirement in just two quarters.
Language schools in Brazil have stepped up to meet the demands of international students. Monica Szwarc from Bridge Language, Education and Travel marveled at how the industry has changed in Brazil. “The interest in business language has been the area with the most growth, we would estimate the numbers have tripled,” Szwarc remarked. “Most are from oil and gas companies and people arriving for work related to big international events to be held here”.
With so much to look forward to in the Portuguese-speaking world, it’s no wonder the demand for Portuguese is surpassing the supply in the U.S. So far, students aren’t complaining that they have to spend time in the land of samba and steakhouses to fulfill their language requirements. It’s part of Portuguese’s allure.
*Source: Language Magazine