In 2018 I began an intensive course of Portuguese self-study to achieve my dream of fluency. I did most of my learning independently, but also attended Caminhos Portuguese school in Rio for three weeks.
Here are the resources I found most useful for learning Brazilian Portuguese. Note that these are just the Portuguese language resources that worked for me personally. As always, experiment to see which ones work best for you.
Learning Portuguese After Spanish
I began Portuguese after studying Spanish for years and reaching a C1 level of fluency. Studying Portuguese after Spanish has both advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of Learning Portuguese After Spanish
Obviously, the languages share many similarities that give you an advantage in learning Portuguese. There are useful rules of thumb to help you guess what the Portuguese version of a Spanish word might be. For example, words that begin with an h in Spanish generally start with an f in Portuguese.
Interestingly, I found that studying Portuguese actually reinforced my Spanish. In many ways it was like a constant review of Spanish grammar and vocabulary.
Disadvantages of Learning Portuguese After Spanish
Portuguese pronunciation is far more complex, with many sounds that don’t exist in Spanish, like nasal vowels. And it’s critical to pronounce these letters correctly, or you could find yourself ordering pau (penis) at the bakery instead of pão (bread)!
False cognates — words that exist in both languages but with different meanings — can be tricky. For example, in Spanish apellido means last name and sobrenombre means nickname. Confusingly, in Brazilian Portuguese it’s the reverse — apelido is nickname and sobrenome is last name!
Some common Spanish words like viaje, leche, and árbol randomly change gender in Portuguese. There are also significant grammatical differences between the two languages, including word order and an additional commonly used tense in Portuguese, the future subjunctive.
Mixing up Spanish and Portuguese
Many polyglots advise when learning two similar languages to continue your studies in both simultaneously, to train your brain to keep them separate.
I kept up my Spanish chatting with hispanohablante friends, both online and in person, and with one iTalki class a week, a monthly Spanish Meetup, and a weekly podcast or movie.
An occasional Portuguese word would sneak into my Spanish. Fortunately, though, my regular iTalki Spanish teacher also speaks Portuguese, and he quickly caught these errors.
As a Portuguese beginner, though, the effect was much worse. In my iTalki Portuguese classes what came out was often Portunhol. My primary Portuguese teacher could also speak Spanish, and he was diligent about correcting me. Many of his students have similar issues with Portunhol.
After a year of study, I learned to keep the two apart in my brain.
For more tips on learning Portuguese after Spanish, see this excellent post by Benny Lewis of Fluent in 3 Months.
Learning Portuguese Grammar
Grammar drills can be tedious, even for a nerd like me, but grammar study is the essential foundation for my language learning. These are my recommended resources:
This nuts-and-bolts beginner course, which includes three books and nine audio CDs, delivers impressive value for money.
A few quibbles: As a fluent Spanish speaker, the material felt slow-paced and repetitive. Also, for some reason, the imperfect subjunctive is not covered under Portuguese verbs, but I was able to easily learn the rules of this tense by Googling it. Listening to the English translations on the CDs can also be exasperating, especially when they are spoken right after the Portuguese before you have a chance to repeat.
Despite these minor shortcomings, I received a solid grounding in grammar and vocabulary from working through all three books.
This essential reference is divided into two sections: a formal grammar and a practical conversation guide. It’s a dense, detailed resource best for those with some background in Portuguese or another Romance language.
I especially appreciated the book’s strong emphasis on contemporary usage. The text frequently highlights the substantial differences in register between spoken and written Brazilian Portuguese.
Serious students should invest in the accompanying workbook. I read 5 pages a day in the grammar. After finishing a chapter, I did the workbook exercises.
Working through both books took me about a year. It was a lengthy and often arduous task, but gave me a much better understanding of the language.
The two books combined are so comprehensive I’m planning to work through them a second time to absorb details I missed.
While I haven’t used this book personally, it comes highly recommended for Portuguese learners with a strong Spanish background.
Note that the book’s academic approach and detailed linguistic explanations may not make it appropriate for absolute beginners.
