Learning Portuguese can be a very difficult task, especially depending on your native language. Learn in this article some particularities of the Portuguese language and some tips to improve your learning.
Portuguese is not an “economic” language. If Brazilians who are learning English, for example, complain that one single word has got too many meanings; in Portuguese we have too many words for only one meaning, what leads to a vocabulary accumulation.
Also, Portuguese has got particularities regarding gender and verb declension. As an example, let’s take these two words “menino” and “menina”: the first one refers to “boy” and the other one to “girl". If we think about these two words we will see that the only difference between them is the last letter, so we can assume that nouns ending in “o” are masculine and nouns ending in “a” are feminine. However, how to explain that there is no apparent rule for words ending in “e” in the sense that “ponte” (bridge) is feminine and “pente” (comb) is masculine?
As articles determine gender in Portuguese, it is necessary to know if the word is feminine or masculine before using the article and as we saw, the rule is not precise. Because of this, we will hear foreigners saying funny sentences such as “o menina” and “a pente”.
What are the major issues when learning Portuguese?
When living in Brazil, foreigners do not have too many options but learning Portuguese. If a foreigner is married to a Brazilian (what represents the majority of the cases), he/she will have a good source of learning, but just like Brazilians who are native speakers go to school to learn Portuguese, foreigners are expected to go too.
Also, there is the question of time. If you as a foreigner has decided to live in Brazil it is assumed that you need to work and you need it fast, so you do not have the time required to learn the language in a family environment, for example. You will have certain priorities that will determine what to learn first depending on what your activities are.
If you are already working, it is important to be familiar with some business vocabulary. However, as your life will not be restricted to your profession, you should learn some basic vocabulary and expressions as you will need to do some errands such as stopping by the grocery store or telling the bartender that your coffee is sugar-free.
How to deal with the lack of time?
As previously mentioned, most foreigners coming to Brazil do not have the time to learn the Portuguese language before engaging on everyday activities, so the process of learning happens simultaneously to the process of merging into the Brazilian culture.
A good solution for this problem is to have in-company classes. According to Pamella Mendes, from “Your Choice Tradução e Consultoria em Idiomas”, this option saves time and money and can also be extended to the student’s house. Still according to her, each student goes through an interview in which his/her primary needs are identified and used as the main scope of study to be approached in the classes. So, for example, if you run a restaurant, your classes will prioritize a vocabulary that differs from the one of an accountant.
The advantage of private Portuguese lessons is that the whole material selected for the class as well as the content will be based on the student’s interests and needs. Also, classes are scheduled according to the availability of the student, so that he/she does not waste money because it was not possible to be at the school every Tuesday evening, for example.
Another point that must considered is the possibility to have your classes online. For example, let’s say you had scheduled your class for today at 7pm, but then you realize it will take a bit longer to leave the office. You have the option to call your teacher and ask for an online lesson.
Tips to improve your learning
Foreigners in Brazil have the advantage of being in an environment that favors the use of the language, so there is not that terrible risk of learning something and forgetting it very quickly due to the lack of usage. But apart from being able to practice, it is also essential to have the support of teachers in a way that is not restricted to classes.
Some tips that would help you becoming familiar with the Portuguese language are:
- Pay attention to everything you see written on the streets. Especially on the subways and other places where an English translation is provided;
- Stop by the newsstand and try to read the headlines. The images displayed will help you constructing the meaning;
- When going to the grocery store, pay attention to what are the names registered on the stamps. This way you will be able to create a link between the Portuguese word and the object itself and not just between the Portuguese word and its translation to your native language;
- Watch TV, even if you do not like it. When watching it, make sure you have the “closed caption” mode (available in most free-to-air channels) activated as it would create a direct relation between the sound and the written form of the words. Also, soap operas can be very helpful as they tend to reproduce very well how Brazilians really speak (although mostly with an accent from Rio de Janeiro).
Is there any guarantee of my learning?
There are several English schools in Brazil that promise to their students that in the period of 15 months they will be completely fluent in a foreign language (mostly English), however, there is no way to guarantee such achievement.
Evaluation must be gradual and never restricted to tests and papers. The teacher must be able to provide an environment in which the student will feel comfortable to ask questions and to expose what his/her difficulties are. Also, it is the teacher's responsibility to encourage the student to practice what he/she has learned.
Each student has its own difficulties and levels of dedication to the learning of a foreign language. Only going to the classes three hours a week will very hardly make you confident while speaking a foreign language. The key is to put into practice what you have learned.