My story of learning Portuguese.
I am far from gifted in language acquisition. Heck, I failed Spanish monumentally. Not even just with an F. I got a U; an unclassified.
If there was someone who should have given up languages, it was me. Yet, I didn’t.
After said “‘u,” I proceeded to spend lunchtimes studying with my Andalusian Spanish teacher and my grades crept up. I rounded off college with a B in Spanish. Then I was accepted into university … to study languages.
It’s about grit.
Learning a second language is simply persistent immersion until you absorb something that resembles communication.
I’ve been learning Portuguese for a solid 9 years.
I’ve been terrible at Portuguese. Two years after I began studying, I stepped into a taxi in Rio de Janeiro on my study abroad, and I couldn’t even explain my address. On the second day in Brazil, I got lost in a construction site and the only word I managed to stumble out was “prédio,” meaning building. I remained lost.
Alas, I trooped home and tried again the next day. I watched Brazilian novelas on Netflix and downloaded Duolingo. Four years after studying I had a breakdown involving a great aunt – read about it here. But no matter how bad I was at Portuguese I scrambled on. Slashing my way through the jungle of non-sensical pronunciation and baffling subjunctives.
Until one day I was accepted to an interpreters course. I got terrible feedback from teachers. I would go to the 3 hour classes and afterwards collapse into a deep nap at the mental exhaustion of it all. Two years later I gradated with a pass.
Now? I teach Portuguese.
Over the years I found that the trick is pretending you already understand the language. Read world affairs on a Brazilian news channel, learn about world history in a Portuguese history course and end the day watching Brazilian comedy skits.
This is my list of the best resources for learning Portuguese from nearly a decade of studies.
The best YouTube channels for learning Portuguese
On the right hand side of the YouTube screen you can reduce the speed of videos. Reducing it to 0.75 is a good place to start as it still sounds quite natural.
Journalist Eduardo Bueno introduces the less known history of Brazil in his popular YouTube channel Buenas Ideias. From the Wild West of Brazil to the Brazilian Indiana Jones his videos, ranging from 3-15 minutes, are a delightful exploration into the country’s history. Bueno has a southern Brazilian accent hailing from Rio Grande do Sul. He also has a tendency to deviate from the topic, so you don’t need to understand every utterance of his convoluted explanations. The narration is not tightly scripted and therefore exposes you to more authentic speech.
Porta dos Fundos
Porta dos Fundos won an International Emmy Award for Comedy in 2019 for the short comedy The Last Hangover. It covers every situation imaginable, from spats with crazy girlfriends, making light of robbery, to poking fun at Trump. The channel puts up 3 videos per week. Because the average video is 3 minutes you can re-play multiple times and use the high-quality English subtitles.
Se Liga Nessa História
Se Liga Nessa História is an educational project that posts YouTube videos on History, Philosophy, Sociology and Geography. They also have some guidelines on the standard Brazilian university entrance exams. These videos are 10- 15 minutes long with plenty of visual clues that aid understanding.
Find more study guides on their website https://www.seliganessahistoria.com.br
YouTube Channels for recipes in Portuguese:
Bela Gil’s Channel:
Bela Gil is an advocate for conservation and healthy food choices. She makes vegetarian recipes using fresh organic ingredients, many of which are native to Brazil. Bela’s YouTube channel features discussions and shares recipes in the following categories: maternity, baby food, snacks filmed with her daughter, various interviews, home DIYs, lunchbox recipes and small conservation challenges (such as a week without plastic).
The Nhac GNT YouTube Channel also features many of Bela Gil’s recipes along with other stars from the Food Channel.
Rodrigo Hilbert on GNT
If you prefer a meaty diet Rodrigo Hilbert likewise features on the GNT YouTube channel. Hilbert is from Rio Grande do Sul, a state that survives on BBQ, basically.
Resources for learning Portuguese Grammar and Vocabulary:
Linguee is a dictionary that pulls translations from around the internet to find you the best fit for a phrase. There is also a speedy app available.
It’s useful because many words can have multiple meanings. Take the following Portuguese examples:
Applicar = To apply (make up or cream for example)
Candidatar-se = To apply (for a job).
Conjuguemos helps to learn the many tenses in Portuguese. You can drill the verb endings into your head in these intense 5-minute pratices. Categories are divided into regular and irregular verbs.
