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10 Tips for Learning European Portuguese

Updated on January 2, 2011

I started learning Portuguese 6 years ago at the ripe old age of 37. My lack of foreign language proficiency started at school. I found myself in a new school where the students had been studying French for over a year. My old school had yet to start language learning. I sat in the class completely confused by everything the teacher said. Disheartened and shy, I found myself completely unable to catch up.

Despite my initial bad experience in language learning, I grew up desperately wanting to learn a foreign language. I was fascinated by the multitude of tongues, the unusual sounds and rhythms. I flirted with Spanish, Romany, Japanese and Irish but nothing captured my attention. It wasn't until I heard Portuguese that I knew it was my language. Suddenly I knew I could learn a language.

This brings me to the first important point when studying a language:-

Learning a language takes dedication and time. Without motivation to succeed, it is likely that your patience will falter as well as your confidence. There can be many reasons why you might want to learn Portuguese such as:-

You love the culture and plan to visit regularly
You want to understand the lyrics in Fado music
You're planning to move to Portugal
You need to spend time in Portugal on business
You want to read some of the great Portuguese literature
Your partner is Portuguese (I can personally attest that love is a great motivation!).

My journey with Portuguese began by falling in love - not only with someone from Portugal but with the country itself, the people and the culture. The language to me sounds like music, rich and expressive. Learning Portuguese helps me to think differently, to make new connections in my native English tongue.

Tip One
My first tip is simply to listen to Portuguese as much as possible. Initially a new language often sounds like a string of jumbled noise. You cannot hear where one word begins and another starts. After a while though, you will notice how certain words repeat and you start to build up a feel of what these words might mean. For example the words hello (olá), goodbye (adeus) and thank you (obrigada/obrigado) might jump out at you. The purpose of listening is to tune your ear to the sounds of the language.

I discovered one of the best ways was to listen to Portuguese radio online whilst I was busy doing something else on the computer. If you go to RTP's website you'll find links to the online stations. Go to Radio at the top of the page then click 'Direito' to listen. I listen to Antena 3 as it has a good mix of popular and traditional music.

Another really useful way to tune in to Portuguese is to watch Portuguese television. If you click on 'TV' then 'programs em direito' you can watch some of the programmes shown on Portuguese television. News items are very useful as you will perhaps have some idea of what is being discussed from seeing the news already in your own native language.

Tip Two
Start learning some basic words and phrases. You can find plenty of resources online to learn these. Whichever resources you use, it is best to always listen to a native speaker. The BBC website has a great beginner section for learning Portuguese called 'Talk Portuguese'

Tip Three
Join There are various grades of membership from free to paid. After being a free member for some months I eventually became a paid member. You will find a multitude of resources for learning Portuguese (and many other languages) from native speaker sound files to flashcards, to a library of written material. I cannot recommend this site highly enough.

Tip Four
Change all your social media sites into Portuguese. This is a very quick way to learn certain words and phrases without even trying. On Facebook for example, just scroll down to the bottom of the right hand corner beside the chat function and click on the little world button. This will bring up a list of languages. Choose European Portuguese and away you go. You will soon find that you know the word 'gosto' (I like)! If you get stuck and need to use Facebook help, you can always change back to English for a few minutes. I also recommend changing your mobile phone into Portuguese if it gives you the option.

Tip Five
Listen to Portuguese music. Fado music and music derived from Fado is still very popular in Portugal. there is of course modern pop sung in Portuguese as well. Some of the artists to try are Mariza, Cristina Branco, Jorge Palma, Madredeus, Oquestrada, Deolinda, Dulce Pontes, Humanos and Ana Laíns. It's a great test of your language skills to learn to sing in Portuguese. If you are looking for lyrics online type in 'letras' along with the band name in Google and you should be able to find them, especially with the more popular artists like Madredeus and Mariza. Read the lyrics as the singer sings them, you will soon start to recognise the words even if you don't yet understand their meaning.

Tip Six
Read a book in Portuguese. It is often possible to purchase popular books such as Harry Potter from your local bookseller in Portuguese as well as in English. Buy a copy of your chosen book in each language. Start by reading the Portuguese book. Maybe you will understand nothing at all initially. Write down a list of words you don't understand (or if you prefer, mark them with a highlighter pen). Then refer to the English version. This is painstaking work initially but you will soon find that maybe after a chapter or two, you are highlighting fewer and fewer words. At this stage you are also absorbing the structure of sentences in Portuguese. Have a good dictionary alongside to check words you don't understand.

Tip Seven
Purchase a good 'learn Portuguese' book. There are plenty of books out there. I probably have most of them but one I have found very useful is Hugo's Portuguese in Three Months. It contains plenty of simple explanations and is not too overwhelming.

Tip Eight
Record yourself speaking in Portuguese. I would recommend finding snippets of speech online and copy what the person is saying. By comparing your speech to the original native speaker, you will hear the similarities and differences. It is very important to try to produce the sounds correctly else you risk not being understood.

Tip Nine
Find a Portuguese class. I took a class in Portuguese at my local adult education college and found it very helpful. A structured class can be very useful to learn vocabulary and grammatical structure. It also provides a safe platform to perfect your spoken skills and connect you to other people who are also learning.

