Interview with Renato Figueiredo

Renato Figueiredo has written no less than 16 dictionaries for Freelang. How does he proceed when he makes these dictionaries, and what are his goals? Thanks to this interview you will know more about the man whose name appears so often on the “what’s new” page of Freelang.

Interview by Beaumont
Published December 1, 2007

 All our interviews

Renato, you have contributed to Freelang with so many dictionaries. Let’s see: Afar, Breton, Frisian, Hmong, Maori, Old Frisian, Oromo, Papiamento, Samoan, Somali, Tagalog, Tetum, Tongan, Turkmen, Yoruba and Yupik! Did I forget anything? So first of all many thanks, then first question, what is the common point of all those languages, if there is one?

Let us not forget that I helped our good friend Guy Gambill with the update of his Zulu dictionary, which was also my first “work” to Freelang. Anyway talking about my dictionaries, yes, are all these.

The common points appeared only when I made Somali. I had a source including Oromo, and as in French Freelang dictionaries have a dict, named Afar, I was curious about which language was that, and discovered that it was also a Cushitic language as Somali and Oromo, so I decided to make this dict also. The same thing occurred with the Austronesian family (Tetum, Tagalog, Maori, Samoan and Tongan). But I wasn’t thinking on language families when I made them.

You’re from Brazil. How many languages do you actually speak?

Yes. I’m Brazilian, from Rio de Janeiro. Actually I speak fluently English, Spanish, and of course my native language Portuguese. Besides these, I have advanced knowledge in French, Italian and Esperanto. Intermediate knowledge in Swedish, and suffered knowledge in German, Russian and Chinese.

How did you come to learn Swedish?

I learned Swedish by myself with “Teach Yourself Swedish” from NTC Publishing Group, some lessons on the web, a very old book written in Spanish (Doce lecciones de Sueco, by Börje Cederhom – Börje Söderlund) and the Swedish grammar from Routledge books. The same happened with Chinese, French, German, Italian and Russian. English, Esperanto and Spanish I studied at regular courses.

What about Esperanto, was it just for fun or are you a real “Esperantist”?

My father was a real Esperantist; for his influence I went to a Esperanto course in Rio de Janeiro, in 1982, at the same time I was beginning my studies at the Journalism College. As I don’t have with whom to talk, today I try to read much more and so I don’t forget the language. When I came to Santa Maria, there was an Esperantist group very good, where I took part, but this group finished for many reasons and I lost contact in spoken language.

So, is it possible to make a dictionary if you don’t speak the language?

If the dictionary is a real dictionary: a book, no. You must know very well any language, because in a book you have to give linguistic explanations. But in the case of Freelang (or any other electronic dict.) yes, because basically you are informing only the translation of the words. In this case the only language you must know, very well, is English. As Freelang has also dicts in French and Spanish bases, you should speak one of these languages, or know the tree to work with all bases.

What is the dictionary you’re the most proud of?

Yoruba was my real first dict in Freelang. When I received a message from Beaumont telling me that the dict was already on the web, in the first moment I didn’t know what was happening. When I saw my name there with the dict (it was a Sunday morning) I woke up my wife and son to see what was happening, and it was very funny. But I loved more Papiamento and Turkmen, this second one was the first big dict and I could really learn how Turkic languages function. A very curious word in Turkmen is TUPAN, storm. In Tupi language (extinct) spoken in Brazil, the ‘thunder god’ was TUPAN. How could a word spoken in Central Asia has almost the same meaning in an indigenous language of Brazil, knowing that Turkmen people didn’t come to Brazil before Portuguese people, and even nowadays there aren’t Turkmen people in the country and Tupi is an extinct language?

How do you proceed when you make a dictionary: how do you select a language, where do you find your sources…?

This is a 3×1 question, so as it would say a good butcher: “let’s go by parts”;

1- When I begin to make a dict, first I get all information I have about this language, took from the sites below and others, than I select only the wordlists English-XX-English. In the second step I begin the dict from letter Z to A, because Z words have few insertions; this way I can send to Beaumont a new dict with around 250 words. In the third step I have as target weekly (depending of the language) 2,500 words, until the end. On the last update I use to do all necessary corrections, as happened on Turkmen, when we had to change zh by ž, sh by š and ñ by ň.

