How to learn European Portuguese

Learning a new language can be a daunting task and for many of us, it’s hard to know where to start.

Learning Portuguese is no exception, the speed of speech and muffled pronunciation can be intimidating.

If you’re thinking about learning Portuguese, you’ve probably got all kinds of questions like:

  • How long does it take to learn Portuguese?
  • What’s the fastest way to learn Portuguese?
  • Is it difficult to learn Portuguese?
  • Should I learn Brazilian or European Portuguese?
  • What are the best ways to learn a new language?

These are just some of the questions that were whirling through my mind as I contemplated learning Portuguese. That’s why I decided to answer these questions for you and provide you with the resources that’ll have you speaking fluently in no time.

How long does it take to learn Portuguese?

Research led by the US Foreign Institute determined that it takes 480 hours to reach basic fluency in group 1 languages and 720 hours for language groups 2-4.

A group 1 language? What does that mean?

Well, the FSI breaks down languages into 4 groups for English speakers:

  • Group 1: French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swahili
  • Group 2: Bulgarian, Burmese, Greek, Hindi, Persian, Urdu
  • Group 3: Amharic, Cambodian, Czech, Finnish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Lao, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Thai, Turkish, Vietnamese
  • Group 4: Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean

Portuguese falls under category 1 along with other Romance languages such as French, Italian, and Spanish.

The number of hours you study per day will determine how quickly you learn Portuguese

Now that we understand it takes approximately 480 hours to learn Portuguese, it’s time to interpret this into a measurement that’s easier for us to understand. 

Use the following table to determine how many months it’ll take you to reach basic fluency in Portuguese according to how much time you dedicate to learning:

Brazilian vs. European Portuguese: What’s the difference?

Portuguese is the official language of 10 countries worldwide and is among the 10 most spoken languages globally. It’s also the official language of both Brazil and Portugal—but are there any differences and which one should you learn?

Fun Fact: There are approximately 258 million Portuguese speakers worldwide—only 5 percent of which live in Portugal!

It’s useful to note that—besides nuances including pronunciation and grammar—Brazilian and Portuguese people don’t have any trouble understanding one another.

The most noticeable difference between the two dialects is how sounds are created. Brazilians pronounce their vowels longer and wider, whereas European Portuguese speakers tend to chew certain vowels.

Therefore, most people find Brazillian Portuguese easier to understand. However, as there’s a lot of crossover between them, it doesn’t matter with which dialect you choose to begin.

How to learn Portuguese - Free options

Learning a new language is incredibly rewarding but it can also be expensive. Perhaps you’ve browsed various online courses or contacted local language teachers and was surprised by how much they cost.

Fortunately, there are many ways to learn Portuguese without breaking the banco.

1. Podcasts

Podcasts are a fantastic way of learning Portuguese because you can listen to them whilst doing something else entirely—I remember listening to a great Portuguese podcast called The Portuguese Lab while redecorating my house and I learned a lot!

There are thousands of Podcasts available online for free, so spend some time finding one that’s right for you. You can access podcasts on various streaming service providers such as Spotify, Soundcloud, and iTunes.

2. Youtube

It’s no secret that you can learn almost anything on Youtube from crochet to tapdance, and learning Portuguese is no different.

There are a few ways you can use Youtube to learn Portuguese. Firstly, you could scour the site in search of online lessons like those provided by Practice Portuguese—a popular channel with over 26K subscribers.

Alternatively, you could try listening to videos on Youtube that feature Portuguese speakers. This could be a Portuguese vlog or a children’s TV show. Exposing yourself to as much of the language as possible is a great way of improving your language skills.

In fact, “listen a lot” is one of the “7 Actions for Rapid Language Acquisition.” We’ll talk more about this later in the article.

3. Netflix

Watching TV shows and movies is a great way of learning a new language. Many Europeans have accelerated their English skills thanks to the growing number of videos available online.

You can do the same with Portuguese. 

There are many Portuguese shows available on Netflix (mostly in Brazillian Portuguese). Girls From Ipanema (known as Coisa Mais Linda in Portuguese) is a well-rated Portuguese show available on Netflix.

For an enhanced learning experience, download the Language Learning with Netflix plugin for Google Chrome. This handy tool enables you to view Netlfix subtitles in two languages simultaneously.

4. Duolingo (freemium)

One of the more well-known language-learning mobile apps, Duolingo provides an immersive learning experience that combines colourful visuals, audio input, interactive games, and more. Unfortunately, Duolingo only provides lessons in Brazillian Portuguese, nevertheless, it’s a great place to get started. 

