10 Ways to Expand Your Portuguese Vocabulary

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Often tasks to expand your Portuguese vocabulary can be a bore, a chore and downright unproductive, especially when words slip out of your memory within a week or two. Expanding your vocabulary is more of a mindset.

I have different types of students. Those that ask for each word they don’t know and those that find a back channel around gaps in their vocabulary. I believe the second stems from immersion abroad or a professor who doesn’t know a word of your native language.

You can’t ask a stranger in whatever country you find yourself “I am looking for the -insert “supermarket” in native language that the person has zero knowledge of-.”  You have to explain: I am looking for the place that sells food.

There’s always a way. Just find what you mean to say. Think the tactics of a 3-year-old. And in the meantime, work on the 10 tips below to steadily and organically expand your Portuguese vocabulary.

1. Buy 501 Portuguese Verbs Book

501 Portuguese verbs not only lists the most common verbs it is conjugates them on a neat page.

I bought this book when I started to learn Portuguese. True, I began learning at A and now a lot of verbs beginning with A, B and C. But it’s a good clear layout and for those of us that like physical resources, this a great one to have by your desk.

501 Portuguese Verbs book is good for:

Put a physical copy on your desk. The book includes the complete conjugations for each verb. Repetition means you add vocab while memorizing the conjugations.

Avoid the Pitfalls:

Don’t read from front to back or you’ll learn a lot of A,B, C verbs and not many X,Y,Z verbs. Open on a random page, add a post it note once you’ve learnt the contents. Repeat.

2. Learn the Top 1000 Portuguese verbs

This website called Hacking Portuguese, outlines the 1000 most common Portuguese verbs. If you don’t want to have another book, or you are travelling on the road, this is handy.

1000 Top Portuguese Verbs website is good for:

A reference list to check off verbs you’ve learnt wherever you find yourself.

Avoid the Pitfalls:

There are no conjugations included in Hacking Portuguese’s list. Many common verbs are irregular, so look up the conjugations via the Portuguese section of Reverso.com.

30-Portuguese-Phrases to expand your Portuguese vocabulary.

3. Read our 30 Portuguese Phrases You Should Know

Portuguese Phrases You Should Know post is good for:

Learning colloquial and very common Brazilian Portuguese phrases. Influenced by the lingo you’ll encounter everyday, this is the most useful quick reference to get you started.

Avoid the Pitfalls:

Watch Brazilian series or novelas to hear how these phrases are used in context. This will give you confidence to use them yourself.

4. Buy an Amazon Kindle for Reading in Portuguese

Amazon Kindle is good for:

When you read a Portuguese language book on your Kindle, you can hold down the word for the definition. Much quicker than typing into the dictionary each time you need to check a word.

Avoid the Pitfalls:

Choose books that are not too challenging or you’ll be bogged down by unknown-word-fatigue. Rather than novels, choose non-fiction books in a subject that interests you or on something in your industry. As you advance you can start with simple novels. One of the most famous Portuguese literary books in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist (O Alquimista).

Alternatively, you can re-read books you love in Portuguese. The Harry Potter series will be easy to follow, if you’ve already read it in your native language.

5. Watch these Instagram accounts that highlight a different Portuguese saying everyday

Instagram can be a distraction, but there are many accounts dedicated to education. Try the following:

Street Smart Brazil

The Portuguese Dictionary

Following Portuguese Instagram accounts is good for:

Bite size content of idioms and slang. Effortlessly incorporating Portuguese vocabulary into your leisure time.

Avoid the Pitfalls:

Follow one profile at a time and go back to their timeline to review the Portuguese vocabulary after a week or two. This helps solidify what you’ve learnt.

6. Subtitles in Portuguese When Watching ANY Movie

Keeping the Portuguese Subtitles on is good for:

Quickly seeing the Portuguese alternatives for everyday words. You’ll quickly rack up the most common dialogues and expressions.

Avoid the Pitfalls:

Keep a notebook near you to write down words that strike you as essential. This prevents the words going in one ear and out the other. Furthermore, be cautious that sometimes the subtitles are translated a little differently. For instance, the translator may opt for a slightly different word so the text can fit on the page and be read at the same pace as the movie scenes move. Remember, to check vocabulary you learn on a dictionary afterwards.

7. For Each Word You Learn, Look Up Its Relatives

For example you learn the noun ‘confusion’. In your vocabulary glossary write down the following:

Noun: Confusion = confusão

Adj: Confusing/ confused = confundido or confuso

Verb: to confuse = confundir

Adv: confusingly = confusamente

Learning word relatives in Portuguese is good for:

Quickly bunching vocab together and learning the common endings for word types (verb, noun, adj, adv). It expands your Portuguese vocabulary 4-fold and is a natural way for you to make an educated guess on words you come across. Avoiding heading to a dictionary or translation app. This is how children learn language after all!

Avoid the Pitfalls:

Use the words in sentences because learning them together can mean you get mixed up. Using them in context clarifies this. Over time you’ll automatically learn how to transform a verb to a noun etc.

8. Make a Synonym List to Expand Your Portuguese Vocabulary

Brazilians have a hundred ways to say cool for example. Use this website for Portuguese synonyms https://www.sinonimos.com.br/bacana/ to add to your glossary.

  • Beleza
  • Legal
  • Bacana
  • Show
  • Maneira
  • Joia
  • Maravilha
  • Foda
  • Ótimo

Making a Portuguese Synonym List is good for:

Expanding your adjectives, so you no longer sound like a robot. Humans are creatures of creativity! We have language to play with not just for practical day-to-day. We gifted ourselves poetry, novels, plays, series, films all with the gift of language. Use synonyms!

Avoid the Pitfalls:

Run verbs through a dictionary like Linguee to check the synonym can be used in the context you are expecting.

Translate news headlines to expand your Portuguese vocabulary.

9. Translate a Couple of News Headlines Each Day

Look up the words you don’t know as you translate the news headlines.

Try these news sources:

https://www.bbc.com/portuguese (most simple language)

https://g1.globo.com/ Brazil’s Globo is Brazil’s most popular and free news source

https://brasil.elpais.com (Spanish based newspaper)





Translating and reading Brazilian News Sources is good for:

Expanding your Portuguese vocabulary of news and it is less tedious than translating whole articles. You can read the headlines without subscribing to the news source. Furthermore, many of the same news titles will feature across the globe. This means you can quickly translate titles from other news sources you’ve read that day.

Avoid the Pitfalls:

Vary the news source as each has different tones. Also vary the genre for example ‘technology’ one day, followed by ‘health’ the next. This helps expand your Portuguese vocabulary across different topics.

10. Try a Different Word Game Each Day

The Geniol website has numerous games, quizzes and puzzles in Portuguese for free. The “Jogos de Palavras,” can expand your vocabulary when paired with an online dictionary.

Playing Portuguese Language Games is good for:

Learning small words and the correct feminine or masculine endings to words. Also, it is a great way to experience a range of difficulty in the games. This makes it suitable for all levels of Portuguese language learners.

Avoid the Pitfalls:

Make sure you use a dictionary like Linguee.com to search for the meanings of the words. In games like the Anagrams can end up just punching in letters and hope the best. To use your time valuably, create a glossary with the most useful words you learn.

Check out our other posts on Learning Portuguese:

Common Portuguese Pronunciation Mistakes
Brazilian Poetry by Cora Coralina
Best Resources for Learning Portuguese
30 Portuguese Phrases To Know

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