Celisa Canto, with her engaging smile and scholarly glasses, is a familiar figure around Lagoa and one of the best-known and best-loved private Portuguese teachers in the southern part of the island. Celisa is loved by her students not only because of her abilities to teach Portuguese, but also because she has taken on the role of cultural “ambassador” for Brazil. Celisa helps her students get out and about and encourages them to use Portuguese in order to enjoy themselves while in Florianópolis.
More than just a teacher, Celisa seems to truly want students to enjoy their experience in Brazil and leave the country having truly engaged the culture and its many pleasures.
I recently met with Celisa to ask her about her personal approach to teaching Portuguese and find out why she is so passionate about her work as cultural ambassador:
“It is my mission to help foreigners feel comfortable in Brazil, to help them build a bridge to Brazil,” she told me. “This mission began when I was still a young girl in the interior of São Paulo. I was born into a household where was always full of foreign artists, art and music. I learned to read music before I learned to read and right Portuguese, and I’ve studied music for my whole life.”
Her mother is a painter and a musician and encouraged her to learn music and languages. Moreover, the family was close with the American writer Ellen Bromfield Geld, daughter of Pulitzer Prize-winning American author and farmer, Louis Bromfield, who lived nearby. It was in Geld’s household that Celisa understood that people from different cultures could have completely different perspectives and behavior.
Celisa’s mission to bridge that difference emerged soon afterwards, when she was a teenager, studying music at the Conservatório Dramático e Musical de Tatuí. The Conservatory, the best in Brazil, hosted many foreign music professors. All of these professors had trouble picking up Portuguese, and Celisa watched as they bumbled around town, trying in vain to pay bills, order food in restaurants, or get into a taxi. Celisa, who could speak English and a little bit of French, couldn’t stand by and watch these talented and often illustrious musicians suffer such difficulties.
The lost professors transformed her into their local interpreter. This new role, in turn, blossomed into yet another when an American timpanist arrived at the Conservatory. Unable to learn Portuguese despite intensive Berlitz Portuguese courses, the timpanist despaired of ever adapting to life in Brazil. Undaunted, he offered to teach Celisa percussion in exchange for Portuguese lessons, and somehow succeeded where Berlitz had failed. It was the beginning of her career as a teacher of Portuguese, she was just 15. And forever afterwards these two roles — as cultural ambassador and language teacher — would remain intertwined.
Celisa’s life took many turns after the Conservatory. She worked as cultural events organizer at the Instituto de Pesquisas Tecnológicas de São Paulo, one of the largest research institutions in South America.
She has also taught Portuguese at the Studieskolen in Copenhagen, where she learned Danish. At the Studieskolen she taught students from all over Europe and the world and could see more clearly how each language posed its own particular obstacles to learning Portuguese. While in Denmark she had access to the language laboratory at the University of Copenhagen. There she began an extensive research into phonetics. Today she boasts of being able to teach Portuguese to native speakers of any language.
Beside her mother-language – Portuguese, Celisa speaks English, Danish, Spanish, a bit of French and Italian.
Celisa’s many experiences and adventures in different countries, different schools, and in different cultures have not diminished the original impulse that made her a language teacher in the first place: the mission to build a bridge between the foreign speaker and Brazil.
“I take them to literary events, to concerts, to listen to Brazilian music, we go dancing, we hitichhike and prepare dinner together. I don’t let them hide in their apartments. I want to welcome students”, she said, “to make them feel at home. I’ve been a foreigner for a couple of years in Scandinavia, I know how hard and tiring it can be!”
A lover of language, Celisa will be writing a regular column on Portuguese for sweethomefloripa.com.
She will spotlight unusual words, phrases, and expressions of special interest to foreigners.
Check out Celisa’s column and brush up on your Portuguese.
Celisa Canto teaches in the center of Lagoa da Conceição. Contact her via email at:
Cell/WhatsApp: +55 48 99977 1954