Want to make your staid subway ride into Manhattan a bit more like a journey on the São Paulo metro?
First, close your eyes.
Pretend that the platforms are a bit cleaner and that there are fewer hipster beards and more soccer jerseys.
Then, of course, you need to drop “Fresh Air” and “Serial” and opt for audio that’s bursting with authentic Portuguese.
You can listen to a whole range fascinating and informative podcasts in Brazilian Portuguese on all kinds of subjects, from politics to music, literature to sexuality.
And voilà, you just might feel like you’re getting out at Vila Madalena instead of Union Square.
More importantly, you’ll be learning Portuguese while you ride. Native Brazilian podcasts are great for rocketing yourself forward with your language studies.
Let’s see how!
The Advantages of Listening to Brazilian Podcasts While Learning Portuguese
The vast majority of Portuguese learners aren’t just looking to be able to read and write in the language. They (often primarily) want to be able to listen and speak. As part of a larger learning plan, podcasts can help enormously. Here’s how:
- Listen to real Brazilian Portuguese as spoken by natives: The dialogues that you’ll get in better textbooks and study guides are great, and these should be a part of your plan. But they’re not going to give you access to the wide range of accents, slang and speaking styles that you’ll hear once you’re in Brazil. Podcasts are.
- Improve your motivation: Appreciating podcasts can become an end in itself. If you’re enjoying funny or informative audio you’re more likely to be motivated to further improve your Portuguese so that you can better enjoy more material. I’ve chosen podcasts covering a wide range of interests for this post; any of them should be able to add something useful to your life.
- Hear vocabulary in context and remember it better: Just memorizing the dictionary definition of a word can only take you so far. Hearing it used (preferably many times) in various contexts allows you to hone your ability to use it accurately yourself. Listening to Brazilian podcasts will start to give you a sense of how Portuguese is used so that you can speak with the same flair.
How to Incorporate Authentic Portuguese Podcasts into Your Learning Routine
Now that you’re convinced you’ve got to start listening to podcasts, follow these steps to get the most out of these great resources.
Find great podcasts
Simple first step, right?
Podcasts have exploded in popularity in the English-speaking world in the last few years. This is true as well to a certain extent in Brazil, but most Brazilians are still more likely to have music or radio stations blasting in their headphones.
That said, there’s a broad range of great Brazilian podcast programming out there to be enjoyed, as this post shows. But if you want to look for something to match narrow interests that aren’t covered here, you can head over to the iTunes podcast directory for Brazil, which is cataloged by subject.
You might also want to check out the inventory over at Brainstorm9, producers of a variety of intelligent podcasts (a couple of which are featured below).
Get a good podcast app for language learners
I’ve used a number of podcast apps over the years. I think the best for language learners is now Pocket Casts, as it allows you to play audio at a variety of speeds and to easily skip back 10 seconds when necessary. You can also synchronize it between devices and in a web browser app, for those times when you want to listen from your computer.
Start with a podcast made for language learners
Podcasts made by native speakers for native speakers can be hard to understand at times, especially if you’re in the earlier stages of learning Portuguese. If you’re feeling like these authentic podcasts go too fast for you, slow your roll and listen to a podcast made specifically for language learners to build your comprehension skills.
One excellent example are the podcasts from PortuguesePod101. This Portuguese program by Innovative Language is constantly updated with fresh, new educational material. You can benefit from this flood of language content regardless of your state of fluency—they’ve got something for absolute beginners as well as advanced learners.
Listen for understanding—it’s hard to just “soak up” background Portuguese
Some would argue that having Portuguese voices going in the background is better than time spent with no exposure to Portuguese at all. I suppose they have a point, but actively listening for meaning is certainly going to take you farther.
If your Portuguese isn’t yet good enough for you to follow an entire podcast, you can still make use of an episode that you’re interested in by taking just 30 seconds of dialogue (or, say, the introduction) and actively listening for something.
Can you make a list of any words that you recognize, even if it’s just a few nouns, articles and expressions of greeting? With a tutor or language exchange partner, can you start to piece together the other words around them to get an idea of the context? Then check: does each episode of the podcast start the same way and use similar vocabulary?
More advanced Portuguese learners will also want to actively listen for content that they can react to in some way, even if they have the podcast on while doing housework or taking transport.
