How to Learn Portuguese

By | Last updated: June 3, 2020
"I live in Portugal, I've travelled to almost every part of Portugal, and one day I hope to write a book about Portugal."

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Are you ready to learn Portuguese? Improve your Portuguese? Maybe even perfect your Portuguese?

Regardless of where you’re at, this guide will give you the resources you need to get to the next level.

But first, some jargon

Language learning is talked about in different terms. Some people say beginner, intermediate, or advanced.

In Europe, language schools usually use the CEFR scale (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) which goes A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2.

In Portugal, anagrams like CIPLE and DUPLE are used.

Even though it looks like jargon it’s still good to know what these things mean (even if it’s just to make sure you’re buying the right materials or attending the right classes).

  • Beginner: A1 (ACESSO) & A2 (CIPLE)
  • Intermediate: B1 (DEPLE) & B2 (DIPLE)
  • Expert: C1 (DAPLE) & C2 (DUPLE)

Knowing these terms also gives you an idea of what you want to aim for.

Let’s put this into more practical terms, shall we?

What it all means

For most people, the goal should be to get to at least B2-level. You can get by on a lot less, and it’s better if you aim higher, but B2 is a good level to aim for.

Otherwise, here’s what some of the other levels mean in practice.

Tourist levelYou’ve memorised common phrases but you’re technically not even at A1-level yet
Very basic or “survival level” A1 (beginner)
“Getting by level”A2-B1 (beginner to intermediate)
Minimum for Portuguese citizenshipA2 or above (upper-beginner)
“Conversational Portuguese”B1-B2 (intermediate)
ComfortableB2
FluencyC2

Each jump whether its zero to A1 or C1 to C2 takes time, and it normally takes less time to jump the lower levels compared to the upper levels.

Some intensive courses teach A1-level Portuguese in as little as 40 hours (20 hours over 2 weeks), for example, whereas it would be impossible to jump for C1 to C2 in that time.

Generally, though, each jump takes between 100 and 200 hours on average (although A1+ A2 can be taught in half that).

In practical terms, 100 hours =

  • 14 weeks if you study 1 hour per day
  • 7 weeks if you study 2 hours per day
  • 5 weeks if you study 3 hours per day
  • 3.5 weeks if you study 4 hours per day

Most people struggle to study 1 hour per day never mind 4, of course, but if goes to show you how big a factor the number of hours you put in is.

Portuguese from Portugal or Brazilian Portuguese?

Not sure which? Didn’t even know there was a difference? No problem. This article covers both.

Beginner? Start Here

The beginner stage covers everything from knowing absolutely zero words of Portuguese to a pre-intermediate level where you’re able to hold basic conversations (often with a few mistakes).

Starting to learn a new language is incredibly overwhelming. There’s so much to learn from vocab to grammar, where do you even begin?

Lots of people go with the “you’ll just pick it up” method but, if tested, would probably still be at the beginner level (perhaps upper beginner) – even after years of living in a Portuguese country.

A beginner’s course is definitely a good idea because it gives you the foundations. There’s no need to go into cheesy analogies about houses without foundations here but, if you’re learning a language, those basics are essential for teaching you how sentences are constructed, how words are pronounced, etc. 

Of course, you can still watch movies in Portuguese, use Duolingo on the toilet, or try and read Harry Potter in Portuguese (it’s actually a lot harder than you imagine).

Those things are all fun, and learning Portuguese should be fun (see the section below on keeping learning fun) but just make sure you prioritise the things that are effective first. 

Beginner’s Courses

The following courses all cover beginner’s level Portuguese.

European Portuguese

Brazilian Portuguese

As well as these courses, be sure to check out the other useful resources section which includes podcasts, apps, and books for both PT-PT and PT-BR.

Language schools

Alternatively, if you’d prefer to learn in a class rather than at home, there are plenty of language schools in cities like Lisbon, Rio, Porto, and São Paulo, as well as most major Western Cities like London, New York, and Sydney. 

Just want to learn tourist Portuguese?

If you just want to learn how to order food at a restaurant or ask for directions, the following resources are helpful.

  • Pimsleur – Pimsleur’s basic course takes you beyond memorising phrases and actually gets you constructing simple sentences yourself (covers both PT-PT and PT-BR).
  • 50 Languages – A free online phrasebook that provides essential phrases for the most common situations (covers both PT-PT and PT-BR).

Intermediate Level

Intermediate, and especially upper intermediate, is really the level to aim for with your Portuguese. It’s at this level that you really begin to feel more comfortable speaking and listening to Portuguese and holding conversations that go beyond basic introductions.

At the intermediate level, you build on what you learned as a beginner and increase your vocabulary and grammar.

Beginner’s Portuguese is great for getting by, but it really isn’t until intermediate Portuguese that you begin to be able to have proper conversations – and that’s what most people are aiming for.

So, as well as reading, writing, and memorising vocab and grammar, the key focus at this level should be working on both your listening and speaking skills.

Intermediate Courses

European Portuguese

Brazilian Portuguese

  • PortuguesePod101 Level 3 & Level 4 – These courses corresponds to B1 and B2 on the CEFR scale.
  • Semantica Portuguese – Video-based learning that aims to imitate real-life situations.

Advanced Level

At the average level, you’re much more capable of reading complex texts and discussing complex subjects in both social and professional settings. Most language learners end up plateauing at the intermediate level so you’ll be well above average if you can progress to this level.

While learning foundational and intermediate Portuguese was challenging, in some ways it’s much harder to progress once you reach an advanced level of Portuguese.

Advanced Courses

European Portuguese

Brazilian Portuguese

Tip: If you haven’t already taken an exam in Portuguese, it may be worth taking one as a qualification at this level could be a nice boost to your resumé.

