A Step-by-step Guide to Teaching Yourself Portuguese
Looking for resources to teach yourself Portuguese can feel a little bit like watching infomercials.
There are so many language tools out there competing for your attention with so many different features. Which one’s actually worth your time and money?
In this post, I’ll show you some straightforward steps and effective tools to teach yourself Portuguese.
- Step 1: Research and Prepare
- Step 2: Get Immersed in the Basics
- Step 3: Close in on the Fundamentals
- Step 4: Put Your Knowledge into Practice
- Step 5: Keep at It!
Step 1: Research and Prepare
Recommended timeframe: 40 to 60 minutes over one to two days.
So you’ve decided teach yourself Portuguese. What’s next?
Everything about self-directed learning requires preparation. That’s why this first step is entirely dedicated to planning the approach you’re going to take to your Portuguese studies.
First, you need to take the time to read up on the Portuguese language itself. Take a look at the different dialects out there and decide which is going to be the most useful for you to concentrate on.
Keep in mind that Brazilian Portuguese tends to be favored among learners because it’s easier to grasp—not only because the native accent is clearer than European Portuguese’s, but also due to the fact that European Portuguese vocabulary leans toward old-fashioned conventions (orthographic reforms notwithstanding).
Accessibility of resources is also something to research. Naturally, because Brazilian Portuguese tends to be more popular, there’ll be more textbooks and study materials dedicated to it. That’s not to say European Portuguese learners will be left totally empty-handed—just that the variety of learning opportunities aren’t as widespread.
Explore what’s available online (to get you started, here are guides on Portuguese immersion software programs and Portuguese audio resources) as well as offerings at your local library or school library, if applicable.
Now that you’ve done some background reading and self-reflection, it’s time to start gearing up for the next step. Purchase some writing supplies and flashcards to make notes as you go. You’ll use these to keep a record of new vocabulary words and questions that come up during your studies.
Step 2: Get Immersed in the Basics
Recommended timeframe: 30 to 60 minutes a day, five to six days a week, for eight to ten months.
Now it’s time to begin working on Portuguese language acquisition.
Immersion programs tend to be the most common route when it comes to self-learning. They’re often geared toward beginners and provide the fastest and most thorough introduction to the basics of the Portuguese language.
Immersion programs typically differ according to structure, intensity, pricing, strengths and weaknesses. It’s highly recommended that you do a bit of research (and make use of any free software trials available!) before settling on a specific course.
Ideally, you should choose a program that’ll help you practice listening, reading and pronunciation. Spelling and grammar aren’t as important during these early stages—focus on getting familiar with the sounds, cadences and basic vocabulary/grammar of the language first.
Pay close attention to the way each word is pronounced by native speakers and, wherever possible, try to imitate the sounds that you’re hearing. Always write down any words and phrases that you need to look up or clarify—but like we said, don’t worry too much about spelling these correctly until you’re ready to proceed to the next stage.
Aside from immersion programs, you might also want to explore apps and other non-traditional study tools to diversify your learning and get some additional practice throughout your day. For example, FluentU’s Portuguese program guides you through Brazilian Portuguese by exposing you to authentic Portuguese videos. That means you’re learning the foundations of the language while absorbing the culture of the Portuguese-speaking world right from the get-go.
Continue your practice with these other Portuguese apps and flashcard apps that’ll also help you master foundational vocabulary and grammar concepts.
Step 3: Close in on the Fundamentals
Recommended timeframe: 40 to 60 minutes a day, five days a week, for five to eight weeks.
This is where you’re going to be learning to write like a pro.
Supplement all the immersive lessons you’ve got under your belt with more academic materials. Textbooks, verb guides and dictionaries (physical copies or mobile apps—that’s completely up to you) are the main resources to try.
If you’re using textbooks, remember to read reviews and summaries to ensure you’re choosing one that fits your learning style: some are best suited for more “bookish” learners, others are more visual, a few are geared for early beginners or travelers… as you can see, the options are endless.