2- I have an Excel file with more than 250 languages. There is marked the languages Freelang already has a dict, in the 3 bases, so I work in the languages you don’t have dicts. Of course I’ll never try to update Ukranian dict, because it already has more than 130,000 words. Some languages, nowadays are impossible to create a dict, because or the language doesn’t have sufficient sources, or it is written in an alphabet distinct from Latin one, and as I don’t have support for different alphabet, the creation is almost impossible. (for example Zaza-also known as Zazaki and Marathi respectively). Some languages, I really would like to see published as Azeri, Kyrgyz, Kazakh and the English version of Belorussian.

3- My main sources are,,,,,,,,; from these I can open other several sources for uncountable languages. I also look for sources outside the web.

What goal do you pursue, is it to help people communicate, is it to salve endangered languages, or is it to learn as many languages as possible?

It is all three, sure. Another reason is that on the web, in great part, you don’t find material to study as grammars, lessons, dictionaries as Freelang and texts; so the more you have and show it in a simple way, everybody win.

Have you received some feedback from Freelang’s users?

I can say yes. First I made a contact with Guy Gambill after reading his interview. More recently I received a message from François Alby who made many dictionaries in French base, because I was trying to make the Belorussian dict, which unfortunately wasn’t possible to me because I have an orthographical Belorussian dict but don’t have the meaning of the words in English; as Alby has this dict in French, he could make a very good update. But the most important feedback was when I received a message from Beaumont telling me that my Yoruba dict was being mentioned at the web page “Black is Beautiful“. This is a great thing!

Do you remember your first visit on Freelang’s website? What made you feel like contributing to the project?

I think it was in 2002, I was so glad for having found a simple dictionary program which would help me on my languages studies that I downloaded all English dicts (I still do it, not only the new, but also the updates. On that time my computer was a Windows 98 with a 10GB-HD, and I have to share the computer with my son Nicolas and my wife Maria Alice, so I couldn’t use the dicts and not to overcharge the memory. At the end of last year I could upgrade the computer to a Windows XP, with 80GB-HB, and 1.25 GB memory. Now I can have all English dicts opened.

Only this year searching all parts of Freelang’s web page I found that the French and Spanish flags weren’t only a simple translation of the main page, but also there were 189 French dicts and 26 Spanish dicts. When I saw that, I found the possibilities of (in future) contributing with dicts in these languages too.

About the feeling of contributing, it appeared when I saw the Zulu dict, and the wordlist I had, then I began to insert words, for me. When I finished, I thought “Oh if the computer brakes I will loose all the work I had; the solution not to loose the work was to send it to Freelang, and see what happens”. When I saw it published, I decided to create the Yoruba. Since then, I didn’t stop.

Apart from making dictionaries, what are your hobbies?

Learn languages, read, walk around the neighborhood, watch TV, play computer games as Roller Coaster, and listen to international music from different countries.

Do you like traveling?

I love, even if it means traveling through the pages of National Geographic Magazine, Brazilian version.

I understand you’re a journalist but currently unemployed. What kind of job are you looking for? (You never know, an employer might read this!)

After being unemployed as journalist, I had at home a butter cookie factory, during 4 years, which finished after Economic Asiatic Crisis in early 2000, then I began to study French, Italian, Swedish. Nowadays creating the dictionaries, my wife says that I have a new career as dictionarist, dictionarian (a person who creates dictionary). It’s a good job. I can feel myself productive and can help people.

I consider the work I do to Freelang, with the dicts, as an International volunteer job, because it is a thing that I do proudly, I like what I’m doing, and I know I’m helping people around the world, who need gears to learn a language, to improve their works, and people who simply love languages. I know that thousands of people already downloaded the dicts and this is very important to me. So, I’m not looking for a traditional job now, but if I had to come back to formal activities, it would be in a newspaper. As the works in newspapers are very hard, I had to stop doing dicts, and the world would loose my talent (ha! Ha!).

Tell us a bit about your life in Brazil, if you don’t mind. In which state do you live, and how is life there?

