From Europe to America, from Africa to Asia, Portuguese is the official language in nine different countries: Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe and East Timor. As such, the Portuguese language is the most widely spoken in the southern hemisphere, resulting from the time when Portuguese navigators travelled and took possession of territories on other continents, transmitting the Portuguese language among various things.
As it is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, more and more people are looking to learn the language and adopt it as a second language, whether for academic or professional purposes or simply to meet a passion for the language.
On 27 October, Lusa Language School, a Portuguese language school for foreigners, hosted a webinar through the YouTube platform entitled “Who are the foreigners who want to learn Portuguese?" In addition to moderator Ana Quental, the conversation included the participation of Incanha Intumbo, executive director of the International Institute of Portuguese Language, Nélia Alexandre, Director of the Centre for Assessment of Portuguese as a Foreign Language (CAPLE), Susana Moura, teacher of Portuguese for foreigners and Edith Wittkamp, a German citizen who studies Portuguese.
Access to work
The webinar aimed to understand who, outside Portugal and Portuguese-speaking countries, wanted to learn Portuguese and why the demand for Portuguese teaching has grown in recent years. Incanha Intumbo mentioned that, for example, in Senegal, about 40,000 students are learning Portuguese, who seek to learn the language, not only because of “a historical relationship” with the language but also for access to Portuguese-language literature and to establish relationships among the Portuguese-speaking African Countries (PALOP), which are positioned in nearby regions, such as Guinea-Bissau or Cape Verde.
Nélia Alexandre directs CAPLE, where exams are held to formally certify the level of mastery of the Portuguese language of foreigners. CAPLE services are normally sought by those who already have some knowledge of Portuguese, but who want certification by receiving a diploma, suitable for their linguistic level, with A1 being the lowest level and C2 the highest. According to Nélia Alexandre, a large part of the search results from “academic interests.” For example, students from international universities ask to take the CAPLE exam to receive a diploma and teach Portuguese or to be able to enrol in a postgraduate degree, where the B2 level of knowledge of the language is required. The same happens with foreign nurses and health professionals who come to work in Portugal, who are required to have a level C1 of knowledge of the language, certified by the CAPLE.
Susana Moura is a Portuguese teacher for foreigners and says that at the beginning of her career, which began 14 years ago, there was little demand for teaching Portuguese, sometimes forcing teachers to look for jobs in other countries. However, from 2015 onwards, the demand for teaching Portuguese has increased significantly. According to the teacher, the age range of students is vast, with students aged only nine and adults aged 40 and over. Susana believes that foreigners seek to live in Portugal "for the climate and hospitality of the Portuguese people." However, she regrets that the Portuguese spoken in the native language of foreigners “taking away the practice of the language” which was taught during a paid course.
Despite the growth of interested students, the teacher points out that there is still a lack of teachers to cover the demand, as well as the lack of teaching material. The contents presented follow "a fixed catalogue" while students look for "a more dynamic teaching content." Nevertheless, there is little online content on offer in European Portuguese, with the majority in Brazilian Portuguese, which follows different European Portuguese phonetic and grammatical rules. However, Nélia Alexandre indicated that at CAPLE whoever takes the exam to receive a Portuguese language level certificate will not have the grade prejudiced by following the Brazilian grammatical rules.
In total, Portuguese is spoken, with those who have adopted the language as a second language, by more than 270 million people. Incanha Intumbo looks to the future and sees in 2050 the number of speakers climb by leaps and bounds and reach 400 million speakers. To do so, in Incanha's opinion, the Portuguese government must promote “the technological potential and economic skills” linked to the Portuguese language.