While living in Rio de Janeiro last year, I would religiously attend the “Rap na Farani” hip hop event every thursday in Farani park, a block away from Botafogo beach. In these gatherings, amateur musicians would break off into separate “rodas” or ciphers and rap improvised lyrics over live guitar and percussion instrumentals.
I randomly stumbled upon the event on my way home one evening, and once I realized what it was, I knew I couldn’t leave without kickin’ a little sumthin’ sumthin’ real quick in English. Taking advantage of the fact that I look more Brazilian than most Brazilians, I threw the audience for a loop when I started my rap in Portuguese and transitioned smoothly to an English freestyle:
Ninguem me entende, quando eu falo/ Eu sou americano com sotaque carioco/ oops *carioca, por favor desculpa/ mas deixa-me speak English and I promise you no Bullsh*%t!
English: No one understands me when I speak/ I am an American with a Rio-native (Rio-native intentionally pronounced wrong) accent/ Oops I mean “Rio-native,” please excuse me/ but let me speak English and I promise you know Bullsh*%t
The audience was impressed, but I was disappointed in myself. I had considered myself “fluent” in Portuguese and prided myself on my English freestlying ability, but it took me almost 15 minutes of serious mental exertion just to conjure up those two mediocre bars of Portuguese rap. I had a strong sense that my Portuguese was missing a certain “something,” and I resolved there and then to find out exactly what that “something” was by hunkering down and stepping up my Portuguese rap game.
Unexpectedly, after an intense week of listening to and rapping Portuguese, my normal Portuguese skills improved drastically. I no longer needed to actively listen or think of things in my head first before speaking. Portuguese just felt easy to me all of a sudden.
The “something” I was after was starting to take shape within me, and now that I know what exactly that “something” is, I am convinced that it is THE most valuable asset for a language learner to have.