According to the The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR or CEFL), the ability to speak, write, and understand a language can be broken into six stages: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2.
A1 is the first level, and it essentially means absolute beginner. If you have an A1 level of Portuguese, you’ll be able to do things like introduce yourself and talk a little about yourself. You’ll be able to use simple everyday expressions and to interact with other Portuguese speakers on a basic level, provided the other person speaks slowly.
This is a very basic level of a foreign language, so much so that A1 and A2 are often taught together, but it’s a good milestone to aim for when you’re starting out.
If you’ve been self-studying or just trying to “pick it up,” it’s a good idea to go through the curriculum of an A1 course. You might know a lot of the vocabulary already, but there’s a good chance you won’t have covered the grammar.
If you’re not sure, take a look at the section below to see what’s covered to see if you have covered everything at A1 level.
How long does it take?
There are intensive courses that teach A1 Portuguese in around thirty to forty hours (normally spread out over two weeks). Alternatively, you can take a slower course or put in the hours yourself through self-study.
The A1 course from Mia’s Learn Portuguese Online compromises of 9 hours of video although, in practice, because the videos contain a lot of information, each one takes longer than that to get through.
Generally speaking, you should expect it to take somewhere between twenty and forty hours. At a little over an hour of study per day, that means you could get to A1 level in a month.
What You Will Learn
An A1 course typically gives you the foundations in grammar, covering things like ser vs estar, reflexive verbs, irregular verbs, etc. You’ll also learn how to ask for directions, tell the time, and talk about yourself.
It’s estimated that you need around 500 words to speak a language at an A1 level.
As an example, here’s the curriculum for Mia’s A1 Course:
- Introducing Yourself and Others; Alphabet; Numbers; Conjugation of Verbs: Ser vs Estar
- Describing where objects are: Isto/Isso/Aquilo; Aqui/Aí/Ali; Plurals; Articles
- Reflexive Verbs; Asking the Time; Conseguir vs Poder; Saber vs Conhecer; Vir vs Ver; Polite Requests: Queria; Present Continuous
- Seasons; Months; Personal Pronouns + com; Preposition: Em; Adjectives; Superlative; Irregular Verbs; Pronunciation
- Imperative; Reflexive Verbs; Demonstrative Pronouns: Este/Esta; Possessive Pronouns: O meu/A minha; por vs para
- Expressions; Giving Directions; Imperative (Irregular Verbs); (In)Variable Indefinite Pronouns; Spelling
- Pretérito Perfeito Simples: (Ir)Regular Verbs; Adverbs and Expressions of Time; Recent Past: Acabar+de; Haver+de
- Wishing Happy Birthday; Tão/Tanto; Adverbs and Expressions of Time; Pretérito Perfeito Simples; Personal Pronouns: Direct Object
- Writing a CV; Relative Pronouns: Que/Onde; Personal Pronouns: Direct Object (Exceptions); Pretérito Imperfeito; Adverbs ending in -mente
- Start Bonus Lecture: Ultimate Pronunciation Guide
Self Study vs taking a Portuguese class
For most people, taking a class is the best way to go. Self-study isn’t easy, and a lot of the material can be quite dull. If you have the time (and money) to take an intensive course, this is probably the best way to do it: you can get to A1 level in 2 weeks rather than dragging it out over a semester with evening courses.
Group language courses definitely have their downsides, especially at a beginner’s level. The classes move as fast as the slowest person in the class, who’s often slow because they haven’t done the homework, and this can be frustrating if you’re the dedicated type.
(Note: This is more an issue with evening classes. People who commit to a 2-week intensive class are usually much more motivated.)
Group classes do also have their upsides. One being that they’re cheaper than one-on-one lessons, and the other that they’re a great way to meet other people.
Self-Study A1 Resources
The following are some of the resources that are tailored to A1-level Portuguese.
A1 Course – Teachable
Mia’s Learn Portuguese Online course on Teachable is one of several online courses that will teach you an A1-level of European Portuguese (and later A2, B1, and B2). You can read reviews of her course here.
