It’s always a good idea to have some tricks up your sleeve for learning languages when you don’t feel like it, when you want to increase the density of your target language in your life, or when you just want a change of pace. Here are a few of my favourite techniques with a Portuguese flavour – mostly but not exclusively European.
Turn Yourself Into A Walking Billboard
Despite being old enough to know better, I like t-shirt slogans. Fortunately by this time, most people are aware that Frankie Says Relax and that they should Just Do It, thanks to my tireless efforts. Here’s a thought though: how about getting a t-shirt with a portuguese slogan on it? Not only will the phrase itself stick in your mind, but you’ll also be advertising your openness to the language to anyone who happens to be staring at your boobs/moobs at the time. This is a good way of starting a convresation, even if that onversation is only “Olhe, os meus olhos estão cá em cima!”
I use a site called Cão Azul that has a pretty decent selection, mainly in portuguese but with some english ones too. You should find something you like there. I also have the “Levar Uma Descasca” t-shirt in blue from Portuguese with Carla. Or you could carry your groceries in a tote bag with a portuguese slogan. Bertrand have a few for example. This is a bit more discreet, which may or may not be what you want. There’s also a site called Inspirações Portuguesas which sells all kinds of shirts, bags, teatowels and other gifts with fun slogans on them – the one on the right for example. This is a new discovery for me but I am definitely going to put in an order when I next have a bit of cash in the bank.
I even used to have writing on my face with one of the amazingly cool anti-covid masks from d’enfiada. Mine said “Sorri Com os Olhos” and I loved it so much it was almost worth having a pandemic for. Sadly, I’ve lost it now and they aren’t selling them any more. Ah well, with a bit of luck there’ll be another pandemic and they’ll come back. That’s a joke, by the way, in case Peter Hitchens is reading this and thinks I mean it.
I guess the only thing I don’t recommend, I think, is overdoing it. Wearing a portuguese t-shirt and a portuguese mask while carrying a portuguese tote-bag all at the same time is too needy!
Put Your Apps To Work
I found it pretty hard to get hold of good apps for learning European Portuguese, but it’s relatively easy to find good games and many of them have other language settings. I started with a copy of Trivia Crack which I’d set on Portuguese so I can enjoy farting about playing games and still be learning new words, phrases and pop culture references and (crucially) facts about Brazilian football. It has its drawbacks of course: most of the questions are written by Brazilians so you get quite a lot of Brazilian grammar in there, but still, it’s more educational than Angry Birds.
Once you realise that any game can be portuguesified, the world is your lobster. Usually it’s Brazilian portuguese, but since you’re not specifically learning grammar, it’s not too confusing. Over the years, I have tried several and I’ve learned a few new words that way without it feeling like work. Here’s June’s Journey, for example. It’s a sort of detective game, where you win by spotting objects in a picture. You need to do it against a timer, so you get quite fast at matching the word with the object. My daughter has played in French and it was the most fun she’s ever had doing homework.
A lot of people I know have been using apps like Geography Quiz to learn names and flags of countries. I think my knowledge of geography is pretty passable thanks to a wasted youth, collecting commonwealth stamps, but I’ve been playing the game anyway, with the language settings tweaked, to learn the names of countries in portuguese.
Then there’s The Interactive Adventure of Dog Mendonca and Pizzaboy, based on the graphic novels by Filipe Melo and Juan Cavia. The sound is in english for some reason but the text is all portuguese. Oh and you might enjoy the André Ventura Dating Simulator if you have a very specific sense of humour…
Fill Your Ears With Podcast Goodness
If you’ve got some mindless task to perform, such as hoovering, ironing or writing a speech for Donald Trump, don’t listen to the new Stray Kids album, listen to someone speaking portuguese instead. Portuguese (as opposed to Brazilian) podcasts are hard to find on Apple iTunes, but I’ve recently started listening to podcasts on my phone instead of an ipod, which has changed my life, because Podcast Guru makes it much, much easier to find them. The trick is to open the confurations and set it to treat Portugal as your home country. I guess the same will be true for a lot of pod catchers. Doing this means you’ll be shown a range of local podcasts, and it’ll save you a lot of tedious legwork.
Obviously listening to podcasts is pretty challenging, because they’re aimed at a home audience, not at learners, but it’s a great way of developing listening skills if you don’t mind a challenge! I don’t recommend this for absolute beginners. I listened to a lot of RTP podcasts early on but I couldn’t follow them and drifted off, so I think it just taught me to not pay attention when a portuguese person is speaking. Not exactly a good habit! There are plenty of podcasts aimed specifically at learners and I’ve listed those in the portuguese learning resources page, so check those out if that sounds less daunting.
