English Language Skills Prove Valuable in Brazil
I take a seat at a table in São Paulo’s “Beco do Batman” (“Batman’s Alley”) with Larissa Dalprat. The rainclouds above look less threatening than they did just a few minutes ago. We’re surrounded by music, street food, artists selling their work, and other visitors. This neighborhood has all kinds of artistic murals on the walls: large angel wings that you can stand in front of for a photo, colorful montages of Brazilian wildlife, Pele hugging Adam West’s Batman.
I wanted to ask Larissa about her work teaching English, about the changes she’s seen from Brazil’s growing economy, and about the educational and professional opportunities available to Brazilian students and graduates. I last saw Larissa in 2007 when she was living in the US, since then she has built a career as an English language teacher in different venues. She was kind enough to meet me in São Paulo, driving about 90 minutes from her home town of Vale do Paraíba where she was born and raised.
From English student to aviation English instructor
I asked Larissa about her current job as an English teacher. “Right now, I work with aviation English for the Brazilian Air Force, teaching air traffic controllers.” As the international standard for air traffic communications, air traffic controllers need to be able to clearly communicate in English. She tells me that her students already have sufficient English skills for normal air traffic control before entering her class (she mentions “wilco” as an standard aviation English phrase, used in place of “will comply”). “They have a standard phraseology, but in emergency situations it doesn’t cover [their needs].” Larissa’s job is to teach the specialized vocabulary, phrases, and communications protocols needed in an air traffic control emergency.
Larissa originally began studying English in middle school and continued through high school. “When I finished high school, I wasn’t sure of what to study, what career to pursue.” Larissa decided to move to the US for two years, improving her language skills while working as an au pair. She returned to Brazil fully fluent in English. “When I came back, less than a month later, I already had a job as an English teacher.” Larissa continued her education while teaching, studying both English and Portuguese. After graduation she began teaching middle school and high school. A few years ago, she received a job offer from the Brazilian Air Force and transitioned to aviation English, making use of the same instructive concepts from teaching previous students.
Growing economy and new opportunities for education
I asked about Brazil’s growing economy, and Larissa noted her hometown of Vale do Paraíba (population 700,000) as an example. “Ten years ago, we didn’t have traffic, we didn’t have rush hour.” The city is bigger and busier than before, but she feels it still has somewhat of a small town mentality
Regarding educational opportunities, Larissa has seen more access to education, to universities, and to programs that are more flexible and shorter duration, including online programs. Larissa also mentioned some of the challenges of the millennial generation, as Brazil’s more experienced professionals sometimes feel that millennials expect too much too soon. Previous generations in Brazil often worked in factories as their early career positions, while the new generation of workers start professional positions after graduating from university. Yet while fewer young Brazilians today work in factories, Larissa explained that it is very common for Brazilian students to work during high school to help support their households. Larissa considered herself lucky that she was able to keep her own wages from her after-school job. These early work experiences continue to foster a strong Brazilian work ethic at a young age.
Regarding educational trends, I was surprised to hear that computer technology was one of the top choices for Brazilian students. Amongst the growing BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China), Brazil is often thought of as being more of an industrial player. Larissa confirmed that Brazil has strong science and technology sector, and she personally knows a lot of people working and studying in IT fields.
Importance of education and choosing the right career
I asked Larissa if she had any advice for young people, especially those who would be interested in her field. “In Brazil, the only way to change your life is through studying.” She explained that education is the best way to build a career that won’t leave you living paycheck to paycheck, a common household struggle in a country that pays wages monthly. For young people who are interested in languages, Larissa’s advice is to learn the language in school, to go abroad to immerse yourself, and then to continue studying. She also mentioned that there are lots of resources to practice English, including internet resources, cable TV, music, movies, and good old fashion books.
While it is clear that Larissa feels education is the key to success, she emphasized the importance being true to oneself when choosing a career. “Life is short, but it’s also very long…You can’t just focus on making money and making ends meet.” She emphasized the importance of young people choosing a career that they find fulfilling based on their interests.
As our interview ends with Larissa’s advice to choose a personally rewarding career, I’m reminded of the mural she pointed out when we arrived. An artist had elegantly written “Meu momento é aqui, meo caminho é feliz.” (“My moment is here, my path is happy.”) I was pretty sure I had translated it correctly, but I consulted the expert just to be sure.