I remember the days when the most exciting thing you could do on your phone was conquer the Snake game.
Fast-forward to now, and “there’s an app for that” has become something of a mantra.
Our phone screens are becoming true gateways to the world.
So as mobile learning sweeps the globe, it’s time to take a look at 9 must-have apps for your Portuguese language training.
From flashcards to instant messaging to role-playing games, buckle up, ’cause this list has got it all.
But first, let’s take a quick look at what makes smartphones such an attractive learning tool.
Second Language Learning and Phones: Things Are Looking App
It’s been predicted that while global sales of conventional learning materials will have decreased 2.1% by 2018, mobile language learning products sales will have gone up 73% to a staggering $14.5 billion by 2019.
These numbers just go to show that the revolution is here and while it may not have been televised, you can bet your bottom dollar it will be mobilized.
The secret behind this boom in mobile education lies in three big C’s: cheap, convenient and customized.
It’s undeniable that phone apps are the most affordable language resource out there. As opposed to conventional learning methods like textbooks and tutoring, apps only require a negligible amount of money—if any—to access all the tools you need.
Apps are even preferable to e-learning in this respect because while computers remain a commodity in many parts of the world, more people nowadays can afford at least a low-end smartphone.
Because phones require nothing more than a pocket to be carried, learning practice stops being constrained by space limitations. Adding to that, most mobile carriers now offer convenient data plans and apps are increasingly adding offline features, so the whole world is your classroom, from the commute train to the park bench.
This is great because it means opportunities to practice situated learning, which happens when the information is contextually relevant and can be used on the spot.
An example of this is going to see a doctor in a foreign country and accessing relevant words using your phone dictionary or a live translation app. In other words, apps can be the training wheels to learning by immersion.
Another great advantage of learning a language with apps is how personalized the offers have come to be. As the educational tech startup scene is booming, each competitor is striving to be more original, more relevant and more gamified than the last.
This, of course, translates into a multitude of mobile learning products that cater to even the pickiest of learners, both in terms of format and method. Just the other day I found out about an app that teaches Spanish by deploying Lolcats. There’s no limit to the creativity that can be reached in this field and we are here to reap the rewards.
9 of the App-solute Best Apps for Serious Portuguese Learners
So, are you convinced yet? Good. Then dip into that blue screen light and let’s learn ourselves some Portuguese with these 9 great resources that put the “app” in “appealing.”
FluentU is another app that can be used for any level, at any time, anywhere—so its upcoming Portuguese program, which is currently in the works, is definitely worth watching out for.
What sets FluentU apart from all the other learning apps out there is that it’s based entirely around authentic videos—news, movie trailers, music videos, vlogs, inspiring talks—that let you learn the language all while being able to pretend like you’re just another native speaker watching TV.
In other words, you end up watching all the same kinds of internet videos you’d probably be watching in your native language anyway, but instead of being a waste of time, it’s a legitimate educational experience.
You get the full support of interactive captions for each video, with features that make it easy to pause, replay and tap on any word for an instant definition. Definitions come with memorable images that, in addition to the video, create context to help you remember the word the next time you see it.
Also, you can unlock quizzes that test your knowledge of all the language used in a video. FluentU even uses spaced repetition and tracks your progress for you, remembering all the words you’ve learned for a totally personalized experience.
Ultimately, though, it’s you who calls the shots, and you can navigate the videos however you want. This makes FluentU a super-flexible tool that’s ideal for any learner, since you can either follow recommendations and take quizzes for a more guided experience, or simply watch and learn from whatever videos interest you.
I’m channeling my inner Cher in asking: Do you believe in language learning after Duolingo?
If you’re no stranger to this dilemma, look no further than this little app to address this exact issue: language acquisition in a post-Duolingo context. Because completing that tree is great and all, but where do we go from there?
Clozemaster came as a deus ex machina for intermediate and advanced learners in a plethora of resources geared heavily towards beginners. It has an interactive gamified approach to reinforcing your vocabulary in context by going through sentences and filling in missing words (the clozes). And speaking of gamified, its 8-bit theme and music give me life.
