learn portuguese

Learn Portuguese 101: A Complete Step-by-step Guide for Absolute Beginners

Oh, Portuguese!

The nasal sounds, the incredible dialects, the diversity in its melody, the sense of humor!

It’s a chance to connect with others who speak the language.

What’s not to love?

We totally understand why you want to learn Portuguese! It’s a language of diversity, color, warmth, shared cultures and a very complex history. It’s mysterious, expressive, intricate and… ready for you to start speaking it!

But where to start?

Whether you’re interested in European Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese or both, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a handy step-by-step guide with carefully selected resources for you to start your journey right.

Vamos lá! (Let’s go!)

Which Variant of Portuguese Should You Learn?

There’s no such thing as a right or wrong dialect in Portuguese. There isn’t a variant that is more correct than the other, more appropriate than the other, or more truthful or “authentic” than the other.

You can decide which dialect to study based on the following factors:

  • How important is the number of speakers for you? Some people learn languages for the sole purpose of being able to speak with as many people as possible. If you’re one of these people, you might want to go for Brazilian Portuguese (approximately 182 million speakers) rather than European Portuguese (approximately 10 million speakers).

While making your decision, it’s also interesting to consider that the Portuguese dialects spoken collectively in African countries—such as Angola, Cape Verde, Guiné-Bissau, Mozambique and São Tomé e Príncipe—are much more similar to the one spoken in Portugal, and they also account for a large number of speakers (about a total of 15 million native speakers). Which leads us to…

  • What region of the world are you interested in? It might be easy to choose a dialect based on the type of culture you’re most drawn to. Pretty much all Portuguese-speaking countries have cultures that play around a lively social life, delicious (heavy) food, the beach, the sea and friendly weather that invites you to go out and get some sun.

The difference lies mostly in music and dance traditions, common everyday communication and, of course, history. This could be an interesting starting point to decide which dialects you’d like to study.

One thing’s for sure: you’ll have the European option, the South American option and the African option. That’s a lot of different cultures and dialects to choose from!

  • Which dialect sounds best to you? You might just go with your intuition. When you listen to the Angolan dialect, the Portuguese dialect, the Brazilian dialect or even the Cape Verdean dialect, which speaks the most to you? Sometimes following your passion is the best way to learn a language faster!
  • Where do you see yourself going? Some language learners prefer a realistic approach. You might think a dialect sounds fantastic, but never picture yourself visiting its country or you don’t believe you’d be compatible with its culture. And that’s fine!

Choose a dialect you think will be more useful for you, either in terms of career, travel prospects or even a potential place you could call home in the future.

Finally, realize that a choice doesn’t have to be made. Although Portuguese dialects can sound almost like completely different languages when you hear them, most speakers from different countries can still understand each other.

Once you learn one version of Portuguese, you can always adapt and see what the main differences are from one dialect to another. It isn’t impossible—or even that difficult—to jump to European Portuguese after learning the Brazilian dialect, for instance. All you have to do is try, and you’ll even get a wider reach!

What Are the Main Differences Between Different Types of Portuguese?

The positive news is that Portuguese will be very similar in writing wherever you go. If you can understand European Portuguese when you read it, the same will be possible in Brazilian Portuguese.

The main difference between dialects is definitely pronunciation: while Brazilian Portuguese sounds more open, cheerful and melodic, European Portuguese—and most African countries that still take European Portuguese as their reference for the media and academia—will sound faster, more contained and Eastern European-like.

Another difference to be noticed is grammar, most notably the use of Present Continuous by Brazilians as it’s used in Spanish—estou jogando (I’m playing), estou vendo (I’m seeing), “estou comendo (I’m eating)—while European Portuguese uses a practical formula that doesn’t require learning extra verb conjugations: estar a + (verb in its infinitive form)—estou a jogar, estou a comer, estou a ver.

Finally, a big difference between dialects is the use of two different words for the 2nd person singular (you) that are often used interchangeably in Brazil, sometimes even in the same sentence: tu and você.

In theory, these would be used differently depending on the level of formality, but that rule is blurry in practice. In Portugal, however, tu is used for informal contexts only and você is almost never used anymore, as there are other ways of expressing formality in daily life.

Which Portuguese Dialect Is the Easiest to Learn?