Don’t be afraid to stop podcasts to look up words or phrases or to note down points in the audio that you want to come back to later with a tutor.
Interact with Brazilian podcasts and integrate them into your learning and your life
One classic language learning strategy is to take a list of new vocabulary that you’ve just learned and try to write a short text using each of the items. You can do this with words learned from a Brazilian podcast as well; you may, for example, want to respond to opinions that are expressed in the podcast, or write a summary of what was talked about.
A great, free way to check your use of this vocabulary (as well as your grammar) is to submit your text to Lang-8, which allows learners from all over the world to exchange text corrections with each other.
But don’t let that be the end of your text! Almost all of the podcasts mentioned below encourage (and even beg) their listeners to interact via email, Facebook and/or Twitter. Listen for their handles in the podcast or find them on the websites linked to below and send the hosts a piece of your mind!
The Top 13 Portuguese Podcasts for Language Learners
You can find these by searching for their titles in your podcast player or by following the links to their websites.
Want even more authentic Portuguese listening practice? Spice it up with videos on FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons. A Portuguese learning program is currently in development, so stay tuned for an immersive, authentic way to learn Portuguese coming soon!
Bacanudo is a fun way to say “awesome.”
This podcast is a little bit smarter than drive-time radio, but still consists of loud, fun, informal conversations among a handful of hosts about mainly cultural topics. Fortunately for Portuguese learners, many of the subjects are pretty internationally known; for example, recent conversations have covered live hard rock concerts by international acts, music apps, exported American TV political dramas and digital nomadism.
Journalists and other guests come on the show to talk about their areas of expertise, but (a bit like America’s popular “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast) conversations can wander off into any area of interest for those involved.
If vague pop-philosophical reflections are your thing, this is a podcast to check out.
Host Luciano Pires gives little talks each week on politics, Brazilian culture and the way we live together and form a society. His goal is to enlighten listeners and introduce them to other “personal trainers” for the mind.
If this all gets to be a bit too heady, the podcasts are punctuated by some really great selections of MPB (música popular brasileira, a style of popular music birthed from samba, rock and bossa nova in the 1960s).
This rather irregularly produced but still available podcast by Christian Gurtner is great for history buffs or those curious about culture. In case you were wondering, escriba translates as “scribe.”
Each installment takes you into the life of a particular person or place and attempts to describe the sights and sensations in order to bring them alive. One episode describes early inhabitants of Easter Island, another discusses British author and Lieutenant General Lord Baden-Powell, founder of Boy Scouts of America.
This podcast is of particular value to learners who are earlier on in their Portuguese adventure and want something with clear, slow speech and uncomplicated vocabulary without a lot of slang.
And now, thanks to the title of this podcast, you know the invaluable Portuguese word for “nipple.”
When I asked Paulista (from São Paulo) friends for their top podcast recommendations, this was the one that everyone mentioned. Through conversations and interviews (which feel a lot like informal conversations) Juliana Wallauer and Cris Bartis cover trending topics in politics and culture.
“Trending topics” in Brazil, it turns out, are similar to what people are ranting, tweeting and blogging about globally. The podcast covers feminism, sexuality, Brazilian and international politics, health, Internet free speech and many other topics. While the angle of attack carries a certain emphasis on Brazilian concerns, the episodes are generally on international topics that informed listeners from other parts of the world will already be familiar with.
The tagline for “Mamilos” is “Informação com inteligência, humor, respeito e empatia” (information with intelligence, humor, respect and empathy). As this suggests, the hosts are much more interested in digging into issues than in selling a particular viewpoint (though there’s some of that too). I’ve heard them get some things wrong, but I’ve also heard them go back and correct misinformation from a previous podcast.
Note: Above we’ve linked you to the podcast series’s new website, which should be up and running soon. If it’s not working yet, you can check out their podcasts here.
If you like to listen to smart people discussing literature, this is your podcast. The title translates as “box of stories,” since the podcast opens up with stories and somewhat dramatized readings from books, then offers discussions of the literature, often through interviews with the authors themselves.
The podcast aims to provide a new type of forum for literature appreciation and to draw in new readers. From the point of view of a Portuguese learner, this needn’t be intimidating; it can be actually easier to understand literary language, with all of its shared Latin roots with English, than more informal Portuguese. The host and the authors usually speak relatively slowly and clearly.