You can access all of Duolingo’s language learning content by subscribing to their free plan, although—should you wish to download lessons for offline use, remove ads, and track your progress—a paid-for plan (known as Duolingo Plus) is available for €7.33/month.

How to learn Portuguese - Paid options

There are many ways of learning a new language for free but it can be challenging and sometimes frustrating.

When learning a language for free, you’re forced to develop your own learning path. Before long, you’ll find yourself trying to stitch information together like a patchwork quilt.

While this technique works for some, most of us require the structure of a paid-for course as well as the motivation provided to us by our teachers. Furthermore, making a financial commitment is proven to increase your chances of successfully learning a new skill.

1. Private lessons

Price: Anywhere from €5-€100 per hour, depending on the teacher’s experience, specialities, and language levels.

A quick search for “private Portuguese lessons” in Google provides you with a bunch of options. Faced with over 50 million search results, how are you supposed to know which tutor is best for you?

If you’re looking for face-to-face private lessons, Tutoroo is a great place to start. This platform enables you to search for qualified language teachers in your area. You can filter and organise the results by gender, rating, popularity, and more. 

If you prefer to remain in the comfort of your own home, you can access private tutoring online via websites such as Preply and iTalki

Again, there are many tutors available on these platforms so finding the right one for you might take some time. Fortunately, most tutors offer a free trial session so feel free to try before you buy.

2. Group lessons

Price: Approximately €10-€30 per hour for a group lesson with a private tutor. Language schools offer all kinds of courses at various prices depending on the course duration, the number of students, and language level. 

Many private tutors offer both private and group lessons and both options have their pros and cons.

Group lessons are often cheaper than private lessons as your time will be divided between a larger group. While you are sacrificing one-to-one tuition, many students find it useful to learn a language within a group.

Learning a language as a group is useful as you’ll encounter more opportunities to practice real-life conversations with your fellow classmates.

If you can’t find a private tutor offering group lessons, you can always try contacting a language school. Language schools offer many courses of varying duration and usually include all the resources you need plus an official language certification upon completion.

You’ll find language schools located all over the world, simply enter a search for “Portuguese language schools,” followed by your location.

3. Subscription-model apps

Price: Subscription-model apps usually offer a range of payments plans. Memrise, for example, offers monthly (€8.99/month), yearly (€5.83/month), and lifetime (€139.99) payment options.

We previously mentioned Duolingo as a great free option for learning Portuguese. The problem with many subscription-based apps is that they often only offer courses in Brazilian Portuguese.

If you’re looking for a quality app that offers a course in European Portuguese then Memrise is a good option.

Similarly to Duolingo, Memrise provides an engaging learning experience that teaches you to understand, speak, and write European Portuguese. One feature that I love about this app is that you’ll be shown videos of real locals speaking sentences in Portuguese which adds a lot to the overall learning experience.

BONUS: 7 Hacks for learning a language quickly

In 2013, Chris Lonsdale hosted a Tedx talk at Lingnan University. Chris is the managing director of Chris Lonsdale & Associates, a company established to catalyse breakthrough performance for individuals and senior teams.

During his talk How To Learn A New Language In Six Months, Chris talked about the “7 Actions for Rapid Language Acquisition.” In other words: Seven things you can do to learn a language quickly.

The 7 Actions for Rapid Language Acquisition:

  1. Listen a lot - Put yourself into a position where you’re hearing as much of the language as possible. It doesn’t matter whether you’re understanding the language or not, you’ll learn by listening to tones of voice, patterns, rhythms. Otherwise known as “brain soaking.”
  2. Understand the meaning first - Don’t focus on understanding what every word means. Start with trying to decipher the meaning of what’s being said. Body language is a fantastic tool for communication and can often be used to interpret the meaning of what somebody’s saying to you.
  3. Start mixing - Use the words you know as often and in as many ways as possible. Chris explains: If you know 10 nouns, 10 verbs, and 10 adjectives, you can already say 1000 different phrases. 
  4. Focus on the core - In English, 1000 words cover 80% of anything you’re going to say in daily communication and 3000 words cover 90%. Start with learning the most important phrases such as “What is that?” and “How do you say…” With these phrases, you can start to develop your vocabulary quickly. 
  5. Get a language parent - When a child is learning to speak their first language, they need a language parent. The same goes for an adult trying to learn a new language. A language parent provides you with a safe environment to practice a new language and make mistakes. 
  6. Copy the face - When you’re learning a new language, the muscles in your face need to learn to move properly and generate the correct sounds so that you can be understood. Pay close attention to how native speakers move their face and try your best to mimic them.
  7. Direct connect - Staring at words on a page and forcing yourself to remember them is an inefficient way of learning a language. Use imagery to help make memorable connections in your mind.
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