SÃO PAULO, Brazil — “Stand in the wall, run through the net, pick up the ball, hit the wall, and throw up,” said the teacher, in English, at a recent tennis lesson for 6-year-olds at an international school here.
The kids stared back blankly. Then one spoke up: “I’m sorry sir, can you repeat that? I didn’t understand.”
The teacher, a little frustrated, just repeated the same muddled instructions.
English in Brazil is a work in progress.
Until recently, Brazilians didn’t need to use English at all. With a self-sustaining society and a history of military dictatorship that cut the country off from most outside contact for 21 years, Portuguese was the only language anyone needed.
But now that Brazil has landed two major games — the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 — that has started to change. After the government won the bids, it began to require public schools in Rio de Janeiro to teach English to all children between the ages of 6 and 8, with plans to expand the program to São Paulo next year.
Called Criança Global — Global Child, in English — the government program has been put in place in order to “prepare these children so that they can actively participate in the opportunities that will open up because of the Olympics,” according to a statement from Claudia Costin, Secretary of Education.
And as the country takes a bigger role on the world stage, Brazilians’ interest in the global society has begun to shape national culture. Businessmen and women want to work for big, international companies. Young people want to study abroad in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada.
The English language, at least in some Brazilian circles, has begun to be seen as more sophisticated than Portuguese.
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Originally published on October 5, 2011, on GlobalPost.