Other helpful Resources

European Portuguese Resources

  • Practice Portuguese – Probably the best podcast for European Portuguese. Some of the dialogues might be a bit challenging for absolute beginners, but there’s plenty of other useful features that make the subscription worthwhile.
  • HelloTalk – Chat with native speakers either by text or voice.
  • iTalki – Find teachers who’ll teach you over Skype or you can just pay to have a conversation with them (and they’ll correct you).
  • Deepl – A translation app that covers both European and Brazilian Portuguese (unlike Google Translate which, while good, just does Brazilian Portuguese).
  • Plataforma de Português Online – A free service that teaches A1, A2, B1, and B2 EU Portuguese online. Unfortunately, the website often has issues which is why it’s not included in the main list.

Brazilian Portuguese Resources

  • iTalki – Find native teachers and speakers in Brazil that you can practice speaking with or take classes from.
  • BrazilPodclass – A podcast with hundreds and hundreds of lessons that cover everything from asking for directions to getting your car washed, ordering office supplies, and the Mediterranean diet. Everything basically.
  • Netflix – Netflix has quite a bit of content in Brazil, and you can also change the language to PT-BR on many Portuguese shows and watch the shows with both Portuguese and English subtitles.
  • Duolingo – A popular language learning app that’s very easy to use when you have a free five minutes.

Even more resources

(Not Specifically PT-PT Or PT-BR)

  • Subtitled videos in Portuguese – A list of places where you can find subtitled videos and TV shows (both PT-PT and PT-BR).
  • Memrise – A useful flashcard app for memorisation. You can create your own flashcards or use other people’s flashcards (both PT-PT and PT-BR)

Improving your Reading, Writing, Listening, & Speaking skills

Ask most language learners what the easiest part of learning a language is and most will say reading. Ask them what the hardest part is and most will either say speaking or listening

Reading is definitely easiest for many reasons, but one overlooked reason is because most people spend a lot of time reading in Portuguese and comparatively very little time working on their listening and speaking skills. 

Think of learning a language as a triathlon rather than a marathon. It’s not enough to just practice running in your training sessions, you also need to work on your swimming…you get the idea! No need for the cheesy pun. 

Have fun!

As well as taking a beginner’s course and learning essential phrases, it’s important that you actually get to use your Portuguese and have a little fun (otherwise what’s the point!). Learning a language is hard work, and if you don’t enjoy it you’ll quickly give up or just end up resenting it. 

Here are some fun things you can do that’ll help your Portuguese: 

  • Watch films and TV shows in Portuguese
  • Listen to Portuguese music.
  • Find a tandem partner or penpal (that you actually connect with) and make a new friend. 
  • Go to Portugal or Brazil (or Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Macau, Cape Verde, or São Tomé and Príncipe).
  • Date a Portuguese or Brazilian (if you’re single, of course!). 
  • Practice speaking with a native speaker using iTalki as soon as you feel comfortable. 
  • Chat with natives via text using HelloTalk to build up your confidence before you chat to them over skype using iTalki. 

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15 thoughts on “How to Learn Portuguese”

  1. Brazilian and European Portuguese are mutually intelligible, without any problems (except if either speaker has a thick regional accent). For a beginner, it shouldn’t make much of a difference, so I do not agree with the article that they should restrict themselves to European Portuguese and miss out on all the material available for Brazilian Portuguese. Brazilians take a lot of shortcuts when speaking/writing informally (lazy speech) and that is probably the main difference. The formal written language is nearly identical, with a few usage differences. [Disclaimer: the writer is originally from Brazil]

    Reply
    • Hi Ulisses,

      I agree, and I’ve been thinking about changing the article slightly. My aim was simply to help people find the European Portuguese resources, which are often hard to find, not to tell people that they should never read or listen to anything written in Brazilian Portuguese.

      Like you say there’s a lot of useful resources for Brazilian (including Duolingo) and I also think that people need to familiarise themselves with it anyway: there are a huge number of Brazilians living in Portugal so, if you live in Portugal, you will probably have a lot of conversations with Brazilians and you will need to be familiar with the sounds, expressions, and vocabulary. Also, Brazil has some great TV shows, movies, music, and books – one of the benefits of learning Portuguese is being able to enjoy them.

      So, yes, completely agree and it’s on my to-do list to change this article a little.

      Reply
      • Hi James, thanks for being understanding of my comment. I think you have put together a great resource for Portuguese learners in your article, I appreciate that. I would like more people to learn Portuguese, it’s a beautiful and musical language. It’s the “last flower from Latium, wild and beautiful.” according to Olavo Bilac. Please take my comment in that light. Best Regards, Ulisses.

        Reply
  2. I will be in Porto.

    I see rates at $40.00 an hour.

    Those areUSA rates.

    When I get to Port what is a good way to find a tutor I can afford

    Reply
        • Hi Daniel,

          I don’t know a lot about Portuguese from Mozambique, but I understand that it’s very similar to European Portuguese. I would look at the resources mentioned in the article and work through some of those. It would also be worth finding a Portuguese speaker from Mozambique to practice with.

          Reply
  3. Hi James,

    Great article! Thanks. I’m looking for some dialogues that I can memorize that have translations. Do you have any suggestions?

    Craig

    Reply
  4. That was a VERY helpful article. Finally some answers on how to learn Portuguese as spoken in Portugal. I’m a 77 year old woman who loves to travel, alone, and am going for a second holiday in Lisbon and Cascais in September. I have friends that I meet in a digital virtual world game that are Portuguese people living in Lisbon. They speak very good English, probably helped by the fact that a large majority of people in the game are English speaking.

    Reply

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