Portuguese is put in spotlight

The Portuguese major — often overshadowed by other, more popular language programs — is now the focus of a joint endeavor by the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and the Office of International Affairs to raise awareness of and participation in the program.

After graduating its first and only major last year, the Portuguese faculty is promoting their course offerings and the flexibility of the major. While only two undergraduates are currently enrolled in the major, Director of Undergraduate Studies K. David Jackson said, increasingly popular summer study programs in Brazil are raising campus interest in Portuguese language and culture.

Students and professors said the size of the program does not affect the quality of courses, but instead allows for close relationships between faculty and undergraduates. Students said they think the number of Portuguese majors might always be small because other than native speakers, students do not often come to Yale with a background or strong interest in the language.

Jackson, who introduced the major when he came to Yale in 1996 , said inadequate faculty resources discouraged students from enrolling in the program until last year. But the hiring of Assistant Professor Paulo Da Luz Moreira and additional language faculty has expanded the expertise of the department and increased course offerings, he said.

Portuguese major Stephen Silva ’09, who attended the Yale Summer Session introductory Portuguese language study abroad program in Brazil this summer, said he initially decided to learn the language because he is of Portuguese descent.

“The Portuguese department is one of Yale’s well-kept secrets,” he said. “It’s really awesome but a lot of people just don’t know about it. People usually accidently discover a passion for the language and culture.”

In its inaugural summer in 2005, the program in Brazil drew ten students. This summer, the number more than doubled to 23, and Jackson said he anticipates a “full house” in 2007.

Immersion study for Portuguese students is also supported through the Malcolm C. Batchelor Fund, which funded two summers abroad for the other current Portuguese major, Richard Cruz-Tomp ’07.

“I hope [the success of the summer programs is] a sign that Yale is going to promote the study of Brazil and Portuguese language,” he said.

The Portuguese faculty are eager to see more students enter the program, Jackson said. In a meeting with prospective majors on Thursday, he stressed the flexibility of the major — which can include courses in history, literature and international studies, among others.

Portuguese lector Marta Almeida said she noticed an increase in the number of students in her language classes, especially since the initiation of the study abroad program two summers ago. But she said drawing students to the major remains difficult.

“Students are usually interested in some issues of Latin American Studies,” Almeida said. “We’ve got to use the ties with Latin American Studies to grow, but also teach them how to speak the language.”

Silva said he thinks the department will always be relatively small because students who come to Yale already speaking Portuguese opt for other majors. Still, he said, he is pleased with the program and its offerings, especially because Portuguese language and culture are not usually incorporated into mainstream curricula.

Jackson said Brazilian studies are particularly important now as the country is considered one of the major rising powers of the 21st century. The number of Brazilian students at Yale is growing, according to OIR data. Six undergraduates and 20 graduate students from Brazil were enrolled at Yale last year, and there are 30 total this year.

Assistant Secretary of International Affairs João Aleixo, who focuses on promoting Yale in Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula, said increasing the study of the Portuguese world has been an ongoing OIA goal. For the first ever Yale Week in Brazil — set to take place in May 2007 ­­— a delegation of students, professors and OIA staff will travel to San Paulo to raise awareness about the University and build stronger ties with the country, Aleixo said.

“It is a great way to promote Yale in the country and attract the best and brightest that Brazil has to offer,” he said.

All Latin American Studies majors at the University are required to take classes in Portuguese language.

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