Miss Duolingo – Est. 2001

On the passenger seat of a moving car, I stared out of the window. I see cars passing, right in front of my eyes and I think to myself how lucky I’m. I think that in my native language. I turn around and tell my husband how I’m feeling, in his native language. I’m impressed on how fast my brain switch from Brazilian Portuguese, my native language, to his American english. 

Our biggest difference brought us together. For him, english is a given, for me, years and years of studying, learning, mimicking the sounds, making phrases like a two year old.

I was not raised bilingual.

I’m going to write the book someday.


I forced myself into learning and that only started at the age of 16. 

One of my memories was the first week of English classes, when the teacher would make us simple questions, and I was thrilled to answer it. I remember the first level book, with lessons like “do, did, don’t and didn’t”. Something that sounds so simple for a native speaker, for us took an entire month of putting words together, trying to make sense.

 I had some vocabulary, because I used to translate the song’s lyrics with a dictionary. A few different times when the teen magazines had the translation of the song, I used to study the words.

Being bilingual requires a lot of brain power.

Being bilingual requires a lot of brain power, as I don’t translate words or phrases. I switch, like a light switch. On and off. I think in both languages, but not at the same time. And I cant understand it at the same time either. Its either one or another.

For example: if I’m watching a Brazilian show on tv and my husband asks me something in English, I can only understand one at a time. I stop for a millisecond and choose which one I will focus on. 

When he asks me to do a simultaneous translation of the novella I’m watching, it feels like my brain is scratching a rock agains wood to make fire.  

Like the Titanic engine, right before it hits the Iceberg.

The brain of a bilingual works like the Titanic engine, right before it hits the iceberg. Everyday. I remember the first time I was in the States, in 2006, during a summer work abroad program.I was on a J1 visa, and how fantastic it was being immersed in another language was and also very confusing.

At that time, the placement for the work abroad program was in North Carolina, and the southern accent clearly didn’t help. The first few days I was getting by as I could.

There were plenty of times, at Mc’Donalds when the attended asked me “for here or to go?” and all I could catch on was “to go”. So many times I ended up with my food in a paper to go bag, while my coworkers had their food spread on a tray. 

“Everything you own, in a box to the left”

It also happened with songs. I remember being on the resort’s van, going to Asheville, for a night out with my coworkers, and listening to Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable”, I was emotional because I thought the song was so beautiful and romantic, when in fact she was kicking the guy out of the house, in the nicest melody. 

It’s not easy on us, and there is plenty of people out there, who can’t say another damn word, in a different language, that will pretend to not understand you. 

Or try to make you look like an idiot for even trying. I’ve been there way too many times. Where people laughed at me because I was trying to say something, and it come out as I though in my brain.

Or use the same words, that mean something different, in the other language. I used to say “we live at a condominium” because in Portuguese Condominium means “apartment complex”. Here its apartment complex. Or USB driver, that in portugues it’s called a “pen drive”.

Americans makes no effort to at least minimize the struggle for someone speaking in a second language. You either learn how to talk like them, or you will be ostracized. Thanks Georgia. Not too long ago, I decided not to fit in on this terms. 

Let me tell you : Don’t you ever be embarrassed by your accent. This is your identity, is your motherland, your roots. Specially, if you started learning later in life, like me.

Don’t worry about how you are going to sound, just put the words together and be confident, it will come naturally to you after a time. Watch TV, read books, listen to music. 

Congratulation on being Bilingual!

My words for you are always congratulations for making an effort of being bilingual. There are people that appreciate you trying to speak their language, while going through the hard burdens of understanding how everything else works. That’s the reason I have this blog, to encourage other like me, who feels like on outcast in this country, to shine through the cracks. We need each others support. 

We belong here. Not matter what anyone else yells at us, because we don’t look like them ,or don’t sound like them. 

Be brave, Be bold!




How the Tv broke the language barrier.

I didn’t speak any English until I was 19 years old. I started taking classes when I was 16. Before starting the classes in 2001, everything was a big blur. I was obsessed with Pop Music and American movies, that helped me out a lot with my vocabulary. When I was able to take classes, those random words I had in my mind, from movies and music, gave me confidence to lift up my hand in order to answer every question my teacher asked, even though she didn’t want me to.

