There can be interesting worlds inside your pocket.
Language learning apps give you easy access to Portuguese learning experiences; you can pull them out in those otherwise lost moments when you’re in a line or on the bus.
But if you have some truly great learning apps, you’ll probably find yourself also using them when you sit down for your dedicated learning sessions.
But which apps are the best? I believe there are eight that truly stand out, and that should be considered for a place in any Portuguese learner’s pocket. Some of my suggestions are traditional language learning apps, and some of them are not, but can be repurposed for our Lusophone ends.
Let’s take a look.
8 Best Apps for Learning Portuguese Like a Boss
The following apps tend to be updated quite often with new features, so use the descriptions below as a general guide. Things change, and usually for the better.
If you’re going to choose just one Portuguese dictionary app, this should be your guy. (Are apps really dudes, you’re wondering? That’s what Portuguese speakers would tell you at least: it’s o app or o aplicativo.)
Whether you’re chatting over a caipirinha in Copacabana or trying to decipher samba rock lyrics, WordReference is going to give you pretty complete coverage of even the wildest corners of the Portuguese lexicon. The most interesting feature in my book is the English-Portuguese forum, which is an option at the bottom of any look-up you make in the app.
From there you can ask about both the dignified Portuguese that has somehow escaped dictionary editors’ attentions, as well as the coarse neologisms that they don’t deign to acknowledge. (My own near-decade of contributions to the forum tend towards the later, I’m afraid!) If relevant, previous forum topics also come up after the editorial content in your in-app searches.
The app can also conjugate any Portuguese verb, and gives sometimes-useful links to Google image searches at the bottom of entries.
I think there’s something lovely and useful about the tactile feel of flashcards, but I’ve long ago given them up to memorize new vocabulary with this app. Its two key advantages over paper are that you can save audio (you can record a language partner or teacher) and it’s easier to keep with you than a stack of paper, so you’re likely to practice more often.
There are dozens of user-submitted Portuguese decks available covering common phrases, travel and verb conjugations, but I strongly urge you to instead make your own. You can make them on a computer and synchronize them with your smartphone, or just make them in the app itself. As with paper, the act of thinking about what you want to remember and then actually making the card often gets you halfway towards memorization by itself. Also, the quality of other users’ decks can vary and thus could contain errors.
FluentU sets itself apart from other language learning apps by using real-world videos, not generic programs geared for any language, nor staged and scripted scenes. It makes use of a wide range of native videos that you’d probably want to watch anyway—music videos, vlogs, TV shows, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
Along with the hand-picked video library, you get interactive subtitles, downloadable transcripts, multimedia flashcards and more. Tap on any word to instantly see a definition, image, audio and example sentences. Another tap will add any word to your own vocab lists.
You can then use FluentU’s unique Learn Mode to learn the words and phrases from the video through fun questions. It’ll always tell you when it’s time to review, and FluentU will also recommend new videos based on the words you already know.
As of this writing, Portuguese will be offered soon at FluentU. The learning platform is also accessible by website via any browser, and new users can try it free for 15 days.
Duolingo can be a good way to build vocabulary, in particular when used alongside other language learning methods. Once you determine your Portuguese level, you take on units that are designed around different themes, such as education and work. The focus is not on grammar, but rather on learning nouns, adjectives, verbs and tenses that allow you to communicate around a given theme.
Exercises include voice recording (listening to a sentence and then reading it out loud yourself), translation of phrases, matching photos to words, rearranging words to form sentences, and answering multiple choice questions.
The app is designed to be cheerful and the sections are short so you can always fit in a quick session during those brief spare free moments.
This is not usually thought of as a learning app, but if chatting with a hunky Brazilian or alluring Angolan gets you practicing more Portuguese, that’s hardly an opportunity to be missed. Some find that a little bit of romantic intrigue can also further motivate learning; you might be a little more careful with your use of prepositions if you’re trying to sound charming.
If you live in an area devoid of Portuguese speakers, you can buy the paid version of the app and then set your location to whatever region has your target accent. You can (and really should) be honest about your intentions. For example: Só quero praticar o meu português. (I just want to practice my Portuguese.) Of course, I have heard that love sometimes happens even in spite of one’s best intentions…
Like Duolingo, this has a cheerful interface that’s meant to keep you coming back for continual improvement. The app focuses on 150 important topics that are intrinsic to basic Portuguese, and you advance through a variety of levels.
In the app, you learn vocabulary from pictures that are a bit generic (not particularly designed to show you Portuguese cultures), so it’s best to follow up with some practice with native speakers to ensure that you get exposure to Lusophone ways of experiencing the vocabulary.
Fortunately, there is some interactive functionality included in the app; you can submit practice exercises and get messages from native Brazilians and Portuguese people who will correct and respond to your work.
Music is one of the main focuses for many Portuguese learners, such as finally getting to understand the lyrics of their favorite songs (fado, samba, pagode, marabenta, etc.). When I was first studying the language ten years ago, it would often take some effort to track down a song and its lyrics. Now you can do all of this within the SoundHound app instantly. Just push a button to recognize whatever song is playing, and then tap the button to run a search for the lyrics.
In my experience, this is the best app for tracking down Brazilian popular music and instantly getting the lyrics on your screen as you listen. It also shows some basic information in English about the better-known artists. You can bookmark your favorite songs for future reference.
Machine translation is famously inaccurate, but Google Translate can sometimes be pretty good at giving you an idea of what is meant by a particularly puzzling Portuguese phrase. It also offers dictionary-like lookup for single words, and while WordReference is better as an editorial dictionary, Google Translate can sometimes be a bit better at interpreting your crazier misspellings and figuring out what you meant.
It also offers spoken translation and can also translate the text in pictures you take with your smartphone’s camera. It’s functional enough to almost make you question the hours of study you put into learning Portuguese! But, I emphasize, only almost.
If you’re carrying these eight apps in your pocket, I’m confident that you’ll be on a quick route to better Portuguese. These foster a kind of smartphone addiction that will actually improve your mind, and most of all, your interactions in real life.
Hopefully your Portuguese will flow better as you’re chatting the evening away on a sandy beach in Itaúnas, or whatever lesser use of the language that you might come up with.
Mose Hayward writes about tech and gear for travelers at SelectoGuru.com.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn a language with real-world videos.