Jaret Waters: In Pursuit of Portuguese


Jaret Waters: In Pursuit of Portuguese

February 26, 2019

A picture of Jaret Waters in Brazil against a colorful wall with a tattoo he had just gotten resembling the languages he has learned

Majors: Spanish and Economics, Fisher College of Business
Class of 2020

By Ana Mitchell

How much do you love learning languages? Do you love it so much that you’d get a tattoo of it? Concluding a study abroad in Sao Paulo, Brazil this past summer, junior Jaret Waters got inked with “EN | ES | PT,” signifying his admiration for learning languages. EN, for English, ES, for Español, and PT for Waters’ most recent addition, Portuguese. “The tattoo was somewhat of a reminder for me where I had been before with the languages. I love learning languages and I don’t want to stop, so it is sort of a push for me to never accept complacency and to always strive to learn more languages.”

Some of Waters’ earliest memories of language exposure came from going to the Chinatown market in Cleveland, with his Taiwanese aunt, and hearing Chinese. For two years from middle school to high school, Waters started learning Chinese. Eventually he switched to Spanish, as the Chinese program at the time was brand new and not well-established. Waters has continued with Spanish as his double major alongside Economics, and has picked up Portuguese within the past year, as he began to feel comfortable with Spanish, “I realized I gained a lot of depth with Spanish, but lost a lot of breadth with other languages.” Waters described his initial experience with the Portuguese as a bit of a struggle, as he was starting from scratch with the language and had become acclimatized to his strong command in Spanish.

Before taking Portuguese, Waters had seen texts of the language, noticing slight differences of inverted vowels or certain letters flipped, but figured the language didn’t appear all that different. However, when he started learning Portuguese much of it came as a surprise. “Spanish appeared to be so similar to Portuguese that I didn’t want to study it.” Waters described his biggest difficulty as the deception of how similar the two languages appear to be. Though it was easy to recognize Portuguese, writing and producing the language orally is much more difficult. He described Portuguese as having more vowel sounds and uncommon pronunciations for Spanish and English speakers to reproduce. In addition, there is a more noticeable divide between formal and informal speech, which he described as difficult to know when to use which register.

“I think right now is a really exciting time to be studying Portuguese at Ohio State, and a lot is going on that people should be looking at it more and more,” described Waters. Ohio State offers the FLAS Fellowship, which is already on its second year out of a four year contract. The fellowship gives out a significant amount of funds, but doesn’t receive nearly as many applications because not a lot of people are studying Portuguese, Quechua, or other Latin American languages other than Spanish. Ohio State is also one of few institutions in the country that can administer the CELPE-Bras test, which is the only test recognized by the Brazilian government that certifies people’s competency and can be very influential for Fulbright Scholarships. Waters also believes that studying Brazil and Portuguese can lend an additional perspective to understand the U.S, as they share some similar issues in terms of race and politics.

Knowing he was going to study abroad in Sao Paulo, Brazil summer of his sophomore year, Waters was motivated to continue studying Portuguese on his own. The program was a global consulting project conducted through Fisher College of Business. Waters and five other students worked on a four week corporate project with Greif, a manufacturer of industrial packaging. Their goal was to improve the profits of a plant that had not been doing so well. As this program was through Fisher, Waters was concerned that he wouldn’t get the cultural or language immersion that other language-focused study abroad programs would emphasize. However, because Waters was the only one who could speak Portuguese, he found that he got way more practice than anticipated, as he was constantly translating at restaurants, navigating public transportation, or speaking with people locally and at work.

Reflecting on his time in Brazil, Waters had difficulty narrowing some of his favorite experiences. He admits to loving Rio de Janeiro, “There is a reason it is such a big tourist destination. It’s gorgeous and the people are extremely welcoming and friendly.” One of Waters favorite aspects of the trip was the personal growth he experienced, “[...] my language skills just took off, especially thinking back to when I first landed in the airport and was trying to remember how to order food or ask where the bathroom was. By the end, I was easily communicating.” Waters realized because of his relatively new exposure to Portuguese, he was much more willing to practice the language, uninhibited by the fear of making mistakes.

Looking forward, Waters hopes to attend law school. He came to this decision upon reading an article that compared studying law to learning languages. “They say that studying law is a different way to read, write, speak, and understand things. When you work as an attorney, you are essentially translating those documents for people that don’t have that knowledge.” Waters would love to do international law and eventually apply legal ability to nonprofits serving immigrants and refugees. If not, he can see himself in academia. But for the meantime, Waters wants to continue perfecting his Portuguese, and hopes to add French and Chinese into the mix next year.