Take your time, both with investing in the right study aides and actually nailing those fundamentals. This isn’t a process to be rushed, and you should be very careful not to try to cram too much too soon.
Keep making notes of anything that you’re unfamiliar with or unsure about, and always write down new words and grammatical structures in a way that’s memorable. Coming up with your own sentence examples is great way to practice your writing skills and it’ll help you commit things to memory.
Tracking your progress at this point is also crucial. This is the step where it can be very easy to plateau in your learning, since the concepts become more difficult, you become more aware of your mistakes and the honeymoon period of exploring a new language starts to wear off. Be sure to go back to previous exercises, redo any sections you were having issues with and keep track of mistakes you made earlier that you’ve now overcome.
This won’t just ensure that you keep learning throughout this step, it’ll also help you keep a positive attitude by showing that you’re making progress, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.
Step 4: Put Your Knowledge into Practice
Recommended timeframe: 30 to 60 minutes a day, ongoing.
You’re well on your way to becoming an advanced speaker now! That can only mean one thing—it’s time to make your learning more authentic.
Because let’s face it: there’s no point in doing all this hard work if you’re not going to use the language in real-life interactions. You might have an end goal to travel to a Portuguese-speaking country, or maybe you’ve got some Brazilian friends you would love to surprise with your newly-acquired skills—whatever your motivation, getting that “human” side under your belt will ultimately make all that practice worth it.
It’s so easy to make this transition too. At this point you’re more than ready to really start familiarizing yourself with authentic Portuguese culture, and there are a wealth of resources to help you do so. Not only will you boost your exposure to native Portuguese speech and writing, but you’ll also get a window into the issues, slang, pop culture and perspectives of the Portuguese-speaking world—giving you plenty to talk about with native speakers!
Your goal is to alternate between practicing listening, reading, speaking and writing, in a way that naturally fits with your daily schedule. The more you do it, the easier it gets—and before you know it, you’re going to be all set for communicating with the natives like a pro!
Need help getting started? Here are a few ideas to try:
- Listen to podcasts and songs from Brazil or Portugal during your daily commute. Try tuning into a Portuguese-language radio station as well.
- Watch Portuguese YouTube videos, Netflix movies and cartoons. Start with subtitles if you need them, but focus on weaning yourself off having to read the translations.
- Read online magazines, blogs and books in Portuguese. While you’re at it, try a few Portuguese-language games, too.
What about speaking practice, you ask? There are plenty of ways to approach it:
- Look on Meetup.com to see if there are any real-life language exchanges or groups in your area.
- If that sounds too daunting, try an online language exchange site/app like Tandem.
- For something more learning-focused, try a tutoring service like Wyzant. This is a great resource for finding both online tutors and local Portuguese tutors in your area. You’ll be able to browse a list of tutors and select one who’s trained to cater to your specific learning needs.
Not only will you get essential speaking practice just by interacting with your Wyzant tutor, you’ll also be receiving a personalized education that’ll quickly kick you into the next step of learning.
Phew! With all this work under your belt, it’s only fair that we move on to our final stage.
Step 5: Keep at It!
Recommended timeframe: As often and as long as you like.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You’ve established a healthy study routine! Now you just need to keep practicing and honing your skills.
While there are no strict rules for this stage of learning, it’s important to remember the old saying: use it or lose it! Without continued, consistent practice, your Portuguese skills can quickly start to slip away. So it’s vital to think of ways to keep using Portuguese that align with your schedule and lifestyle.
Whether that means investing in advanced educational materials, keeping your memory fresh by doing language worksheets each night, ramping up your exposure to authentic Portuguese content or even getting on a plane to Brazil or Portugal, you’ve got all the tools and skills needed to attain Portuguese fluency.
On that note, it’s time to start investing in your learning! Good luck and enjoy teaching yourself everything you need to know about the beautiful Portuguese language.