YouTube is a fantastic free way to teach yourself Brazilian Portuguese. See my recommended channels here.
I spent at least half an hour a day listening to Brazilian podcasts to practice listening comprehension. Discover my favorite Portuguese-language podcasts here.
University of Texas at Austin’s Brazilpod portal hosts an amazing collection of free online Brazilian Portuguese learning resources.
Read on for details about UT Austin’s ClicaBrasil and Portuguese Communication Exercises. Also see my Portuguese podcasts list to learn about Brazilpod’s excellent podcasts Tá Falado and Língua da Gente.
Levels: Intermediate to advanced
ClicaBrasil is a free online course with a treasure trove of 157 short videos of Brazilians from different regions and walks of life speaking informally about their lives.
Seven units cover topics such as weekday and weekend routines, jobs, Internet use, and life in Rio and Salvador. Lessons integrate many reading and grammar activities with answer keys with the videos.
An optional accompanying textbook is downloadable for free in PDF format and also available for purchase as a print-on-demand book.
My Portuguese school in Rio showed these useful videos in B2 class to practice real-life listening comprehension.
At a minimum, I recommend going through the seven units, clicking through all four tabs for each unit, and watching the embedded videos. Don’t miss the Who’s Who section linked from the homepage with introduction videos for each interviewee.
My preference was to only watch once while reading along with the Portuguese transcriptions, but you may want to challenge yourself by watching at least once with no transcription and then again with the aid of the text.
I watched a few of these videos early in my Portuguese studies. When I returned to them a year later, it was gratifying to realize how much better I could understand the dialogues.
Levels: Intermediate to advanced
Conversa Brasileira is an exceptional resource featuring authentic conversational exchanges between native speakers.
The course is comprised of brief videos showing typical slice-of-life scenarios. Each video features optional Portuguese and English subtitles and pop-up commentary and analysis by language instructors.
One significant disadvantage is that the videos are in Flash format, which is no longer supported by many browsers. Without Flash, you can still play the videos, but without subtitles and commentary. This limitation meant I couldn’t watch the videos on my iPad. However, they worked fine in Chrome or Firefox on my PC after enabling Flash.
I watched the videos with Portuguese subtitles turned on. Pop-up commentaries in English and Portuguese provide fascinating in-depth analysis of the expressions and structures used. Orlando Kelm and his team clarify important subtleties of colloquial usage unlikely to be found in any textbook.
The commentaries clarified some idiosyncrasies of spoken Portuguese that had long confused me. For example, there’s a tendency with plural nouns to drop the “s” off the adjective and noun but leave the article plural, as in “os nosso ouvinte.” This is common in oral language, but I had never seen it explained anywhere!
After finishing each video, I read the PDF to review the dialogue and a summary of usage notes.
Portuguese Communication Exercises feature nearly 350 brief video clips of native Portuguese speakers. Most are from various regions of Brazil; a few are from Portugal.
Interviewees talk naturally about everyday topics like buying a bus ticket or their TV viewing habits. Topics are divided into six difficulty levels, from Beginner to Superior.
As an advanced intermediate learner, I still found most of the Beginner videos useful for listening practice.
Each video has Portuguese and English transcriptions. I did find the usability of the site somewhat lacking. The font of the transcriptions was very small. It was difficult to follow along on the longer texts since there are no line breaks. Also, it was a bit frustrating to have to toggle back and forth between the Portuguese and English transcriptions. For me, it’s easier to have them both on the same page.
A complete set of transcriptions is also available in PDF format.
I watched 2-3 topics every day, following along in the Portuguese transcriptions and referring to the English translations as needed. This was a total of 8-12 short videos daily. I added interesting new vocabulary to my Anki flashcards.
Despite minor usability issues, the course provides a rare opportunity to practice comprehending real-life Portuguese with the safety net of a transcription.
If you only have time to watch either Portuguese Communication Exercises or Conversa Brasileira, however, I recommend Conversa Brasileira because of the invaluable commentary and analysis.
