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An Unlesson

I’ve just had a meeting with a Portuguese teacher who I thought was doing something interesting. Her name is Catarina and she runs The Language Unschool.

If you hang around the various online forums where Portuguese learners congregate, you’ve probably come across a lot of teachers looking for new students among the pool of curious, interested, potential learners who are trying to figure out where to start. The teachers usually have YouTube channels with a range of topics new learners are interested in: how to watch subtitled TV, how to use Ser and Estar, how to say the days of the week and so on, and they use that to draw in paying punters.

Catarina was fishing in darker waters though. She contacted me via Reddit after I’d already been writing in WritestreakPT every day for a few weeks and invited me for a free consultation. I liked the sound of the school. The package has a few components: a smartphone app, grammar videos, group sessions activities that aim to draw out people’s Portuguese voice and getting them talking. She seemed very switched on and presented the options well.

She’d really made an effort to demonstrate her personal touch too, because she’d looked at some of my recent posts, where I’ve talked about my January yoga binge and she’d actually teamed up with a local yoga teacher and made a video about yoga in Portuguese, released on the day she contacted me 👇

As a piece of entrepreneurship, it was impressive. I felt like she was making an effort to win me over as a customer: where most teachers aim for broad appeal, she seemed to be aiming for a specific niche. That’s how it felt anyway: the approach, the description, even the pricing structure, all seemed to be tailored to suit people who had already made up their mind to stick at it long term.

Anyway, I tried out the yoga video yesterday morning . I had to turn the subtitles on because I couldn’t hear very well but the inbuilt YouTube subtitles have a black background. That created some unexpected humour, because at one point the teacher got down on the floor and… And then I couldn’t see her any more! It looked like she’d had a sudden attack of shyness and decided to hide behind the subtitles, which made me laugh out loud. Anyway, if you fancy giving it a go, maybe play with the video settings and see if you can change the subtitles so they don’t have a background.

As I’ve said in some previous posts, doing workouts in Portuguese is a good way of learning some of the more niche body vocabulary and you’ll get a decent stretch out of it too, so what’s not to like?

I’m still pondering whether to go for the course. I’ll sleep on it. I definitely like the idea, and I need something to boost me towards spoken fluency, but I’m not sure how it fits into the rest of my life. Also, with the third world war around the corner, maybe nothing matters any more.

Hm, got a bit dark there at the end, didn’t it? I caught a glance at the news. Sorry.

Posted in English

Come+A’s you are

Closely related to the post about vir and chegar: what’s the difference between “vir a saber” and “vir saber”? Well, I’m glad you asked!

Vir a saber, as you’ll know if you read “The Spy Who Chegged Me” is a way of saying that you came to know something, perhaps in a slightly roundabout way, by chance, but the light dawned and then you knew.

Vir Saber is more like “I came to find out”.

This is good because I had been wondering how to interpret a line in one of the poems (it’s a song, actually) that I learned a week or two back. the people in the next room either “finally got to know about us” or “came to find out about us”. Well, now I know so here we go with a translation of the whole thing

Bem te avisei, meu amor
Que não podia dar certo
Que era coisa de evitar
I gave you fair warning, my love
That this wasn’t going to turn out well
And it was something best avoided
Como eu, devias supor
Que, com gente ali tão perto
Alguém fosse reparar
Like me, you have to suppose
That with people so nearby
Someone was going to notice
Mas não
Fizeste beicinho
E como numa promessa
Ficaste nua para mim
But no
You made a pouty face
And as if in a promise
Got naked for me
Pedaço de mau caminho
Onde é que eu tinha a cabeça
Quando te disse que sim
Bit of a wrong turn
Where was my head at
When I said yes to you
Embora tenhas jurado
Discreta permanecer
Já que não estávamos sós
Although you had sworn
To remain discreet
Since we weren’t alone
Ouvindo na sala ao lado
Teus gemidos de prazer
Vieram saber de nós
Hearing in the room next door
Your moans of pleasure
They came to find out about us
Nem dei pelo que aconteceu
Mas mais veloz e mais esperta
Só te viram de raspão
I didn’t even know what had happened
But being faster and smarter
They only caught a brief glimpse of you
A vergonha passei-a eu
Diante da porta aberta
Estava de calças na mão
I went through the shame
In front of the open door
With my trousers in my hand