The sentences are extracted from film and TV subtitles provided by Tatoeba, which ensures great variety as far as dialects and vocab, with a great dose of authenticity as far as phrasing.
At this moment, Clozemaster has over 100 language pairings (native language to target language), 10 of which—including our beloved Portuguese—have sentences grouped by difficulty. Oh, and by the way, the Portuguese-from-English pair comes with a whopping 94,000+ sentences to play with, so you’re in for some intense language action.
The biggest plus of this app for me is that it doesn’t neglect all those “in-between” words so necessary when you’re using the language in real-life situations. Nouns and adjectives are fairly easy to assimilate but it’s those conjunctions and prepositions and such that get tricky unless you use them a lot in context.
Clozemaster is available to download as a freemium, with an upgrade available for $8/month providing offline access to sentences and a brand new Listening Mode, among other perks.
At the heart of MOSA Learning (which stands for Motivating Optimized System for Adaptive Learning) lies the Pareto Principle, aka the 80/20 rule, stating that for most situations, 80% of the effects can be accounted for by 20% of the causes.
Applying this to language learning, the idea is that you can get by in a language by mastering a mere 20% of its content, consisting of well-chosen commonly used words and phrases.
As you may have guessed from this description, MosaLingua’s target is primarily tourists, with categories such as accommodation, shopping, emergencies and such. This, however, should in no way put you off if you’re just a learner with no immediate travel plans.
Aside from the obvious benefit of providing a language survival kit, MosaLingua does come with a set of handy and rather original extra features.
For one, the audio aids: This app allows you record yourself on the flashcards and compare your pronunciation to that of native speakers.
We then have the dialogues, which are perfect for practicing intensive listening thanks to the options of enabling a real-time transcript, as well as subtitles in your own language.
Because the content is accessible offline and there’s a recently-added hands-free mode, you can also use these dialogues to do some extensive listening on the go, be it at the gym or while shopping or anywhere else you can think of.
A few months ago, MosaLingua even gave users an opportunity to test a unique Sleep Mode function (currently in Beta), which allegedly lets you passively learn the language during your slow wave sleep phase via low volume repetitive audio recordings.
Hypnopedia is a real thing and the test run results showed promise, so we may be looking at a full-on Sleep Mode feature being included soon. Let’s just hope it won’t lead to some omelete de queijo (cheese omelette) shenanigans à la “Dexter’s Laboratory.”
The full version of the app comes up to $4.99, a pretty good deal considering you’re getting lifetime access for the price of a large caramel macchiato.
Staying in the realm of SRS, I present to you, Readlang: the immersion tool which allows you to read texts in your target language and get instant seamless translation.
Full disclosure here: It hasn’t been launched as a native app yet, but it was designed with mobiles and tablets in mind, so you’ll have no problem using it on your phone. The devs were even kind enough to provide instructions on how to open it in full screen mode so that it looks and acts exactly like a proper app.
Right, now that I got that confession off my chest, let’s get down to business. What Readlang does for you, in a nutshell, is help you learn while you read by clicking on any words or groups of words that you don’t know in order to get the translation.
In case you’re wondering, the source of these translations is none other than Google Translate, which shouldn’t scare you off in the slightest considering it recently underwent an algorithm revolution that should make it a force to be reckoned with.
When you’re done reading, Readlang remembers the words you translated and includes them in flashcards for you to practice afterwards, complete with their original context. You can even export the flashcards to use in Anki should you find that more convenient.
The reading material is entirely up to you. There’s an integrated library that features an interesting collection of public texts (mostly song lyrics and news articles), however, if nothing there tickles your fancy you can also upload your own texts just as long as they’re in a plain text or .epub format (you can convert them for free using Calibre).
Readlang is also available as a Google Chrome extension which allows you to translate webpages while navigating them.