Moving to the United States was my plan since I was 12 (when hell broke loose in my house), I knew the only way for me to get out of Brazil, was to learn English, therefore and I mimicked every word I could understand from shows on tv. Friends and Gilmore Girls were my favorite at that time, although I had an incredible difficulty time understanding what Lorelai was saying to Rory, because the dialogue was really fast. I still have problems with Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which is from the same producer of Gilmore Girls, Amy Sherman Palladino. If you blink, you miss it. I had to pick up speed, but even after all these years, I am still comfortable watching the shows with English subtitles. Just in case I blink.

Friends was the show that gave me my first set of words that I could use and make jokes with “How you Doin?”. I didn’t understand the jokes, because they were related to situations happening here. I didn’t watch the show until 2001, because we didn’t have cable at home. The English Course would let me rent VHS tapes of some episodes, so I used to rent them when they were available, cracking my brain and pretending to understand what was going on, because the subtitles were, of course, in English. I can’t believe I have been watching the Re-run for almost 20 years now.

The show for me represented the part of a culture I wanted to be in. Living in New York, with friends in the most unreal situations. I mimicked it so much when I say “Coffee” comes out with a New York accent. I know that because the waitress at a Waffle House told me, and I would like to believe he was being honest with me. Music was another way I found to pronounce words, as I repeated the same word probably 200 times a day with Christina Aguilera and Backstreet Boys playing on my boombox while torturing the neighbors.

The songs came out perfectly pronounced, even though I had no idea of what I was singing. Thirteen-year-old me, deeply jamming to Spice Girls, “When 2 become one”, having no idea of what that actually meant. I can never get over the fact the words were saying “are you as good as I remember baby? Put it on, put it, because tonight is the night when two become one.” Wow Emma, Rated R! There were other songs, like Red Hot Chili Peppers – Scar Tissue, when I sang it came out like this “it’s per the shane is a long way view”, I had no idea of what I was saying. “Scrubs”, from TLC was one of my favorites.

The fact I was obsessed with tv and American music, helped me out greatly. I learned since the first time I did my summer college program here in North Carolina, I would have to work on my accent and make sure people would understand me, I understood this long before I moved to Georgia. I was so tired of being questioned and made fun of because of my accent, I decided to look up YouTube for some accent tone down lessons. I found a few videos of actor preparation to play parts with different accents and the exercise practice, and I started to once again mimicking those vocal sounds.

It’s sad how much of myself I had to change while I was in Georgia. Especially working in restaurants, people were more interested in knowing where I came from than the food itself, and then they wanted to blame it on me when they messed up the order. I was constantly told that all my mistakes were due to my language barrier. I was told to say the ingredients and preparation methods, without a margin of error towards my speech. Like I was born and raised here. So, after a lot of harassment at the restaurant, I decided to work on my accent. I only noticed the difference when I started creative writing school. The classes were all online and the teacher had to be able to understand all the students, and thank God she understood me.

I never wanted to lose my accent. I was forced into it, in order to blend in and get by. It still gets pretty rough when I talk to my family, in my native language, but most of the time, I’m paying attention to how I sound and let me tell you, it is exhausting. I worked hard for years to be fluent, but I never thought that I would actually have to sound like an American to be accepted. Let me also tell you, I’m done trying. Come as you are, I’m tired.

When you say you are from Brazil, people usually look at you and expect you have lived with a Cheetah by the river. Wearing only leaves to covering your body. We are exotic for sure, but some of us live in a population of 12 million people, and none of us have cheetahs. My whole point is, don’t judge anyone by their accent, you don’t know how hard they worked to speak another language. Don’t expect them to have a full clear pronunciation of words, they will, more likely, use the same tone of their native language, and it’s not that they don’t care, it’s that they don’t want to lose the only part that feels like home to them.

All I have to say is, hold tight to your culture, keep your accent and be proud of your accomplishments.

Have a great week!

J. G. Snelly

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