It’s great isn’t it! Lots of really good stuff in there. The one line that I really had trouble understanding was the first line of the last stanza “A vergonha passei-a eu” which seems like he’s saying “I passed her the shame” as if he were trying to blame it all on the girl, but that doesn’t make sense for all sorts of reasons. The “-a” on the end of passei is actually referring to “a vergonha”. So it’s like “The shame, I passed through it”. Normally in conversation you’d say “passei pela vergonha” but poetic license applies. Here’s the full thing. I’ve probably posted it on here before but I just love it so much it’s worth repeating.

Posted in English

The Spy Who Chegged Me

Structures I’ve seen in books and never been quite sure how to parse. According to Ciberdúvidas,

Vir + A + Infinitive

Is a periphrastic form of a verb. Wait, wait, hold it right there, what is a periphrastic form? It just means you use extra words to give the verb a slightly different dynamic or even to change the tense. In english it’s things like “You shall go to the ball” or “I do like chips”. It might change the verb’s tense or it might just make it sound more complete and more dynamic. Maybe like in English: How do you come to be in a place like this? It has the sense of ending up somewhere by chance, and it sounds more interesting than “How did you get here?” or “Why are you here?”

There’s an example in the book I’m reading now. Talking about Bolsonaro’s attempts to blame minorities for everything Ricardo Araújo Pereira says “Acredito que a gente ainda venha a descobrir que há inúmeros gays negros e índios na Lava Jato”.

Chegar + A + Infinitive

“Chegar a”, on the other hand is more like “finally managed to…”. It’s stressing the end of the action coming after a long time or a strenuous effort. Searching for an example similar to the one above, I hit on this one which is from a religious website talking how, after a lot of prayer, the believer can finally come to understand the project that God has laid out:

A oração também se torna caminho para o discernimento vocacional, não só porque Jesus mesmo convidou a rogar ao dono da messe, mas porque é somente na escuta de Deus que o crente pode chegar a descobrir o projeto que Deus mesmo traçou: no mistério contemplado, o crente descobre a própria identidade, «escondida com Cristo em Deus»

Posted in English


This 👇

Is exactly the sort of thing I love. The writer is Ricardo Araújo Pereira, comedian, columnist and all round good guy (well, as far as I know) Anyway, in the passage above, he’s describing a song I don’t know and saying that if a foreigner were to hear it, although they would rightly spot that it sounds lovely, they probably wouldn’t understand it and certainly wouldn’t notice that the last word of every line is “proparoxítona”* and nor would they understand that the word “proparoxítono” itself is proparoxítona**. And he’s right: it is a lovely song and when I read this in bed last night I had no clue what Proparoxítono meant but I knew I had to find out as soon as I woke up.

First of all, let’s hear the song

Oh my god, that is the good stuff alright. I know it’s Brazilian Portuguese, not Portuguese Portuguese but Jesus Christ it’s good. Inject it directly into my veins! There is something slightly strange about the rhythm of the verse though isn’t there? And I never would have spotted what it was.

Before I get I to it, let’s lay a bit of groundwork by thinking about where the stress falls in a Portuguese word.

The vast majority of words in Portuguese put the stress on either the final syllable (if the last letter is r, l, z, m, u, i or n) or the penultimate one (basically, all other letters). Any exceptions to the rule need an accent to be added as a hint to the reader. So for example there are a lot of words that end in – ável or – ível that are pronounced with the stress on the a and the i respectively. If the accent wasn’t there you’d have to say incrivEL and confortavEL. But it’s pretty easy and you get used to it, and before you know it, you’re just used to the rhythm of Portuguese speech without even being conscious of it.

Proparoxítono means that the stress falls on the antepenultimate (last-but-two) syllable. These always have to have an accent because they break the normal rules, like bêbado (BÊ-ba-do) and mágico (MÁ-gi-co) and sábado (SÁ-ba-do) and última and único and tímido and… Well, and every other word he finishes a line with in the song, which is why you get this effect that’s really unusual in a Portuguese song, where the last two syllables of every line are unstressed.

