Imagine a world without words.
Think about what it would be like to not have any way of communicating your thoughts and feelings to other human beings.
Then picture yourself going on your dream trip to Portugal, getting lost in downtown Lisbon and not knowing how to get back to where you’re staying because you don’t remember how to say “hotel” or “accommodation.”
Not an ideal scenario, right?
And definitely not a position you would ever want to be in as a language learner.
Learning European Portuguese vocabulary isn’t as daunting as it seems. While this isn’t necessarily the easiest language (or dialect) to study, as long as you have the right approach, you’ll whiz right through to fluency.
We want to help you brush up on your vocab in the most efficient and productive manner. Which is why we’re going to guide you through different strategies for increasing your word knowledge.
Let’s take a look at how to maximize your vocab learning, so you don’t have to worry about finding yourself in a scenario where you’re lost for words.
10 Tips and Tricks to Boost Your European Portuguese Vocabulary
1. Prioritize those cognates.
Cognates, as you may well know, are words with common origins. Sometimes, you’ll come across false cognates, or “false friends” (i.e., those pesky terms that might deceive you)—but more often than not, they’re incredibly useful for vocabulary acquisition.
Especially when it comes to European Portuguese learning. Both English and Portuguese have a mixture of Greek and Latin roots—meaning there are a lot of similarities between them.
Sometimes, words that sound more “old-fashioned” or “sophisticated” by nature end up being cognates of European Portuguese words. This can work in your favor in more ways than one, because grasping your cognates will get you to expand your English vocabulary, too. How’s that for a double dose of learning?
To give you an idea of what to expect, these are some examples you might come across in your studies:
- deliberate = deliberar
- fragile = frágil
- obsequious = obséquio
- illustrious = ilustre
Looks pretty straightforward, right? Now it’s your turn to practice: You’ll find extensive lists of Portuguese-English cognates here and here.
2. Go digital with your flashcards.
Electronic flashcards are a great option for learning on the go, as they allow you to easily practice your skills whenever there’s time to kill—on the bus, sitting in a waiting room or whenever else you have a few minutes of quiet time.
Whether or not you use the old-fashioned paper ones, pick up a few apps and online cards. This way, you’ll learn a word’s spelling and pronunciation at the same time, and it will stick better in your mind.
This Quizlet flashcard vocab list of European Portuguese verbs is a good online-based option, while the Gengo Flashcards app provides another download-worthy set. For a few more ideas and hints, check out some of our previous recommendations.
Mix things up by having an assortment of sentences and separate words that you need to revise at any given time—and whenever possible, try to listen and repeat them to yourself.
3. Use FluentU.
The upcoming Portuguese platform from FluentU will offer plenty of opportunities to apply your vocab skills in an authentic context. FluentU takes real-world videos—like news, music videos, movie trailers, YouTube clips and more—and adds bilingual captions and quizzes so that you can learn interactively from real native material suitable for your level.
Both European and Brazilian Portuguese videos will be paired with exercises to help you listen out for the native accent while you’re getting familiar with the terms and phrases that are relevant to the exchanges you’re being exposed to.
As you test your own knowledge about the content you’ve been watching, pay close attention to any new vocab that comes up and think about how you might use it in everyday contexts—in the long run, associating different sentences or words with different scenarios will help you commit vocab to memory.
4. Listen to podcasts.
Listening is such an important part of learning.
It’s the one component that helps you grasp your pronunciation, comprehension and vocabulary skills all at once. Everyone will have their own preference for audio resources and exercises, but as far as more straightforward audio options go, podcasts are definitely some of the best language study resources.
Many podcasts for learners offer plenty of real-life tidbits in each episode. In order to get the most out of each podcast, you should listen out for terms you’re both familiar and unfamiliar with—and make a note of them (more on this later). Double check that you understand how each term is being used in the podcasts you’ve chosen by listening to them a couple of times.
