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Learning Portuguese: An Olympic Hurdle Too Far for Britons?

05/08/2016 11:47 | Updated 05 August 2016

With the eyes of the world soon to be set on sporting glory at Rio 2016, practice certainly makes perfect when it comes to winning gold for Olympic athletes. So, as millions of us get ready to be glued to a summer of physical prowess, in addition to being inspired on the fitness front, can we also use the upcoming buzz as a reason to practice something else - Portuguese, the official language of this year's Games' host-country, Brazil?

While I would love for the answer to be a straightforward 'of course' - or indeed 'claro' as they say in Portuguese - it seems that language learning continues to be an Olympic hurdle for many of us Brits. More than that, Portuguese is seemingly quite far from our minds when it comes to the UK's linguistic knowledge of Brazil.

A new survey carried out by Populus among more than 2,000 UK adults - and commissioned by the British Council as part of its work to build relationships for the UK around the world through language, culture and education - has shown that 40 per cent of the UK population don't actually realise that Portuguese is the official language of Brazil. While one in five of us think that it's Spanish, more than one in ten are under the impression that it's Brazilian.

But does this matter? Is Portuguese a relevant language for the UK's place in the world?

While it's true that Portuguese isn't as widely taught in the UK when compared to more traditional languages such as French and Spanish, previous research has highlighted that it is actually the sixth most important language for the UK's future prosperity. Not only are there some 180 million first language speakers of Portuguese worldwide - 90 per cent of those being in Brazil - it is one of the most widely spoken languages globally. So, to put it simply, yes it absolutely does matter that less than one per cent of the UK population is able to speak Portuguese well enough to hold a conversation in it. And yes, Portuguese is very much a relevant language when it comes to the UK's place in the world.

With that in mind, let's try and use the buzz around Brazil this summer to give Portuguese a go. Whether it's cheering on our team ('Vai, vai Team GB!' means 'Come on Team GB!' by the way) or just saying 'hello' ('Oi') or 'goodbye' ('tchau'), every little helps when it comes to language learning. Let's face it, having more of us being able to speak at least a little of a foreign language is good for forging friendships, building bridges and ultimately helping to secure the UK's long-term competitiveness in the increasingly connected world. I hope to be shouting 'É ouro!' ('It's a gold!) at the TV very soon, at least!

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