Bom dia! Tudo bem na mata? In this succinct post, I’m describing how to begin learning Brazilian Portuguese. 🇧🇷
It’s a terrific language, spoken by the biggest Lusophone community on earth in a country as vast as Europe; a language that produced music, literature, cinema of outstanding quality; one that crystallized in words the hundred other languages flown into Brazilian history. 🎨
There are a plethora of reasons for learning Brazilian Portuguese. If you don’t know if it’s worth your time, have a look at: WHY YOU SHOULD LEARN PORTUGUESE (COMING SOON)
One doubt you may have is: how hard would be for me to learn Brazilian Portuguese? It’s doable, but only if you do it right, as it has some nasty traps.
Having committed all sorts of mistakes when approaching languages, I presume I have something to say about learning it. 🤕
I’ll try to be as brief and precise as I can. My mother tongue is Italian, but the materials I used to learn Brazilian Portuguese are mainly English-based, so that’s where my suggestions below are based upon.
Attention, learners: this post is specifically Brazilian Portuguese. A fair chunk of what is here is equally valid for European Portuguese, but if that’s where you are inclined, what about browsing the article I wrote to that effect: Learning European Portuguese: how to start the right way (COMING SOON)
And now, let’s get the ball rolling.
Learning Brazilian Portuguese: my experience
As I detailed in the post concerning European Portuguese, my landing in Lusofonia was there. It was only afterwards that I have moved, linguistically, to south America. How did it happen?❓
Three years after having moved to Spain, being as passionate about languages as I had been for a long time, I came to a point in which I had run out of language challenges at the school where I was all my leisure time.
I mastered Spanish and Valencian already; French, there weren’t courses beyond the B2 level I achieved; I found Chinese mesmerizing but disliked the way it was taught. In the end, in the time slot I had available, there was just Portuguese. I thought: well, let’s have a look at it.
Long story short, it was like entering the wardrobe and ending on Narnia. 😍
In life, I learned languages for pleasure and work. Portuguese, any variant of, I hadn’t needed it in my job up to that moment. I was employed in an import-export firm where contacts in foreign languages were bread and butter; but not Portuguese, though we did work with companies from Portugal. We were just using Spanish, or rather, attempting to do so.
To make a long story short: the course started, I was blown away, I started using it in my job, results were astounding, business improved, my language proficiency improved, from European I expanded on Brazilian Portuguese. 💚
Two years and a half later from the beginning of my Portuguese-learning journey, I took a C2 exam and brought home a valuable certificate. 🎓
At this point you may wonder: if Brazil is so big and Portugal so tiny, why did you prefer to start with the latter variety? Here’s why.
Why not Brazilian Portuguese first
In my case, for this bunch of reasons:
#1 At the local school, the main focus was on European Portuguese. The balance toward Brazilian shifted recently, in Europe. 🌍
#2 Not long ago, Brazilian Portuguese was considered, if not a lowly variant, certainly not on an equal footing with European Portuguese. Odd, if you consider how much Brazil has been contributed to Lusofonia since… forever. But that meant that even a few years ago, most textbooks you could find were about European Portuguese.
#3 The majority of my private and working relationships had been with Portugal.
#4 For a time, putting roots in Portugal was an option. 🏠
#5 I needed to start from somewhere, as learning more than a variety simultaneously isn’t the best practice in any language.
Would I discourage people from learning European Portuguese first? Absolutely not! You start from wherever you want, then when at a B1-B2, you include the rest of the Lusofonia. If you never get past an intermediate level, the language you learned will suffice to be understood anyway, in Luanda as in São Tomé, in Coimbra as in Fortaleza. Easy-peasy.
