Language acquisition cannot be separated from the social arena in
which it takes place. (Dornyei, 2009, p. 227)
Second language acquisition theorists have yet to conceptualize an
understanding of undergraduate students' attitudes and experiences
when studying the two different versions of Portuguese language most
often encountered in experimental literature, European Portuguese (EP)
and Brazilian Portuguese (BP). The differences between EP and BP raise
some interesting issues that are well worth considering through
undergraduate university students' perceptions and attitudes.
Instructors of undergraduate courses in Portuguese literature
suggest that in terms of curriculum design, curriculum delivery, and
attitudes of students these differences can be quite extreme, especially
when one compares EP and BP with the Spanish language. Students enrolled
in undergraduate Portuguese courses are often taking or have taken
Spanish language courses, making possible a comparison between both
programs and languages. The purpose of this study is to understand the
existing discrepancies in the Portuguese language and the resulting
attitudes of students when faced with these differences.
Using data collected with L1 English/ L2 Portuguese students at a
Canadian university, this article will show how a strong preference for
one variety of the Portuguese language exists when studing the arts but
how a different preference emerges when analyzing which language variety
is considered more standard by the L2 Portuguese learners.
It is important to note that L1 refers to a student's mother
tongue and L2 is the second language that a student acquires. Herein all
references to L2 are to the Portuguese language course being taught at
the university level.
The primary research question for this study was:
* What are the attitudes and course experiences found among L2
Portuguese undergraduate students with respect to EP versus BP?
Background: Foreign Language Acquisition
Gardner and Lambert (1972) suggest that it is around the age of 10
that second language learners are most receptive and display a
friendlier attitude towards foreign language acquisition, whereas
learning an L2 and the culture associated with that L2 language later in
life is more difficult because the L2 learner tends to link cultural and
linguistic differences with the norm that the student is used to in his
or her own L1. Moreover, it has also been argued in experimental
literature that the attitudes, motivation, and classroom experiences of
an L2 learner will result in the student's success or failure in a
foreign language course. Thus the learner's attitudes cannot be
separated from what goes on in the classroom.
Most of the students registered in L2 Portuguese undergraduate
university courses in Canada are of Portuguese descent. They are often
heritage language speakers who spoke only Portuguese at home with their
grandparents and parents until they started school at the age of four.
They therefore arrive in undergraduate university courses with
preconceived notions of the way the target language is written or
spoken--that is either EP or BP--as well as the cultural aspects
associated to each of these two varieties of Portuguese.
Most of the students who chose such courses select them as an
elective. Some students who enroll want to catch up on the Portuguese
language missed over the years while others arrive in a first year
Portuguese course for an easy credit. Contrary to what Gardner and
Lambert (1972) suggest is the ideal age to start learning a second
language, the participants in this study are much older and arrive in L2
Portuguese university courses with stronger attitudes and expectations
about which variety of Portuguese they should learn in an undergraduate
Portuguese university course. For instance, when referring to EP and BP,
some students have argued that one version is a language and the other a
dialect. This raises the question whether we are in the presence of one
language with two dialects or is it actually two languages?
These L2 adult Portuguese learners are not alone in pointing out
some differences between EP and BP. For instance, back in 1994, Kato and
There are, in fact, remarkable differences between EP and BP. One
difference concerns the placement of words within common phrases. Some
examples of these dialectal variations follow:
(1) a. Chamo-me Maria. (EP) (My name is Maria).
b. Me chamo Maria. (BP) (My name is Maria).
Sonia Maria Nunes Reis is a professor on the Faculty of Education
at The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada.
(2) a. Eu vi ele no ano passado. (BP-spoken) (I saw him last year).
b. Eu o vi no ano passado. (BP- written) (I saw him last year).
c. Eu vi-o no ano passado. (EP--spoken and written) (I saw him last
For purposes of this study I chose to narrow the research to focus
on the attitudes and classroom experiences of the L2 Portuguese
undergraduate learner, drawing on the theoretical considerations
described by Dornyei (2009) in his book The L2 Motivational Self-System.
I felt that after looking at a vast number of other influential
approaches, including Gardner (1985), Dornyei's 2009 work seemed to
be the most promising for investigating L2 learning. He offers an
additional component of language learning not previously addressed that
made it especially appropriate for this study.