As a bookworm-slash-language-learner, I can’t praise Readlang enough. It provides such a nice reading and vocabulary learning environment and I love the no muss, no fuss live translation which spares me the nuisance of changing tabs and excessive clicking.
The free version lets you translate as many single words as you wish but you can only translate a maximum of 10 phrases a day. The price for unlimited translations is $5 a month, well worth it given how important phrases and context are for attaining fluency.
Just like our tummies, our brains get hungry from time to time and need to munch on something. If it’s Portuguese yours is craving, look no further than Mindsnacks, the educational equivalent of gummy bears with some added nutritional value.
Since gamification is where it’s at right now in the language learning world, Mindsnacks follows the trend and invites you to learn Portuguese by playing 9 unique and self-declared “addictive” games. It basically wants you to be able to learn the language and cure your boredom at the same time: Think Duolingo + Dave & Buster’s minus all the ribs.
The games definitely are great entertainment, so much so that you actually start to feel guilty for having so much fun when you’re supposed to be learning. But rest assured, learning you are thanks to Mindsnacks’ personalized algorithm that favors memorizing and retention.
Although it also packs quality lessons designed by Ivy League teachers, the games are really what sets apart Mindsnacks from other apps out there.
And while we’re at it, let’s take a minute to appreciate the fact that we live in an era where you can learn Portuguese by popping balloons, feeding a frog and freeing fish from bubbles, all through your bitesize smartphone screen.
Your iPhone/iPad screen, to be more precise. Yes, this one’s an iOS-only and it will cost you $4.99 to unlock all 50 lessons and the games past the 3 most popular ones.
Trust and believe, you’ll get plenty of bang for your buck. And in case you need some extra incentive, just check out the hand-drawn illustrations in all their out-of-this-world cuteness.
Formerly known as UnlockYourBrain, Semper (Latin for “always”) was designed by a group of Berliners who, like most of us, love to learn but hate studying.
How did they go about it, you ask? By creating an app that makes you answer word puzzles every time you unlock your screen and/or open other applications.
Once the question pops on your screen, it’s as easy as one, two, three: a swipe right means you got it, a swipe left throws you an extra puzzle and a swipe upwards lets you skip the round altogether. If only swiping on Tinder were this rewarding!
As underwhelming as this may sound, these regular minitasks, consistent with the concept of microlearning, sort of force you to learn something everytime you unlock your phone, which is apparently about 80 times a day.
It makes its way into your routine no matter how busy your lifestyle is because it ties in with the natural breaks you take and thus the right time to learn a new word becomes…well, semper.
There are several packages available for Portuguese but you also have the option of creating your own, even importing content from Excel files or Quizlet. You also get to choose the time of the day when you want Semper to be active, as well as which other apps will be integrated.
Be prepared though, the apps you choose may be rearranged by Semper upon installation and reappear with the Semper logo in a corner, which can be quite startling but completely harmless.
Semper’s main features, the Lock and the Load Screens, are available for free trials, after which a Premium upgrade is required to warrant you unlimited puzzles.
It’s a bit of a bummer that the Premium is only available as a yearly package, but at a little over $40 it’s quite reasonably-priced and there’s a 30-day money back guarantee in case it doesn’t really float your boat.
Just like Mindsnacks, this one is available just for iProducts (iOS), which makes me equal parts jealous and excited for you guys who have iPhones.
Just as the title predicts, this app is great for sending texts to your boo, when boo does not speak your language at all nor the other way around. What it is, really, is an instant messaging tool that translates the text you send to other Sendboo users in real time.
You write to your buddy in your mother tongue and they get it in theirs, once you’ve set the settings accordingly. The same magic happens when you’re on the receiving end.
Basically, Sendboo is here to take down that language barrier and help all those global online love affairs bloom. It’s also quite nifty when you have to wish a happy birthday to your mother’s uncle’s cousin’s sister-in-law who’s a through and through Portuguese from Trás-os-Montes. Or, you know, any other multilingual situation.
