Is Portuguese the Language of the Future?

Could Portuguese Be the Language of the Future?

Making the case for studying Portuguese

May 30, 2014

Middlebury Interactive Languages currently offers programs in five world languages, Spanish, French, German, Latin and Chinese. The first four of these are the cornerstones of a traditional American world language curriculum, descended from our country’s ethnic heritage and a century of American international politics. 

Chinese, however, represents a modern addition, prompted by the rapid growth of the native speaker population and the increasing global influence of China. With the rise of Chinese and other world languages, Middlebury Interactive has the opportunity to offer more traditionally popular languages, such as Italian or Japanese, or offer emerging languages poised to follow the path of Chinese, such as Arabic or Portuguese. Although the first direction may meet an immediate need and net rapid enrollment results, the latter stands to be more sustainable to prepare today’s students for the future. 

One of the main goals of second language acquisition is to prepare students for their future in our 21st Century global marketplace. With this goal in mind, the choice between these two paths for expanded offerings becomes more clear. While adding a program in Italian or Japanese may directly address more demand currently, a student of these programs will likely have limited use of their language skills 20 years from now relative to a student of other languages such as Arabic or Portuguese.

Why Study Portuguese?

For world language students, Portuguese is an especially attractive offering due to Brazil’s rapidly growing economy and its geographic and economic closeness with the United States.  Brazil has the world’s seventh largest economy and is rapidly growing, with an important role in global agricultural, manufacturing and energy markets. 

Opportunities for investment and cooperation from foreign companies have been both a cause for and a product of the growth in Brazil, which will make knowledge of the Portuguese language an important skill in the future. Currently, Portuguese is the sixth most common language in the world and among the most commonly learned, despite a lower profile in the United States. Ultimately, the disparity between the global importance of Portuguese and its emphasis in the American world language curriculum will be resolved, as is currently happening with Chinese.  

In addition to its economic importance, Brazil is preparing to host the World Cup in 2014 and the 2016 Summer Olympics, bringing it greater cultural attention internationally. This spotlight on Brazil will help increase interest in Portuguese in the United States as it becomes more culturally relevant. This effect was seen in China after the Beijing Olympics, and Russia following this winter’s Olympics in Sochi; in both of these cases interest in the culture and language increased notably following their hosting of the Olympic games (according to data from Google Trends). The attention that Brazil will receive from hosting these events will help cement its role globally and will potentially steer many young Americans towards a Portuguese program. 

Photo courtesy of Ronnie Macdonald

Reuben Oswald
Reuben Oswald is Associate Counsel at Middlebury Interactive Languages. A recent Vermont transplant, Reuben splits his free time between his five year old son and games of pickup basketball.
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