A concerted approach towards languages in Brazil

A concerted approach towards languages in Brazil

Brazilian universities have faced language challenges during the last decades of internationalisation because Portuguese is not a worldwide spoken language, despite being the only language spoken in this huge country. In Brazil, no one needs to speak any other language. Therefore, if you visit the country, you’d better learn some basic expressions, or hire an interpreter. In universities, this prospect changes a little but international students will still have to dedicate some time to learning the language.

In response to this challenge, higher education institutions have been focusing on offering Portuguese language lessons, which is still an obstacle, because there is a strong need for specialists in this field. Efforts have been made, but it’s still an incipient area. Beyond that, the offering of subjects taught in English has been another path followed, with some positive progress in the last years, however some key academics still reject the idea of teaching in English, thinking this may be considered a submissive action. Additionally, as Brazil stays in Latin America, where all the other countries speak Spanish, and as it constitutes an attractive country because it has the best universities in the area, the Latin American students normally search for lessons in Portuguese rather than in English by language similarity.

Dominance of English in international education

This is not to say that Spanish is rising up as a new lingua franca in higher education; most of the material produced, books, research and academic publications continue being available overwhelmingly in English. In global terms we see that, at least for now, English tends to remain the lingua franca when it comes to academic terms, as is be shown by the high demand for English in exchange programmes all over the world.

Still, although the global view of the process mechanisms provides important information and guidelines on what seems to work or not in the internationalisation of higher education institutions, regional trends must also be recognised. The Erasmus Programme, for example, has created a unique dynamic in the European Union which cannot be taken as a global trend, but is still is a hugely important object of study in the matter. The same is true in Latin America.

Language learning is essential

Learning a new language is also an important part in the process of immersing into another country’s culture, in such a manner that it constitutes a form of integration of exchange students not only into the university environment but also into the country itself. It constitutes part of the socialising process, not to mention its implication on employability since interactions between countries are so widely embodied, and tend to be even more interconnected.

Yet, despite all Brazilian federal government efforts to send students abroad, for example through the Science without Borders Program, there has been little attendance because students don’t fulfil the language requirements. Therefore, along with the regular one-year scholarship programme, a three-semester programme was launched where the students who don’t have the necessary proficiency in the target language spend the first semester attending only language classes.

A global presence

Brazil has shown positive progress in the internationalisation of its higher education in the last years. Universities can be seen in international rankings and their evaluations are improving each year. The University of Sao Paulo is consistently evaluated as the best in Latin America and other public institutions have also been occupying good positions – eight are Brazilian among the top 10. Obstacles are present, but Brazil has been up to date with its homework.

Global consensus is important as it provides directions to be taken and facilitates the process as a whole, but regional characteristics and needs have to be watched. Brazil is a growing economy in the world and has become a hot destination for international students. The country has to make an effort to become more international, which includes surpassing the language barrier and using English for academic purposes more widely. At the same time, international students also need to recognise that they need to make an effort to understand what takes place in other lands, which includes learning new languages and new cultures.

By Caio H. Montanheiro Gonçalves and Luciana Romano Morilas, University of Sao Paulo – FEA-RP/USP, Brazil