Desire to be good hosts – and avoid embarrassing mix-ups – inspires ‘taxistas’ to learn how to communicate with foreign tourists
Everyone who has travelled to a foreign country without speaking the local lingo knows the story: every time you get into a cab, you run the risk of ending up on the opposite side of town to where you wanted to go. But for tourists planning to come to Rio for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, help is at hand. Taxi drivers across the city have started signing up for 10,000 free online English courses, provided by the Rio 2016 Organising Committee and its partners Radio Globo and English First (EF).
Flávio de Lima Cavalcanti studied English for four years at school, but a lack of practice has led to a lack of confidence, something he is keen to rectify – especially to avoid any more mix-ups like the one he suffered with two foreign tourists who wanted to visit one of Rio’s most famous landmarks.
“Sometimes, when tourists speak no Portuguese at all, it can get complicated,” he said. “Once I had two foreign girls in my taxi and they wanted to go to Sugarloaf Mountain, but I could not understand. They were saying ‘Sugar something’ but I didn’t understand so I took them to the beach and from there they saw the Sugarloaf and they were pointing and saying ‘that’s where we wanted to go!’, so luckily I managed to get them there that time. These lessons will help, at least we will be able to understand more, even if we don’t end up speaking fluently.”
For Ricardo Guimarães, who also signed up on Tuesday, the aim is more ambitious. “I really want to learn to English, fluently. I understand very little English at the moment but I believe that when you have the desire to learn, you will learn. There will be a lot more foreigners here next year for the Games, and these lessons should help a lot. I hope the foreigners come, they will be very welcome, and us taxi drivers will be your hosts and we will do everything to help you as much as we can.”
With about 30,000 registered taxis in Rio, the project has the potential help a third of the fleet improve their English, and if all 10,000 courses are taken up, the initiative could be extended. The courses, which are open to all levels, are designed to run for four months and Mariana Behr, head of engagement at Rio 2016, said the initial reaction had been very positive. “We’ve had a good response from the taxi drivers and we know they are sharing the news on their WhatsApp groups and hearing about it on the radio,” she said “This will leave a legacy to the city of taxi drivers being able to communicate better with their passengers and offering a better level of service.”