A1-Level Portuguese Textbooks
There are several Portuguese textbooks that are aimed at A1 or A1 and A2 learners of Portuguese. These can sometimes be hard to get a hold of, and they can be a bit dry, but it may still be worth tracking one or two of them down if only just to test yourself.
- Passaporte para Portugues: Pack: Livro do Aluno +CD audio & Caderno de Exerc (amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk)
- Português em Foco 1 (amazon.com / amazon.co.uk)
- Dialogar em Português (amazon.com / amazon.co.uk)
- Ola! Como Esta?: Pack Ola! Como Esta? – Livro De Textos + CD + Livro De Actividades (amazon.com / amazon.co.uk)
- Aprender Portugues: Pack (Manual Com CD + Caderno De Exercicios) (Portuguese Edition) (amazon.com / amazon.co.uk)
- PORTUGUES ATUAL 1 (amazon.com / amazon.co.uk)
Plataforma de Português Online is a Portuguese government website that’s run by the Alto Comissariado para as Migrações.
The course, which is completely free, covers A1-B2 level Portuguese. It’s fantastic that this resource exists, but it’s not without its problems. The course isn’t the easiest to use, and the website is often extremely slow or just times out completely. It mainly focuses on vocabulary, but it does have some Portuguese grammar focus as well.
The Instituto Camões is the main Portuguese organisation in charge of promoting the Portuguese language and culture around the world. Their e-learning platform contains self-study Portuguese courses that covers A1-C1 level Portuguese.
The courses include some group or individual tutoring over Skype, depending on whether you go for the basic or premium version of the course, which could be useful for those that aren’t completely comfortable self-learning.
Portuguese Lab offers an A1 – B2 online course in Portuguese, as well as other paid and free resources like a Portuguese podcast and videos.
At €35 per month, this definitely isn’t cheap, however, if it works, it’s obviously worth it.
Italki is an online platform where you can find language teachers in just about any language, including both European and Brazilian Portuguese. Many offer informal tutoring while others offer structured lessons as well as test preparation for CEFR exams or Centro de Avaliação de Português Língua Estrangeira (CAPLE) exams.
If you’re self-studying, it’s definitely a good idea to take a few classes on iTalki so that you can practice speaking.
E-LOCAL (Electronically Learning Other Cultures and Languages) is a series of online language courses offered by the University of Coimbra. A1-level courses are available in several languages, including Portuguese, and the courses cost just €20 although it is incredibly basic in its design.
If you’re not sure whether it’s the right course for you, you can sample a few of the lessons in the online demo version beforehand.
Dialogar is a website that unfortunately doesn’t seem to exist anymore, however many of the videos are still available on YouTube. A good number of these are aimed at A1-level Portuguese students, and cover topics like grammar, the weather, talking about your family, the body, and more.
It can sometimes be a bit difficult to navigate through the videos, and to find the ones that are specifically aimed at A1-level learners, but that’s a small price to pay for having free access to these videos.
Other useful resources
A1 and A2-level Portuguese is really all about getting the basics, and learning how to communicate in Portugal. At this level, anything aimed at beginners could probably be considered useful.
The following resources don’t necessarily correspond to the CEFR or CAPLE exams, but are still going to be useful.
- European Portuguese courses on Memrise
- Portuguese phrasebooks (tip:look for phrasebooks that have an audio component).
- The big list of free resources for learning European Portuguese
- Portuguese podcasts
Sitting an A1-level Exam
Once you’ve completed one or more of the courses above, and you feel like you’ve reached an A1-level of Portuguese, you have a couple of options. You could continue onto A2 and then B-level Portuguese, or you could sit an exam at A1 to confirm your progress.
Most language schools focus on getting you to A2 level before suggesting you take the A2-level test (CIPLE) but, if you want, there is an Access to Portuguese test that corresponds to A1-level Portuguese although sometimes it can be hard to find a centre that offers this.