How to begin learning Brazilian Portuguese
Now, let’s suppose you’re curious about Brazilian Portuguese but aren’t sure if it’s your cup of tea. How can you tell? I’d suggest you to put yourself work: get the books below and get your feet wet with the language. For a ridiculous expense, you can:
- Figure out if Portuguese deserves a long-term commitment; 🗓️
- hit an A2 level: too little to translate poetry, but enough to go spend two months in Florianopolis for a Brazilian jiu-jitsu residency;
- Live by Lomb Kató’s words: “Language is the only thing worth knowing even poorly”;
- add a Basic Brazilian Portuguese to your curriculum. Fluent would be better than Basic, but Basic is still better than Non-existing. 👔
I’d recommend you to proceed at a pace of 30 to 60 minutes per day, from the first to the last step. Try to study every day: if you can’t study more, even 15 minutes are better than nothing. Consistency is key: seven hours spread on seven days are much better than seven hours on Saturday.
The method I’m about to propose to you is based on self-teaching. You may wonder: “Why is this guy advocating self-teaching if he learned the language at school?”. The answer is: finding a good Brazilian Portuguese course is as difficult as resurrecting a woolly mammoth. 🐘
Bear with me.
Why learning on your own is better than attending courses
The business of language teaching is trickier than most people imagine. It’s darn complicated to run a language school and, unfortunately, that has an effect on the quality of the teaching.
If a school doesn’t achieve a scale economy, it can’t keep the boat afloat. Scaling is possible only if you use the least resources to gain the highest margins: to put the maximum amount of students with the least amount of teachers in a given time and location. 🏫
But that makes up for hugely heterogeneous groups: people from all paths of life, ages, background, education, goals. Even with the best of intentions, how can a teacher structure a lesson with such conditions?
Homogeneous groups would be possible only if the student pool was sufficiently broad, but let’s be pragmatic: how realistic would be to:
- find a good teacher,
- in a reduced group of other likely students,
- more or less affordable, 💸
- at a convenient time and location to fit into your daily life?
It’s challenging enough already with languages like French or Spanish in cities like London or Manchester, much less when you intend to learn Brazilian Portuguese and you live in Cheltenham or Dundee. 😓
But even in the best-case scenario, you’re still confronted with the limitations of group teaching: you advance as slowly as the slowest student in your group, a lot of non-didactic chitchats, exercises done together with other students who know Portuguese as little as you; not to mention that, proportionally, with private tuition you receive way more than in group teaching.
By yourself, you can learn a huge amount of language. If then you have some extra pounds to spend, consider hiring a private tutor rather than joining a school. 🖋️
A doubt you may have now is: “But you did learn Portuguese in a school, didn’t you?”. I did, because a couple of times in life we all win the lottery. With this language, I’ve been amazingly fortunate, something that has never happened before nor after, when attending a language school. 🏆
Two superb teachers, a tight-knit group of language-starving fellows like myself, close to home at a fitting time. I’ve never won any lottery prize, but I had three years of awesome learning experience from every angle. Having said that, with language and money you shall never trust luck: trust hard work.
Self-teaching Brazilian Portuguese
Here are my recommendations. Allow me to emphasize: eating a chicken every day is better rather than swallowing a whole beef on Saturday.
As hinted before, I’d suggest you follow the path laid below in this order. And: better a little every day than a lot once a week.
Step 1: use Get Started in Brazilian Portuguese, by Teach Yourself
In the realm of English-based textbooks, it’s arguably one of the best to start with Brazilian Portuguese. It guarantees you a soft landing on the language and it seamlessly integrates with the following textbook.
If, on the other hand, you have more of a kamikaze approach to learning, you can skip this and begin with the one below right from the start.
Step 2: study Complete Brazilian Portuguese, by Teach Yourself
Teach Yourself is a well-known player in the language learning game. It features hundreds of books in about 100+ languages. I don’t find all of them equally good, but this one is worth your time. ✍️
The publishing house sells it as a gateway to a B1/B2 level: hmmm, let’s make it a solid A2 occasionally trespassing into B1 land. 😉 But don’t be fooled: this book (with audio available on their website) balances well the four linguistic abilities, pauses where needed to clarify some traps of Brazilian Portuguese, offers insights about the country’s culture.
So, there is little more we could ask.