There’s a widespread belief that Brazilian Portuguese is the easiest to learn because it sounds clear, open and slow. While this last aspect is true in comparison to other dialects, it isn’t always the case that people find it easy to learn.

Brazilian Portuguese learners will often struggle with the fact that letters can change sounds radically depending on their position in a word. They’ll also find that Brazilians are quite flexible in their way of expressing themselves in daily life, sometimes changing grammar rules without reason or logic—it’s just the way people speak.

European Portuguese, on the other hand, is very coherent in terms of grammar (what you learn in books is mostly the way people speak in reality) and pronunciation (a “t” is always a “t,” never a “dj”), but learners often struggle with its “Russian-like” accent and the speedy way in which natives talk, which doesn’t seem to create a separation between words.

In the end, all Portuguese dialects will seem difficult for one reason or the other, but that shouldn’t demotivate you from learning them! All languages have easier and more difficult aspects to them, just like personalities. It’s all about getting the right strategies to learn Portuguese—no matter what kind.

How to Recognize Brazilian Portuguese

Brazilian Portuguese is melodic, open, cheerful and slower in sound compared to other dialects, which makes it uniquely pleasant to the ear!

Something you’ll quickly understand about Brazilian Portuguese is the huge difference between what the language is in theory (what you find in books) and how people actually speak. However, some patterns can be recognized right away, such as the use of very unique discourse markers like né? (isn’t it?) or the use of oi? to show you haven’t understood something.

Additionally, you’ll recognize Brazilian Portuguese due to the aforementioned interchangeable use of tu and você, two words that refer to the 2nd person singular (you) which are sometimes used in the same sentence just as frequently. Once again, in theory, these would have different uses according to context, but you’re likely to find many speakers who use both without a clear separation.

Here’s a sampling of what Brazilian Portuguese sounds like:

How to Recognize European Portuguese

While European Portuguese is extremely similar to Brazilian Portuguese in appearance and writing, pronunciation will immediately help you distinguish which one is which.

That’s because those who hear European Portuguese for the first time might think it’s Russian, Ukrainian or Polish. This is due to the omnipresent “sh” sound and the use of closed vowels that don’t open your mouth too much, giving it a very Eastern European melody! Portuguese from Portugal is also way more coherent in terms of grammar: Whatever you read in the books is what you’ll find in reality, with the exception of a few contractions that are also common in Brazil.

The use of você is almost non-existent nowadays and, in some situations, it might even be considered rude. Apart from né?, which is also used in Portugal as a contraction of não é? (isn’t it?), common discourse markers are tipo (like),  and epá/opá. If you’re wondering what those last three words mean… well, they have absolutely no meaning! They’re just things we say, like “hmm” in English. It’s just a sound!

In recent years, the Angolan word bué has been imported and is used everywhere to mean “a lot” or “much,” which isn’t used in Brazil. These are good points of reference to help you distinguish between the two dialects!

Here’s what European Portuguese sounds like:

Learn Portuguese 101: A Complete Step-by-step Guide for Absolute Beginners

We’ve decided to group our favorite online resources and tips in such a way that’ll allow you to create a language-learning routine from scratch or add them to your existing one. Work with these eight steps:

  1. Get an immediate hold of Portuguese pronunciation
  2. Learn the phrases that serve you best
  3. Start talking and writing as early as possible
  4. Take Portuguese lessons online to boost your grammar and vocabulary
  5. Play with apps to keep your Portuguese alive
  6. Explore entertaining YouTube channels and TV series
  7. Practice listening with podcasts and radio stations
  8. Make Portuguese and Brazilian books your new best friends

Portuguese is particularly tricky when it comes to listening comprehension and pronunciation, as it’s written so differently from the way it’s spoken in daily life.

To learn Portuguese at a faster pace, make sure you focus on producing language (speaking, writing) as much as you focus on receiving language (reading, watching TV, listening to podcasts, playing with apps). Don’t make the common mistake of choosing one group over the other, which will make having a regular conversation almost impossible!

We’d recommend devoting at least 20 to 60 minutes a day to active Portuguese practice. This could be writing a diary entry, having a speaking lesson, reading a simple news article and testing yourself for comprehension or watching a video in Portuguese to see how much you can understand.

