How to Speak Portuguese in 4 Simple Steps
Wouldn’t it be great to become fluent in a beautiful language like Portuguese?
Portuguese is a “critical language,” a term used by U.S. government which indicates a strategically important language for which the supply of speakers is significantly less than the demand.
If this is your first foray into language learning, though, you might be asking yourself: How do I get started?
Keep reading as we show you how to best tackle your Portuguese language endeavors, in 4 steps.
- 1. Choose a Portuguese dialect
- 2. Start with the core basics
- 3. Find a Portuguese language learning app that works for you
- 4. Immerse yourself in the Portuguese language
1. Choose a Portuguese dialect
When it comes to learning Portuguese, you need to decide whether you want to focus on the Brazilian or the European dialect.
Some people find this choice easier to make than others. But at the end of the day, your decision will depend entirely on your motivations for learning the language.
For instance, if you’re wanting to study Portuguese to improve your work prospects, the Brazilian dialect might be more attractive as Brazil’s market reach is much larger than Portugal’s on a global scale.
On the other hand, if you’re keen on moving to Europe sometime in the future, the Continental (or European) Portuguese dialect could be more favorable—especially if you get hired by a firm that has an office or clients in Portugal.
Of course, there are other factors that influence people to learn a language: a keen interest in a particular culture, a love for a country’s literature, a passion for the local cuisine or something else entirely.
That’s why a little bit of reflection can go a long way. Ask yourself why you want to learn Portuguese and use that to guide your choice as to which dialect to focus on.
2. Start with the core basics
Language learning takes time, and you need the right foundation before you can build up to fluency.
At this stage, your aim is to master some basic Portuguese phrases. Since you’re starting from scratch, here are the key things to focus on initially:
- The alphabet. Check out this video if you’re learning European Portuguese or this one if you’re focusing on Brazilian Portuguese. Repeat the alphabet back to yourself a few times to start perfecting your accent.
European Portuguese alphabet:
Brazilian Portuguese alphabet:
- Numbers. Here’s a video that’ll show you how to count from one to 20 in Portuguese. Do the same as you did for the alphabet: Listen to the numbers, then repeat them back to yourself so you can practice your pronunciation. This other video goes more into the grammatical nuances and uses of the numbers all the way to 100.
- Essential words and sayings. Make a list of all the basic vocabulary that might come in handy in everyday situations. This includes:
- Greetings like bom dia (good morning), boa tarde (good afternoon) and boa noite (good evening/good night)
- Common objects like casa (house), carro (car) and livro (book)
- Key phrases you might use while you’re traveling, like Quanto custa? (How much does this cost?) and Onde fica…? (Where is…?)
- Other simple sayings that’ll help you in most conversations: Qual é o seu nome? (What is your name?), Como vai? (How are you doing?) and Muito Prazer! (Nice to meet you!)
3. Find a Portuguese language learning app that works for you
Apps have become a popular choice for language learners because of their low cost, interactivity and ease of access. There are lots of options out there, each offering their unique take on language learning.
Below are four apps you can try to get started.
Babbel is a subscription-based service that offers Portuguese lessons. The app focuses on all aspects of language learning: reading, speaking, listening and writing. New courses are added each month and are organized according to topics and themes.
FluentU teaches Portuguese with authentic content such as movie clips and more, making it ideal for those who learn best from visuals and audio. Each video has interactive captions that let you look up words while you watch. FluentU also offers multimedia flashcards and personalized review quizzes to help you remember what you learn.
Duolingo is a free option that’s quite popular with beginners. The app’s games are designed to help learners progressively develop their basic vocabulary and grammar skills, so it’s a good option if you’re just starting out and want to quickly learn new words and phrases.
Mondly is another free option you can try. Its daily, 45-minute lessons are designed to help you focus on key phrases as pronounced by native speakers. Some of its techniques include matching images with words, as well as exercises that get students to work on basic sentence construction and reconstructing conversations.
4. Immerse yourself in the Portuguese language
The best way to learn Portuguese is by exposing yourself to the language as much as you can.
Immersing yourself in your chosen dialect is easier than you think. There’s a myriad of resources online that’ll allow you to practice pretty much on the daily.
Take a look at some examples below.
You can learn so much about the Brazilian and Portuguese cultures through podcasts. They cover everything from the local cuisine to traditional customs, language, history and politics.
