It is one thing to learn a language and another to master and attain fluency in the language. Portuguese, although not among the top five languages, remains an intriguing yet somewhat difficult language to learn. The language has approximately 274 million speakers globally, with 250 million as natives and 24 million as L2 speakers. Your approach to learning Portuguese would determine whether your learning would be progressive or retrogressive.

Depending on your native language, Portuguese has easy and difficult areas. For a native English speaker, for instance, mastering the Portuguese alphabet is easy. This is because English and Portuguese share the same 26 letters. Some challenging areas, however, include pronunciation, reading, writing, and spelling.

Apart from the confusion of which variant to learn, English natives who choose to learn Brazilian Portuguese would have difficulty pronouncing words correctly. This is because, while English has a stress-timed rhythm and uses intonation, Brazilian Portuguese has a syllable-timed rhythm and is tonal in nature.

Thus, an English native whose speech organs are used to stressing, unstressing, and reducing syllables would have to learn how to stress every syllable in Brazilian Portuguese. Let's discuss a productive approach to learning the basics of Portuguese.

Read books daily. Photo Credit: Unsplash.

How to Learn the Portuguese Alphabet

As stated earlier, English speakers have no business learning the Portuguese alphabet. For non-English speakers, however, some learning techniques have proven effective in mastering the alphabet.

Note that the alphabet is the building block of any language. Thus, if you want to learn Portuguese, it's important you begin with the 26 letters of the language.

  • For easy mastery, begin with the five vowel letters "A, E, I, O, U". Once you've mastered this, proceed to the 21 consonants. You can split them into groups of three. Don't rush it! You're not competing with anyone. If you learn the alphabet haphazardly, you'll find it difficult understanding the rules of morphology, syntax, and lexicography. Also, you can make use of flashcards for easy recollection.
  • Bilinguals or polyglots can attest to the absurd patterns of foreign letters and the difficulty recalling how they are written. For this reason, some beginners include mnemonic devices when learning the alphabet. Have you considered implementing mnemonics into your alphabet learning? Research shows that mnemonic devices help learners retain information for longer periods. A perfect example is a mnemonic device used for the sequential arrangement of the nine planets:

My or My - Mercury

Vicious or Very - Venus

Eagle or Eyes - Earth

Margo or May -Mars

Just or Just - Jupiter

Survived or See - Saturn

Ukraine's or Under - Uranus

Nuclear or Nine - Neptune

Poisoning or Planets - Pluto

Many of us remember the nine planets to date thanks to mnemonics.

  • Consider searching YouTube and other platforms for songs composed for the Portuguese alphabet. It might not have the resonating and rhythmic quality you like, but it would serve the purpose.

Learning Portuguese Pronunciation

Never mistake Portuguese letters for sounds because they are completely different. Portuguese pronunciation is difficult for beginners and even fluent speakers of Portuguese. This is because the language is phonemic which means that the letters have no linguistic or phonetic correlation with the sounds. For this reason, you must master every letter and sound differently. Spanish words, on the other hand, are easy to pronounce because there is a correlation between the orthography and the phonetics of the language.

Don't get yourself worked up over this because like any other thing, there's always a solution. But before proceeding, you must decide on the variant you intend learning. This is because, European Portuguese, like English, is stress-timed while Brazilian Portuguese is syllable-timed. The two variants have different phonetic rules and approaches. You don't want to imitate a Brazilian when in reality, you're learning European Portuguese. Here are tips on how to improve your pronunciation:

  • There's no better way to learn a language than from a native. Make friends with an L1 speaker of Brazilian or European Portuguese, depending on the variant you're interested in. Listen to them speak and imitate their pitch, pace, and pronunciation.
  • Do you remember reading aloud English comprehension passages and storybooks in primary school? The main purpose of that exercise was to improve your fluency, pitch, pace, pronunciation, and vocabulary. Whenever you're alone, pick up a Portuguese text and read it aloud. With time, patience, and constant practice, your pronunciation skills would be next to none.
  • As a beginner, don't copy bad speaking habits like speaking very fast and using slang. Bad habits are easy to master but difficult to stop. So, take your time to articulate and stress every word properly without mumbling and mincing the words together while speaking.
the alphabet
Learn the alphabet. Photo Credit: Unsplash.

