How I learned to speak Portuguese in 8 weeks
I had generally held the belief that learning a second language was a complete waste of time.
In primary school, I was given no choice but to learn Italian. I’m happy to report that I graduated with the ability to speak 10 colours and 5 animals. Almost fluent. I completed three more years of Italian study in high school before finally being given the opportunity to throw my ‘Forza’ textbook in the bin and never say another Italian word. Apart from pizza, and lasagne, and spaghetti. Anyway, you know what I mean.
Ten years later and my stance on learning languages had changed significantly. Being lucky enough to have visited a few dozen countries, I had learned first-hand how beneficial it can be to speak more than just English.
It was now 2016 and I had planned a 4-week holiday to Brazil. One month before I arrived in the country, I could speak almost no Portuguese, except from açai or bossa nova. By the time my Brazilian holiday was over a few weeks later, I was able to understand and converse with the locals at a very workable level.
So how did I do it? Here are three tried and tested tips that got me all the way from zero to brasileiro.
1. Get addicted to the Duolingo language learning mobile app
Duolingo is the best language learning app I have used. It’s free and has dozens of languages available to learn. The app utilises the power of gamification to change behaviour and motivate you to spend hours and hours in the pursuit of learning a language. A very noble cause.
When I collected my Brazilian visa from the embassy, I realised that I had only 4 weeks to learn as much as I could before touching down in the country. I started the Portuguese course on Duolingo and completed as many learning modules as I could. I found a cadence that worked for me and pushed myself to spend many hours studying.
2. Download every single audio podcast lesson you can find
PortuguesePod101 is a comprehensive collection of audio lessons from absolute beginner all the way through to advanced. Each lesson lasts approximately 15 minutes and consists of a short dialogue, vocabulary list and grammar explanation — a standard language-learning format. The guys that make these audio lessons also teach over 35 other languages and the prices are very reasonable.
Before I boarded a plane for Brazil I uploaded over 100 lessons onto my phone. Many of my destinations in Brazil were beachside towns and I was able to cram in many audio lessons as I lay on the sand watching the waves roll in. Personally, I find listening and comprehension to be the hardest part of learning a language and so one of my objectives with these audio lessons was to immerse myself in the sounds of Brazilian voices.
3. Talk to locals as much as possible (in Portuguese, of course)
‘Talking’ may seem like a bit of a no-brainer, but I can’t stress enough the importance that it holds. Just by being ‘in’ a country won’t help you to magically learn the language. You need to absolutely go 100% and use every opportunity possible to practise. This means taxis, public transport, cafes, meetups, pubs, parties etc.
Rather than staying in hotels, I slept on the couches of locals and socialised with them and their friends. Luckily, many of these hosts did not speak English and I was forced to communicate in Portuguese (or sign language).
One of the other ways that I accelerated my learning was to force myself to think in the language. For example, if I felt thirsty, then I would translate that phrase into Portuguese and then try and think of as many words associated with drinking as I could. If I was unable to think of many words, I would make a note that I needed to study more about drinking.
As easy as um, dois, três (1, 2, 3)
So that’s it!
After a month travelling throughout Brazil, seeing the sights and meeting the locals, I was actually able to speak the Portuguese language. While I wasn’t quite at professor level yet, I was however able to buy a sim card, order food, make small talk and ask for directions.
Learning a language isn’t easy and requires many hours of study time. But it’s worth it. Like many things in life, if it were easy to accomplish, the prize wouldn’t be as rewarding when you attain it.
My final piece of advice is to start small. Build a habit through daily 5-minute sessions and build on from there. Stick at it, and in no time you’ll be able to order caipirinhas like a Copacabana local.
- What’s your number 1 tip for learning a language?
- Have you used Duolingo before? Did it help you to stay motivated?