June 30, 2008

5 Ways to Get Started Learning Portuguese On Your Own

Have you decided or at least thought about learning Portuguese, maybe a while ago, but you don't know a word of it yet? Here are a couple of things you could do right now, without the help of a Portuguese teacher:
1. Get a Teach Yourself Book with audio.You could order one right now from an online vendor... or you could just take a walk and go get a copy from the library for free. There are a lot of books out there that would probably use to get started (check out some possibilities here). I find the Teach Yourself and Living Language books to do a decent job at it (I usually don't use them when I am teaching, and if I do, I find myself doing little corrections and using other sources all the time... but I think they are great if you are doing it on your own), covering basic expressions, conversation with some grammar and cultural notes... If you just want to start by picking up some quick phrases, I find Pimsleur audiobooks to be really great.
A couple of things you should have on your check list: make sure you get a book with accompanying audio, otherwise it will be really tough to pronounce things correctly (even if they try to explain it with phonetic spelling...)... and make sure to get the correct version of Portuguese (if you are here, you are probably going for Brazilian), as Portuguese from Brazil and from Portugal are quite different.
2. Try Language Learning Software.
There are also courses you can do on your computer and it seems that new ones will keep coming up. As with teach yourself style books, language learning software often offers structured programs with progressive ordered lessons you can do in your own pace, but with extras like integration of audio with the text, more interactivity etc... I recommend Mango Languages (Ok, so I work with these guys... but the recommendation is legit :-))... Another very popular option is Rosetta Stone.
3. Look up websites for beginners.You probably already know it: there are tones of stuff on the Internet for free. You could learn some quick words, do one of many quick basic courses around, including a the ones in this great collection of resources. The great thing is that you can start immediately, and for free!... The downside is that these sites are often put up by well intentioned speakers/ learners who may not know much about language teaching, so the content and pedagogy may be all over the place. Unlike teach yourself books and computer software, these are often not well organized into lessons... so I recommend doing 3 in combination with 1, 2 or a teacher (but you could definitely get started now, while you wait for your book to arrive!).
4. Try one of the lessons on YouTube.
As with the websites mentioned in 3, there is a lot of material teaching Portuguese available for free... though here things are really messy! Search for "Portuguese Lesson" and similar term and you will find some potentially funny and other bizarre stuff, as well as lessons. Content and quality varies a lot and, as far as I have seen, tends not to be structured enough to be your main source of learning for a long time... but you can certainly use it to complement your learning or to get started right now! Here are a couple of videos that you may try.
5. Sign Up for a Podcast.
A couple of my students swear by this method (and I can actually see that they have learnt a lot this way!). There seem to be a couple great podcasts out there, mostly free and available immediately! Some of them do offer some structured lessons and are presented in the context of conversations, similar to the basic organization that you often find in self-paced teach yourself books and learning software that I have been mentioning. BrazilianPodClass and BrazilianPortuguesePod seem worth a try.
Now you can just pick one of these 5 and finally start!
P.s.: Let me know how you go (even using your newly acquired Portuguese if you want!).


  1. É claro! (=Of course!). Wikipedia is also a great place to start! Obrigada Roger.

  2. I just started to learn Portuguese, and I use two online language learning communities: livemocha.com and palabea.net

    I have tried some YouTube lessons, but I have never tried the podcasts or audiobooks...I think I'll give those a try some time soon.

    By far, though, the best way that I made significant improvements in my Spanish was by studying in Spain. I guess that means I should go to Brazil and/or Portugal some time soon!

  3. For intermediate-level learning, a good option is to watch portuguese movies. The best way to do this is to watch the movie with portuguese audio and portuguese subtitles. Unfortunately it's hard to come across dvds with portuguese subtitles for a portuguese movie. So... I only just figured out a good way to do this (assuming you're computer-savvy) --
    On opensubtitles.org, search for the movie, e.g. http://www.opensubtitles.org/en/subtitles/3305481/central-do-brasil-en
    and download the .srt file.
    Install VLC player.
    In VLC, open the dvd vob file (or avi file) and add subtitle info using the .srt file you downloaded. If the subtitles are out of sync, you can adjust it by trial and error. Good luck!


Leave a comment!