Step 3: use Gramática Ativa 1 (versão brasileira), by Lidel Edições Técnicas
If Brazilian Portuguese were nutrition, the Gramática Ativa collection would be a staple food. It’s a monolingual manual, suited for complete beginners, about grammar: not because the two previous textbooks don’t have any, but because you’re safer by reviewing and strengthening it.
It’s a hugely beneficial tome, that can be perfectly used on your own. Audio CDs here are included and they’re high-quality. My suggestion would be to keep Gramática Ativa 1 for after (not during) steps 1 and 2.
Step 4: Short Stories in Brazilian Portuguese for Beginners, by JM Learning
When done with the previous books, a couple of graded readers is what you need. You can start from this: it’s a collection of eight short stories, suited for the beginner. It’s a light-hearted approach but not without content.
You may be tempted to jump to Clarice Lispector or Machado do Assis, buttttt beware these guys’ books are intended for native speakers. The intricacies of literature are hard to explore below a B2 level. Keep learning and before you know it you’ll be able to read them comfortably.
Step 5: read O Pequeno Príncipe with a pencil at hand
I advise you this be the first real book of an extended, proficient reading career in Brazilian Portuguese.
In the beginning, a graded reader would be preferable, but this book is appropriate to bridge the gap between graded readership and materials written for a native audience. Chances are you’re already familiar with the novel; if not, it’s a good moment to get to know it. 🤓
There are several editions, as it’s one of the most translated books on earth. The link above is in Brazilian Portuguese: you would find The Little Prince in any variety, even in Guinean or Goan Portuguese.
Things to keep in mind
#1 A private teacher is never a bad idea
You can wait up until this moment, or implement it right from the start of your language journey: it’s up to you and your financial possibilities.
With good books and a solid strategy, you can learn A LOT more than you can imagine. If you want to perform over the top right from the start, though, a good private teacher is what you need. If you have money to pay one lesson per month, it’s OK; if you have the resources to pay twice per week, all the better. 💷
But if you can’t really afford any of them, stick with the books and you’ll learn an awful lot anyway, trust me.
#2 Comprehensible input is what you need
In order to acquire a new language, you have to understand the material you consume. I’m reinventing the wheel, huh? But it’s a principle often overlooked. At an A2, there are materials suited for your needs:
- Comics like Asterix or Donald Duck, 🦆
- simple emails you got in the office,
- some easy-going songs’ lyrics like this:
What matters is to have stuff that interests you, that is a bit challenging but not so much that you give up, understand that reading or listening to something for learning reasons isn’t as reading for pleasure in your mother tongue: you need more time and dedication.
#3 We use the Novo Acordo Ortográfico now
The rules of the game changed a few years ago. I won’t expound on it because:
- I don’t want to abuse your patience. 😅
- Once in a while, there’s an accurate article on Wikipedia: Portuguese Language Orthographic Agreement of 1990.
Skipping the soap opera the whole thing unleashed, prior to the Novo Acordo we used to write differently. If you get recently written materials, you’re safe enough; otherwise, beware it may be written differently.
Comprehension is never in danger, just spelling: if you intend to use your Brazilian Portuguese in some formal context, you have to be careful to spelling.
#4 Literal translations never work
I know the temptation may be high, but no. Familiarize yourself with the structure of the Brazilian Portuguese phrase: you’ll soon see how patterns emerge, how you can copy them and create new phrases of your making. And you’ll succeed.
#5 Idiots are useful
I told you to wait before engaging in real-life linguistic exchanges, but as life isn’t as they depict it in linguistic websites, let’s suppose you’re in a situation in which you end up practicing in public. A tourist lost in town, a customer calling into your office while your Lusophone co-worker is on holiday, an irresistible Brazilian you can’t resist but address in their mother tongue. 😍
Let’s also suppose something doesn’t come out as hoped: a mistake of any kind. Your interlocutor makes fun of you. Oy vey. What now? Now, you have two choices:
- Cave in, as you’re as thin-skinned as an onion, and promise you’ll never utter anything in a language other than English; or,
- think “oh, I made a mistake, interesting… why shouldn’t I have said that? Ah yes, right”. Bonus points if you ask the joker to explain what the issue is. 😏
To be laughed at burns, but hey, it’s a hugely useful burn! You’ll never make that mistake again. In fairness, you should offer your mocker an ice cream for the favour.