And now, let’s learn!

1. Get an Immediate Hold of Portuguese Pronunciation

All Portuguese dialects share common features when it comes to pronunciation:

  • the nasalization of vowels (speaking some vowels through your nose, for example -ão, -ãe, -em, -ém)
  • the use of the tricky lh and nh digraphs
  • the tendency to almost completely disregard vowels at the end of words, which is even more evident in Portugal

If you tend to mistake Portuguese for Spanish a lot, be aware that Portuguese never uses words with -ie-. In fact, it simplifies them. For example, the Spanish words tiempo (time), quiero (I want), tiene (he/she has) or bien (well) become tempo, quero, tem and bem in Portuguese, regardless of the dialect.

Music is a fantastic place to start getting used to pronunciation, as it makes sounds clearer, words easier to understand and provides a closer feel to the unique sounds of the language. Both Brazil and Portugal offer a huge variety of music genres, like samba (and its subgenre pagode), bossa nova, funk, alternative rock, great pop songs to dance to, fado, indie rock bands and creative rap songs.

Both countries showcase contributions from African cultural influences in their music, not to mention a powerful tradition of protest songs.

We recommend the Fluent Forever Pronunciation Trainer Resources to practice your listening skills and improve your pronunciation. While it isn’t free, this tool focuses on phonetics, vowels, lots of repetition and spelling rules, making it very useful for beginners. Here are the Brazilian Portuguese version and the European Portuguese version!

You can also get an immediate understanding of Portuguese sounds as native speakers use the language with FluentU.

FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons. Each video comes with interactive captions, flashcards and exercises to make sure you’re actively boosting your Portuguese language skills while you watch.

A Portuguese learning program is currently in development, so stay tuned for an immersive, authentic way to learn Portuguese, coming soon!

2. Learn the Phrases That Serve You Best

Now that you’ve gotten the hang of Portuguese pronunciation, it’s important that you decide on your purpose for learning Portuguese before following the next few steps.

Maybe you’re learning the language because you think it sounds pleasant and you’re just having fun. In that case, it’s okay to learn phrases and vocabulary in a progressive, level-by-level logic (introductions, family, countries and nationalities, moving on to jobs and career, etc).

However, if you have a very specific goal with Portuguese—such as getting a job in Brazil, visiting family in Portugal or traveling to Cape Verde—you might want to limit your phrase list and get focused on your learning.

Omniglot is a useful platform for anybody getting started in any language. It presents the most common phrases in both Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese, giving you an overall idea of how to get started. Alternatively, you can begin with these 31 common greetings (both dialects) and 45 basic Portuguese phrases to use in your first conversations.

But what about apps and online courses? Well, you’re right! These are also useful sources you can use to your advantage to help you learn common phrases. More on that in step four! But first…

3. Start Talking and Writing as Early as Possible

We know, we know. Speaking and writing in a new language can be a terrible source of anxiety and cause you to feel overwhelmed and awkward. But hey, both Portugal and Brazil are known for being quite warm, welcoming and socially receptive, so you can’t go wrong with this one!

Here’s why it’s important to put your Portuguese to practice as soon as you start learning your first phrases:

  • First of all, you’ll get a much-needed confidence boost to energize your future learning.
  • Secondly, you’ll understand just how different the language can sound when spoken by natives in comparison to grammar manuals.
  • And third, you’ll immediately make connections who are trustworthy (teachers, tutors) and can help you with questions about slang, word choice and grammar!

Writing will also play a huge part in your development. It’s a different way of producing language, but it gives you more time to think and doesn’t place as much pressure on your shoulders as speaking. This allows you to practice new phrases, expressions and vocabulary on paper to warm up for your speaking practice!

Here are some tools where you can find professional teachers and tutors who can help you:

italki

learn portuguese

Around since 2007, italki is perhaps the most popular tool for finding foreign language teachers and tutors.

Its goal is to connect language learners and teachers through video chat, allowing you to buy credits and book lessons as you please (there isn’t a fixed monthly cost), keep track of your lessons, receive customized feedback from your teacher and go through teacher profiles until you find the one that suits you best.

Here, you’ll find both Brazilian and Portuguese teachers who can give you a hand and choose the one that best fits your style and budget!