One strategy for finding something to listen to is to search the podcast directory for portuguese words that interest you (futebol, livros, telemóveis etc),. You might find some are in spanish or in brazilian portuguese but hopefully if you have folowed the suggestion above, about changing your app configuration, that will be kept to a minimum. Another route is to look for specific portuguese broadcaster like “rádio comercial”, RTP or TSF and see what they have to offer. Or search for the name of a celebrity you like and see if anything comes up. Here are a few I like, and, again, I’ll put them in order of how easy it is to follow the narrator’s speech patterns and accent. If you are struggling, some podcast apps, including the aforementioned Podcast Guru – allows you to change the playback speed so it’s more manageable.
- Sbroing Probably the easiest portuguese podcast, since it’s aimed at children. They did a whole recording of “O Principezinho” (The Little Prince) that has expired from iTunes but you can still download it from the site by clicking on 2015 in the blog archive links on the right hand side.
- Casa Trabalho Casa is nice and short and the theme is always about work/life balance so a lot of the episodes will include language borrowed from english (internet, business, lifestyle terms, mainly) which means you’re dealing with less unfamiliar vocabulary.
- Historias de Portugal True stories in a relaxed style
- Hotel is like a Radio 4 comedy series. In other words, not very funny and full over overcooked voice-acting. Episodes are about ten minutes long which should be a manageable amount of time to concentrate.
- Psychoterapia – Thoughts of a stand up comedian called Joana Gama. She speaks very slowly and calmly for a stand-up comedian. By the way, Psychotherapy in portuguese is psicoterapia, so the spelling is a kind of joke in itself, in case you were wondering!
- Cada Dia é Muito Tempo Not much of a theme about this one: just thoughts on whatever is happening at the time.
- Grande Reportagem Long-form audio reporting in a radio 4 stylee.
- Pessoal e Transmissível Interviews with people from all walks of life. The podcast isn’t being made any more but there are hundreds of old ones still available on iTunes.
- Conta-me Tudo Live Storytelling in the style of “The Moth”, so if you like that kind of thing, you might like this. I find it quite hard to follow the live recording, unfortunately
- Caderneta De Cromos A series on Rádio Comercial about eighties pop culture, covering Star Trek, Pat Benatar, Ghostbusters, Space 1999, Rocky, Pac Man… All the good stuff. Nuno Markl, the host of this show has done lots of podcasts, most famously “O Homem Que Mordeu o Cão” so if you like this you could look him up and choose from a variety. It’s quite fast though, and often there are a lot of people talking over each other which doesn’t help!
- Programa Cujo Nome Estamos Legalmente Impedidos de Dizer – Dudes talking about stuff on a programme from SIC Notícias. One of them is Ricardo Araújo Pereira and he’s always good value,
Taking a left-turn at the traffic lights, there are some good, inspirational podcasts for language-learners in general. Have a look at “Actual Fluency” or “Creative Language Learning” in your podcast app, for example. Personally, I can only take this kind of thing in small doses, but a little of it now and again is good. It reminds you that you’re not alone and it gives you some ideas from the hardcore language-ninjas.
Read A Book…
If you like reading, you might be wondering how to get started reading portuguese. It’s a long topic and I don;t think I’d even be capable of compiling a list of I wrote a couple of blog posts a while ago about this if you’d like to get some ideas. One is about choosing a portuguese book to read and the other has some suggestions about the actual mechanics of reading in another language.
…Or Listen To One If You Prefer
It’s quite hard to find european portuguese audiobooks, but there are a few around. I did a separate page dedicated to Audio Books if you’d like to know more.
If a whole novel sounds daunting, don’t despair, some of them are pretty simple. For example, one of the sites I link to is Storyglot which has manageably-sized stories in ebook and audio format that are targeted for specific language learning stage.
Watch Portuguese Videos Online
Try turning on the TV if you’re in Portugal, you lucky buggers. If you haven’t already seen it, have a look at the video about learning with the TV on the Youtube channel “Talk the Streets“, which will tell you the best way to use portuguese TV. If you’re like me and live on a small island off the coast of France, try RTP Play, SIC or TVI. It isn’t all available outside Portugal but there are some good ones. Ive recently finished A Crónica Dos Bons Malandros, for example, and that’s a lot of fun (but hard!)