Oh my god, that’s so satisfying. I love it! It’s the most value I’ve ever got out of a single paragraph, I think: a new word, a new song and a new way of noticing the rhythm of Portuguese music.

Anyway, if you want to know more, this video has some good analysis. It’s in Brazilian Portuguese too, so be warned if you’re trying to avoid the dialect. It’s worth making an exception for though.

*it has an a in the end here, unlike in the title, because its an adjective and palavra is feminine

**Now I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t that the stuff Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying think should be used to cure Covid?” Close, but no, it’s not that either.

Posted in Portuguese

Uma Corrida

Tenho tentado muitas vezes recentemente correr 10 quilómetros dentro de uma hora, mas em corrida após corrida os meus tempos tenho andado do lado errado da hora. Pois, tenho meio século*. Quiçá não deva estar assim tão chocado com** o meu declínio!
Mas enquanto há vida há esperança. Ontem finalmente atingi o meu objetivo. Depois de passar 5 semanas a treinar e a evitar hidratos de carbono e de ter perdido quatro quilogramas, fiz mais uma corrida num parque, à*”” chuva e cruzei a meta em 57:05. Muuuuiiito mais rápido do que o normal. Fiquei tão orgulhoso. Ainda há vida nestas pernas velhas.

(quando os organizadores deu me o meu número pessoal, foi 666. Que susto! Espero que a minha vitória não seja devida a Satã)

*=Tenho meio século sounds better than tenho um meio século – I have half century = I’m half (a) century old.

**=chocado com is another of those situations where the preposition isn’t what you expect. It’s “shocked with” not “shocked by”

***=and another! At the rain, not in the rain.

I got my clock time about 5 days later and it was even better! Under 56! Hail Satan!
Posted in English

40 Dias and 40 Noites

I’m a 40 days into my long march to C1 proficiency. I’m doing pretty well. Here’s what I’ve been doing in each of the goals:

  • Make a new Twitter account, tweet only in PortugueseDone! I’ve been updating daily, trying to pass as an illiterate Portuguese guy. 52 followers so far and nobody has come out and denounced me as an imposter but I daresay they are thinking it. I did have one person – a Brazilian – refer to me a a Tuguinho, which I enjoyed. She was a nutjob though so it probably doesn’t count.
  • Watch one Portuguese movie or series episode per week. Done! So far, half way through a series called Crónica dos Bons Malandros and I’ve watched one film. I don’t watch much telly generally so this is hard work.
  • Finally finish “A Actualidade em Português*” Done!
  • Then do one esercise of Português Atual* C1 or one from this course per day. Done! I’ve hit at least one exercise per day, usually quite a lot more. I’m about two thirds of the way through the book now and I’ll start on the course next.
  • Only read Portuguese books (exception for work-related books that I need to read for career development). Done. I’ve read no books in English since the start of the challenge apart from a work-related book about spreadsheets.
  • Listen to mainly portuguese audio. Could probably be better tbh. I’ve listened to quite a lot but it’s still in the minority.
  • Memorise one Portuguese poem per week. I’ve done four: Coroai-me De Rosas by Ricardo Reis, Segue o Teu Destino by the same author, Flagrante by Antonio Zambujo and Tenho Pena de Quem é o Meu Amigo by Gregório Duvivier. So I’m one short. This is really painful to be honest.
  • Write something each day on the Portuguese Writestreak subreddit. Done! My streak is up to 40 days now.
  • Follow the Bertrand Portuguese History Course once a fortnight Done! I’ve mentioned this a few times because of the scandal surrounding the teacher. I missed the first session due to senility but that was just before the challenge period so I’m still golden!

I’ve done some side-quests too! My first one was the project I did to try and understand the outline of Portuguese politics; then I went to see a night of (mostly) Portuguese music and this week I tried my hand at cooking a pudding called Pudim de Leite Condensado from a Portuguese recipe.

Behold its majesty!