Equally significant is that in the area of experimental literature
not much has been said about the acquisition of minority languages at
the university level. Most studies have focused on the L2 learner at a
much younger age--Meisel, Clahsen, and Pienemann (1981), Krashen (1982),
Cummins (1984), Odlin (1989), Skehan (1989), Genesee (1995), Lightbown
and Spada (1999), Snow (1992), and VanPatten and Sanz (1995), among
others. Although Dornyei's work (2009) does not address any
specific age group of learners, it seems to provide a long overdue
break-through in the conceptualized theory of L2 acquisition.
While previously Dornyei proposed a configuration of an L2 theory
that synthesized several of the influential constructs in the field of
language acquisition, the novelty of his current and more updated model
in The L2 Motivational Self System is that it is constructed under the
view that there are now three components to be taken into consideration
in any L2 classroom and not just two as seen previously in Dornyei
(2005) and other research.
According to Dornyei these three constituents are the 'ideal
L2 Self," the "Ought L2 Self," and the "L2 Learning
Experience" (Dornyei, 2009). Such a conceptual ladder is what most
research has been focusing on over the last two decades and thus is what
I feel constitutes an important structure worth utilizing in analyzing
an L2 Portuguese course.
First, the "Ideal L2 Self is an intrinsically generated
self-concept of a foreign language learner. It is an internalized ideal
concept that the L2 learner has of himself or herself. Second, the
"Ought L2 Self" is a more extrinsically motivated
self-attainment that an individual possesses when trying to follow the
norms of what he or she believes is expected in a L2 language situation.
Third, the novelty in Dornyei's reconfiguration of L2 learning
(2009) suggests that the environment in the L2 classroom plays an
important role in the learning outcomes.
The Language Situation in L2 Portuguese Courses
EP and BP are two somewhat heterogeneous varieties of the
Portuguese language that need to be looked at from a socio-historic
dimension. BP has a long history of being spoken only and not written by
the marginalized illiterate minorities at the time when Brazil was under
Portuguese governance. These minority groups were for the most part
slaves from the African continent who came with their own languages and
gradually developed a Creole language as their native languages mixed
with Portuguese. One result of this mixture of language was BP. In
contrast, EP was the variety of Portuguese used almost exclusively as
the written language, and thus it was seen as the standard.
William Labov (1972), one of the pioneers in the theories of
language change, argues that any linguistic phenomenon must be
considered from a socio-historic perspective, especially when applied to
the linguistic situation between Brazil and Portugal (Weinreich, Labov,
& Herzog, 1968). Thus, EP and BP are seen as two relatively
heterogeneous varieties of the Portuguese language. This raises the
following questions in relation to the current study: Which language
variety is being learned in our L2 Portuguese undergraduate courses? Are
the students seeing one variety of Portuguese as being more
linguistically educated than other? Which one of the two is more
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
The participants in this study were all undergraduate students who
had each taken an L2 first-year Portuguese undergraduate course. Their
languages were L1 English and L2 Portuguese. In this context the intent
of the study was to consider:
1. The attitudes that the L2 Portuguese learners have regarding the
two main varieties of Portuguese (EP and BP) (see Figure 1).
2. How the classroom experience has an impact on the attitudes of
L2 Portuguese learners (see Figure 2).
The participants were each asked to comment on eight affective
factors of the two versions of Portuguese: sound, expressiveness,
musicality, elegance, literature, science, preciseness, and
standardization. Dornyei (2009) states that "affect"--the way
by which research literature refers to emotions--has been a somewhat
neglected topic in applied linguistics despite the fact that second
language learning can be an emotionally taxing experience (p.219).
It is my view that one cannot separate the concepts of attitudes
and motivation any more than one can separate classroom experiences from
motivation. Herein lies my the justification in applying Dornyei's
most recent three-component theoretical model to this study.
