Erica Stern, Spanish and Portuguese Teacher in Washington, DC (formerly in New York City)
So, teacher of the week! How did you learn Spanish and Portuguese?
I learned Spanish in Costa Rica, studying Spanish Literature for a year. I then graduated with a Bachelor’s in Spanish from the University of Maryland, College Park.
I learned Portuguese over the last 20 years from visiting my aunt’s (my uncle’s wife) family in Rio de Janeiro. I also lived for 3 months in Rio while getting my Master’s degree in International Affairs from The New School.
How did you start using Spanish and Portuguese outside of the classroom?
I got a lot of practice speaking Spanish working in restaurants in NYC for 12 years. I get to speak Portuguese while in Brazil, and over FaceTime and Facebook with family there.
What is your favorite thing about teaching at Fluent City?
My favorite thing about teaching at Fluent City is the diversity in students I get to meet in my classes. Some people want to learn Portuguese because they’re married to a Brazilian. Others are working in finance and want to move to Sao Paulo. I meet South Americans who spent a lifetime hearing Portuguese spoken and want to learn to speak it themselves, and people of Portuguese ancestry simply interested in learning their ancestors’ tongue. Those learning Spanish are obviously more motivated by its prevalence here in the States, but they come from all walks of life and age groups. I always look forward to each ten-week session to see who I’m going to meet.
What fun hobbies do you have outside of teaching at Fluent City?
I sell wine, so my primary hobby is drinking what I don’t sell.
Do you have a favorite app or tool you recommend to students to complement their studies?
I always recommend a good reference book or website for my students to be more independent language learners. The site wordreference.com is a useful window for students to keep open in their phones. I also recommend watching children’s videos on YouTube. Galinha Pintadinha for Portuguese, and Plaza Sesamo (Sesame Street) in Spanish.
Where is your favorite place to find Spanish, Portuguese and Brazilian food?
La Palapa on St. Marks has great authentic Mexican food. I recommend Beco in Williamsburg for Brazilian food, and Macao for great Portuguese food mixed with Chinese.
Can you recommend a Spanish film? A Brazilian film?
My favorite Spanish film is Volver, though I recommend any and all Pedro Almodovar movies. For Brazilian films, I like the old school – Orfeu Negro, which is considered the first truly Brazilian film (though it was directed by a French man).
Finally, what is your favorite Spanish word? Portuguese word?
My favorite Spanish word is orale! It just works well in so many situations.
My favorite Portuguese word is sacanagem. It is a word which technically means lewdness, trickery or derision, but it’s incredibly versatile. It can range from meaning an erotic-style naughtiness, to the twisted messed-up state of US healthcare, to your train being held in the station for 20 minutes. And if you use part of the word as a noun, sacana means “douchebag.” It fits any situation!
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