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So you speak fluent Portuguese?

… is what many tourists ask, thinking living abroad would instantly bless you with perfect language skills.

And to be honest: not only tourists think that. I also kind of did, thinking living in Madeira, working with locals and hearing Portuguese all around me, I would playfully pick it up.

The only way of language learning I had experienced so far was by regular classes back in school. Lessons twice a week, being tortured with grammar tests, neatly copying vocabulary from the text book, reading articles… I think everybody knows what I mean. These classes gave me a good base and I kept learning and practicing these languages abroad. Meeting people from all over the world started making me curious about more foreign languages and I decided to learn another one. This time by trying out a different way of learning: the one of complete immersion.

EVS is a perfect program for this, as no foreign language skills are expected from people who want to volunteer abroad. I knew I wanted to come to Portugal, as it is a country I knew very few about and because I loved the sound of the language.

Arriving here, I soon had to figure that my idea of easily learning the language was a sugar-coated illusion and that it would require a lot of effort! Because people kept talking to me in English. At the supermarket, at work, at the residence… because it simply is the easiest way to communicate!

Still, over time my ears did actually adjust to the bit of Portuguese that was still around and it started the phase where I was able to understand what people were saying. I have to admit that French helps a great deal in that case. So if people spoke slowly, I could understand them. Which was very satisfying! And driving me crazy at the same time, because I figured that – unlike another sugar-coated idea of mine – understanding and talking are two completely different things.

So I forced myself to try to speak more, insisting on people to talk to me in Portuguese and to correct me. In the meantime, my language skills are good enough for basic conversation. Looking back, it’s hard to describe the development of this still ongoing process of learning Portuguese. But finding a tandem-partner was definitely a great help, and so was reading, listening to the radio, eavesdropping on people and bothering them with questions. And seeing the reaction and surprise of people, when they see that you try. So complete immersion works! Combined with one’s own initiative and endurance. So: No, dear tourists, I’m not fluent in Portuguese. But slowly expanding my language skills.

Short bio of the volunteer:

Ina comes from Germany, where she studied cultural education. Looking for practical experience in her field, she first did a voluntary service in on Reunion Island, which is where her love for volcanic islands and practical fieldwork were triggered. Following these preferences and being curious for learning another language brought her to Madeira. Since September 2016 she’s one of the European volunteers of AAUMa, realizing guided tours in historic buildings and throughout the city and helping the cultural department with translations.


Erasmus+ is a programme of the European Commission embracing the fields of education, training, youth and sports during the period 2014-2020. One of the major aspects is the cooperation between the different fields where the programme acts, hence contributing for a diverse and rich Europe.

Amongst the several goals of the programme, the following are prioritised: the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy, including the headline education target; the aims of the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020), including the corresponding benchmarks; the sustainable development of Partner Countries in the field of higher education; the overall goals of the renewed framework for European cooperation in the youth field (2010-2018); the objective of developing the European dimension in sport, in particular grassroots sport, in line with the EU work plan for sport and the promotion of European values in accordance with Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union.

In order to achieve these goals, the Erasmus+ has several action policies. The Key Action 1 (KA1) is directed towards the mobility of people; Key Action 2 (KA2) for the cooperation for innovation and the interchange of good experiences; and Key Action 3, which is for the support of reformation policies.

European Voluntary Service

Since 1991 the University of Madeira Students’ Union has developed a wide incentive policy for voluntary work. In 2013 the Students’ Union started the process to receive, send and coordinate Erasmus+ projects of the European Voluntary Service, in order to have a larger influence in the volunteering field. The Union received its first volunteer withing the ambit of a KA1 project in 2014. Many efforts have been done to allow young people from Madeira to take part in several initiatives in Europe, as well as propose several projects allowing young people from several countries to work in the projects of the Students’ Union of the University of Madeira. The main goal of the voluntary work is the contribution of the volunteers to the communities and places they will be staying, being their work not rewarded with payment.

We believe that the European Voluntary Service is a mechanism full of experiences, allowing the approved candidates to have the privilege of taking part in these projects and benefit the places and communities where these volunteers will be staying.

Since 2013, the University of Madeira Students’ Union has received volunteers that have collaborated in several activities and initiatives. Besides being able to enjoy a wonderful experience which will contribute to their personal and professional growth, they are able to contribute in a unique way to the community in which they are inserted and to join dozens of volunteers from the University of Madeira.