What’s the Best Way to Learn Brazilian Portuguese?
“What’s the best way to learn Brazilian Portuguese?”
If you’re asking yourself this question, chances are that you already missed out on the best chance to speak Portuguese proficiently — being born in Brazil and educated in our educational system.
Not that it would make you a great speaker — far from it — but at least you would speak it without effort.
But if you’re here, you’re looking for guidance to learn Portuguese.
I’ve been teaching students online since 2016. I’ve seen a lot and learned a lot from them. And I’m going to share with you here the best strategies I gathered from them.
Have a good reason to do it.
No, I’m not talking about some metaphysical motivation like “change the world” or “connect with my friends on a deeper personal level.”
Of course, these are very good reasons. But you don’t wake up thinking about connecting with people. That’s an underlying motivation. What you need is something that you can see on the surface level.
Something like: I want to have fun speaking Portuguese. Or, I want to be able to read Paulo Coelho in the original. Or even: I want to muster up the courage to speak with that person in Portuguese.
You might think those are simplistic or even stupid. “Having fun? Please give me a break.”
But if I told you how many of my students learn Portuguese because they like the sounds of it…
Or because they have some free time and want to take up a new hobby…
Or they want to be able to speak with colleagues at school…
You wouldn’t be surprised — you would see the reality.
So, search inside yourself for the answer. The reason might be just having fun. Or, it might be “impressing my friends.”
All you need is to believe it. If you do, it will be a good enough reason for you to move on.
Extra tip — have something that represents your reason and put it somewhere you can see. You may print out a picture of the place in Brazil that you like. You could also pin that WhatsApp contact so you always send him or her a message in the morning. Something that reminds you why you’ve been doing that.
Oh, and to hell with that thing about S.M.A.R.T. goals. Being S.M.A.R.T. is interesting but it doesn’t help us — we aren’t professional language learners. We’re regular folks who enjoy learning languages.
S.M.A.R.T. goals are nice (for other purposes). But here, you just add complexity where it doesn’t belong.
Have a Portuguese teacher.
A professional teacher can help you find shortcuts and optimize your time.
Of course, you can fumble and grope and find your way in learning Portuguese. It might even be fun.
The problem is, if you keep walking in circles — not seeing progress, not achieving anything — giving up starts looking like a plausible option.
A teacher will help you out with that.
Of course, a teacher’s role is mainly teaching you — but he or she is going to help you keep the motivation going forward. It’s a good chance for you to get a human connection (which is necessary) in a professional way.
You can avoid frustration and also a waste of time. You want to progress at last a little day by day.
Of course, if you cannot afford to have a professional teacher guide you, partnering up with native or non-native speakers of Portuguese can help.
And failing that, you can always rely on your smartphone.
Do most of your reading in Portuguese.
I know how hard this can be. I’ve been trying to that in Chinese and I confess — it’s hard.
It’s hard because the texts I’m reading aren’t adapted.
They aren’t really for learners but rather for proficient readers.
If that’s a problem, you can always rely on our sister website to help you with reading.
As I have said before, reading is the second-best thing to improving your Portuguese and making it fun. Better than that, only coming to Brazil and engaging in conversations with people.
Reading Portuguese benefits you in many ways.
You widen your vocabulary — a requirement if you are to express yourself the way you would express your ideas in your native language.
You become a faster reader — which in turn increases motivation. It’s a virtuous circle.
You absorb the culture — and can finally have meaningful conversations with people who grew up immersed in the Brazilian culture.
Listen to Brazilian Portuguese podcasts.
It goes without saying that podcasts are one of the most engaging media nowadays.
According to Smallbizgenius, “51% of the US population older than 12 have listened to a podcast at least once.”
And Statista states that the number of listeners in the US alone will go to a whopping 160 million in 2023.
Why not do that in Portuguese?
Podcasts present an added benefit to you.
If you’ve been learning from reading, you might get bored sometimes. Listening to a podcast changes that.
If the speakers are engaging, you can find yourself listening to the podcasts for hours on end.
And because spoken Brazilian Portuguese and written Brazilian Portuguese are two separate languages, you get to learn how we actually speak when we interact with people.
And please bear in mind: although they are separate languages, they coexist in Brazil. So need to learn both anyway.
And if you want to have the best lineup of Brazilian podcasts to improve your Portuguese even faster, visit our hand-picked podcasts.
Keep a journal in Portuguese.
If you’ve been doing most of your reading in Portuguese, it stands to reason that you want to use that vocabulary somewhere.
You might not be able to put your vocabulary to use immediately in a conversation. Your friends might be working — are you may not have any Portuguese speaking friends. That is, as a say here in Brazil, a bucket load of cold water.
That might be a problem, but you can always get a legal pad and a pen and write your thoughts in Portuguese.
At first it will feel awkward. You can write in Portuguese with the same ease that you have in English. You may second guess yourself all the time. Sentences don’t come to you naturally.
That is expected. It is said, spoken Portuguese and written Portuguese are two different languages. If you are learning how to speak, you have to listen. And if you are learning how to write, you have to read.
If you’ve been reading, write some “reactions” to what you’ve read. It might be a couple of lines using the vocabulary from the original source.
Little by little, you progress to longer sentences and better-developed paragraphs.
Then, your paragraphs may add up to a short essay.
And — who knows? — You might end up writing a whole book in Portuguese.
Okay, writing a book might be a long stretch. That’s why you write only a paragraph every day.
Don’t know what to write about? How about checking some of these stories?
Keep a schedule.
John and Jane meet up every week on Friday for dinner.
Catherine plays Scrabble with her kids every night after work.
When you subscribe to a magazine, you learn to expect that month’s copy on the same day every month. Any start looking for that in your mailbox when it doesn’t arrive on time.
If you view learning Portuguese as a hobby, that’s a very good thing. You can do it when it strikes your fancy. But even a hobby needs consistency.
If you don’t have time to learn every day, don’t keep yourself in the booty. Don’t be so harsh. You can still learn if you have only two days a week to keep on learning.
The most important thing is to be consistent.
Think of Romeo and Juliet.
If Romeo had said he would be there but then forgot about the meeting…
Or Juliet decided last minute she needed to visit her aunts instead of meeting with Romeo…
There would have been no romance and no story.
Your brain works like that. It starts to expect things to happen at the same time with the same frequency.
If you do make it to your appointment with your brain, it rewards you in turn.
You start to feel good about yourself. Your dopamine levels spike up.
But then, if you fail to show up, your brain thinks you are not interested. And it doesn’t give you an incentive for you to move on.
And that’s when the remote control gets so enticing… when you feel a strange urge to open the refrigerator and look inside without thinking.
(By the way, if you want to garden some more ideas, check out this article from the University of Pennsylvania. It helped me a lot.)
These six tips have worked for me when learning other languages and have helped students in learning Portuguese.
Do you agree with them? Do you have any other best way to learn Portuguese? Share it with us in the comments section below.