Netflix e Resfriar
If you have Netflix… Well, this is the section that I need to update most since I wrote the first draft of this page. First of all, what’s available might depend on where you are. This page claims there are some older filmes like “Pátio das Cantigas” on Netflix. Well, maybe in Portugal there are, but you can’t watch them where I like in the UK, so check your listings, but as far as I’m aware, it’s a no. There’s a new series called Glória that’s just been released and looks really good. It’s set during the Cold War and the Estado Novo. If stand-up comedy is more your thing, try looking for Salvador Martinha’s “Tip of the Tongue”. He’s a comedian, and his show was the only legit European Portuguese offering on UK Netflix for years and years until Glória finally came out. He has another one due soon (I’m writing this in April 2023 so if you are reading in the future, it’s probably already out!), called “Rabo de Peixe”. And in late 2022 there was a release of films by portuguese directors called “A Metamorfose dos Pássaros”, “Soa”, “Mar”, “Desterro” and “Simon Chama”
It’s definitely worth getting hold of a browser extension called Language reactor and using that in conjunction with Netflix because you’ll get a better idea of what’s being said. You can double-up the subtitles in english and portuguese and it makes the whole experience much, much easier and more effective.
There’s quite a bit on Youtube though. Before you even start make sure you get hold of the language learning app for YouTube, which gives you a whole lot of extra options. In addition to whole films (which you can find at CinemaPortugues or The Portuguese Film Archive), Youtube is a great source for things like documentaries and vlogs. If you can find a channel that broadcasts regular updates on a subject you like, it’s a huge incentive to listen regularly, and you’ll find Youtube helps you along by suggesting similar things to try. I am a huge fan of books, so I started out googling “livros” and various other likely-sounding portuguese words until I managed to find the portuguese booktube community. If you can include something specifically Portuguese, rather than Brazilian, that will save a lot of effort. So, in the case of books, try searching for the names of authors (“Nuno Nepomuceno”, say, or “Dulce Maria Cardoso”, or “João Tordo”) along with the word “opinião” (review) and you’ll probably hit a book blogger.
Criteria to use when picking a channel might be:
- Does the subject matter interest me? (obviously!)
- Is the presenter engaging,
- Do they share my tastes in books/ motorbikes/ fashion/ antique silver cowcreamers/ whatever? A lot of Youtube videos are made by younger people, so you if you’re an old fart like me you might have to hunt around for people who have interests outside the young adult mainstream.
- Do they speak clearly?
I’ve recommended a few different channels in the past but there are so many I like, I don’t think I can just pick a few now. It’s a close-knit commuinity though and these three are probably the busiest and best-connected. If you watch them you’ll see other Booktubers mentioned and you can follow what sounds interesting.
- Books and Beers (aka “Books, Less Beers and a Baby” these days!)
- Books and Movies
- A Outra Mafalda
For general interest bantz you might try Wuant (one of the most famous vloggers and a real prize douchebag), Inês Rebelo (she lives in the UK and tells hair-raising stories about her life working in McDonalds), Por Falar Noutra Coisa (comedy stuff), Diogo Bataguas (a sort of Portuguese Stephen Colbert) or Helfimed (archipelago news with an amazing Açorean accent)
Feel The Burn
While you’re on Youtube, a lot of us are exercising indoors these days, so another thing you could try is following along with a workout by a portuguese instructor. It’s pretty easy to follow because you can watch what the instructor is doing but in the meantime, you will be learning the names of the various stages of the workout, different muscle groups, and useful phrases like “just five more seconds” and “let’s do it!” which are vital in these hectic times. I put up a blog post about portuguese exercise videos recently so you’ll find some ideas there.
Of course, you don’t have to be limited to just following exercise videos: recipes, DIY tutorials and how-to videos will often show actions accompanied by narration, so it’s a good way to pick up vocabulary related to a specific theme.
Rock Out… Or Fado Out If You Prefer
I’m a bit ambivalent about music as a learning method. A lot of people recommend it, including my wife, but I often find it’s like watching as a stream of syllables rushes by at speed. I think unless you’ve taken trouble to read the lyrics written down beforehand and compare with a translation, it’s difficult to pick the words out and appreciate them. Of course, you can still enjoy the music, but understanding the lyrics adds a whole other dimension. Most songs can be found on sites like lyricstranslate, and if you put some time into getting familiar with the meanings, it’ll pay off, I promise!
If there’s one thing Portugal has lots of, it’s music. Here are a few bands to try:
- Deolinda (by far my favourite Portuguese band)
- Ana Bacalhau (solo material by the singer from Deolinda)
- António Zambujo (Really good but surprisingly hard to understand (for me anyway))
- Amália Rodrigues (one of the all time greats of Fado)
- A Garota Não
- Dulce Pontes
- Miguel Araújo
- Os Azeitonas
- Xutos e Pontapés
- Oquestrada (careful with this one: they have some great songs but they occasionally sing in other languages – so don’t go accidentally learning french or anything!)
