I’ve always enjoyed learning new languages… Throughout my life I’ve studied French, Japanese, Italian, Arabic, and Russian, for various lengths of time and to varying degrees of success.
I like pushing my brain to try and wrap my head around a new language, so recently I’ve decided to take a crack at Portuguese. I don’t have any real reason to do so, as there are no current plans to travel to Brazil (although I’d love to!), other than just the fact that I thought it would be fun and challenging.
Portuguese should also (theoretically) be easier for me to learn since I can speak Spanish fluently and there are many similarities between the two languages when it comes to grammar and vocabulary (and many differences too, of course).
I’d noticed before that I could partially decipher the meaning of many written phrases in Portuguese, thanks to my Spanish, but it was very difficult to understand spoken Portuguese since the pronunciation is so strange.
This is all a long introduction to say that “Hey, I guess I’m studying Portuguese, because, why not?”
I’ve used a lot of great resources over the years to learn languages, so I’ve got some favorite things I turn to when I want to learn the basics of a common/popular language.
Here are the tools I am currently using to work through the basics of (Brazilian) Portuguese.
Duolingo is probably the best free resource out there for learning the foundations of a language. It’s a simple phone app (or website based) where you can start from scratch in your language learning.
I completed the entire Spanish course in Duolingo a few years ago and found it to be a good resource, among the many resources I used to study Spanish.
Duolingo is sort of like a quiz format, with multiple choice, or arrange the words to translate the sentence, but it does also incorporate listening (writing what you hear) and speaking exercises throughout.
I find that Duolingo is great for teaching vocabulary, since lessons are mostly organized by themes (colors, foods, animals, etc).
Duolingo is particularly great because of the convenience factor — you’ve got a powerful language learning tool in your pocket, which you can use at any time of the day. If you’ve got headphones and five minutes, you can knock out a quick listen or a vocab review. Sometimes an obstacle to other methods can be the time factor, where you have trouble carving out 30 minute or 60 minute sessions.
On the website, Duolingo also has a cool new Stories feature, where you are challenged in reading and listening through a short story in the target language. The feature is currently in beta and not available on the phone app, but it’s an excellent resource as well.
Obviously it will take forever to learn a language in five-minute increments, but I find that even if I start with five minutes, I often do more.
Long before Duolingo, Pimsleur was my favorite language learning resource, even though it isn’t free. Pimsleur courses are basically audio lessons that you can do while driving or otherwise occupied.
What I like about them versus other courses is the audio lessons have built in pauses for you to respond to whatever the prompt is, thus you don’t need to press the pause button or anything like that, it’s totally hands-free.
The courses focus on speaking from the get go, with little to no focus on grammar.
For most languages, including Brazilian Portuguese, they have at least three levels, consisting of 30 lessons each.
Every lesson is approximately half an hour long, so it is perfect for your daily commute, or for listening with headphones while you do chores around the house or something similar where you can’t have a book, phone, or other resource in your hands.
In total, the Brazilian Portuguese course from Pimsleur consists of 90 lessons, or about 45 hours of teaching time, that provides a great foundation in about three months time (one lesson a day).
I’m working through Portuguese Level I right now, but I’ve used Pimsleur previously for other languages I’ve studied, including teaching me the basics of Spanish before I first traveled to Colombia.
There are many written resources available as well, something I typically turn to once I reach a more intermediate stage in the language learning process, so I can better understand grammar and start reading longer and more complicated sentences and phrases.
So those are my primary resources for teaching myself the basics of Portuguese in the coming months. Of course, no single resource will bring me to fluency, but I expect to achieve a basic level of speaking and understanding (as these resources did for me in Spanish).
But anyone looking to achieve fluency will have a long and protracted study ahead of them as they advance beyond either Duolingo or Pimsleur. Such is life!
I still learn new things in Spanish, even after three years of basically living the language all day, every day.
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