Verbling

learn portuguese

If you’d like an alternative to italki, Verbling wins points right off the bat. As soon as you visit the website, they’re interested in knowing if you’ve ever studied the language before and what your motivation is behind learning Portuguese (is it travel? Work? Family? A hobby?).

Verbling also gives you the opportunity to try a 30-minute lesson for free and search for teachers by skill (accent reduction, phonetics, interview preparation, etc). Talk about adapting your learning to your own goals!

4. Take Portuguese Lessons Online to Boost Your Grammar and Vocabulary

Having a guided set of lessons is a great way to get started learning Portuguese. Fortunately, there are plenty of options for that online, as well!

Memrise (both European and Brazilian Portuguese)

learn portuguese

Considered the Best App by Google Play Awards in 2017, Memrise is an increasingly popular language app due to its interactive platform, fun tone and diverse material.

What’s special about Memrise is how it uses video, audio and multiple-choice exercises to train your ears and reading skills, as well as their extremely diverse course options. Additionally, the SRS-based flashcard program makes it easy to learn and remember new vocabulary.

Thankfully, you can even choose between Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese, as the app offers both options!

Pimsleur (both European and Brazilian Portuguese)

learn portuguese

“One lesson a day—anytime, anywhere”: This is the promise of Pimsleur. The program provides lessons in both Brazilian and European Portuguese using its very own method.

Not only do you have access to core lessons, but you can also have specialized reading lessons, role-play activities, skills badges and what they call “lightbulb moments,” in which history and culture lessons are provided to create a more fulfilling learning experience.

If you’re into games, Pimsleur also gives you the option to play a quick one to test your Portuguese in a challenging way!

Babbel (Brazilian Portuguese only)

learn portuguese

Babbel just keeps on giving. One of the most popular apps for language learners, it’s known for its clean design, clear grammar explanations, reference dialogues and pronunciation practice exercises with an integrated speech recognition tool.

Even when you finish the pre-determined Beginner and Intermediate courses, Babbel still gives you the option to take a refresher course, complete a grammar-only course, take a specialized course about Brazilian traditions or learn some idioms.

Practice Portuguese (European Portuguese only)

learn portuguese

Practice Portuguese is one of the most popular platforms for learning European Portuguese online. The program was created by Portuguese and Canadian Rui and Joel to help European Portuguese enthusiasts finally have a complete, rich resource to learn this dialect.

From podcasts with transcripts to funny videos, grammar modules, learning notes and a full-on learning studio, this resource has it all!

5. Play with Apps to Keep Your Portuguese Alive

Free apps have become a part of every language learner’s journey, especially nowadays when our lifestyles don’t allow us to sit in a classroom as much as we’d like. Apps provide a great way to get extra exposure to the language, remember important vocabulary and just keep our target language alive.

You can use Babbel and Memrise to learn Portuguese in your free time, as well as any of the many other Portuguese learning apps available for your device.

learn portuguese

We’d also like to suggest that you use Quizlet or Anki App to create your own flashcards.

It’s important you start using your newly learned Portuguese vocabulary to fit your personal situation as much as possible. So, as we mentioned earlier, rather than grouping all the words you learn as you go and creating hundreds of flashcards, we recommend that you choose the ones that are most significant to your personal situation!

6. Explore Entertaining YouTube Channels and TV Series

YouTube is another goldmine for Portuguese learners who prefer a more visual style of learning.

Bumba na Fofinha (European Portuguese)

Perhaps one of the most underestimated YouTubers who’s currently gaining traction is Bumba na Fofinha, whose true name is Mariana Cabral. She became popular due to her rants and funny commentary on Portuguese society, beauty standards, trends (such as running, yoga or detox) and her own personal quirks.

She’s recently launched a YouTube channel in English, but most viewers still prefer her original self in which word choice, slang and her fast pace make her plays on the Portuguese language even funnier!

Wuant (European Portuguese)

Wuant is one of the biggest Portuguese YouTubers and is popular for his viral content composed of “Top 10s,” funny memes and his reactions to scary or disgusting footage.

Viewers love the way he manages to be spontaneous, loud, casual and relatable in his way of talking, all while staying sensible and caring when the time is right. He also loves playing with language: He has several videos in which he uses Google Translate to laugh at mistranslated song lyrics!