The title of this podcast means “garage dragons”; it’s a play on Carl Sagan’s analogy about the unfalsifiability of a belief in a god.
This podcast covers anything and everything in the science world, from biology to linguistics to physics, all at a very basic level for the science-impaired. Even if your Portuguese isn’t perfect, you should still be able to follow. The speakers talk slowly, don’t use a lot of slang and explain scientific terms in common language. Frankly, there’s some annoying background music, but you’ll probably learn to tune this out.
Some of the scientific topics come straight from the headlines. The Zika virus and gravity waves were some recently covered topics sparked by news events. Others are just timeless and fascinating corners of the scientific universe, such as the mathematics of music and the history of the study of birds.
The title of this podcast includes an abbreviation of a phrase that’s a bit raunchier than “oh good golly” but means roughly the same thing.
The conversations on the podcast aren’t particularly vulgar, but they do have some slang and may be harder for some learners to follow, especially since the Portuguese tends to be fast and the audio quality isn’t always pristine.
The interviews and conversations take on all kinds of subjects in pop culture: politics, technology, science, music, visual art, etc. There’s an effort to be on the cutting edge and to understand perspectives from beyond Brazil. The hosts are very active on Twitter and other social media, so this may be a fun podcast for learners to interact with.
8. “Lado Bi”
This podcast is a new discovery for me, but it’s one of my favorites. The title translates as “bi side” and the podcast itself takes on all sorts of topics in the Brazilian and international LGBT communities, ones that are certainly of interest to those beyond these communities.
One recent podcast episode was a look at homosexuality in funk carioca, the style of music that’s a Rio-based, hyper-aggressive answer to Miami bass. This obnoxious form of hip hop is usually seen as sexist and homophobic to say the least, so listening to the episode completely blew my mind. It gave insight into another side of funk carioca and, for that matter, into how any musical style can be reappropriated and expanded.
There are also interviews with important political personalities and writers with interesting perspectives on LGBT issues and far beyond.
9. “Não Ouvo”
This translates as “I don’t hear” and it’s the sister podcast of the famous blog Não Salvo (“I don’t save”).
It’s a wild, noisy humor podcast, and as such may be a challenge for some beginning learners.
The hosts and guests chat around a theme, but also delve into whatever is on their minds. Subjects on episodes have included travel, music, pets and childhood memories. It feels a little like listening in on aimless conversations between close friends. There are some good interludes with Brazilian music.
10. “Pub de Ideias”
For those of you wanting to perfect your drinking Portuguese, this is your podcast.
The hosts sound aim to sound like a couple of guys sitting around in a bar, chatting about whatever is in the news and on their minds. This can include international celebrity gossip, Brazilian news and social trends. While the language is very informal, they speak relatively slowly and the sound quality is good.
This long science podcast (episodes last nearly two hours each) sounds a bit like it’s made for children. If you don’t mind the tone, this can be a good thing for Portuguese learners.
Scientific subjects are explained in a straightforward manner and with lots of detail in what sound like scripted dialogues. Subjects vary widely, but just to give an idea, have included: botany, epidemiology, Marie Curie and even the science of humor.
This science podcast gets quickly into the weeds of all kinds of narrow subjects, but the informal and rather unstructured conversations with guest experts are interesting if you can stay alert.
Some of the topics that I’ve heard covered include the game theory behind rock-paper-scissors, an X-ray space telescope, the science of “Star Trek,” the effect of Brazilian meat consumption on global warming (it’s not what you’d think!) and more.
There are not, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, any quality samba rock podcasts out there at this time (“Samba do Crioulo Doido” was a great one).
“Samba Rock na Veia” isn’t available as a podcast feed, but rather the page above links to a number of mixtapes in SoundCloud and other venues from the most mind-blowing DJs on the Paulista scene. If you’d like to learn Portuguese with Brazil’s (and the planet’s) funkiest music, this is a great place to do it.
There’s so much more out there in the Brazilian podcasting universe to be enjoyed, but I hope that this gives you Portuguese learners plenty of places to dive in.
The Brazilian podcast universe will continue to grow as well, so more and more great podcasts will be born and enrich the Lusophone world.
And that’s all the more motivation to keep perfecting your Portuguese.
Mose Hayward writes about music, podcasts and travel—as well as the best portable Bluetooth speakers for integrating these three beautiful things.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Portuguese with real-world videos.