Think of a good Portuguese textbook as a guide into the wild jungle of the Portuguese language—a guide who knows all of the shortcuts and tricks to navigating this difficult terrain.
Have you found yours yet?
The best textbooks out there for learning Portuguese have grammar explanations that are neither too complicated nor too simple, have sample dialogues and exercises that allow you to experience the language as it’s actually used, and provide key cultural insights that motivate you and help you actually function in a Lusophone country.
Fine, you say, but which Portuguese textbook is the best?
We’ve got five of the hottest recommendations here, but the right one for you is going to depend on a few factors.
Finding the Best Portuguese Textbook for You
In spite of the best efforts of language reforms, Portuguese still has quite a few differences in grammar, vocabulary and especially pronunciation between the various countries and regions where it’s spoken.
This means that the first decision you have to make is which variety of Portuguese you want to learn. A textbook devoted to Brazilian Portuguese is a terrible idea for someone who wants to speak to people in Portugal and vice versa.
Another consideration to take into account is your learning goal.
Do you want to just be able to get by on a first trip to Rio or do you plan to stay there for years? Do you need to be able to write formal Portuguese for academic or business situations or do you want to know what’s being said at the world’s hottest parties and dance contests (where Portuguese is spoken, of course!)?
Finally, consider how you learn best. Are you someone who learns by taking apart grammar systematically, piece by piece, or do you want lots of practice based on situations of gradually increasing complexity?
Maybe you’re a visual learner who learns the best by watching engaging videos and picking up the language in a more authentic way? If last one describes you to a T, then you don’t need a textbook—you need FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Please note that our Brazilian Portuguese program is still in development, and European Portuguese is not yet available.
Stay tuned for an immersive, authentic way to learn Portuguese, coming soon!
Depending on how you answer all of these questions, the best book for you might be quite different from the best book for your fellow learners.
As I go through the suggestions below, I’ll outline who each book is best for, but it’s wise to go into this with a strong sense of your goals, style and dialect choice to ensure that you’ll choose a book that perfectly matches you.
The 5 Best Brazilian and European Portuguese Textbooks for Any Learner
“Complete Portuguese” or “Complete Brazilian Portuguese”
These Portuguese textbooks feature 24 chapters, each of which introduces you to realistic situations that you might encounter when you find yourself in a Portuguese-speaking country.
You listen to the chapter’s dialogue on the CD first, and then again while reading it in the textbook. This is followed by notes on vocabulary, grammar and culture that are meant to lead you into being able to produce written and especially spoken language yourself in similar situations.
The grammar explanations focus on just getting you to be able to communicate well, and aren’t built to make sure you satisfy the requirements of, say, a university Portuguese exam.
I love this method—in fact, it’s from my favorite series of language books—but as a grammar geek I wished there were even more written exercises and grammar reference material. If you’re like me, you may want to supplement this with one or more of the books below.
But this book by itself is perfectly adequate for beginning learners who want to get to a conversational level of Portuguese quickly.
These language guides are especially ideal for self-motivated learners who also work with language exchange partners or tutors on italki. They provide a solid frame of reference so that learners can get feedback on their ability to produce the phrases that they’re learning in each chapter.
“Complete Portuguese” teaches both European and Brazilian Portuguese, while the Brazilian version is only for learners focusing on that dialect. Be sure to buy the versions (as linked to) with the audio CDs, as the books are also sometimes sold without them.
“A Grammar of Spoken Brazilian Portuguese”
This oldie-but-goodie is easy to come by used and for cheap, as it often gets assigned in university classes.
I found it to be great fun, as it’s the only guide I’ve ever used that focuses on the grammar of spoken Brazilian Portuguese. That’s right, not written. And no, it’s not a book of slang expressions.
This is probably not the first book you want to start with, unless you already have a lot of experience learning languages and/or a good understanding of grammar terms. But it’s great for intermediate learners and beyond who are looking for shortcuts to improve their listening and speaking with Brazilians by studying a bit of the grammar of the language as it’s actually spoken.
“European Portuguese Grammar” or “Brazilian Portuguese Grammar”
If you’re terrified of grammar and/or new to language learning, these two options are great stress-free guides to Portuguese grammar.
These books refuse to even employ terms like “noun,” “pronoun” and “conjugation.” Rather, they set up other categories of words and rules for how they can work together to impart meaning.
While that could be problematic if you want to use these books in conjunction with other books or with teachers who are unfamiliar with the method, their slow, friendly, hand-holding style will be comforting for some.
“Living Language Brazilian Portuguese, Complete Edition”
This book is notable mainly for providing a huge quantity of lessons, practice and accompanying audio (in the form of nine CDs). The focus is on everyday Brazilian Portuguese and in making sure you acquire the most commonly used vocabulary. Some grammar is there, but it isn’t the main focus.
This option would be particularly useful for those whose Portuguese has gotten a bit rusty and want to do a thorough review, as well as for those who want a supplement to “Complete Brazilian Portuguese” that offers more practice exercises, basic vocabulary and much more audio to listen to.
There’s also an “Essential Edition” which offers just the opening material in a cheaper package for beginners, and an online version that offers the same material as the complete edition plus even more exercises—but is much more expensive.
“Falar… Ler… Escrever… Português: Um Curso para Estrangeiros” (“Speak… Read… Write… Portuguese: A Course for Foreigners”)
A lot of learners already speak Spanish or other Romance languages when they decide to tackle Portuguese, and so they can already understand the written language quite a bit when they start. If that’s the case for you, then this Portuguese-only guide might be perfect.
It focuses on Brazilian Portuguese and has the same basic structure as the Complete guides (see my first recommendation)—dialogues are followed by notes on grammar, vocabulary and culture.
I used an earlier edition of this book over a decade ago, and I still fondly remember it in particular for its cultural notes, which proved invaluable for understanding why certain song lyrics were so important, or the types of conversations one might have in Brazil.
There’s also an accompanying “Livro de Exercícios” (workbook)—check the link for availability.
There are lots more Brazilian and European Portuguese textbooks out there to choose from.
If you don’t find a perfect match for you among these suggestions, I hope you can at least use them as a basis for making sure the textbook you find for learning Portuguese does deliver on what you’ll need.
Boa sorte (good luck) with your journey into the wilds of the Brazilian language!
Mose Hayward not only learned to speak Portuguese fluently, but to open wide and slobber like crazy for the perfect Brazilian kiss.