Being a new foreign language learner, you might be racking your brain around how best to begin learning the language.
From an analytic angle, it’s valid to consider feasible and productive methods of language learning. If you remember vividly, you began learning the English alphabet before proceeding to more complex aspects like parts of speech, literary appreciation, and more. Like any other language, learning a foreign language requires that you learn its alphabet, accentuation, vocabulary, parts of speech, mood and modality, before proceeding to phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, pragmatics, and semantics.
That’s a lot, right?
Good enough, no one expects that you’d achieve fluency within a few days or weeks, so take your time. Also, consider the fact that university students offering foreign language courses use four years to learn how to speak the language; how much more you? Know that attaining fluency or even native competence requires patience, time, and most importantly, constant practice. Thus, set out to accomplish little milestones rather than overweighing yourself with unrealistic goals and expectations.
As a beginner, you should begin by learning the alphabet of the language; especially if you intend learning the Portuguese language. Here are reasons why you should begin with the Portuguese alphabet:
- Like any other language, the Portuguese alphabet makes up the words of the language, and the words, in turn, make up sentences, paragraphs, and texts.
- Knowing the distinction between the letters will prevent poor pronunciation.
- Since European Portuguese differs from Brazilian Portuguese in spelling, accent, and pronunciation, understanding these alphabets will help simplify the distinction.
This article seeks to highlight the basics of the Portuguese alphabet and tricks to mastering the alphabet quickly. Once you’ve mastered the Portuguese and Brazilian alphabet and know the major distinctions, then you can proceed to harder areas.
Basics of the Portuguese Alphabet
When learning anything, you begin with the basics which are foundational knowledge. First off, there are currently 26 letters in the Portuguese language. Until 2009, three letters – W, K, and Y – were excluded for being imported letters. The 1990 orthographic agreement between Portugal and Brazil which was effected in 2009 resulted in the addition of the three foreign letters.
For native speakers and L2 speakers of the English language, mastery of the alphabet is unnecessary as they’re the same with the English alphabet. Note, however, that Portuguese is largely phonemic although some phonemes have multiple spelling variants. A phonemic language is one whose alphabet is spelt differently from how they are pronounced. Furthermore, you should also know that Portuguese is polycentric, meaning that it has several codified standard forms and they include Angolan Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, and European Portuguese.
As a learner of this language, take note of the following:
- It is advisable to learn each letter and diacritic independently and how they are pronounced.
- The major distinguishing feature between Brazilian and European Portuguese is their prosody. The European variant, like the English language, is stress-timed, tolerates syllable-final consonants, and reduces, as well as, sometimes deletes unstressed vowels (like the schwa sound /ə/ in English). The Brazilian variant, however, varies according to dialect, gender, and speech rate and shuffles between the stress-timed and syllable-timed rhythms based on the speech rate.
- Once you are done learning how to pronounce the alphabet and diacritics, consider learning the diphthongs such as: /aj/, /ej/, /aw/, /iw/, /ew/.
- You should be aware that letters of a language differ from sounds.
Remembering Portuguese Letters
As a kid, you probably spent countless hours reciting and memorizing the English alphabet. At some point, English letters became a piece of cake for you that you could recite in your sleep. Here are tips for those who are battling with memorizing letters of a foreign language, Portuguese inclusive. Note, however, that irrespective of how effective a learning technique is, patience and constant practice must be applied.
Split the Letters into Groups
Attempting to memorize the alphabet in one sitting is an ineffective method that can frustrate the learner’s efforts. Thus, beginners are advised to split the letters into groups. If you’re learning Portuguese, for instance, kick-starting with a group of letters like vowels is advised. Portuguese vowels include the following:
English speakers are familiar with these letters, but for non-English speakers, you can start with vowels then proceed to consonants. The consonants, however, can be split into groups of three for easy learning.
