In April and May 2019 I’ll be in Brazil attending Caminhos Portuguese school in Rio (full review to come). To get the most out of my Brazilian immersion experience, I began a course of self-study five months before my trip.
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; it’s not meant to be an exhaustive list!
I began Portuguese after studying Spanish for many years and reaching a C1 level of fluency. Tackling Portuguese after Spanish has both advantages and disadvantages.
Obviously, the languages share many similarities that will 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.
Portuguese pronunciation is far more complex, with many sounds that don’t exist in Spanish, like nasal vowels. Note that 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, while in Portuguese 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.
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 by chatting with my 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, but fortunately, my regular iTalki Spanish teacher also speaks Portuguese, and he would quickly catch these errors.
As a Portuguese beginner, though, the effect was much worse, and 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, as many of his students have similar issues.
Over time, I think I’m learning 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.
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:
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, 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. A dense, detailed resource best for those with some background in Portuguese or another Romance language.
I especially appreciated the book’s emphasis on the substantial differences between spoken and written Brazilian Portuguese.
Serious students should invest in the accompanying workbook. I read five pages a day in the grammar, and then did the workbook exercises after finishing each chapter. 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 any details I might have missed.
Note that the book’s academic approach and detailed linguistic explanations may not make it appropriate for absolute beginners.
YouTube is a fantastic free resource to teach yourself Brazilian Portuguese. See my recommended channels here.
I spent at least half an hour a day listening to Brazilian podcasts to improve listening comprehension. Check out my favorite Portuguese-language podcasts here.
Also available for many other languages besides Portuguese.
Portuguese conversation practice was 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 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.
I searched for instructors with five-star ratings and watched their introductory videos to get a feel for their style. I then scheduled lessons with a few different people to find someone I really clicked 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 found a teacher I loved, I bought a package of five hour-long lessons and met with them once a week over Skype.
iTalki also allows you to find language exchange partners. After changing my profile setting to display in language partner search results, I quickly received dozens of messages from Brazilians eager to practice English. 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 in Portuguese each time. We also messaged on WhatsApp to practice casual conversation and help each other with language questions.
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.
While these courses weren’t quite the right fit for me, they are high-quality resources and worth investigating.
Many language learners are huge fans of this audio-based method that focuses on repeated hearing and speaking of useful 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.
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Have more suggestions for how to learn Brazilian Portuguese? Please share your recommendations in the comments.
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