When learning a language vocabulary is learnt and taught thematically: food, clothes, house, body, etc. In books and in class, they are sometimes taught in clusters (colours fit well with clothes) or with related grammar (house and prepositions of place). Most of this is covered in the beginning, then you build. You learn the word for hand, fork, and jumper, and hopefully retain these when you travel to the country, read a book or watch a film. Or, inversely, any of these things prompt you to remember them. Depending on what you are using the language for, some of this vocabulary may be inadequate (what is the word for that fruit that appeared at breakfast and you have never seen before?) or is so seldom used that you forget (I have a sudden pain in the back of my knee, how do I describe that to the pharmacist?). Additionally, if like me, you get little opportunity to go to the country (or countries) where they speak the language you are studying, you can forget the basics even while you are mastering complex grammatical features. At this point it can be difficult to go back to beginner books, or, you may have discarded them. So, what do you do?
I have found an interesting solution. It involves online shop browsing. This has two advantages:
- You can get up-to-date language as used locally.
- You can get an insight into what is available and/or popular in the local market.
This is what led me to use IKEA* as a language learning tool. I had used it before with students asking them to describe a room. I wanted them to revise the vocabulary for the house, but, mostly, I wanted them to practice using prepositions of place. IKEA has colourful images with ample opportunity to describe what is beside, on top of, or to the left of another item. It proved useful then and useful for my vocabulary update more recently.
As you could imagine, on the IKEA website the word ‘arrumação’ [storage] features strongly. My browsing revealed that it is a great way of getting a lot of repetition of the same words, with some variations. I tried describing rooms using as many descriptors and prepositions as I could muster. I found this useful. Whilst doing this, something else struck me. I took the opportunity to compare the Irish (where I currently am) and the Portuguese sites, and, apart from odd disparities in prices (some items are cheaper on one site than the other), the layout and descriptors are different. Comparisons of these sites has potential in class as a way of exploring cultural translation and localisation.
Bouyed by this experience, I decided to revise clothes through online browsing. These are more complicated. I looked at Stradivarius* and Zara* because they are large multi-nationals with considerable range and turnover of stock. As it is the beginning of the new Spring Summer 2016 season it means that scarves, hats and gloves are not to be found, but other season appropriate items such as, jumpsuits [macaçãoes], swimsuits, and waistcoats [coletes] featured on the sites. There is a disadvantage to online browsing on clothes shops for the language learner: the a tendency in fashion to use the English word and descriptors: t-shirt, jeggings skinny, calças biker, or gymwear [sic], which does not advance learning much. Also, I was muddled as to the interchangeable usage of jeans and calças de ganga on the same site. This is a less successful means of revision, but could be an interesting discussion into how and why English is the language of fashion in Portuguese for intermediate to advanced students or students of translation, when French is often the go to language in English. The sites are inconsistent in their use of Portuguese and English words, which is interesting in itself and could be another avenue of exploration.
Such code switching can also be found on fashion magazine sites. A quick look at Portuguese Vogue takes me to an article entitled, “Rolling with My Hoodies”. The article itself is a masterclass in fashionista code switching, with the words ‘look’, ‘too cool for school’ and ‘hoodies’ amongst the English used. Again, it teaches much about how fashion in Portuguese may use English, but does not teach the Portuguese words for clothing.
I might have to find better means of revising clothing**, but online browsing works well for furniture. Both prove interesting means of looking at cultural shifts, localisation, inter-cultural translation, and code switching, and have a range of potential uses in the classroom.
*I’m not getting sponsored by any of these sites, therefore I am not linking to them. These should be just counted as sample site. I’m sure that other similar clothing and furniture sites could be used instead.
**Recently, I have been using handwritten flashcards, but am going to look into exploring some of the tips on the Hacking Portuguese site including some of the online flashcards.