East Timor Pumps Up Portuguese

by Kristal Bivona

The Portuguese language is making a comeback in the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, known commonly as East Timor, after nearly 25 year of being prohibited when the South Pacific nation was under Indonesian occupation at the end of the twentieth century. In 2002, East Timor gained its independence and adopted Portuguese and Tetum as official languages. Nonetheless, fewer than 25 percent of the Timorese population is proficient in Portuguese. A joint effort between the Timorese, Portuguese and Brazilian governments will train hundreds of Timorese teachers in Portuguese.

In 2012, 170 Portuguese professors will be in East Timor to train 7000 teachers in Portuguese language arts. Brazil will send 30 professors to teach in the National University of Timor-Leste, and will host 70 Timorese students at the National University of Luso-Afro-Brazilian Integration in the northern Brazilian state of Ceará. The goal of this exchange is to strengthen Portuguese language skills throughout East Timor so that within six years, it will be the official language of instruction in the universities, as federal education law stipulates.

In order to foster Portuguese literacy in children and adults outside of the university system, the Brazilian ambassador, Edson Monteiro, has sent over 80,000 donated magazines containing word searches, crossword puzzles and other word games to East Timor. Monteiro hopes the magazines will offer a fun way to preserve and consolidate the Portuguese language.