Senior spends summer learning Portuguese and Brazilian culture

When Chandler Maas was accepted into the Summer Intensive Portuguese Institute (SIPI), she wasn’t sure what condensing an entire year of language study into an 8-week summer session would look like. However, the UW–Madison senior is no stranger to the challenges and rewards attached to learning a new language. She didn’t plan for Portuguese to be a second or even third language…but a fifth.

Maas’ experience as an international studies major, in addition to her curiosity about languages and an undergraduate assistantship with the Wisconsin Intensive Summer Language Institutes (WISLI), which includes SIPI, drove her interest in the program. Portuguese felt exciting to her, as she had never travelled to a Portuguese-speaking country or spoken the language.

Chandler Maas
Chandler Maas started SIPI with no experience with Portuguese. Now she is taking 300-level language classes.

“The first day was a little overwhelming because it was all in Portuguese right away,” Maas said. “I realized how unlike Spanish it was. But by the second week I was totally comfortable.”

At the end of the program Maas completed a Language Proficiency Interview, an evaluation of oral language proficiency and global speaking ability.

“I was just astonished by the progress I’d made,” she said. She is now enrolled in 300-level Portuguese courses at UW.

Not only did SIPI improve Maas’ linguistic skills, the Milwaukee-native also fell in love with Brazilian culture. WISLI courses combine traditional classroom learning with a variety of co-curricular activities to help students better understand the ties between language and culture in the country of origin.

“You’re always watching a video, having speakers come in, listening to music, dancing, something,” Maas said. “Which really breaks up the study of a language and gives you something concrete to understand why language is important.”

These moments, and glimpses into Brazilian culture, inspired Maas to explore opportunities abroad after graduation. She plans to take a gap year, possibly working as an intern, to explore Brazil and put her Portuguese skills to use. She hopes to visit the country’s major cities with a group of friends from the program over winter break as well.

Maas’ love of language and “the international world” dates to high school, where one summer she attended the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) in Moscow, Russia. She studied French and Spanish in high school as well and continues to study French at UW.

“I’ve taken a lot of language classes, so I know how great our language department is here,” Maas said. “It’s really great to have instructors who understand both the language and the culture. WISLI ended up being a really impactful and rewarding experience.”