Learning Portuguese I think I'm learning Portuguese I really think so.
July 15, 2008 4:17 AM   Subscribe

Learning Portuguese, I think I'm learning Portuguese, I really think so. : Or at least, I'd like to be.

I'm going to be making my first expedition to Portugal sometime this fall/winter and I would really like to learn some Portuguese first. I'm looking to pick up the basics (reading a menu, asking directions to the bathroom) and maybe hold down a basic conversation. Nothing too fancy.

I do speak two foreign languages, including French (which I'm told has a similar grammatical structure) so I'm not a language virgin. However, the last time I studied another language was in college, where I had those classes to go to and whatnot.

I live in Boston and I'd like to know if anyone has any experience with language classes around here (I'm not a student currently enrolled anywhere). Also, I'd really like to know about what "Teach Yourself Basic Portuguese In Your Sleep!" books/CDs or whatnot are actually useful and not just full of the "The monkey is on the branch" type information often found in intro level books.

Portuguese-specific programs/books are of course what I would most like to hear about, but I'm more than willing to check out general courses/books that helped you learn Swahili or Ancient Greek or whatever.
posted by grapefruitmoon to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"Teach yourself one day Portuguese" Amazon link has the real basics on one CD. I used that and a portuguese book I got in a secondhand bookshop to get me the basics before going to Brazil. The just one CD thing I found helpful - listening to it on repeat meant that it sank in and gave me auditory "hooks" to hang the rest off. I always find it a little difficult to motivate myself to do a full "Teach Yourself" language course, but the materials are good and make helpful reference books when you're actually there.

I found that pronunciation is a bit strange so you really want something auditory, but my brain works much better with written stuff, so the combination was good.

That and listening to lots of samba.
posted by handee at 4:42 AM on July 15, 2008

The Portuguese FSI Language course is one of the best ones out there, and free. I used it myself, successfully. The focus is on becoming conversational as quickly as possible.

Also, keep in mind that almost all Portuguese classes in the US are Brazilian Portuguese rather than European portuguese. Thats ok...its like US English vs. British English in many ways. There are some important differences (e.g. use of the gerund, pronunciation of -te, etc) but those things are easy to note and learn later...
posted by vacapinta at 4:50 AM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I just had a similar situation with Spanish. Here's what I did:

Bought Rosetta Stone levels 1 & 2. It was great! The language was presented in various forms, mixed up for visual, audio, and tactile learning. Somewhat fun too. Then I did a two week language immersion program in Mexico (just got back yesterday!) The program was equivalent to 1 semester of Spanish class and 1 conversation class (both at the most basic level). Living with a host family helped tremendously too. I am simply amazed at how much I learned in two weeks. Like you, I have a French background...it was horribly confusing at first, but then actually became a big help once I got into the Spanish groove (I could pull words and grammar rules from French when I wasn't sure, adapt them to the Spanish sound systems that I was sure about, and many times my guesses were totally correct!) Having the Rosetta Stone practice really helped too...many times I already knew the word being called upon and that was confidence building. Also, when I learned formal verb conjugations in class, it TOTALLY made sense because I was familiar with the specific sentences seen, heard, and read in my RS.

If you can, I HIGHLY recommend giving yourself some extra time in Portugal to put yourself in a learning environment there first. Many of the students from my school in Mexico were doing this before they launched their adventures. I have no doubt they were very glad they did.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:45 AM on July 15, 2008

I seem to say this every time a Portuguese-related askme comes up but:
If your plan is to go to Portugal, make sure you learn European Portuguese and not Brazilian Portuguese (note: Rosetta Stone only teaches the Brazilian variant, AFAIK). They're very different in pronunciation and somewhat in vocabulary. My wife, from Brazil, can barely understand Portuguese from Portugal.
posted by jozxyqk at 7:38 AM on July 15, 2008

For the record, and to follow up on jozxyqk's comment, I learned European portuguese but still find Brazilian portuguese easier to understand and follow.

My portuguese wife notes that more Brazilians struggle to understand Portuguese than Portuguese struggle to understand Brazilians. I believe this is because the Brazilians pronounce their words with more open and longer vowels so that words are easier to understand (whereas the PTs collide their consonants together more)

And so I disagree with jozxyqk to some extent. At the level you're at - that of a beginner - a Brazilian portuguese class is just fine since in both cases the fundamentals are the same. And your American/French accent will override any difference between Brazilian and Portuguese.
posted by vacapinta at 8:25 AM on July 15, 2008

Maybe on the beginner level it doesn't matter much, but it's important to at least know that there's a distinction. I barely stumble along in my own Brazilian Portuguese, but I've heard the wife try to hold a conversation with someone from Portugal and they might as well have been speaking Italian and French to each other.
posted by jozxyqk at 11:29 AM on July 15, 2008

The BBC has some stuff on Portuguese, but what I just looked at isn't quite like what I remember. Regardless, it appears to mostly deal with the European variety. I speak Brazilian Portuguese pretty well, and I strongly recommend studying the European version if you can. Just going through the first few lessons I noticed some big differences in pronunciation, had trouble understanding ridiculously basic things in the audio, and noticed some grammatical differences.
posted by dmo at 12:25 PM on July 15, 2008

My portuguese wife notes that more Brazilians struggle to understand Portuguese than Portuguese struggle to understand Brazilians.

True, but not for the reason you claim. The reason? Novelas! When the first Brazillian novela, "Gabriela", came on tv in Portugal, in 1977 if I'm not mistaken, people commented they needed subtitles to understant Brazillian Portuguese... So.

Definitely, get European Portuguese books/audio. It's different. But not so different as in they might as well have been speaking Italian and French to each other. One of my best friends lived in São Paulo for a while and was regularly asked "so where in Brazil do you come from?" And there are loads of Brazilians in Portugal and very few of them have a problem communicating. It just takes a little getting used to.

grapefruitmoon, depending on where in Portugal you're going, you might not need to speak much Portuguese, as English may do just fine, particularly for those situations you refer. It's very considerate of you, though, and people will love you for it (usually tourists son't try *at all*).

Boa sorte!
posted by neblina_matinal at 4:53 PM on July 15, 2008

Thanks for all the answers so far! I didn't mention this in the post just because I wanted to avoid the "Oh, just get your boyfriend to teach you!" response, but the reason I am going to Portugal in the first place is to travel with my boyfriend who is, as you may have guessed, Portuguese. The main reasons I want to learn some of the language before going are to be able to speak with his family (at least in basic conversations) without too much translation and also so I can go off and wander on my own to some extent.

So, if I have some audio issues, I should be able to at least poke him into giving me the European pronunciation.

And yes, he's mentioned that PT speakers don't have as much trouble understanding Brazilians as Brazilians do understanding them.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:06 PM on July 15, 2008

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