Tip Ten
Start using your Portuguese! Often people are shy about using their new found language skill but I encourage you to use it at every opportunity. I have purposefully located little shops, market stalls and restaurants that are run by Portuguese people in my local city so that I can go and try out my skills. You might make a mistake, you may feel silly but until you try you won't know if you can do it. You will be surprised at how often what you say is met with a delighted smile. You can also perhaps find or even set-up a local meetup group for Portuguese speakers and those interested in learning the language.

If you continue to listen and study every day, you will find that you quickly begin to recognise words and phrases until you reach a point where you are no longer translating it your head. Suddenly those words become a natural part of your vocabulary. Occasionally if you study intensely you might find you dream in Portuguese. I have also sometimes found that I 'slip-up' in English and find myself thinking of a Portuguese word before the English word. This is a normal part of the process and shows that you are starting to fully absorb the language.

Don't be put off if you are an adult learner and have never learned another language. Portuguese is a beautiful and it is entirely possible to learn. I love the feeling I get when I realise I have understood my Portuguese friends, when I sing a Portuguese song, when I can make myself understood.

Enjoy learning Portuguese and Boa Sorte (Good Luck)!


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    • Danielspages2013 profile image

      Daniel Baker 4 years ago from João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil

      Como você pode ver do meu site:, eu também acho que as duas línguas são lindas. Queria dizer que muito obrigado pela visita da minha página do Hubpages.

    • Danielspages2013 profile image

      Daniel Baker 4 years ago from João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil

      Pois é, são lindas mesmo!

    • Leah Whitehorse profile image

      Leah Whitehorse 4 years ago

      Olá. Obrigada. Vou tentar escrever em Português...

      Sim, acho que um pouco diferente - o sotaque é diferente mas as duas são linda :-)

    • Danielspages2013 profile image

      Daniel Baker 4 years ago from João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil


      Eu curti seu posto. Deixa eu ver, você fala Português do Portugal e eu falo Português do Brasil. Que coisa! Mas eu acho que as duas não são bem iguais não é?

    • profile image

      JJ 5 years ago

      Hey there, can I also add a recommendation to your page? There's an up and coming site called linguasapien which is trying to concur the difficulty of learning European Portuguese onlnie, for free.

      I found it just as I was browsing (desperately) around - It's really great.

    • profile image

      Rui 5 years ago

      Loved your blog. Very helpful. Thanks for sharing.

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judith Hancock 6 years ago from UK

      Great hub Leah - I visit Portugal fairly regularly. As with most languages I find it fairly easy to read it, but almost impossible to follow when it is spoken. I do the usual tourist thing of learning a couple of stock phrases and hope that I get can get by. I will try following your advice, and see if it helps. Obrigada :-)

    • Leah Whitehorse profile image

      Leah Whitehorse 6 years ago

      Muito obrigada Emma :-)

    • profile image

      Emma 6 years ago

      Thank you so much for this post. I'm American, but my family is Portuguese, and I lived in Portugal for several years. I am fluent in Portuguese, but am struggling with how to teach my children Portuguese (my husband does not speak the language). Your tips are great, and I'll be sure to implement them in our studies!

    • Leah Whitehorse profile image

      Leah Whitehorse 6 years ago

      Obrigada Hugo :-)

    • hugocaracol profile image

      hugocaracol 6 years ago

      I'm glad you decided to learn Portuguese. It's always nice to feel the interest of people in our native language. BTW I didn't know Ana Laíns but she's really good! Thank you.

    • Wild_Goose profile image

      Wild_Goose 6 years ago from Netherlands

      Sounds like good sensible tips. We've bought some kids books in Portuguese, Fairy tales with pictures. This has been helpful for us although we still have a long way to go.

      Muito obrigado

    • frogdropping profile image

      Andria 7 years ago

      I'm over in the UK right now Leah. Staying a while. Still have a place to stay over in Lisbon but there's some studying going on in our house, hence the migration.

      All being well we'll eventually wander between Yorkshire and Lisbon. That's the plan at least!

    • Leah Whitehorse profile image

      Leah Whitehorse 7 years ago

      Muito obrigada. Claro é otimo! :-)

      Glad you enjoyed my blog. I have lots I want to write here. I'm looking forward to reading all your hugs. Lucky you living over there. I cannot wait to get back!

    • frogdropping profile image

      Andria 7 years ago

      Hey Leah - great hub. I can speak Portuguese - ish. After a couple of years living there, and a whole lot of listening real hard I could manage to make myself understood and have conversations to a point.

      Like you I fell for a Portuguese man. Not that living with him has been overly helpful - we always speak English!

      Anyway - all your advice is extremely sound. I never got to take any lessons, I really was relegated to pinning my ears back but I'm glad I know at least as much as I do. Perhaps one day I'll become fluent.

      Love your blog btw - visited it many times, particularly when I lived in Lisbon.

      Bem Vinda ao Hubpages ... eu espero que tu gosta escrever aqui ... é ótimo nãe é?! :)

    • Leah Whitehorse profile image

      Leah Whitehorse 7 years ago

      Thanks for the vote and for being my very first comment 2uesday :-)

    • 2uesday profile image

      2uesday 7 years ago

      Good start, welcome, voted this up and useful.