Bonsai Trees and Language Learning

I have a special ability to kill plants but against all odds my Bonsai tree has been able to continue to grow and thrive.  I was told that I needed to keep the soil moist and give it at least 3 hours of sunlight each day.  I have kept the soil moist by watering the tree at least once a day and it sits in the window of my apartment getting at least 4 hours of Sunlight each day.

Bonzi 2

Bonsai when it arrived

I was scared that I was killing the tree when I saw the leaves folding up each night.  I did some research and found out that the tree is actually supposed to do this.  One of my friends, who is a gardener,  called the tree “Dormi Dormi”  meaning the sleep sleep tree. Over the last few weeks that I have owned this tree it has grown lots.


Bonsai with some growth

As I have been watching the Bonsai tree I have been able to think of the tree as a parallel to my language learning.  Language learning requires time and effort but you will not always see the growth.  One day you might wake up and think that you are growing because you can speak freely.  Later that same day you will feel like you lost all of the progress that you have made because you can’t hold any conversation.

Bonsai 1

Bonsai with leaves closed

Language learning is not a linear process and there will always be growth if you continue to put in the work.  However,  I need to remember not to be discouraged when it seems like all of my language skills fold up and go away just like the leaves on this the tree close each night.  I look forward to seeing not only the growth of my Bonsai tree but also the growth of my ability to speak Portuguese.


Bonsai 2

Lots of New Growth



Church Membership and Preaching

This past Sunday was a big day in my life as a missionary.  I became a member of the local church in Ivoti that I have been attending and I also preached at the evening service.


Membership Testimony

It was great to be able to begin the day with seeing about 20 people become a member of Ministerio Biblico Ivoti (MBI).  I enjoyed being able to listen to all of the testimonies of the others.  Many of the testimonies were very emotional.  My testimony, in Portuguese, was short and sweet but it was well received.



Reading the Sermon Introduction in Portuguese


Later in the same day I preached at MBI.  This was a difficult sermon not only because of the topic (giving) but also I began the sermon in Portuguese before switching to a translator.  I was very nervous to begin the sermon in Portuguese.  I think that it was well received even with all of the miss pronounced words, miss conjugated verbs, failed gender assignments for the nouns, and the poor reading tempo.  I look forward to peaching a whole sermon in Portuguese in the future but for now only the introduction will have to do.

Preaching 1

Full Church listening to me speak and understanding what I am saying.


I have wanted to purchase a Bonsai tree for the last 20+ years.  I have enjoyed looking at different Bonsai trees over the years.  I used to think about stopping to purchase a tree during college when I saw the Bonsai guy while driving home but I never stopped to purchase a tree.  Over the years of moving I determined not to purchase a tree because I never had a place to in my apartments.


Many Plants to Choose from

Once I arrived in Brazil I saw a sign for Bonsai trees along the road side and determined to purchase one.  One day I stopped by and there was no worker at the roadside Bonsai stand.  A few weeks later I was talking with a friend and he said that he wanted to purchase a Bonsai tree also.  We made arrangements to go together to purchase trees.  I looked at many different tree options to purchase.  Once I narrowed down the type of tree that I wanted, I then had to determine the age of the tree to purchase.

Bonzi 1

40 year old Bonsai

The Bonsai pictured above is a 40 year old tree that is similar to the one that I ended up purchasing.  It is actually in the private collection of the owner.  I thought that the root ball and bark looked really cool.  I ended up purchasing a tree that is only 15 years old and has red flowers during the fall each year.  I really like the bark, root ball, branches and the red flowers that are characteristic of this tree.  One day I hope to see this tree at 30 years old.

Bonzi 2

My Bonsai




When learning Portuguese I feel like I am in a boxing match that I am loosing.  The first two to three rounds have been very rough.  Recently I feel like I have turned a corner and I felt like I was going to either win round four or at least break even.  I felt like I confidence that I would maybe win a round.  This time I feel like I got kicked in the nuts because I have not won this round but I lost yet again.  This loss cam while purchasing curtains for my apartment.  I went with a great family from church to get the original fabric and they graciously took me to the seamstress to get the curtains made.  The seamstress called and said that the fabric that I had purchased was not the correct size.  I felt confident enough to handle this without any assistance.  However,  I was mistaken because the fabric store ladies kept on saying that they gave me the right amount and the seamstress had miss cut the fabric on purpose.  They also said many other things which I didn’t pick up or understand.  I wish that I had brought one of the many people who have offered to help in times such as this.  Instead I felt that too confident and actually ended up purchasing the required fabric again.  I look forward to a time where I will be able to argue a little during situations like this.



Extra Fabric from Curtains

I am so thankful that I was able to get at least one curtain made that fit where I wanted it to fit.  The other curtain does not fit because of some structural beams that I am not able to drill through.  I am so thankful for being able to finally get the curtains made for my apartment.


Curtains 1

Good Looking Curtains



Time to Read

For a long time I have enjoyed reading,  I can remember hiding under my covers witha  flashlight to finish reading a book after my partents told me to go to bed.  During the past few months I have had more time to read than I normally do.  Reading has been a great help for me here in Brazil.  First is that it provides some comfort because it is very familiar to me because it is in English.  Second it provides something to do that is not studying Portuguese.  Third,  I am rereading lots of books that bring back great memories for me.  The series pictured is the Redwall series which I first read as a child with my dad and then reread multiple times as I grew up.  I have great memories reading these books at the house I grew up in, while in college and now in Brazil.


Redwall Series

Coaching Football

Over the past couple of months I have begun to help coach football.  There are some great opportunities which helping coach football provides.  The first is that of being able to practice my language skills.  I feel especially able to learn a simple phrase and then go to practice and use it repeatedly.  I also understand the game and am able to listen to what is said and pick up different words which will help me later during class.