Many of us have paved our way to fluency also by mockery. My ego is so big, I remember people funning me much more than teachers politely correcting me, so you have an idea now of how I got my C2 certificates…
A few issues you may encounter with Brazilian Portuguese
#1 Jumping straight into language exchanges
As they say in my native land, it’s like truffle hunting with cats, which means: of improbable usefulness. 🐱 (Note for the unitalianated: you would go with dogs).
A language exchange, i.e. practising with a native speaker, is advantageous only if you have something to offer.
Before a B1, you have little to offer. Even with the best intention, native speakers make mistakes in their own language: at an intermediate level, at least, you have tools to skim the bad and store the good.
#2 Avoiding setting some goals
Studying without a clear goal is an option, but one that would guarantee you better a result, it’s putting on paper some goals. A goal of any kind is better than none, though ideally, you may put black on white something like:
- Short-term goal: completing a chapter each week (approx. time: 9 hours/week), until completion of step 1 in 4 weeks.
- Medium-term: achieving an A2 in five months.
- Long-term: obtaining a B2 certificate in a year and a half. 🏆
You can start from the short and extrapolate the long term, or the other way round: defining who you want to be in two years and working backwards. But even if you’re just casually trying to pick up the language, to define a target like “covering the 1st textbook from cover to cover” is a good starting point.
Put them on paper! Establish a micro-liturgy for giving weight to the moment and the commitment. 📜
#3 Not writing
A fair share of dudes is so focused on the acoustic pleasure of oral Brazilian Portuguese, that they neglect the written language. It’s OK if that is your purpose, but I’d advise you to achieve, at least, a basic grasp of the written language.
Why? Because you may need it if you go there; it actually reinforces your oral skills too; and last, writing is to speaking what solfège is to playing the piano. 🎵
How? By doing the exercises in the books I mentioned; by writing to your private tutor, if you have one; by writing for yourself, otherwise. I wrote all sorts of things, even when I had no teacher to correct me:
- Shopping lists,
- songs (as crappy as you can imagine, but I did it for the sake of practising writing),
- my CV,
- aunt’s recipes, 🍲
- postcards to a friend,
- one-minute introductions to myself,
- a guide of my house like it was a tourist attraction. 🏡
#4 Aiming too high
Some people fall into a foreseeable trap: that of wanting to run before learning to walk. A few weeks after having started, they decide it’s time to watch a movie in the original version, or read Mário de Andrade: unless you’re Sheldon Cooper, it’s not going to work. 🤔
Their reaction to my reproach is also foreseeable: “I get bored on textbooks and graded readers about childish stories!”. All the more reasons to learn as fast as possible, so that you’ll be able to enjoy your stuff in Brazilian Portuguese. But A2 books about deep matters aren’t available because sophistication requires sophisticated language. As simple as that.
When I was at an A2, I took O Senhor dos Anéis and started reading. I didn’t go very far. I took O Hobbit: same. At that point, I got back to textbooks (and The Lord of The Rings in other languages, which inspired me to write about Tolkien’s language: Khuzdûl, Black Speech of Mordor, Orkish and Entish). 📖
#4 You think time on Duolingo is actual study time
Duolingo or any other App do not produce miracles. Repeat after me: Duolingo… OK, you got me.
As I already extensively ranted about it, I’ll keep this point brief: Apps are for giving usefulness to downtimes. They are not viable learning tools. To rely mostly on Apps is like relying on cheerios to supply all the proteins you need.
#5 Mixing European with Brazilian
I would wait to be at a B1-B2 at least.