Portuguese with Rafa
Portuguese with Rafa is a comprehensive one stop shop for learning grammar. He has compiled a detailed and broad overview of the most common and most challenging parts of Portuguese grammer. I reference Rafa’s work when teaching students because of his indepth knowledge.
Duolingo is an app that guides you through grammar and vocabulary in short, interactive bursts. Try setting up notifications to practise 15 mins a day for steady growth. Duolingo shines on teaching pronunciation and the small easily forgotten words like prepositions and articles.
Netflix series in Portuguese:
The following series take you into a cultural immersion of Brazil. Though, you may want to include the subtitles either in English or Portuguese depending on your level.
Coisa Mais Linda
Coisa Mais Linda – takes you back to the story of Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s. Following the path of the female protagonists the series tackles issues of sexism, racism, macho culture and femicide as the women struggle for autonomy in their careers and lives.
Sintônia – set in São Paulo the series follows the steps of the 3 teenage protagonists as they find themselves navigating life in a fictional favela in the biggest city in Brazil. For foreigners learning Portuguese the series is useful because it features a lot of slang and common day-to-day language. Throughout the episodes whatsapp messages received by the characters are displayed on screen. Something I found useful myself to see the written language.
3% – set in a distopioan world this series follows a group of teens as they must pass a government test that only 3% of the population will be approved. Those 3% who pass live offshore in a paradise, whereas the rest of the population live inland in deep poverty.
Podcasts for Portuguese Learners
Podcasts can be challenging when you are beginning a language because of the lack of visual clues. As a beginner choose a podcast created specifically for language learning. You can discover numerous free options on your app store. My votes are for the two following options.
Brazilian Podclass would accompany me on my university commutes. There are different levels according to your stage of learning, therefore make sure you select the appropriate one. This podcast is particularly helpful for the 2nd section which offers in-depth translation of phrasal verbs, idiomatic phrases or common sayings either in English or Portuguese.
Here is the online library of the 575 podcasts if you want to stream straight to your laptop:
Curated especially for intermediate Portuguese learners Fala, Gringo! turned up just last year. The podcast presenter Leni speaks clearly, but at a natural speed that means you need to already have significant vocabulary to get the gist of the episode. Leni does, however, take the time to explain challenging words and phrases. You can also access a the transcripts of each episode from the Fala, Gringo website.
A more extensive list of Portuguese podcasts once you are an intermediate to advanced Portuguese speaker can be found on Fluentu https://www.fluentu.com/blog/portuguese/portuguese-podcast/.
Short stories to read when learning Portuguese:
Reading short and familiar stories from childhood can be a quick way to build up vocabulary. In comparison with news channels they use more of a variety of past tenses, so it’s a good way to grasp the tenses that don’t exist in English.
Read fables to learn Portuguese
Fábulas e Lendas lists short fables both from Brazil and some known worldwide. You may need a dictionary, but the stories are concise mostly just a couple of paragraphs long. A longer one on this site tells the story of how the the first mandioca was born (como nasceu a primeira mandioca), one of the staple foods of Brazil.
Só História divides the myths and legends according to region of Brazil.
Stories to sleep (Histórias para dormir)
Common bedtime stories can be very useful if you want to avoid using the dictionary every other word. História para Dormir has a collection of simple tales and you’ll be familiar with the plots. Amongst the stories are The Ugly Duckling, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel.
Free News Sources for learning Portuguese:
You read the news everyday, so read it in Portuguese.
G1 – featuring the top stories around Brazil, this free resources is great for diving into a long list of topics on a superficial level. The language is simple and there are short videos available too.
BBC Brasil – uses the simplest language form but has more in depth and neutral stories from Brazil and the world. Here you can access some of the news articles that would be published on the BBC main page, but have the chance to practice your Portuguese while getting your news fix.
El País – The news platform is considered one of the best pipartisan sources in the world. The Brazilian Portuguese stories are limited to 3-4 a day, but it is good if you want a more challenging dive into news.
Paid Portuguese News Sources
Here are another four high quality paid news sources available online with subscription. You can read 3 articles a week from each one for free, so if you jump between these sources and the free ones you will have a constant stream of quality reading material.