Denise M. Osborne

Lecturer in Portuguese

Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures

What are you currently working on in the area of public engagement?
The idea to work with children from Portuguese-speaking families came mainly from two sources: The need to offer my Portuguese students an authentic context for language learning and the need to support children from Portuguese-speaking families to develop the Portuguese language and appreciation for Luso-Brazilian cultures.

“Por que você fala português errado?” Why do you speak Portuguese incorrectly? – an immigrant from Brazil who kindly asked a five-year-old boy in a church in Albany. “Eu não sabe.” I don’t know. – answered the little boy, conjugating the verb ‘know’ in the wrong person. Children of immigrants navigate between two languages and two cultures. Being Brazilian-American, they are expected to be competent in these two cultures (bicultural competence) and languages – not an easy task. Being an immigrant myself, I understand at first hand the importance of Brazilian culture and the Portuguese language in the construction of our identity. With the goal of helping Brazilian-American children in Albany and the surrounding area, and helping my students of Portuguese apply what they learn in the classroom in an authentic environment, I created the project Era Uma Vez.

Era Um Vez is a joint effort between the Portuguese program (LLC) and, students of Portuguese and members from the Luso-Brazilian community in Albany and the surrounding areas. The goal is to help children whose parents come from Portuguese-speaking countries develop the Portuguese language and gain knowledge of and appreciation for Luso-Brazilian culture. In addition, I want to motivate students of Portuguese to apply what they have learned in class in real situations by giving them unique opportunities to contact native speakers of Portuguese.

In our meetings (every three weeks on Saturdays), students of Portuguese, parents and volunteers develop different activities with children, such as telling/reading children’s stories, singing children’s songs, playing traditional Luso-Brazilian children’s games, among lots of other fun activities. Each meeting has a different theme and the activities are developed around that theme. The idea is to have an organic group in which everyone is welcome to contribute and participate.

These are some examples of activities we have had in our meetings, always conducted in Portuguese:

For more details on our project, please visit our website.
We also have our Facebook page:
and our Listserv.

What impact has this work had on you? … on your students? … on community members?
The students of Portuguese love it! Learning Portuguese suddenly became much more interesting! My students not only have a unique opportunity to develop the language and their cultural knowledge, but also an opportunity to make a difference in a community. They have become more committed to learn Portuguese and gained opportunities for initiative. In addition, the response from the Luso-Brazilian community has been great! We have a large number of participants and the children love it! As a result of the positive response from the community, the project has grown in both content and number of participants. For instance, thanks to the donation of Portuguese books for children by parents in our community, we were able to open our own library. Families can take children’s books home for free. This has been important for families to help educate their children in Portuguese.

What are your future plans for your publicly engaged work?
I plan to continue expanding this project with the help of the members of the Luso-Brazilian community, to which I will be eternally grateful! I am also grateful for the help CHEER Fund has given our project (e.g., their financial support has paid for material for the manual crafts, water for the participants, among other things). In addition, I have collected data from this project from the beginning (Spring 2016). These data will help me analyze the project more objectively and will inform me of ways to improve it. For instance, at the end of the semester, students of Portuguese and the families answer separate questionnaires. Their feedback has helped me to improve the project and make it more decentralized, organic and suitable for the needs of the Luso-Brazilian community and my students of Portuguese.

Images from a recent meeting

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