There will be people telling you: “Why caring! As long as they understand what you say, it’s alright!”, Well, it does make things awkward, and should you one day decide to obtain an official language certificate, ehm, you’re going to be in trouble. 🤔
There are two main official bodies here: CAPLE for European Portuguese, Celpe-Bras for Brazilian Portuguese, and jumbles aren’t allowed. Nevertheless, once your intermediate level is well-grounded, you can explore, stress-free, other varieties.
FAQ about learning Brazilian Portuguese
Q: I see a lot of words of seemingly non-Romance origin, is that correct?
A: It is. In Brazilian Portuguese, you may find a hell of a vocabulary coming from indigenous (Guarani, Tupi, etc.) as well as from African languages (from the Bantu family, namely) due to the slave trade.
But some come also from other languages, such as Japanese: indeed, in Brazil, there is a sizeable population of immigrants from the land of the rising sun. 🇯🇵
Q: Does Brazilian Portuguese have variants?
A: Though I’m not a specialist in it, it’s homogeneous enough to allow all Brazilians to understand each other; but being such a huge country, local variations are almost inevitable. More on it in subsequent posts.
Q: Every time I pick up a book or movie, do I have to check if it’s Brazilian or European Portuguese?
A: As long as you are below a B1-B2, I’d encourage you to do so. 👍
Q: Is Brazilian Portuguese more useful than the European Portuguese in business?
A: If you already know the centre of your interest is in either of these countries, go ahead and learn that variety. What ultimately matters is to be fluent in Portuguese, when working. None has ever been discriminated against for speaking Brazilian Portuguese to a customer or a supplier from Braga or Aveiro.
Q: Is European easier than Brazilian Portuguese?
A: I doubt it. Some think Brazilian Portuguese is the easiest of the two, but their arguments are not convincing, to me. 🙃
Q: I find Brazilian Portuguese phonology particularly difficult to mimic. How do I develop a good accent?
A: I find people overly worried about the accent, with no ground. It’s good to develop a good one, but not to be obsessed about it: if they understand you, it does not matter if there’s a British, Norwegian or Congolese accent in your voice!
An easy and effective way is through Pimsleur Brazilian Portuguese, which you can have also through Amazon’s astounding audiobook platform Audible. 🎧
Pimsleur is the stuff of legend. Its founder, its method, its vast course catalogue: their Brazilian Portuguese audio course is superhandy. It’s like having a personal language tutor, helping you practising your oral comprehension and production, in 30-minute chunks each. I’ve listened to dozens of them while walking around.
Q: I have already completed all the steps you laid down and have an A2. What’s next?
A: More stuff will come on this website! Stay tuned!
Q: Can I learn Brazilian Portuguese just by watching series?
A: The same way you can train yourself as a surgeon by watching surgeries. 🙃
Q: Can I learn Portuguese and Spanish at the same time?
A: I refrain from saying it’s impossible, but with me and many others, it doesn’t work. More than taking advantage of their similarity, learning them simultaneously may end up in a humongous hotchpotch.
Q: Is there any good website you’d recommend too?
A: There are millions out there, but I struggle to find some that are reliable. For beginners, I know none. 🤔
So when do you start?
With this brief guide, I hope to have instilled in you a bit of curiosity and provided a few tools to get started with Brazilian Portuguese, with strong reasons but no stress.
Portuguese filled my life with so many opportunities that it’s hard to exaggerate. I made friends, found love, got promotions, obtained salary increases, discovered new outlets for my creativity. 🇧🇷
At this point, it would be me having a couple of questions for you:
- When did you start thinking about learning Brazilian Portuguese?
- What would be your main motivation?❓
- What’s holding you back right now?
Now, I have a favour to ask.
Learning the language, building this website and jotting down this post has been hard. I can make this all sustainable only if it reaches an ample audience. If you found it useful and/or entertaining, would you mind sharing this article? Thank you from the bottom of my heart. 🙏
I’ll get back to Portuguese – and other languages. If you’re hungry for more, stay tuned 😉
Thank you for having taken the time to read this. 🧡
Your personal Lusophonist,