The Basics of Portuguese Grammar

“Mind business your should you learn to.”

“You should learn to mind your business.”

Imagine someone walking up to you and uttering the first statement. Due to the wrong syntactic structure, it would be impossible for you to comprehend the speaker’s utterance. On the contrary, the second sentence is coherent and logical because it follows the syntactic SVO structure of an English sentence. This syntactic structure also applies to the Portuguese language.

You don’t want to be accused of committing grammatical blunders just because you’re not well-versed in Portuguese grammar. Here are productive steps you can follow to improve your grammar.

  • The first rule is to master the alphabet as this knowledge would help you form words correctly (morphology) and identify wrong sentence structures (syntax).
  • In Portuguese, the only essential element in a sentence is the verb (S)V(O) so it’s important that you learn the verbal elements which consist of tenses and moods/modes. Also, there are essential aspects beginners often overlook which can flaw your fluency and they include verb conjugation and gender placement.
  • Learning grammatical rules can be complex as there are tons of rules out there. Beginners should stick to easy rules like the rules of concord, subject-verb agreement, and subject-object complement. If you’re at the intermediate or fluent level, you can learn the more complex rules such as the Portuguese morphosyntactic rule and morphophonemic rule.
  • You can’t become fluent if you use the same set of words always. What happens when you exhaust the few words you mastered? That’s why learning new words is just as important as learning grammar itself. Synonymous words exist for a reason; they help avoid unnecessary repetitions and redundancy. The best way to learn new words and how to contextualize them is by reading novels.

If you’ve tried everything but nothing is working, then your best bet might be to hire a professional Portuguese tutor. Speaking of tutors, you need someone capable of detecting your learning flaws and strengthening them. Check out Superprof for home and/or online tuition tailored to your needs.

portuguese writing
Writing is an art. Photo Credit: Unsplash.

Portuguese Learning Language: The Art of Writing

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

J. K. Rowling, Author of Harry Potter.

Before you give up on writing, recall that the first Harry Potter novel was rejected by twelve publishing houses. Thanks to its acceptance by a Bloomsbury editor, J. K. Rowling has sold over 450 million copies globally. Stephen King’s manuscript, Carrie, was rejected thirty times before it got picked up by Doubleday. This book has sold over one million copies.

You might have no intention to write books or novels, but keep in mind that as a foreign language learner, your write-ups would be imperfect at the initial stage. But with time, you would get better. In order to hone your Portuguese writing skills, follow the following steps:

  • To become an exceptional writer, you must be an avid reader. What better way to learn how to write than from the best authors out there? Don’t read whatever book comes your way because there are few good books and tons of bad ones out there. Be selective with your book choices, however, ensure not to limit your reading to just your favourites. Rather, read all genres, including flash fiction, short stories, non-fiction, poetry, and memoirs. Reading all genres would improve your vocabulary, syntax, stylistic choices, and understanding of lexicosemantics.
  • Practise, they say, makes perfect. Mastering new words and reading umpteen books only won’t make you the next Chinua Achebe or Wole Soyinka unless you put pen to paper. Don’t overthink, just write! You can begin by penning down your daily activities in your diary, then proceed to write your own flash fiction, short story, or even novel in Portuguese. Write in Portuguese as often as you can.

To qualify as a fluent Portuguese speaker, you must be skilled in speaking, writing, listening, and reading the language. None of these skills should be learned in isolation because they are interwoven. The aforementioned tips would improve all four skills. If you need professional help on how to learn Portuguese, however, Superprof has skilled native Portuguese tutors who would simplify the learning curve. Don’t give up because nothing good comes easy.


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