If you want to learn Portuguese, you should really hop on a plane to São Paulo, pop over to Vila Madalena, and immerse yourself in endless wild evenings of great food, caipirinhas and samba rock.
You’ll be fluent in no time.
But, yes, I know. Some of you are miserable enough to have jobs/houses/marriages/fill-in-the-blank-geo-specific-drudgery, and so here you are on a website instead, right?
When life gives you limes, go make a caipirinha.
There are lots of ways to learn Portuguese online, and in fact your entire language learning adventure can be on the Internet—from vocabulary acquisition to language exchanges. And let me tell you, online learning actually does have a lot to offer…
The Advantages of Learning Portuguese Online
Your time is valuable, and taking on any language—especially one with as many verb tenses and tricky vowels as Portuguese—is going to eat into a lot of it. Plus, if you sign up for a class at a physical language school, the transportation to and from the class could double it.
Learning online, on the other hand, is generally as quick as opening your laptop. You can schedule online tutoring sessions for whenever is convenient, and interactive learning programs like FluentU are always lying in wait to fill up your free moments at the drop of a hat.
Many online forms of learning are also free, and even those that aren’t tend to be much more cost effective than classroom learning. This is usually true based on what you’re paying per hour of learning, but even more so if you could calculate how much Portuguese you learn per dollar spent. Sitting in a classroom and hearing lots of other students speak bad Portuguese isn’t generally as efficient as one-on-one online instruction.
Finally, online learning methods almost always expose you to native speakers, not to teachers from Iowa who spent a semester abroad in Campinas. You can even choose to find online teachers and native speaker videos and materials with the particular accent you want; it is important to at least consider whether you want to focus on European or Brazilian Portuguese, since they’re so different.
9 of the Best Websites for Learning Portuguese Online
There are plenty of websites out there looking to connect you with online, native speaking tutors. This is one of the most straightforward and cheap, and it's well-populated with good, active Portuguese tutors from both Brazil and Portugal (but unfortunately not Africa, as of this writing). Expect to pay about $10-20 an hour.
Professional Portuguese teachers will usually provide learning materials, plan lessons and give you assignments, but you can also plan your own. I think it’s wisest to work with several tutors at once, so that you’re exposed to different idiolects (individual language quirks) and vocabulary ranges.
You can also use the website to find language exchange partners without paying a dime. Simply sign up for an account and then go to “language partners,” which is tucked away under the “community” menu. You’ll find Portuguese speakers from around the world who are dying to practice your language in exchanges (especially if you’re a native English speaker). Send messages to a few of them, and arrange an encounter over Skype.
This series of apps for computers, browsers and mobile devices is an electronic replacement for flashcards, and it’s a very good one. You can record audio (from, say, your Skype sessions with tutors) into the flashcards that you create.
If you get lazy, there are dozens of user-made Anki decks available for learning Portuguese, but for many of them it’s not clear which version of the language they’re targeting. Also, making your own sets of cards tends to be more personal and useful for reinforcing your learning.
I watched some hilariously stagey Portuguese instructional videos in my time, because FluentU didn’t exist when I was learning the language. This site and its mobile app companions completely sidesteps that silliness by using videos taken from the real world: music videos, movie trailers, news clips, inspiring talks and more. The videos are conveniently searchable by level of difficulty (newbie to native) as well as interests (arts, entertainment, health, lifestyle and so on) so you’re sure to find things that you would want to watch anyway, and at an approachable level of Portuguese.
You can turn on interactive subtitles when watching videos—which makes the clip completely accessible. Hover over (or tap) any word, and the video will instantly pause, showing you the word’s meaning, an image, audio and example sentences. Add words to your own vocab lists with a single click/tap, and you can even see how words are used in other videos across the site.
Perhaps the most unique feature is its Learn Mode, which transforms videos into personalized language lesson, asking questions based on your learning history. Memorable context is absolutely key for efficient, fun language learning, and FluentU’s videos are context heaven. As of this writing, the Portuguese version is in the works and on the cusp of being launched.
FluentU is available as an app for iOS users as well as Android users. The website version is also very easy to use.
If I had to pick just one Portuguese-English dictionary, this would be it. WordReference covers a huge amount of vocabulary and a range of uses for each word, often with contextual examples. There is a Spanish-Portuguese dictionary, which may be useful for those of you who are coming at this after having learned Spanish.
And most importantly in my book, it has a great Portuguese-English forum, whose results open automatically at the bottom of search results, and give you insight into trickier uses. You can also pose your own questions in the forum, as well as help others.
The above dictionary site doesn’t have an entry for moqueca de peixe as of this writing, but a Google Image search will tell you a lot about this fish and coconut milk stew in a very compelling and memorable way—almost as good as if you were on the beach in the Northeast of Brazil.
You may want to copy images from your search into your Anki decks for further mouth-watering review.
This ingenious site is a way to connect for language exchanges—but for writing. You post your best attempts at writing whatever you want in Portuguese, and then for karma go and correct others’ English. Usually in a day or so you will get corrections back on your work.
Folha de São Paulo
Brazil’s largest-circulation newspaper and its newspaper of record can give you a lot of reading material for learning Portuguese. If front-page Brazilian news itself has too many unfamiliar characters that make it difficult to follow, or if you tire of reading about that particular circus of corrupt scoundrels, you might check out the international section, where articles are written with more context about who is who (and there will even be stories about your own country).
Most people who I’ve met who are learning Portuguese are doing so for reasons related to the music, perhaps fado, samba funk, or something else, and for the purposes of singing or dancing or even learning the cavaquinho (small four-stringed guitar).
And even if your reasons for learning are unrelated to the hundreds of styles of music in Portuguese, the planet’s very best lyrical songs are probably going to be useful in your venture. This is a great site for looking up the lyrics to songs in Portuguese, and you can also use it to explore musical genres as Brazilians define them.
Foreign Service Institute Course
This is the Department of State’s free course in Portuguese from 1946, and the audio and print book are available free for download. It was designed for self-instruction through repetition of sounds and then words and phrases, gradually working up in complexity.
The programmatic learning style has fallen out of favor, but this course does have something to offer learners, as it methodically deconstructs pronunciation of Portuguese in the early units in a way that you don’t normally see in newer communicative-method instruction.
There are hundreds more resources on the Internet that can be of great use to those who are learning Portuguese; this post has simply endeavored to present you with a few of the best.
As you continue learning, you can harness the Lusophone Internet by searching for things in Portuguese which you would normally search for in English. For example, if you’ve got some meat that you’re searching for a way to cook up, run a search for feijoada receita (bean and meat stew recipe).
You might not be in São Paulo (yet), but that shouldn’t stop you from eating like you are.
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