If you love to teach yourself Portuguese phrases through music, try LyricsTraining, an addictive game where you fill in the lyrics of your favorite songs. You can play through the app (iOS, Android) or the website.
Also available for many other languages besides Portuguese.
Reading in Portuguese is a great way to build vocabulary as well as cultural fluency. See my recommended Portuguese-language books here.
Conversation practice is the best way to learn to speak Brazilian Portuguese. It’s also without doubt the most fun and engaging part of my studies. (See polyglot Andy Roberts’s helpful tips on when to start conversation practice.)
Having regular discussions with native speakers also kept me motivated to do tedious grammar drills, since I could see my spoken Portuguese improve as my knowledge progressed.
iTalki is a convenient, affordable way to connect online with teachers and language exchange partners. iTalki’s paid lessons offer the choice of community tutors or professional teachers. Professional teachers have a teaching certification and classroom experience, while community tutors are native speakers (or near-native speakers) who can help you learn a language through informal tutoring or speaking practice.
While there are exceptional community tutors, my personal experience is that working with a professional teacher is well worth the extra cost.
Finding a Teacher
I search for instructors with five-star ratings and watch their introductory videos to get a feel for their style. I then schedule lessons with a few different people to find someone I really click with. It’s important to me to have a good rapport with my teacher, since I learn best in an atmosphere of genuine connection and friendship.
Once I find a teacher I really like, I buy a lesson package and met with them weekly over Skype.
Looking for an iTalki Portuguese instructor? I highly recommend my teacher Murillo Costa. He’s extremely patient and dedicated. Murillo is one of the highest-rated and most experienced Brazilian Portuguese teachers on iTalki.
2020 Update: Unfortunately, iTalki no longer allows you to easily find language exchange partners. Try apps such as HelloTalk and Tandem instead.
iTalki also allows you to find language exchange partners. After changing my profile setting to display in language partner search results, I received dozens of messages from Brazilians eager to practice English in exchange for helping me speak Portuguese. In fact, the volume of requests became overwhelming, and after a couple of days I hid my profile again.
Nevertheless, I had some nice message exchanges and ended up choosing a language partner from São Paulo. We met about once a week for an hour, half an hour in English and half speaking Portuguese each time. We also messaged on WhatsApp to practice casual conversation and help each other with language questions.
Tip: To keep your exchanges interesting, I highly recommend this list of conversation topics. Choose a theme from the list for each session. When it’s your turn to practice your target language, your partner interviews you with questions selected from that theme. Then when time is up, roles are reversed and you do the same.
Paying a teacher may be more efficient for language learning, but to me the true benefits of free language exchanges are the resulting friendships. These rewarding connections are the most meaningful way for me to learn about culture and language while helping others do the same.
More Brazilian Portuguese Learning Resources
While these courses weren’t quite the right fit for me, they are high-quality resources worth investigating.
Many language learners are huge fans of this audio-based method that focuses on repeated hearing and speaking of useful Brazilian Portuguese phrases and sentences.
I tried a trial lesson, but since I already had significant exposure to the sounds of Portuguese through previous travels in Brazil, it seemed too basic and slow-paced. I’m a visual rather than an audio learner too and need to see a word written to remember it. As a grammar geek, I also prefer integrating grammar study right away.
However, Pimsleur would make a good first exposure to Brazilian Portuguese, especially if you have downtime like a commute to devote to audio listening.
Many Brazilian Portuguese learners swear by this story-driven video course that teaches grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. While the style didn’t work for me personally, Semantica is a quality resource and worth checking out.
Unfortunately, no free trial is available, but monthly memberships are offered, and there are also free content samples on YouTube.
You may also like:
Note: If you sign up for iTalki using one of the links on this page, both of us will receive a credit of US $10 after your first lesson. If I recommend a business, it’s because I loved them and think you will too.
Have more suggestions for how to learn Brazilian Portuguese? Please share your tips for the best ways to learn Portuguese in the comments.
Banner image: Detail from the largest street art mural in the world, Rio de Janeiro by NakNakNak on Pixabay