The affective factors tested in this study (sound, expressiveness,
musicality, elegance, literature, science, preciseness, standardization)
were selected based on what L2 students traditionally identify as the
distinguishing characteristics of a particular language. Dornyei (2009)
is interested in how affective traits may play a role in the learning of
an L2, just as I am quite interested in understanding how affective
traits effect the students' attitudes during the L2 learning
Results: Data Analysis and Discussion
According to the data collected (see Figures 1 and 2), BP is
favored in terms of how it sounds, by its expressiveness and its
musicality. This is not surprising since BP has long been known as a
very pleasant language to listen to. The results presented here confirm
the attitude that some L2 Portuguese learners display when first
enrolled in a first year L2 Portuguese course, suggesting that BP is a
fun variety of Portuguese to learn.
Such results should not come as a surprise to any individual who
has basic knowledge of the Brazilian variety of the Portuguese language.
BP is often referred to as being very romantic in comparison to its
European counterpart. In terms of the way EP and BP sound, or how
expressive they both are, the results were not particularly different.
With respect to musicality the results for EP (4 on a scale of 8) are
The participants found both EP and BP to be equally elegant in
language structure, but EP was favored for the writing of important
literary works and for its traditional function in literature. As a
literary language BP was reported as not being as precise or as standard
as EP. Moreover, both BP and EP are seen by these respondents as not
being highly appropriate for scientific fields as they both scored very
These data suggest that the L2 Portuguese students feel a social
pressure to choose EP as the language variety more common and thus more
important in literature works because it is perceived to be both more
precise and more standard. These results are not surprising, considering
the linguistic attitudes experienced between Portugal and Brazil over
four centuries of historic interaction between the two countries. Also,
the students surveyed are English speakers and feel the pressures of a
globalized world. They do not place great importance in the Portuguese
language for writing in scientific fields, resulting in much lower
scores in that area for both EP and BP.
Dornyei (2009) sees the classroom experience as an important factor
in the learning process and a key factor in developing increased
motivation in L2 learning. Dornyei's three-factor concept, stated
as a "third possible attractor basin to [the] motivational
landscape" (p. 218), further explicates the L2 learning experience,
a topic that has been debated over recent years, especially in the
One important aspect to consider, as Dornyei suggests, is that the
teacher, the curriculum, the student peers, and the overall experience
each play a critical role in the attitudes and motivation of the L2
learner. I believe this is true regardless of the students' age.
Most experimental literature in this area tends to focus on younger
learners, but I suggest that these are really important factors in any
L2 classroom regardless of a student's age. The students need to be
actively involved in the learning process if we want them to be
successful. At all age levels the information and materials presented in
class shape a student's perceptions and attitudes towards the
targeted L2 language and its culture.
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
As displayed in Figure 2, the respondents in this study clearly
reveal that there is a strong presence of EP in the classes they are
taking. The professors are teaching mostly EP, the course materials are
coming for the most part from Portugal, and their content is
consistently focused on EP. Not surprisingly, the instructors'
knowledge is mostly focused on EP as Portugal tends be their country of
origin. The study participants also suggest that the other students in
their classes would prefer to learn EP rather than BP if given a choice.
Thus, one may conclude that BP is receiving minimal importance in the
classrooms of our study participants.
Dornyei (2009) suggests the existence of one of the three suggested
components is sufficient to influence and guide an L2 learner. In this
study, the working knowledge of the course instructors who come from EP
backgrounds serves as a clear indicator of where these students are
headed with respect to one variety of Portuguese over the other.
Conclusion and Future Research Possibilities
As expressed in the attitudes and intrinsic and extrinsic
motivation revealed among L2 Portuguese learners with respect to EP and
BP, BP receives great importance in the arts based on the way it sounds,
its expressiveness, and how musical it is when compared with EP. On the
other hand, EP is clearly the favored language for writing and it is
also considered to be more precise and standard.
Not surprisingly, then, these results appear to be directly linked
to the "actual experience of being engaged in the learning
process" (Dornyei, 2009, p.218) with EP being experienced more
directly by the participants in these university classroom settings.
Worth looking at in future studies would be an examination of the
attitudes and motivation as well as classroom experiences in L2
Portuguese courses in the United States as well as Canada in order to
develop a comparative study of the results between language learners in
these two countries.
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European and Brazilian Portuguese have
long been considered as two dialects of the
same language, with variable aspects in
their lexicon, phonology and grammar.