Gato Fedorento (European Portuguese)

Mention Gato Fedorento (literally “smelly cat”) in Portugal and anyone will be positively surprised: Everybody knows this group of comedians, but they don’t have much traction outside of Portugal due to their type of humor, which is largely centered around the Portuguese language and its quirks!

They regularly make fun of Portuguese culture, stereotypes, everyday issues people face and even the news. They’ve also recently revamped their YouTube channel, so make sure you take a look!

Felipe Neto (Brazilian Portuguese)

If you’re into viral content and curiosities, you’re sure to enjoy Felipe Neto’s videos. He first got popular due to his angry videos about movie and celebrity opinions, criticizing them in a humorous tone. These days, his channel has grown and he makes videos about curiosities and “best of’s.”

Have you ever wondered what the craziest beds in the world are? The ocean’s biggest mystery? The most expensive liquids in the world? Neto’s got the answers!

By the way, Felipe Neto actually has a double nationality: He’s both Portuguese and Brazilian!

Whindersson Nunes (Brazilian Portuguese)

24-year-old Whindersson Nunes has conquered YouTube with his comedic videos about Brazilian society, inequality between classes, money issues, Brazilian soap operas and even the Discovery Channel!

You’re sure to get a great laugh and start getting familiar with Brazilian slang and filler words right from the start.

Porta dos Fundos (Brazilian Portuguese)

Porta dos Fundos has become an iconic comedy group both in Brazil and in Portugal, and most comedy enthusiasts will know exactly who you’re talking about if you mention them! They create absurd, hilarious sketches on current trends, miscommunication, career expectations, relationships and social issues.

7. Practice Listening with Podcasts and Radio Stations

RTP Play (European Portuguese)

learn portuguese

RTP (Rádio e Televisão de Portugal — Radio and Television of Portugal) is a public radio and TV station known for its news channels, documentaries and cultural programming. Recently, it’s opened up to music contests, soap operas and more, which gives you even more content to explore!

By accessing RTP Play, you have open access to several soap opera episodes in European Portuguese. However, these don’t have subtitles and they can feel quite challenging.

If you’d prefer, there’s also the kid’s channel option (called “Zig Zag”), which is way friendlier for beginners!

Conta-me Tudo (European Portuguese)

learn portuguese

Conta-me tudo (literally “Tell me everything”) is simple, visually humble and straight to the point project: It interviews common people as well as public figures about real-life stories. Here are the rules: stories must be told in real-time, they must be engaging and… they’re 100% true!

The podcast is particularly useful to learn common everyday expressions and funny Portuguese phrases as well as to practice listening comprehension with a touch of humor.

Practice Portuguese (European Portuguese)

We’ve mentioned Practice Portuguese as a learning platform already, but did you know they also have one of the most popular European Portuguese podcasts online?

That’s right! Not only can you access podcast episodes with different topics (legends, dialogues, news articles), you also have access to transcripts that you can download to read as you listen. What more can we ask for?

Rádio Comercial (European Portuguese)

learn portuguese

Rádio Comercial (Commercial Radio) is, without a doubt, one of the most popular radio stations in Portugal. Everybody either listens to it or has heard about it.

The station conquered the Portuguese with its sense of humor, diverse podcasts, contemporary music and casual attitude. Their podcast list includes topics as distinct as love and relationships, travel and comedy.

Give it a try to have exciting topics to talk about next time you meet a Portuguese radio enthusiast!

Jovem Pan Online (Brazilian Portuguese)

learn portuguese

Directly from São Paulo to your headphones! If you’re into politics, the latest news, sports and opinion, you’re sure to find something that speaks to you at Jovem Pan Online (Young Pan Online).

For those who are into diversifying their listening materials, you have more than 30 podcasts to choose from, with topics as different as technology, soccer, culture and cinema. You also have access to several programs and short video clips if you prefer some visual support!

Antena 1 (Brazilian Portuguese)

learn portuguese

Antena 1 advertises itself as the most listened to the radio station in Brazil and it isn’t too hard to understand why it’s so popular!

Not only does it provide the latest news on international music, but it also has the option to let you listen to the radio station live from the website with a side-by-side translation from English to Portuguese for each song! You can take the opportunity to also read articles about your favorite artists and test your reading comprehension.

