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A letter from Kim Vis in Brazil

July 2012

Josh, Kim and Mahalia pose with the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

It is hard to believe we have been in Brazil one year. The year has gone quickly. Looking back to the day we arrived speaking no Portuguese and being completely clueless about the area, it is amazing what we have accomplished in one year. There are still days when we question our capabilities in learning this language, but at least we can communicate now. I have gained a much greater appreciation for verbal and written forms of communication this year.

When my parents visited here in March one of the most challenging experiences for them was the inability to communicate with locals. For me, it was difficult to let them go anywhere on their own due to the language barrier. We visited historic and tourist sites, but the guides spoke Portuguese and the descriptions of events were all in Portuguese. I could translate some, but it is difficult to understand what you are experiencing when you cannot communicate completely. These experiences prompted my dad to complete reading three books on the history of Brazil upon his return to the States.  He also hopes to learn some Portuguese before they return.

Mahalia continues to attend school where she is the only native English speaker. I think the communication barrier has been the least difficult for her. Children play; they don’t think as much as adults. Although she continues to make mistakes, she is learning at a rapid pace and without one formal lesson. She has also grasped the language structure where most things are made into “little things” by adding an “inha” to the ends of words. Therefore, if she does not know a word she will simply add “inha” to the English word. The other day she asked me what sock was in Portuguese. I told her the correct word, but she decided it was actually “sockinha.” It is interesting how a 4-year-old has discovered this pattern with language. She misses her family and her beloved dog but is blessed here with an abundance of people who love and care for her. For this we are very grateful!

Josh has had the most pressure on him when it comes to communicating. Fortunately he has had a lot of experience in languages and has been able to quickly learn the grammatical rules. This semester he has been an assistant professor and has taught a couple of classes himself. For these lectures he would first write them in English and then translate them and practice them in Portuguese. This of course is a very long process considering the class is two hours long. He is doing well and the students are very interested in his teachings. Fortunately for now he has been teaching on his dissertation topic, the sacrificial system in Leviticus. I always think it is somewhat funny when I imagine him teaching about the Hebrew language in Portuguese. He will be teaching his own class next semester.

I too am progressing with the language. I feel comfortable going places on my own and know I can communicate effectively if needed. I continue to study in the mornings while Mahalia attends school. Fortunately I have a lot of opportunities to practice what I am learning. Since we are the only one of our friends with a child, and another on the way, our friends are often at our house. We have made the transition to speaking only Portuguese when they are here. In addition, I can now speak with other caretakers at the parks or during Mahalia’s ballet class. Being able to share in conversations is a recent progression in my Portuguese for which I am very thankful. I have never been a quiet person and being only a listener has been a very big adjustment for me. 

The ability to communicate with ease was definitely something I took for granted before we moved to Brazil. Trying to find groceries, deciding what to eat at a restaurant, asking for directions, or setting up the Internet all become much more challenging and a much longer process when attempted in another language. Fortunately this next year, while we surely will continue to work on improving our Portuguese, some of these communication barriers are beginning to collapse.

We continue to ask for your prayers and support. If you are interested in learning more about our life in Brazil we update our blog monthly (



The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 27


Write to Kim Vis
Write to Josh Vis


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