Since 1988, I have been living in Rio Grande do Sul, the southern Brazilian State, in the city of Santa Maria, which is located in the middle of the state. Its population is around 250,000 people. It is considered a student city for having many schools, colleges and universities. This doesn’t mean people love languages. The main ones are English and Spanish, in spite of having a great number of descendants of Italians and Germans, Hebrews and Palestinians. I live in a camp house (very calm, where I can hear all day long birds, dogs, horses, cows, my cat and sometimes some cars), near downtown. This is perfect to create the dicts!

In your opinion, should Brazilian Portuguese and Portuguese from Portugal be considered as two distinct languages, or is the former a variant from the latter? Like Britain and America, is it “two nations divided by a common language”?

It is like England and America, but the greatest difference is that since Brazil was discovered we received, and still receive many immigrants, and there is a mix among all them normally, which makes Brazilians one of the most happy people in the world. This mix creates a strong variant of traditional Portuguese language, but we can’t talk in distinct languages, even why, Brazil has a powerful structure in television soap operas, which are watched by Portuguese people almost at the same time this happens in Brazil. It is like American movies been watched in England; as in United States they didn’t have the same mix as in Brazil, the English language is more similar to its traditional in England.

Are there many other languages in Brazil other than Portuguese? I mean native languages?

Portuguese is the only official language of Brazil, but we have around 170 native languages, some are better than others. Good curiosity is that Portuguese people discovered Brazil in April 1500. During the first 200 years, the official language wasn’t Portuguese, but Tupi. Portuguese people had to learn that language to survive in the new country. Only around 1700 Tupi was forbidden and the national language passed to be Portuguese, but people passed to speak a Portuguese language with influence of Tupi and other native languages, besides the African languages brought with the slaves. Nowadays, in the Northeast state of Bahia many Yoruba words are still spoken, as oba and ogun into the African religious services.

How are these languages doing, are they endangered?

I don’t have exact numbers but around 2/3 of 170 languages are endangered, the other 1/3 is been teaching on schools into or near the reservations, as Xavante, Kaingang, Bororo and Paraná. I think if the Indians had access to computers and internet, their languages could be saved. In the world it is much more easy to save the life of some animals (which is also very important) than the endangered languages (unfortunately).

We are celebrating Freelang’s tenth anniversary. What do you think our goal should be for the next ten years?

1- To continue having more and more dicts, with more and new collaborators;

2- The creation of bases also Russian, Arabic, Hindi and Chinese it would be very interesting, because these languages make part of the 10 languages more spoken on earth, and could open an enormous variety of languages.

3- I would like to see the French and Spanish dicts running at the same time with English. Today this is impossible, or we install English, or French or Spanish (or work with 3 computers at same time (ha-ha!)). If the dicts could work together we would have easily a comparative meaning of a word.

4- To improve Spanish dicts. Today there are only 26, two of them are interesting Argentinean Quechua and Lunfardo.

5- I would like to ask you to create a simple way to give access to the blog. I still couldn’t get it; even trying.

Are you active on other websites, or do you have a blog or a personal homepage?

Yes. I usually take part on Before Freelang, I made an Albanian-English dictionary to, and recently I helped translating some medical sentences and making corrections on Croatian, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish (my name is there as RF from Brazil). This is an interesting site, from a hospital in Australia. The doctors say that they receive immigrants that don’t speak English, and as the doctors don’t speak other languages, they decided to create some basic sentences, which were translated in several languages. This way the doctors could talk better with patients, and the patients passed to have a better recuperation on their diseases.

No. I don’t have blog or personal homepage. For 3 reasons I don’t have time to work on them; some things about web design I don’t know how to do; my internet access is by dial, I don’t have high speed connection, and to keep a good page you need these three points, and a fourth one is information, you must be updated and involved with the web world.

What are your personal projects in the next future? And do you have maybe a message for our readers?

You said next future, so this means short period of time. Keep on doing dicts to Freelang. In few weeks’ new dicts will arrive, and next January, my son Nicolas will be taking part on exams to the University of Biology, and I must be cheering for him.

For longer future, I still don’t have any idea. Maybe if win the lottery I’ll visit Beaumont in Bangkok.

A message, I would like to see people visiting Freelang web page more frequently, downloading our dicts, creating new ones, and don’t let languages dying.

Thank you very much, Renato! 🙂

 Feel free to share your comments on this interview.

 Back to Magazine summary

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.