Practice Portuguese have a ton of free podcasts for European Portuguese learners—with topics ranging from traditional Lusophone legends to everyday activities like talking on the phone.
5. Read, read and read some more!
Vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension often go hand-in-hand. It’s no accident that some of the best writers and spellers are also the most avid readers.
At the end of the day, the more you read, the more words you’ll learn. Reading is also a fantastic way to expose yourself to different phrases and expressions—which is quite handy when you’re trying to memorize a lot of new terms.
Some materials you can try for regular reading practice in European Portuguese include:
- News sites: Among Portugal’s top news services you can check out TSF, RTP, SIC Notícias, LUSA, TVI 24. If you want to diversify things a little, also take a look at some online magazine options.
- Books: The online realm has made Portuguese literature widely accessible for all those seek it. You can find a number of free books from Luso Livros, Instituto Camões and Projecto Adamastor. Our previous reading recommendations might also be useful if you’re needing some additional ideas.
6. Use dictionaries that provide additional context and reading.
While you’re learning and exploring new words, it’s helpful to use dictionaries that provide additional context for words and/or encourage further reading. Each of these have their own interesting qualities to share:
- Linguee is the go-to if you want to see how each translated word is applied in a sentence—along with offering a definition, the site also sources different passages from the web that use the term or phrase you’re looking up.
- Lexico.pt is a more traditional choice, with a list of popular words on its home page, plus a comprehensive breakdown of each definition that includes synonyms, some antonyms (that’s word-dependent), syllabic breakdowns, as well as quotes and news passages with the term in it.
- Infopedia is a more straightforward place to look up words, but as a bonus, you can learn a little about traditional Portuguese legends while you’re at it (more reading material!).
7. Keep a written record of vocabulary you’re learning.
As you listen to and read authentic material or material for learners, taking notes can be a powerful memory aid and can help you fine-tune your spelling skills.
For this study strategy, either paper or digital records are fair game. However, those who opt to keep things electronic will need to follow one simple rule: No copying and pasting! Trying to shortcut things will not help you learn, period.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s focus on productive strategies for note-taking.
8. Write down words in the context of full sentences/phrases.
Here’s a strategy that will help make your vocab “stick”: Make it your priority to learn full sentences rather than single-word clusters. Not only will it enable you to broaden your linguistic scope a lot more quickly, it will also help you get a bigger-picture glimpse of how each word is applied in the real world.
This is where learning with the great resources above come in: If you’re using resources that already provide contextual phrases, it’s easy to copy them down and refer to them later, and it also gives you an idea of how you can adjust parts of phrases in order to practice forming and writing your own sentences.
9. Group vocab in categories.
The first thing to keep in mind with your note-taking is that you shouldn’t be jotting down words randomly. That will just make it really confusing to follow—not ideal when you want to refer to your vocabulary list later.
Instead, try categorizing each new term, phrase or sentence according to a specific theme. For example, if you’ve learned something new from a podcast about a Portuguese family, you might add the relevant vocab with example sentences to a list under “family members,” “household” or “daily conversations.”
Other sentences might be grouped in various categories like “asking for directions,” “European Portuguese idioms” or “colloquial expressions.”
10. Avoid learning synonyms and antonyms together.
One last tip about word grouping: Try to avoid listing synonyms and antonyms together. While it’s good to know your opposites, putting them side-by-side when you’re still trying to verse yourself with what they mean could actually work against you.
For instance, you might want to tell someone you’re feeling happy and accidentally express it as feeling sad all because you listed alegre and triste together. Or you might want to say you need to “turn on the light” and accidentally say you need to “turn off the light” because you’ve written these sentences right next to each other on the same page.
Of course there are some antonyms that are quite easy to distinguish from one another—like igualdade and desigualdade (equality and inequality)—but it’s best to stay on the safe side.
Now that you have plenty of strategies to boost your vocab knowledge, it’s up to you to put them into practice!
Have fun exploring these new resources as you master European Portuguese words, sentences and conversation.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn a language with real-world videos.