Pudim de Leite Condensado
The goodness within!

So that’s how I’m doing. The schedule is a lot easier than I expected. I’m finding it a faff to fit the weekly goals in, especially now I’m in full time work again, but I’ll keep plugging away!

Posted in English

Is This The Most Confusing Verb in the Portuguese Language?

Image of a "Soul Reaver" from some game called Legend of Kain, listed as under a fair use license on Wikipedia. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the article
Frankly, this image is not helping. If anything, it is adding to the confusion.

So I came across this freaky verb today: “Reaver“. No, not rever, reaver. It’s based on the verb “haver” but with the re- prefix. Its h disappears because it would be silent anyway: re+[h]aver=reaver.

Haver is a weird verb to start with because it’s almost always used in the third person singular and it means something like “exists” or “there is”, but it has another meaning, which is “to have” or “to possess” and that’s the sense that’s used with reaver. It means “have again”, “recoup” or “get back”.

Cool, cool, cool, so let’s look for examples of it in use? Most likely form we’ll come across will be re+[h]á=reá, right?

Wrong! Reaver is a defective verb, meaning it doesn’t have a full conjugation. So even though the most-used form of haver is the third person singular present indicative form, that form doesn’t even exist for reaver. The only two forms Priberam’s conjugation allows in the present tense are the nós and vós forms.

Some examples of legitimate use are given in the dictionary entry

  • Ainda não conseguiu reaver o dinheiro que gastou (he still hadn’t been able to get back the money he’d spent)
  • Por duas vezes, eu perdi óculos escuros que nunca reouve (Twice I lost a pair of sunglasses that I never got back)
  • Paradoxalmente, era quando reavia as forças que a certa altura julgava exíguas (paradoxically it was while he was rebuilding his forces that, at some point, he judged them to be too weak)

But if you look at some of the examples Priberam gives of the past-tense use of reaver you come across a citation of a page by Portugal rebelde blog:

  • Cada vez que se reouve uma canção corre-se o risco de reparar em aspetos musicais ou poéticos de que não nos tínhamos apercebido. (Every time one hears a song anew, one runs the risk of noticing a musical or poetical aspects that we hadn’t recognised before)

Well… that’s *not* an example of the past tense of reaver though. That’s the present tense of “reouvir“, meaning to hear again, surely…? And so is this citation from a blog called French Kissin’, also cited by Priberam

  • O disco não tenta sistematizar o tema, muito menos esgotá-lo. Talvez por ser tão despretensioso, ouve-se e reouve-se sem cansar. (The record doesn’t try to systematise the theme, let alone exhaust it. Maybe because it is so unpretentious, one can listen and relisten without getting tired of it)

Googling what I thought would be common forms of the verb, I didn’t really find many examples of it being used in the wild. So… It’s useful to know this exists in case it crops up in books but I don’t think I will be rushing to try and use this one in conversation!

If you’re hungry for more pain and suffering, you can find out more about reaver in this Ciberdúvidas article.

Posted in English

Double Participles

Some verbs have two past participles: one that forms part of compound verbs and one that is used primarily as an adjective

InfinitiveStandard ParticipleShorter Participle
AcenderTens acendido a vela?A vela está acesa
AceitarEle tem aceitado as desculpasAs desculpas foram aceitas
ElegerOs americanos têm elegido TrumpO palhaço cor de laranja foi eleito
GanharEu tenho ganhado muito dinheiroO jogo contra Ucrânia já está ganho
PagarMuito obrigado por ter pagado a contaNão te rales, pai, a contas está paga
ExpulsarO governo tinha expulsado o embaixadorNão trabalhei e acabei por ser expulso
Posted in Portuguese

Paua Rego and her Contemporaries

Here’s a text describing my visit to this exhibition in London. Butt_roidholds gave me some really detailed corrections and I’ve written the most instructive ones in footnotes at the bottom.

Fui ontem ao* Europe House (um prédio em Londres que pertence ao parlamento europeu) para ver uma exibição de arte chamada “Paula Rego and her Contemporaries”. Consiste numa coleção de obras de três artistas portugueses que moram/moraram no Reino Unido.

