Why I’m learning Portuguese, and how

The city of Lisbon with the Castelo São Jorge overlooking the red rooftops.

A lot of posts I see in Facebook groups for people interested in moving to Portugal ask questions about learning the Portuguese language. Many of the replies comment on Portuguese being a difficult language. I disagree. Why? Let me count the ways.

Portuguese is what they call a “Romance language” – this has nothing to do with love – it merely means it is a language that evolved from Latin, the language we commonly associate with the Romans. As such, it is similar to French, Spanish and Italian. So, if you have a knowledge of any of these other languages, you have a head start on learning Portuguese.

Another point I’d like to make about learning Portuguese. If you have learned any other language, you have a basic grasp of what I call the “mechanics” of a language. It’s not unlike knowing how to use a hammer and screwdriver, power tools, working with engines or mathematics. If you understand the big picture – why doing A and B in the right order will get you to C – you can apply the same logic from one language to another.

Written Portuguese looks quite similar to Spanish. If you can read Spanish you can probably figure out a lot of what you read in Portuguese. However, the pronunciation is radically different. A lot of English speakers think Portuguese sounds like a slavic language. A Bulgarian woman I met recently disagreed completely. Still, the sh and zh sounds in Portuguese sure sounded like Russian to me the first time I heard it.

Questions to ask yourself

In the end, a lot depends on the individual. Is learning to speak the local language important to you? Do you see that as part of accommodating to a new country, culture and lifestyle? Are you committed to making the effort to learn? Many people in Portugal speak English so it is relatively easy to get by without having more than a few phrases. However, not knowing any Portuguese can be a huge drawback if you find yourself out in the country and need to buy something or get some vital service and no one in the village speaks any English.

A few resources

So, how do you learn Portuguese? I first visited this country in 2011 and was so smitten that I immediately enrolled in a class through my local university’s continuing education program. Unfortunately the class was dropped after the first semester for lack of participants. I went looking online. Babbel.com offers Portuguese among its selections. Be warned, it is the Brazilian version of the language. Think–learning British English versus US English versus Australian English– you get the idea. The accent is different, some grammar and many words are different.

I see many comments on the Facebook groups that seem to advise against learning Brazilian Portuguese. I disagree. There are thousands of Brazilians living in Portugal and you will hear it here, especially in big cities like Lisbon or Porto. The lessons offered by Babbel deal with real life situations, they are easy to follow and fun! The monthly subscription is just under $13, less if you sign up for several months.

Duolingo is an app you can use for free on your smartphone. This also is Brazilian but it is helpful and it nags you daily to keep practicing. Memrise is another app you can use on your phone. It offers continental Portuguese.

For the Portuguese spoken in Portugal, I found the best experience with Practice Portuguese. This is a great website started by two guys, Rui and Joel who offer videos, short conversations with text and translations, extensive information on verbs and a wealth of other useful material. Absolutely great for listening and learning. A subscription costs a little under $20, or 15 Euro per month. The videos and conversations are lively and informative. Well worth the time, expense and effort.

Many people rely on Google translate to translate from English into Portuguese. But often you can come up with some very weird results. Some other alternatives worth trying are Deepl. The website Linguee is an online dictionary.

Follow my blog for more about daily life in Portugal!


2 thoughts on “Why I’m learning Portuguese, and how

    1. I use Portuguese frequently in my daily shopping and errands. My comprehension is improving steadily and I have simple conversations with my Portuguese neighbors. But I have a long way to go to get to the fluency I want to achieve. Good luck


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