Football 1

Beautiful Day for a Game

The second thing which is important is that I feel like I am able to get to know some people in a more organic way.  The guys know that I am here as a missionary and know that I don’t speak Portuguese very well but I am able to still help out.  There are mistakes that I make in speaking Portuguese but the guys are able to help correct me.  The most recent one that I can think of is that I told the guys that they should not have ice cream the day before the football game when I wanted to tell them that they should not drink beer the day before the football game.


Watching them get ready to run the next play

The drawback to coaching from the sideline is that I am more emotionally involved with the game that is being played.  It is different than being on the field and being able to personally affect the outcome of the game.


Fellowship and Language Practice

A great way to enjoy some fellowship and practice my language skills is to have people over to my house.  It is a great opportunity to get to know some people from the church and to do that I need to speak Portuguese.  I have found myself able to speak Portuguese easier the more that I have people over.  One of the draw backs of having people over is that I get tired and after having people over.  It normally takes me at least an hour to wind down after having a family over for an evening but on the upside I normally get a good nights sleep after.

Practice and Fellowship 1

Fellowship with Families

Another bonus to having people over is that I get to cook for not just myself  Most single people I know find it difficult, to some extent, to cook for themselves.  Most recipes that I know are for 4 people  and you end up putting in the same effort even if you only make one serving.  However,  when I have people over I get to think about different foods that I am craving which I would like to share with my guests.  Recently I have been craving American comfort food (Bacon Mac & Cheese, with grilled beef) and Thai food (Chicken Satay and Curry Pasta) which are two of the recent meals that I made for my friends.

Practice and Fellowship

Fellowship with Couples

Conversations in Portuguese

My skills in Portuguese seem to be growing every day.  I am a slow learner but try to learn something new every day.  I have seen my conversation skills grow markedly every week recently.  When I listen to Portuguese I have a simple inner monologue going.  I first am listening for all of the words that I understand which have been said.  Then I am telling myself the different possibilities of what was said based on the context and words I recognized.  The next part of the monologue is normally do I understand enough to respond.  If I do then I will think to myself do I have the vocabulary to say a response that makes sense.  Finally I think about if I actually want to respond.

conversations 3

Past Portuguese Understanding

This internal monologue has gotten better each and every week as I understand more vocabulary.  Here is some of the progress that I have made.  When I had only been in country about a month and a half I went to a wedding.  At this wedding we had some great table conversation which I really didn’t understand much of at all.  I was able to pick up a few words here and there but I do remember two specific words that were actually only one word.  The words were “de coracao”  which means “the heart”  I thought that they were talking about the heart of the matter in my internal monologue.  It lead me to actually respond that I understand.  Later I was told that the word I heard was “decoracao” and actually means decoration.

conversations 2

Current Portuguese Understanding

A few months later the internal monologue is different when I talk with a guy after the church service.  We were able to talk about cooking food, talking about missing another missionary on furlough, and how nice the church/dedication service was.  This conversation went so well that when I expressed how my Portuguese has not been progressing as well as I wanted.  During this conversation making a story to accompany the words that I was able to follow was easier.


Future Portuguese Understanding

One day in the future I hope that I will not have to fill in as many words in the stories that I tell myself during a conversation in Portuguese.

Culture Shock: Cube vs. Ball

When I was getting prepared for being a missionary I read a story about the cube culture and ball culture.  There was a cube from the cube culture who wanted to reach the ball culture with the gospel.  Over time the cube tried to adapt in order to reach the balls in the ball culture.  Years after trying to adapt the cube visited the cube culture and found out that he was not like the other cubes, he had changed.  The other cubes looked at him like a ball and upon returning to the ball culture they looked at him like he was still a cube.  When the cube looked at himself in the mirror he found that he looked similar to a cube and similar to a ball but unlike either one.  The cube had turned into an egg.

culture shock

Picture of Cube Culture

culture shock 1

Picture of Ball Culture

I think about this story represents me right now.  Not that I have changed into something different yet but I feel it coming. I would say that I am definitely feeling like cube in my mind right now.  I want to reach a different culture but am having difficulty do to language and cultural differences.

culture shock 3

Picture of the Cube reaching the Ball

My current battle is in my mind and thoughts.  I definitely think like a cube and am noticing some of the differences in the way that I think and act vs. Brasilians think and act.  When I see a difference I have to remind myself not to judge the difference as being negative or positive but to simply acknowledge the difference.  This battle is centered in my mind and thoughts right now and I am working on trying to not let my negative or positive thoughts influence my reaction.

culture shock 2

The Cube having some edges knocked off.


Portuguese Learning

There are two major difficulties which I have faced in learning Portuguese.  The first is figuring out how to study a language again.  I did not begin with the best language learning skills or abilities.  I believe that I have let that color my study of Portuguese.  It is easy to come up with excuses as to why I am not doing as well.  However,  I have begun to embrace studying more.  There are a couple of ways that have really helped me in my language acquisition.  The first is the use of quizlet.  Quizlet is a free app which has allowed me to study vocabulary by typing in the words and mixing up how it is presented.  Working with this has helped me more than traditional flashcards.  The second is the use of white boards to write out the different things that I am trying to learn.  If I can see and hear the words than I tend to remember them better.

Language 1

Conjugating verbs in class

Besides how to study I have also had a great difficulty learning one specific section of language school.  That section is groupos.  Groupos are a series of questions and answers that I have to memorize and repeat in a time limit.  There is a catch,  I only have to remember the groupo until I have completed it.  I find it very difficult to memorize, perform and then forget.  I am thankful for my current teacher helping me with this by giving me flash cards to match.


New Groupo Study techniques