Ana Palma

Ana Palma faz arte sobre a temática** da feminilidade*** e do corpo feminino. O estilo dela lembra-me de… Sei lá… De ilustrações num livro sobre a natureza: corpos e rostos com tons de aguarela e lápis**** coloridos, sobreposições de diagramas biológicos (esqueletos, órgãos) e outros animais (principalmente besouros).

Um Desenho de Ana Palma

Cliff Andrade

O que mais me agarrou na secção de Cliff Andrade foi “A Tale of Two Madeira Cakes”. A obra consiste numa mesa com um bolo de mel (um bolo madeirense) e uma peça de Madeira Cake (um bolo inglês que antigamente foi bebido com vinho daquela ilha) e várias coisas quotidianas do dia a dia em Inglaterra e em Portugal. Fez-me rir porque algumas coisas (uma caneca do casamento real, uma outra dos “flopsy bunnies” , e hum… Uma garrafa de uísque escondida sob a cadeira por algum motivo!) existiam na minha casa quando era jovem em Preston mas hoje em dia estou casado com uma madeirense. É mesmo um crossover episode das nossas vidas nos anos 80!

A Mesa de Cliff Andrade

Paula Rego

E finalmente… Fico sem palavras para descrever os desenhos da terceira artista, Paula Rego. É incrível. Ela é a mais conhecida dos três artistas e quando vi os quadros, soube instantaneamente porquê!

Scarecrow by Paula Rego

Que pena que o sítio onde foram expostos era pouco acolhedor. Um visitante de cada vez, muito barulho, segurança rigorosa na entrada… Mas vale a pena apesar de tudo isto. Haverá uma exibição de obras da PR daqui a pouco na Galeria Tate mas sou hipster e não quero ir com os turistas onde está tudo fácil e conveniente!

*=As so often, I made the mistake of using “para”. Ir+para is used for permanent or long term moves. As this is just a quick visit it’s ir+a.

**=temática is better than tema because tema is one of those annoying words that’s masculine even though it ends in an a.

***=I’d expect this to be “femininidade” because -dade endings até usually cognate with the same word in English with a -ty ending like “eternidade” and “liberdade” but in this case its slightly different.

****=the plural of lápis is lápis

Posted in Portuguese


So first of all, don’t worry if you can’t find the title of this post in a dictionary. It’s a pun. Halterofilismo means weight lifting, iron-pumping and that kind of thing. This text is about my daughter (filha) doing it so hence the joke.

The corrections are kindly supplied by ThisCatIsConfused. Not too many today thank goodness.

A minha filha tem uma nova ambição: ser capaz de fazer flexões de braços. No entanto, não é nada fácil, e se não for capaz de fazer uma, nem sequer conseguirá praticar para melhorar.

Mas há uma solução. Temos uma barra em casa. É pequena, com pesos de 1, 2 e 5 quilogramas. Sugeri ela fizesse “supinos”* com a barra até que os músculos dela ganham mais força. Ela usa 3 kg em cada lado da barra.

Fernando Pessoa looking ripped
Do You Even Lift, Pá?

O melhor método é fazer 4 séries de repetições com a barra que devem ser difícil o suficiente para desafiar os músculos, sem ser cansativo demais. Talvez cinco. Depois de cada uma, beba uns golos de água e faça uma pausa durante dois minutos. Finalmente, a quinta e última série será ainda mais dura para esforçar** os músculos ao limite! A dieta é importante tambem. Os músculos precisam de proteína para se fortalecerem. O leite é uma boa fonte deste nutriente.

*=when this was corrected, it was suggested that I change supinos to “elevações” but I don’t think that’s best: elevações means lifts and is used for some exercises including pull-ups. I think the specific movement I’m talking about, that works the same muscles as a push-up is called supino (bench press). The only videos I can find about it are Brazilian though so I’m not 100% sure.

**=I originally wrote this as “empurrar” ie literally “push them to the limit” but that seems not to work.

I made a memrise deck with Portuguese gym terms in it a couple of years ago and it’s here if you’re interested in learning more about pain and sweat.