Athletes of the Year

Gustavo Barragan smiles as he receives an award during the Athletes of the Year event last May at Jester's Auto Museum in Chehalis.

In 2016, only about 20% of Americans were bilingual, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But Winlock grad Gustavo Barragan has that beat: After teaching himself to speak Portuguese and nearly acing the official fluency test, he's part of the extreme minority of Americans who are trilingual.

Gustavo grew up speaking Spanish and English, but became interested in learning Portuguese after becoming friends with two Brazilian exchange students at Winlock High School. (Portuguese is Brazil's official language.)

"I just thought (my friend Leandro) was really cool, and the way he spoke Portuguese was really similar to Spanish, so I just decided to learn Portuguese," Gustavo said.

And learn he did. He learned from reading books online, watching YouTube videos and keeping in touch with his Brazilian friend Pedro.

"He watched shows and sports in Portuguese, and listened to radio programs. That was all him," said Rhiannon Batey, who teaches Spanish at Winlock High School.

"I'm all self-taught," Gustavo said.

His favorite word in Spanish is "corazón," which means heart, because of his favorite song, "Corazón" by Maluma. His favorite word in English is "memory," and in Portuguese, it's "futebol," (which means soccer).

"The word 'futebol' (in Portuguese) is really similar to soccer in Spanish, because 'futbol' would be soccer in Spanish," Gustavo said. "They're really similar, but they just sound a little bit different, so I just think that's a cool word."

After studying for about a year, Gustavo is now fluent. He has taken -- and passed -- the World Language Competency Exam, which gauges a student's ability to speak, listen to, write and read a language. He got the highest score possible in reading and listening and nearly the highest score possible in writing and speaking.

"Many native speakers of a language can't score that high on the exam," Batey said.

Gustavo said he hoped to use his Portuguese to travel to Brazil someday, particularly because "over there, soccer is really popular, unlike here," he said.

Gustavo played on the Toledo-Winlock United team for all four years in high school, where he reliably scored goals for the team. He's also worked as a referee for two years.

He said his favorite high school memory was winning the semifinal game of the 1A Boys State Soccer Championships after beating Redmond's Overlake School, which United lost to during Gustavo's sophomore year.

"I felt very happy beating them my senior year because they were the state champions, and they were expected to win state again, and we just managed to stop them," Gustavo said.

"(Gustavo is) a standout grad because he's so well-rounded socially, academically, and athletically. I can't say anything bad about him," Batey said.

In the fall, Gustavo will move to Seattle and attend the University of Washington, where he plans to study biology, and eventually use his degree to work in the medical field.

"I think what motivates me the most is just wanting to live in a different place because living here is really boring," Gustavo said.

"I'm glad I met my Brazilian friend that was an exchange student here, because I don't know what I would be doing if I wasn't learning Portuguese when I was bored at home. So I'm really proud of that."

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