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Blog Culturas

Learning Portuguese in Rio de Janeiro

ArticlesPosted by blog Tue, November 17, 2015 00:13:05

"Learning Portuguese is easy! All you have to do is read Portuguese for an hour a day, write Portuguese for an hour a day, and speak Portuguese for an hour a day. Easy right! Yeah, I didn’t think so. If you are a disciplined person, congratulations, but if you are like me and get distracted by things like Netflix or a social life than learning a new language can be a bit tricky. Before I give advice on how to learn Portuguese or what tools to use, I want to explain my history with Portuguese and the learning process. I went through four different language schools, used Rosetta Stone, had two privet tutors, and used multiple apps and audio books to help me learn Portuguese. Before I left Brazil, I went on a weekend trip and was able to survive the entire weekend with only speaking Portuguese. I may not be fluent, but I hope that you can learn from some of the mistakes that I made.

The first thing that you will need to do is find a language school that you like and stay in that particular language school. It helps to be in a group, so only use personal tutoring to clarify any questions that you may have. My biggest mistake was hopping from one school to the next and hoping to get different results. All that happened was that I had to start from scratch and adapt to a new methodology. I think language schools are like workout programs. All of them work if you actually manage to do the work. Here is a quick rundown of the schools that I attended.

PUC: This is a university in Rio. PUC was the first school that I went to, and they focus a lot on grammar. We did not spend much time speaking, but I did leave the course with a good knowledge of the grammar rules. When we did speak Portuguese, it was often about topics that would not help in your everyday life. The class is four hours long and in the middle of the day, so PUC may not be the best for professionals.

Casa do Caminho: I had a bad experience there, but I had many friends who used this school and liked it. All of these friends eventually left the school and switched to a different language program.

Carioca Languages: This was my favorite school, and I would recommend to anyone. The material was interesting and relevant, and the teachers are all friendly and engaging. I went to this school for the longest period and loved it there. The only problem is that it is in Copacabana, which makes it hard to bike when it’s forty degrees outside. I think it's best if you find a language school close to your home or work.

Português Carioca: This school is great if you want to focus on pronunciation. The methodology is all about repetition. The things you learn in class tend to stay with you because you have said them over and over again. I found the material to move slowly, but the things I learned there have stuck with me.

The reason I am not fluent in Portuguese is that I was foolishly shy when in came to speaking, and it was all for no reason. This fear prohibited me from doing exactly what I needed to do, which was practice speaking to Brazilians. It was not until my third year in Rio that I got over my fear and just started speaking without caring how I sounded. I was able to conquer my fear with a healthy dose of public humiliation. My breakthrough moment was when I went to the beach with a bunch of gringos and just spoke Portuguese for an hour. I truly thought that the Brazilians around us would make fun of me, but that was not the case at all. No one cared about how we were speaking, not even one crazy glance or eye roll was thrown our way. Once I realized that no one cared, I took over the conversation and could not stop talking. It was like my body wanted to release three years of repressed language skills. Ever since that moment I have been trying to find ways to make learning a language more fun. Here are the fun ways I began to study Portuguese.

Duo Lingo: This “game” is great for helping you learn sentence structure. I think that it’s amazing for building vocabulary and does a good job of being repetitious without being annoy. It only takes about fifteen minutes and is a good way to start the day.

Brazilian Pod Class: This podcast has over 513 episodes for your to listen and practice. Will you learn tons of Portuguese? No. Will you get to listen to interesting topics that are relevant to your life? Absolutely. You will want to listen to some episodes of this podcast many times because they go into confusing words in Portuguese that tend to have many meanings.

MPB: It’s a radio station that plays popular Brazilian music.

Texting: One of the best tools for learning a language is to start texting your friends in their native language. I had one friend who just refused to speak English to me, and I incidentally picked up so much slang and new vocabulary just by texting him in Portuguese. Of course, I have to use Google translate for some words, but over time I just stopped using Google translate all together and survived on what I knew.

Telenovelas: It is great to watch TV in Brazil. The news is nice, but the newscasters can talk a bit fast at times. I think the Telenovelas are better because they characters speak much more slowly, and the plot lines are complete nonsense. You will find yourself repeating the phrases that the actors say so dramatically.

Porta dos Fundos: This I a comedy group based in Rio, and they have many videos on YouTube. They speak very fast, but you can turn on subtitles and follow along. I think that the videos are really funny and represent current Brazilian culture. If you watch these videos, you will get an insight to what Brazilian humor is.

The truth is that you will be able to learn enough Portuguese to survive in about three months. Many people get to a certain level and just never advance no matter how long they live in Brazil, so it’s important that you have fun learning. If learning feels like an obligation, then you will most likely not do your homework or use Google translate to do it for you. Relax and enjoy the learning process. Most importantly, never give up. Rio is so much more fun once you can start having conversations and making jokes with the locals."

Written by Nicholas Williams, blog columnist at Culturas. American citizen with a Master in International Marketing Management, Nicholas worked in Rio de Janeiro for four years and is currently living in Oslo.