Sendboo is great because it incorporates the benefits of any other instant messaging app with those of Google Translate into one single software, removing the need for external translators and tedious copypasta.
It works for one-on-one exchanges as well as group chats and the fun doesn’t stop here, oh no. In addition to messages, Sendboo also allows you to share photos, videos and even your location.
Of course, if you’re trying to learn Portuguese you’re going to want to actually practice the language, but this is a great tool for language learners because you can use it to negotiate roadblocks you run into with exchange partners, especially if you’re just starting out.
And it’s 100% free if you don’t mind the occasional ad banner or $3.99 if you want to experience it completely ad-free.
Out of all the nifty apps on this list, Vocabulando is the freshest one out of the oven, featuring no language other than Portuguese. And that thrills me greatly.
The name, coined using the word vocabulário (Portuguese for, you guessed it, vocabulary) and the verbal termination “-ando,” is an indicator for the goal of this app, which is to get you “vocabulating” and playing around with Portuguese words.
Specifically, it deals with the most commonly mixed up words and expressions, a source of many headaches for learners and native speakers alike.
This educational app is here to help Portuguese speakers intermediate level and up to master the difference between things like seção, sessão and cessão and similarly puzzling terms of which the Portuguese language has plenty.
Vocabulando works by presenting you with quizzes, conducted at first by a “Professor K. Walla” and then, as you make progress, by increasingly more demanding and interesting characters such as Frankie DeCluck and Doug Muchwowski (get it?). The old school music and sound effects are a good match to the endearing silliness of the characters.
Astrocrow, the indie game studio responsible for Vocabulando, also has a number of apps for improving English, including the WordFail game that served as inspiration for Vocabulando. They’re all free, all in good fun and all featuring the same quirky “professors.”
So whether you’re a native speaker with a language exam ahead or a dabbler in Portuguese looking to improve their word swag, Vocabulando has got you covered.
This app is as free as they get and provides just as free monthly updates. With an iOS version rolling in and two more Portuguese educational games on the way, we’re definitely keeping our eye on these folks.
I can’t think of a better way to wrap up this list than with Habitica, the only resource in here that has nothing to do with languages and everything to do with discipline and motivation.
Anyone learning a language on their own is familiar with the occasional rough patch when it just isn’t working out and enthusiasm turns into frustration. More often than not, the burnout stage is what will lead to giving up altogether.
Enter Habitica, previously known as HabitRPG, an app designed for building motivation and self-improvement using roleplaying game (RPG) mechanisms. Put simply, it’s a task management site that doubles as a RPG—think Dungeons & Dragons as a cute Nintendo-NES game—where you and your daily life take center stage.
You input the tasks or goals you want to achieve, perform them and progressively earn gold, gear and other form of virtual rewards. You can even form guilds with other Habitica players and encourage each other’s progress.
It can be quite an effective aid to Portuguese learners and even more so when paired with the Pomodoro technique, detailed here in the paragraph on intensive listening practice.
For instance, you could form a general habit like “Listen to podcasts” or “Summarize news articles” and couple it with daily tasks like one hour of extensive listening or 2 Pomodoro sessions of assignments. After all that good work, enjoy the special prizes unlocked by your progress or set your own custom reward, such as watching your favorite TV show.
Habitica is such a good ally to language learners that Anki decided to team up with them in the form of an add-on which will turn your Anki flashcard reviews into Habitica points.
The app is completely free and highly addictive. Because believe it or not, there’s no better incentive for memorizing that vocab than slaying a dragon as a wizard with a pink fox for a sidekick.
There we have it, my Portuguese grab bag finds that are bound to make you (h)appy (last pun, I promise).
Now, tap away at that tiny screen and grab Portuguese by the horns.
Who knows, all this phone meandering may one day turn into you ordering caipirinhas on a Copacabana beach.
Clara Abdullah, 26, Romanian. Her love for colorful yoga pants is only surpassed by her love for reasonably priced Sunday brunches in Lisbon.*
*on the rare occasion she finds one
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