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OHAYO Bom dia

Chapter 12: About the Japanese Accent

Ever since I was in school, I’ve heard that “Japanese-Brazilians are bad at Portuguese”.  Poor writing was a given…it was hard to understand what they said…they had strange pronunciation…bottom line, it sounded like Japanese.

Because of that, there were children who unfortunately stopped going to school.

Back then, when you walked into a store, it wasn’t uncommon for the clerk to greet you by pretending to speak with a Japanese accent.

Even at college, I could quickly sense that kind of prejudice from little things.  One day, here’s what a Japanese-Brazilian girl who was specializing in German told me as she was crying.

“No matter how much I study, it’s no good. My professor told me my pronunciation always has a Japanese accent. But I don’t even speak Japanese…”

Plus, at some language schools, the teachers would often target the tough questions at the Japanese-Brazilian students.

Even now, Japanese-Brazilian people generally think there is nothing you can do about that.  However, I was never convinced of that. Why couldn’t people born in Brazil and raised in Brazil not master Portuguese?

I was a middle school student then, and I made a commitment to start training. When I got home from school, I’d open the textbook and start reciting. From history to poetry, I practiced everything. I cut out newspaper articles, and it even got to the point where I enjoyed reading like a radio announcer.

Over time, I became a teacher of Portuguese, and even fulfilled my dream and made my debut as a novelist.

Twenty years ago, Japanese-Brazilian authors were rare in Brazilian literature. Right before one book signing, I was interviewed by a newspaper. Because I was short on time, we did the interview over the phone. As we were talking, the journalist was surprised and said “Your Portuguese is very rhythmical. It’s the Sao Paulo standard dialect influenced by Italian immigrants.”

When I recently visited a regional university, I was introduced to a professor of Italian. After I’d said just one word of introduction, the professor said, “You’re from Sao Paulo, right? I could tell right away from the distinctive Sao Paulo dialect.”
While it definitely took time, all that effort from long ago has paid off.


© 2011 Laura Honda-Hasegawa

Brazil identity language

About this series

My grandfather immigrated to Brazil from Japan about 100 years ago, and I was born in Brazil. That is why I strive to become a ‘bridge’ between Brazil and Japan. I treasure the ‘Japan’ rooted deep in my heart, and I want to keep that part of me protected in my homeland of Brazil. This series was composed with those feelings in mind. (“Bom Dia” is “Good morning” in Portuguese)