How to start learning European Portuguese?
Have you moved to Portugal and want to learn the language but are not sure how to start and what to do? In this article I will explain a few first steps you can take to start your learning process.
Why learning Portuguese is important
Speaking the language of the country you're living in is incredibly important for integrating into the local community as it can help you to understand the local customs and build relationships.
Learning a new language is a challenging experience but it is also a very rewarding one. It will not only contribute to your personal growth but also provide insights into the values and beliefs of the local people and thus help you navigate social situations more effectively. Just making the effort to communicate the local language demonstrates that you are trying to integrate into the community and that you respect their culture. Speaking Portuguese allows you to interact with people in a more meaningful way and consequently create a sense of belonging to the community. Understanding what the locals are saying and expressing yourself clearly will open up many different opportunities and build deeper and more lasting relationships.
If you're living in Portugal, you can immerse yourself in the language and learn it more quickly.
HOW do you start learning european portuguese?
1. Learn the Portuguese alphabet, numbers and basic vocabulary
- Use YouTube videos to see the word written down accompanied by the sound
This is a good way to start learning pronunciation. Practice by learning how to spell your full name, telephone number and — if you have one — fiscal number (also know as Número de Identificação Fiscal [NIF]]. Spell out load words that you see written down, as well as numbers. Start “filling” your head with Portuguese letters and sounds.
- When you go shopping pay attention to the names of products and practice (in your mind or with a partner) reading it as well as how much it costs. Take the supermarket advertising brochure home with you and start drafting your weekly shopping list in Portuguese.
Make sure you practice what you are learning, and repeat it at regular intervals, otherwise it will not “stick” in your memory.
- Once you have masted your weekly shopping move on to other items on the brochure and place stickers around your house with the names of things that are all around you.
Create flashcards (paper or virtual ones) or try Memrise.
- Build your list of nouns by adding colours and adjectives to your word lists.
Be persistent and never forget the importance of spaced repetition!
2. Learn some grammar
- If you like to learn using pen and paper, buy a Beginners Portuguese book in your native language with audio.
The grammar points will be explained in your own language and the authors will most likely highlight the differences between the two languages making it easier to understand (and remember).
- If you do not mind learning online, there are two online platforms that offer free Portuguese language courses: an older, more traditional approach with loads of downloadable (pdf) files Ciber Escola da Língua Portuguesa and, the more recent, fully independent learning site, Plataforma de Português Online.
You will need to register, but since they are official, institutional platforms, you should not be getting any spam or requests to upgrade.
- If you have opted for a book (digital or in paper format), make sure it comes with audio files that you can listen to whilefollowing the text as well as while doing other shores.
- There are also many websites that have free listening podcasts, so register for one and listen as often as you can with and without the transcript when/if available.
Children pick up languages by listening and adults are the same. You need to listen to a fair amount of Portuguese before you are ready to start talking. So listen as much as possible and in two very distinct ways. First, listen to any audio files you have or find online while paying close attention to what is being said. If you can follow the written text, see the podcast transcript, or activate the videocast captions, do so. Make sure you do this listening exercise several times. Second, listen to the same audio files as if it was background music. Listen to Portuguese while washing the dishes, gardening, driving to the supermarket, etc.. In the beginning, Portuguese will sound as the foreign language it is, but slowly you will start to pick up words here and there and, soon enough, you will get the gist of what is being said.
Pod and videocasts designed for learners tend to be well articulated and use a speed slightly slower than normal speech but don’t forget that technology now offers you the opportunity to slow down the playback speed and, if you are watching a video, to add captions. Make sure you select European Portuguese audio files and don’t get discouraged if you only understand a fraction of what is being said. Remember that, at this phase, your main objective is just to train your brain to the sound of the European Portuguese language.
4. Practice, practice, practice
When you are studying Portuguese, it is absolutely crucial that you practice what you are learning so please get out of your comfort zone and start speaking the language as soon as possible.
- Find a neighbour, a shop attendant, anyone sitting on a park bench or a coffeeshop and start a conversation.
- You can also try a Portuguese language exchange by placing an ad in the noticeboards of the local library or supermarket, or opt for online platforms such as iTalki or HelloTalk.
If you find it hard to motivate yourself to study alone,
- find a study partner that can help you to keep on track with your learning process, or
- consider taking a Portuguese language course at a local language school or university
Check with local language schools, cultural centers, community organizations to see if they offer classes or if they have any upcoming courses starting soon. Another possibility is to hire a private tutor available for face-to-face classes in your area or online.
5. Practice, practice, practice and repeat
The only way to learn a new language is to practice, practice, practice so use all opportunities you can to communicate in Portuguese. After you master your daily interactions while shopping and doing small talk with your neighbours, create new opportunities by signing up for activities near your house.
- Join a club, a volunteering group, a team sport, or
- just hang out in the local coffeeshop and start a conversation with the people sitting nearby
Do not narrow down your practicing opportunities by only seeking out native speakers to talk to. Instead, practice with everyone and anyone that speaks Portuguese.
Learning a new language is a journey which takes time and effort and the key is to practice consistently by immersing yourself in the language. Surround yourself with Portuguese and you will see how fast your progress will be.