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5 Very Good, Very Specific Tips To Learn Portuguese

Do you want to succumb to the charms of Portuguese? We have 5 specific tips to help you start speaking the language more easily.
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5 Very Good, Very Specific Tips To Learn Portuguese
 Have you ever experienced that first feeling of understanding someone who’s speaking a foreign language? Or the feeling of being able to communicate with this person and be understood? That first breakthrough moment is an amazing feeling, and it typically follows months of effort. Once, I had a student who wanted to take a sabbatical in Brazil, so he took Portuguese classes for three months. When he arrived in Brazil, he took a taxi from the airport and gave the instructions in English, but the driver answered in Portuguese and started to chat with him. My student said he automatically changed to Portuguese without noticing. Afterward, he was so happy at this exchange that he called me immediately, even though it was the middle of the night here!

As an English speaker, you can usually be understood all over the world, but communicating in English also means you miss the experience of moments like these. However, if you’re reading this article, you’re already one step closer to discovering the delights of Portuguese. To give you a kick-start, I’ve gathered some specific tips that I always give to my English-speaking students learning Portuguese in the hope they will help you speak and understand the language more easily. Here are my top five:

 

Find Romance In Unexpected Places

 

You might already know that Portuguese is a Romance language, which means that it has its origins in Latin. But how can you take advantage of this while learning Portuguese? The answer is pretty simple: If you already know another language from this family (like French, Italian, or especially Spanish), you’ll be able to transfer some of your knowledge into Portuguese — many words and grammatical structures are similar among these languages.

 

But even if Portuguese is the very first foreign language you’re learning, you’ll see that romance is in the air — everywhere! Yes, English has many words borrowed from Latin and other Romance languages, which means… (ta-dah!) things will be a bit easier for you. I can prove it, too. Take a look at the sentences below:

 

  •  “Oscar Niemeyer foi um arquiteto famoso.
  •  “Meu português é fluente.
  •  “Que filme fantástico!

 

How many of the words above could you identify? More than you thought you would, right? So use this power you have: If you see or hear any words in Portuguese that sound familiar, be alerta to similaridades. Besides that, pay extra attention to certain English suffixes that have a Portuguese counterpart:

 

  •  -tion/-ção — emoçãodigestãocelebração
  •  -ty/-idade — honestidadequantidade, maturidade
  •  -ly/-mente — originalmenteidealmenteliteralmente

 

Learning these kinds of suffixes will help you improve your vocabulary extremely quickly. Needless to say, the rules above have loads of exceptions (and some false cognates), but they’re still pretty handy, especially at the beginning of your learning journey.

 

More Than A Decorative Accent

 

I assume that you not only want to learn a foreign language but that you also want to speak it flawlessly. It’s only natural. Most people are under the impression that fluency has to do with pronouncing words and sentences exactly like native speakers. Well, getting as close as possible to the sounds of the language is nice, but it shouldn’t be a source of stress. Just start slowly, making sure you can be understood.

 

The good news is that there’s something in Portuguese that can help a lot with your pronunciation: graphic accents. I’m talking about those marks written above a letter which are not there for decorative purposes. They play a very important role in pronunciation by indicating lexical stress. There are three graphic accents that help you identify which part of the word should be stressed, and how you should pronounce it:

 

  •  Acute accent — [ ´ ] You will find it combined with all the vowels. In the case of “e” and “o,” it indicates that those are open, like “bed” and “off” in English.
  •  Circumflex accent — [ ^ ] Only used in combination with âê, and ô. Combined with “e” and “o,” it shows that their pronunciation is closed, like in “hey” and “go.”
  •  Tilde — [~] Only used with ã and õ. This makes the vowels sound nasal.

 

Don’t panic if you don’t know where the word is stressed. Listen to people when they talk or take a look at a dictionary. The really good ones show you exactly how each word is pronounced.

 

The Clue Is At The End

 

There’s no way to learn Portuguese without talking about gender. Given that most English words have no gender, it might take a bit more time to get used to this concept, but let me show you that it’s easy to understand.

 

Portuguese has two grammatical genders. When taking notes, you can use different colors to mark them — this way you can recall that information faster. You can use this technique even without paper — making those associations in your head can also be very effective.

 

But while this trick is very useful, it doesn’t help if you don’t know whether a word is feminine or masculine. So here is a little secret: The clue is at end of the word. Portuguese nouns ending in “-a” are generally feminine, while those ending in “-o” tend to be masculine. Knowing that is enough to guess the right gender in most cases (as always, there are exceptions). But be aware, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes in the beginning! Instead of giving up, just laugh at them and see them as an opportunity to learn. With a bit of training and the tricks above, you’ll improve very quickly.

 

Everybody Wants To Rule The Words

 

We want it all, and we want it now, right? Every time I started learning a language, I wanted to be able to conjugate verbs very very quickly. Portuguese has thousands of verbs, so you won’t be able to learn all of them at the beginning, let alone conjugate them. Knowing which ones you don’t need to learn is a good start. After that, you need to know which verbs you should learn first. Here are my top three: ser (to be), estar (to be), and ir (to go).

 

Ser is necessary for describing things and people, like “Você é inteligente!” (You’re intelligent!). You’ll need estar to say how you feel, like with “Eu estou feliz” (I’m happy). The last verb, ir, means “to go,” but it’s used to talk about things in the future, as in “Nós vamos falar português” (We are going to speak Portuguese).

 

As a bonus tip, here are the top 3 verb tenses: First, the presente, which is… you guessed it, the present tense! It’s used to express customs, habits or a general statement, like “Eu aprendo português” (I learn Portuguese). You’ll also need the pretérito perfeito if you want to talk about things that happened in the past, such as “Eu aprendi português” (I learned Portuguese). Now we’re only missing something to express the future, which happens to be the easiest one to learn. Do you remember the verb ir? Just combine it with another verb in the infinitive and voilà! (Oops, that’s French!) Let me give you an example: “Eu vou aprender português” (I’m going to learn Portuguese).

 

Other verb tenses are also important, but these are the perfect ones to start with.

 

Get A Social Life

 

Brazilians love to support learners of Portuguese! We feel honored that you have chosen our language out of the many others that exist. We think it’s so nice and sweet that you’re putting effort into learning it that we feel we should give something back. Brazilians also love something else: social media. We spend a lot of time on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and others. Now that you know about these two Brazilian passions, you’ve probably guessed what my last tip is, right? Look for Brazilians online, follow them, get into their groups, etc. Don’t be afraid to participate — I’m sure you’ll find friends or even a tandem partner in no time. Of course, traveling to Brazil is even more effective, but that option doesn’t always fit into everyone’s budget. Practicing online is a great alternative that will allow you to communicate from the very beginning.

Continue learning Portuguese today!
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Camila Rocha Irmer
Born and raised in a city close to Rio de Janeiro, Camila never imagined she'd live in Berlin. Her degree in languages enabled her to learn German quickly and her work at Babbel gives her the chance to share her strategies. Personally, her aversion to small talk has never prevented from being a people person. Camila is probably the stranger you spontaneously confide your darkest secrets to on a bus ride, as well as the one you ask to organize a karaoke night, dance contest or board-game event.
Born and raised in a city close to Rio de Janeiro, Camila never imagined she'd live in Berlin. Her degree in languages enabled her to learn German quickly and her work at Babbel gives her the chance to share her strategies. Personally, her aversion to small talk has never prevented from being a people person. Camila is probably the stranger you spontaneously confide your darkest secrets to on a bus ride, as well as the one you ask to organize a karaoke night, dance contest or board-game event.
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