Adéla Odrihocká: “You can never discover the true heart of a country until you learn its language”

The University of Ostrava offers a two-semester module of Portuguese, both for complete beginners and advanced students.

The Department of Romance Studies at the University of Ostrava Faculty of Arts has opened a brand new module of Portuguese, which became quickly popular, with both students and the broad public. The module continues this academic year and we asked Adéla Odrihocká, a recent graduate of the module, who studies French Language for Translation and is an enthusiastic traveller, about what the course offers and what the lessons look like.

Can you tell the readers what the Portuguese module is about?

Lessons took place once a week every Wednesday afternoon. There were three blocks; first grammar with a lecturer from the Department of Romance Studies, then conversation with a native speaker, and then a lecture on culture, life and customs given by external lecturers, some of whom lived in one of the Portuguese speaking countries. The module was completed with an eight-day trip to Lisbon in May where we had the opportunity to put our language skills to use.

And what about the lessons? Did you only work with a textbook?

Not at all. We went through the lesson at home in advance and when the lesson started, we consulted whatever we didn’t understand, practiced vocabulary, phrases and listening. This was followed with a lesson with a native speaker where we talked about the topics from the previous lesson. The conversation with the native speaker was very advantageous because we were in contact with the language right from the beginning. It’s a huge advantage compared with other language courses and schools. The lessons were quite intense and demanding, especially in the beginning. But I can tell, based on my own experience, that it’s a good method for me, I really learn a lot in a short time in this way.

Who else participated in the module? Were there only students of the Faculty of Arts?

The best and the most interesting thing about the module is that there were various age groups there. People from various industries and miscellaneous professions. The module is not only designed for all the students of the University of Ostrava, but also for anyone from the public who is interested. And the diversity is great. I met people that I would have never meet outside the module and I’m very happy for that. We got on very well and made a great team.

You mentioned that the lessons were very intense. Did you reach A2 level after ten months of Portuguese? Do you think you have an advantage when travelling or looking for a job?

I can communication basic things in Portuguese after one month of the course. I tried it personally when I had the opportunity to go to Portugal in the middle of the first semester. I think studying French helped me, I don’t have a problem with Romance languages as I know the basics. But I’m sure other participants in the module who’ve no experience with Romance language, or any foreign language at all, learned as much as those who have with few issues getting by during our final trip. I believe the module gives an advantage on the labour market, especially in our region where Portuguese is not common at all.

How did you discover the Portuguese language?

Last year I went to a seminar given by the director of the Portuguese Institute in Prague who talked about his travels. Even though the discussion was translated into Czech, serendipitously discovered that I understood Portuguese. Probably thanks to my French language learning. Then, Dr. Kunešová told me about the Portuguese module that was starting and I thought that it would be a shame not to take this opportunity. I also like to travel and explore various cultures and meet new people. I personally believe that you can never discover the true heart of a country unless you learn the language. I love talking to the locals on my trips, to learn about how they live, to compare our cultures, look for differences, share similarities, and for that you need to speak the same language. It might sound like a cliché, but knowing another language is an incredible advantage and it really opens a lot of doors and opportunities.

What was the trip to Lisbon like? What did you find most interesting about the Portuguese culture?

We actively planned the eight-day trip since October. We travelled by plane, everyone arranged their own accommodation. Dr. Kunešová and Dr. Svobodová together with Petr Šlechta prepared an excellent programme and I have to say that it was better than any travel agent could do (laughter). They devoted a lot of time and energy to the planning, for which I’m very grateful. The Portuguese people are fascinating; they are unbelievably kind, accommodating, polite and friendly. There’s a lot to learn there from them. It gives Portugal a completely unique and unforgettable atmosphere. I personally stayed in Alfama, the oldest district of Lisbon. And I was completely captivated by their sense of community. The local people regularly meet at breakfast, they spend a lot of time together and really enjoy life. The first evening, we went to a typical Portuguese restaurant with traditional live fado music and the atmosphere was great. I was lucky to get great accommodation as well as nice neighbours that I could chat with, for example when hanging laundry (laughter), which I started hanging outside with them after a few days. I loved that there were photos of some people who have lived in Alfama for a very long time, displayed on some of the houses in this district, with their life stories, it is a very nice idea. I visited Belem with a friend and her husband. It’s a fortified tower, one of the dominant features of the city. We took Uber and the driver was a very nice older gentleman and we talked all the way and thus practiced our language skills, learned new words and something new. He told us that Lisbon is called “cidade das 7 colinas”, which means a “city on seven hills” where historic trams still run, even though they are now more of an attraction for tourists. I was surprised that they were always full and people who jumped on them while moving, or they were holding onto them on the outside flapping about behind the tram (laughter). I found Lisbon very charming thanks to the atmosphere, people, beautiful streets, exceptional views, cosy cafes and stylish restaurants. I would love to go back there soon.

Is there anything else that makes Portugal different from Czech Republic?

There was something that I found pleasantly surprising, not only about Lisbon, but in Portugal in general, which only I can assess thanks to my specific situation: my mobility is reduced due to a disability and I sometimes use different types of assistance when travelling, for example when visiting the sites or at the airports, and I have to say that I have never experienced such a great approach as in Portugal. Later, I found out that the Portuguese are involved in accessible tourism a lot and that they continue improving it. I liked how a disability is perceived in general, it is completely normal for them, they have a sense of humour, which I also have, and they automatically expect that everyone’s needs differ and that not every disability can be visible and obvious, which is often a problem for me in the Czech Republic because I don’t fit the image of a person with a disability. In Portugal, it’s one of the things that really stuck in my mind, from assistance at sites to airport assistance, everything was arranged without any troubles over the phone and e-mail, and I didn’t have to explain anything at length. They are great in this area, a completely different mentality. When I returned home, I sent an e-mail expressing my gratitude to Sintra where I used assistance services at the Castle of the Moors, describing my positive experience with their services. They were very grateful and immediately replied that they forwarded my e-mail to their employees as motivation. I am still in touch with the lady who arranged the services for me.

What would you tell those who are hesitating about signing up for the Portuguese module?

I think they should do it even if they never have the opportunity to use it in their careers, just do it for travelling and the great atmosphere and a group of people that is hard to find anywhere else. It’s really worth it.

If you are interested in joining the next Portuguese module please email admission@osu.cz.