PortuguesePod101 (Brazilian Portuguese)

learn portuguese

If you’re a curious language learner, you’ve probably encountered PortuguesePod101 before. It’s all in the name: You can choose podcast episodes by level, choosing from over 1,180 audio and video lessons.

You’ll also have access to spaced repetition flashcards to help you remember key vocabulary and detailed PDF lesson notes to go back to your previous work.

Podcast Café Brasil (Brazilian Portuguese)

learn portuguese

As soon as you visit Podcast Café Brasil, you immediately understand what the podcast is all about: education, society, literature, culture and psychology. If you’d like to feed your brain interesting content in Portuguese rather than sticking to the basics, this podcast is sure to challenge you and contribute to your self-improvement.

The variety of episodes is stunning—you’ll never be left without options!

8. Make Books in Portuguese Your New Best Friends

Books are essential language-learning resources if you plan on boosting your Portuguese. Not only do they introduce you to common expressions people actually use, but they also expand your vocabulary on more specific topics, challenge you to read what native speakers read and make fantastic conversation topics when practicing speaking.

Also, remember what we said about Portuguese in writing? It’s actually extremely similar across the Portuguese-speaking world, so you can easily read both Brazilian and European Portuguese without seeing too much change from book to book.

Whether you’re a fan of audiobooks in Portuguese or going after some easy reads, we’ve got you covered!

Practice elementary and intermediate skills with juvenile literature.

Children’s literature is a great bet for those who are just getting started with the language. The topics are in-touch with everyday life, vocabulary is accessible and the overall structure is usually easier for beginners to follow.

Vagalume (Spanish Edition)

We recommend you start with the collection “Uma Aventura” (“An Adventure”) to learn European Portuguese. This series became extremely popular because each book narrates the adventures of a group of friends in a different place in Portugal, so each story is also an excuse to tell us more about these cities and monuments (why not start with the wonderful city of Porto?). Note that some of these titles can be pricey so you may have to search “other buying options” on Amazon or check eBay for cheaper second-hand copies.

As for Brazilian Portuguese, the collections “Vaga-Lume” and “Turma da Mônica” (Monica’s Class) are absolute classics and great conversation starters, as their characters have become so iconic. You’ll love the latter if you’re into comic books!

Translations of English books

Ok, so maybe you feel the previous suggestions are a bit too “classic” or old-school for your taste. Why not go with Portuguese translations of your favorite books?

Os 7 Hábitos das Pessoas Altamente Eficazes (Em Portuguese do Brasil)

Pretty much all fantasy books have a translation in Portuguese, including popular titles like “Harry Potter,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Twilight,” “The Hunger Games” and more.

You can also go for classics like “Pride and Prejudice,” or even non-fiction classics like “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” The choices are endless! All you have to do is search Amazon for your favorite books and include “in Portuguese” or “Portuguese edition” in the search.

Challenge yourself with classics and poetry of the Portuguese-speaking world

Portuguese-speaking countries have an incredible literary tradition, especially when it comes to fiction and poetry. Both Portugal and Brazil have frequent meetups, conferences and festivals that celebrate all types of literature in the Portuguese language.

In Portugal, you can’t avoid the legendary modernist poet Fernando Pessoa, Nobel-prize winner and novelist José Saramago and contemporary icon Valter Hugo Mãe.

As for Brazilian literature, some must-reads are the modernist poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade, novelist and journalist Paulo Coelho and legend Jorge Amado. They aren’t quite the easiest read and are more appropriate for advanced readers but you still shouldn’t cross them off your list!

Our advice? Don’t just stick to these suggestions. You can easily find several platforms dedicated to providing Portuguese books for both dialects, including free e-books you can download in seconds. Why limit your choice?

 

Do you feel better prepared to learn Portuguese? Great!

We advise you to follow these steps one by one and create your own customized Portuguese learning schedule with a healthy combination of apps, speaking lessons and comprehension practice. This way, you’ll maximize your Portuguese learning experience and be able to make connections as soon as possible!

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn a language with real-world videos.

Experience language immersion online

Portuguese Coming Soon!

Comments are closed.

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe

Close