Use Mnemonic Device for Shapes
If you’re a bilingual or polyglot, you’ll know that some languages have letters with weird-looking shapes. As a linguist who is familiar with the International Phonetic Alphabet chart, mastering how to write some letters can be very difficult. That’s where a mnemonic device is implemented. A mnemonic device is any technique used to remember something; a perfect example is ROYGBIV used for the sequential colour placement of the rainbow.
The Russian letter “Ю”, for example, reminds me of Neymar Jnr’s football jersey number. What do Portuguese letters remind you of?
Check for Alphabet Songs Online
Thanks to technology, learning is now at your fingertip. You don’t need a native speaker to take you physical classes as you can learn online. There are songs on the Portuguese alphabet that would help you remember the letters quickly. Youtube is a great platform to find these kinds of songs. Don’t expect the song to sound interesting though!
Can you remember the Probability theory and Algebraic K-theory in Mathematics from secondary school? Or the Law of Diminishing Return and the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility? I doubt you do. How about the lyrics of Tuface’s “African Queen” from 2004? Probably. This shows that the human brain remembers music more often than it does theories.
It’s been said often that speaking a language is the fastest way to know it. While that might be valid, reading books is just as effective. Can you speak what you don’t know? I don’t think so!
You won’t learn alphabets forever, it’s high time you moved on. As often as you can, pick up a simple text in the target language to read. Besides learning new words, it’ll teach you stylistics, morphology, syntax, and semantics.
The 3 Ps
Like any other aspect of life, language learning requires practise, patience, and persistence. Without these, your dream of becoming bilingual or polyglot would be impossible. In summary, work hard, take a chill pill, but keep going.
Have a Standard Portuguese Dictionary
You don’t plan on speaking the same set of words forever, do you? Then it’s time to add some vocab to your language repertoire. Besides learning new words, there are additional benefits the Portuguese dictionary offers. They include the following:
- Language isn’t learnt in isolation but within the context of the society. This means that a word isn’t determined in isolation but within context. For instance, there a word can be a noun, adjective, adverb, or verb depending on the context. A standard Portuguese dictionary clarifies the context of each word.
- Knowing the meaning of a word is just as important as pronouncing it. With a mobile dictionary, you can see the phonemic transcription of the word and even hear how it’s pronounced.
- You can set your Portuguese mobile dictionary to generate random words daily for you to learn.
As discussed earlier, a Portuguese dictionary is required for vocabulary improvement. Years ago, you had to buy bulky or pocket-sized dictionaries but now, an affordable or free dictionary application on your device is all you need. A mixture of English-Portuguese and Portuguese-English dictionaries would simplify your learning process.
Portuguese Transcends Beyond Mastering the Alphabet
While Portuguese remains one of the most difficult languages to learn, attaining fluency has numerous benefits such as the following:
- Learning Portuguese makes it super easy to learn Spanish because there’s an 89% lexical similarity.
- Approximately 260 million Portuguese speakers exist globally and the number is expected to rise to 335 million by 2050.
- Polyglots can work as translators, language tutors, tour guides, and liaison officers.
- What’s more exciting than visiting a Portuguese-speaking country and knowing the language?
- Just as there are English-speaking and French-speaking African countries, Portuguese-speaking African countries exist also. So Portuguese isn’t restricted to Portugal and Brazil.
Besides this alphabet guide, check out our guides on
If you think learning Portuguese is the next milestone you need to accomplish but you’re unsure where to begin, or you’re at the fluent level and seeking native competence, then you should consider hiring the services of a native Portuguese tutor.
Employing a Portuguese tutor saves you the time and stress of finding what language course best suits your needs. Whether you want to learn Brazilian Portuguese and/or European Portuguese, Superprof Nigeria has outstanding native Portuguese tutors capable of providing you with the moral and intellectual support needed to improve your auditory, written, reading, and spoken skills. At Superprof, tuition is tailored to your needs and the first lesson with an individual tutor is free to help you find the perfect tutor for you.