Even though the English language is mandatory in most Brazilian public schools and students who complete high school have studied English for at least seven years, the number of English speakers in Brazil is still very low and still restricted to some areas and even social classes. Such scenario leaves foreigners with no other alternative than learning Portuguese.
A non-English speaking country
Despite the governmental efforts and the existence of thousands of English schools in Brazil, it is estimated that only 11% of the Brazilian population is capable of communicating in English. This 11% is mostly concentrated in major urban areas. The further you move away from major Southeastern cities, the hardest it is to find English speakers.
São Paulo city, for example, offers several services in English. Several restaurants and cafes have a menu in English, the subway has information in English as well and you might hear an English speaker here and there, but when it comes to doing simple errands such as going to a drug store or even buying your breakfast at a regular bakery, you will have problems.
If a foreigner gets a job in Brazil without speaking Portuguese, he might get around while in the office, but will definitely have problems when facing simple situations such as taking the elevator or asking the maid for some coffee. Another absurd regarding English speaking in Brazil is the fact that at Brazilian public universities, known for receiving hundreds of exchange students every year, most classes are only available in Portuguese.
The hosting of the World Cup and The Olympics has pushed Brazilians to improve their English skills, but a language can’t be learnt over night. In this case, learning Portuguese is the only way to get around in Brazil. Unless you’re willing to have a translator with at all times.
Particularities of the Portuguese Language
You will need to speak some Portuguese from the moment you step your foot in Brazil. If you need information while at the airport, there is a high chance that you will have to speak Portuguese; the same is valid if you need to take a cab or simply buy some coffee.
Portuguese is not a simple language. It has several variations to begin with. The Portuguese you hear in Porto Alegre is very different from what you hear in Recife, even though we’re still talking about the same language.
Also, Portuguese is a declensional language and declension is the major difficulty English speakers face when learning Portuguese. English, for example, is a simple language when compared to Portuguese. It is very hard for English speakers to understand how pronouns are incorporated to verbs or what exactly is the rule for gender when using articles.
What is the best option?
Generally speaking, there are three major options to learn Portuguese in Brazil: private lessons, classroom lessons and online lessons. Find here some of the advantages and disadvantages of these three models:
Positive aspects: pointed out by many students as the most efficient way, private lessons can be easily adapted to your schedule and the content is prepared exclusively for you, so it meets all your demands.
Negative aspects: it is not very easy to find teachers and it can be more expensive than regular classroom lessons, especially if you’re only available on the weekends. It very rarely provides any type of certificate.
Positive aspects: easy to find and mostly cheaper than private lessons. The interaction with other students can be very helpful, especially if you are going to live in Brazil.
Negative aspects: it may take longer to learn as you are expected to work on the same pace of your classmates. You have to be at the school instead of saving some time receiving your teacher at home or wherever you’re available.
Positive aspects: you can study anywhere and at any time, prices tend to be cheaper as well. It is a good first contact with the language and very useful if used along with regular classes.
Negative aspects: this method demands a lot of discipline and a particular affinity for the learning of foreign languages. Online courses are very easy to be left aside.
Important: when choosing for a regular language school, you also have the option of private lessons.
Prices for Portuguese classes vary according to your Portuguese level and to where you are located. Here are some of the prices:
Many courses are offered for free and they can be useful if you have the patience to deal with ads. A paid course costs, in average, BRL 250,00 a month.
Prices increase depending on how far the teacher has to go to meet the student, but general prices range from BRL 80,00 to BRL 120,00 plus transportation costs and additional fees if your classes are at night or on the weekends.
Prices do not differ greatly. We’ve selected four courses, being two of them ministered by universities and the remaining two by language institutes:
- PUC – Pontifícia Universdade Católica: 60 classes of the Language and Culture course per BRL 1450,00;
- Instituto Presbiteriano Mackenzie: BRL 1.339,15 per two classes a week during five months. They can be divided into five installments of BRL 267,83;
- Iowa Language Institute: if taken at the school, each class costs BRL 100,00. If the teacher is required to visit the student, prices vary according to the student’s location;
- Cel-Lep Language Institute: from BRL 1200,00 to BRL 1440,00, depending on the kind of course the student wants to take (if he/she is going to stay in Brazil for a short period of time or if he/she is going to live here).