In the beginning, it’s best to focus on podcasts specifically made for Portuguese learners, like PortuguesePod101 (Brazilian Portuguese) or Practice Portuguese (European Portuguese). These introduce you to the local culture, showcase a variety of topics and prepare you for listening to more advanced materials.
Once you’ve sharpened your listening skills, you can shift your attention to podcasts made for native Portuguese speakers by native Portuguese speakers, like Brazil’s NerdCast—good for film buffs and pop culture nerds—or Portugal’s Pop Up, a podcast that talks about pop culture.
Movies and TV shows
Movies and TV shows can help learners of all levels engage with the Portuguese language and its speakers. Not only will these put your everyday vocabulary into context, but you’ll also gain plenty of insight into Brazilian and European Portuguese cultures at large, from local customs to the way people interact with one another.
Streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu should give you plenty of leads. For movies, start with internationally acclaimed titles like “Sangue do Meu Sangue” (“Blood of My Blood,” 2011), which follows a family from Lisbon whose lives have been shaken by a series of hardships and unpredictable events.
You could also check out “Central do Brasil” (“Central Station,” 1998), in which an old woman working as a letter writer at Rio de Janeiro’s central station helps a boy who has lost his mother reunite with his father. These two movies should be easier to find online and will offer a good introduction to their respective societies.
As for TV shows, if you’re learning Brazilian Portuguese, you’ll want to check out some of the local telenovelas—these are exported worldwide, and some can even be found on YouTube. Famous titles to look out for include “Avenida Brasil” (“Brazil Avenue,” 2012), “Terra Nostra” (“Our Earth,” 1999) and “O Clone” (“The Clone,” 2001).
Those learning European Portuguese can watch local series like “Os Nossos Dias” (“Our Days,” 2012), “Miúdo Graúdo” (“Big Kid,” 2011) and “O Sábio” (“The Wise Man,” 2017) on the RTP Play website.
Listening to music is one of the easiest ways to engage with the Portuguese language on a daily basis. You just need to find some songs that you like and make a playlist you can take with you wherever you go.
A good way to do this is by looking at your favorite music genres and their Brazilian and Portuguese counterparts. For instance, if you’re a rock fan at heart, you could search for “rock português” (Portuguese rock) or “rock brasileiro” (Brazilian rock).
If you have an affinity for pop music, you could try “música pop Brasil” or “música pop Portugal.” And, if you’re a hip-hop fanatic, you could opt for “hip hop brasileiro” or “hip hop Portugal.”
Once you’ve discovered a few songs, look at their lyrics—just search for the title + letras (lyrics). Study them (don’t just memorize but actually learn what the words mean!), and then sing them to your heart’s content so you can practice your pronunciation.
For an added challenge, try listening to a few Brazilian and Portuguese radio stations and see if you can identify both the songs you’ve been grooving to and new ones you can add to your collection. For mainstream music, point your digital antenna towards Brazil’s Jovem (Young) Pan FM or Portugal’s RFM.
Reading is an important part of language learning. It’ll teach you new words, improve your spelling and help you understand all the grammar essentials.
You’ll find a trove of reading materials online: books, magazines, even audiobooks if that’s your thing! At the end of the day, your literary choice will depend entirely on your learning level and interests.
Beginners might benefit from investing in an easy-to-read bilingual book. These will help you engage with stories in different ways and allow you to double-check whether you’ve understood everything that’s on the page. Language Lizard or Books by the Bushel are good places to find a variety of English-Portuguese children’s books that all readers, young and old, can enjoy.
As you get more advanced, you can try looking at news and current affairs. Articles are written in an accessible, clear-cut manner that intermediate-level learners should be able to follow. If you need to ease your way into them, focus on international news articles first. Checking whether you understood what was reported is as simple as searching the same news item in an English language media site.
Key news sites to look at include BBC Brasil and Uol Notícias (Uol News), which are both in Brazilian Portuguese, as well as Diário de Notícias (News Diary) and Notícias ao Minuto (Minute News), which are in European Portuguese.
Hopefully, this post has helped shed light on the various steps of the Portuguese learning process. Studying a new language is hard work, but a little bit of planning can go a long way.
Boa sorte (good luck), and enjoy your journey towards fluency!