- Expensive Soul (funky, souly sort of thing – works surprisingly well in portuguese)
- Ana Moura
- Carminho (Especially the fado-ified versions of (Brazilian Composer) Tom Jobim’s works. They’re lovely)
- Quim Barreiros (Like Benny Hill but with an accordion – that doesn’t do it justice though, It’s very portuguese. I can never hope to see the appeal)
- Sara Tavares (watch out for the non-standard words and spellings though)
- Salvador Sobral (another one who sometimes sings in other languages – but he’s the guy who won the Eurovsision for Portugal a few years ago, and he deserved it too!)
- Carlos Do Carmo
- Ornatos Violetas (puts me in mind of Blind Melon and all that nineties mope rock)
- Moonspell (Heavy Metal: it’s not really my genre but you should definitely check out this amazing collaboration they did with Dulce Pontes)
- DAMA (everyone tells me how they like this band. I can’t be doing with them myself but maybe I just have bad taste)
- I should probably recommend some Hip-Hop Tuga but I’m not really a rap aficionado. Da Weasel? Same the Kid? This guy seems to have opinions – ask him!
- Oh and speaking of rap, don’t miss Gandim.
- Marcia (there are a few singers called Marcia – I mean this one ↓ )
Here’s my Spotify playlist if Spotify is your thing
Turn on the Subtitles of Your DVDs
If you’re clever enough to understand films made in Portuguese, that’s a great way to learn more but it’s pretty challenging. You’re not helped by the fact that the Portuguese film industry is not particularly strong compared to Brazil, even, let alone Hollywood. Some of the old classics are excellent (but beware modern remakes of classics like O Pátio das Cantigas for example). Variações, the biopic of “The Portuguese Bowie”, Antonio Variações is great.
I liked Capitaes de Abril very much and the films of António-Pedro Vasconcelos seem to be worth a look, like Os Imortais for example, or Call Girl, which looks a bit dodgy but I’ve heard is good. I’m pretty keen to get hold of a movie called Capitão Falcão, but can’t find a copy of it anywhere.
Some portuguese movies can be a bit grim though. Ossos, for example, is slow and turgid and has barely any dialogue in it so what’s the point? I have one called O Vale de Abraão which I’ve heard good things about but it looks pretty bleak too, and the bloody thing is three and a half hours long, so I’m putting it off…
Easier fare would be an English-Language film you’ve seen before, dubbed into your target language. That usually means children’s animated films, since nobody ever dubs live-action movies. Try and check that the actors doing the voice-overs aren’t Brazilian. The last thing you want is all that Eejy Beejy Beejy thing that Brazilians do. We have three dubbed films in the house and it’s good because my daughter likes watching them too. Turn on English subtitles if you are very new to the language, or Portuguese subtitles if you just want written clues to help you disentangle the words. Or neither if you’re a total badass.
Change the Way You Use The Web.
If you spend a lot of time online (ha ha ha, sorry, I’m kidding – obviously you do! It’s the twenty-first century and you probably haven’t left the house in weeks*!) why not challenge yourself to post in two languages, providing english and portuguese versions of your tweets, instagram captions and so on. You’ll lose some of your followers, but fuck ’em, if they can’t handle you in your lusophonic glory they don’t deserve you in anglo mode either. You’ll get better, more interesting ones instead.
You can massively increase the amount of language in your life by tweaking the settings on your most-used websites. The obvious one for me is my Google Account settings, which affects all my search results, plus the menus in Google Chrome, names of folders etc in Gmail, spellcheck in Google Docs, names of days and months in Google Calendar and half a dozen other things.
I’ve also changed twitter, but that doesn’t do much except teach you some stupid pretend words like “tweetar” (shouldn’t that be “pipiar”???). I daresay if you use Facebook you could get some mileage out of changing the language settings in that. You can change the settings of Windows itself if you have Windows 10 but it’s a bit harder on earlier versions. This might be the ONLY advanttage of Windows 10.
Going a step further, try changing the language settings on Android or iOS. It’s quite a big step because from then on just about anything you do using it will require a bit more concentration, but if you’re up for it, it’s a great way of getting familiar with vocabulary related to gadgets. Make sure you remember the steps you take so you’ll know how to change them back if you have to.
Label Your House
I mentioned, a while ago, posting post-it notes all over my house with the names of things on them. That’s quite a clever way of bumping up your vocabulary a bit without really trying, although with hindsight I wish I’d written the words in larger letters with a big fat marker, as I find myself peering at the post-its instead of having the words thrust in my face.
Lindsay Does Languages has a brilliant variant on this theme. While you’re at it, have a look at some of the other articles on her site. They’re pretty good fun.
*=This was just a joke in earlier versions of this post but it could easily have been literally true by the time this page got its second update, in Summer 2020.