How to Actually Learn European Portuguese

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Last updated on June 4, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 18 minutes

If you’re thinking about moving to Portugal, you may be overwhelmed at the thought of having to learn European Portuguese. But don’t worry: this article is designed for beginners and intermediate-level speakers, showing you the best resources, tips, and tricks to get from zero to fluency—and without blowing the budget!

Although English is widely spoken in Portugal, particularly in places like Lisbon and the Algarve, you will need Portuguese to get by, make Portuguese friends, and integrate into the culture. Being able to listen to the radio or TV, or read a newspaper, will also make it much, much easier to start to learn about Portuguese culture. Naturally, if you want to get a job in Portugal, you’ll also need to speak Portuguese in most cases.

Having some Portuguese will also make your life considerably easier if you need to visit a public hospital, Finanças (the tax office), or AIMA (immigration). A lot of the people that work in these departments do not speak English—or, at the very least, respond a lot more positively when you speak to them in Portuguese!

European Portuguese that is. A lot of apps and courses focus on Brazilian Portuguese, but if you want to get by in Portugal, you’ll want to learn to speak Portuguese as it’s spoken here.

European Portuguese can seem a little daunting, especially due to the pronunciation, but the good news is there are some truly fantastic courses and resources out there. If you’re on a budget, Practice Portuguese is incredibly affordable and has resources to take you all the way from absolute beginner to upper-intermediate.

Also, don’t forget that Portuguese is a romance language like French, Spanish, or Italian. It has some pronunciation and grammar challenges, but you’re not trying to learn Japanese or Hungarian.

Find A Course You Love

One mistake that novice language learners make is that they dive into learning a language without any structure. They learn words and phrases here and there, often from the list of the top 5,000 or 10,000 words in a language, but they have no idea how to actually construct a sentence.

I can attest to this personally! It’s very easy to:

  • Know lots of words, but not be able to put them in a sentence.
  • Only be able to construct sentences in the present tense because you never bothered to learn the past or future tenses.
  • Pronounce words incorrectly because you learned everything by reading and without hearing how it should be pronounced.
  • Be able to understand a lot of Portuguese when it’s spoken to me but unable to respond with proper sentences (because I didn’t spend time learning the grammar of sentence construction of the different tenses).

Unfortunately, despite all of the websites that promise to teach you a new language by watching TV, listening to music while you sleep, or playing on an app, sitting down with a proper course is actually really important.

A course that’s structured and geared towards a particular level is the best way to do this. And because nobody really wants to sit down and work through a course, that’s why it’s important to find one you love (or at the very least don’t hate).

The following are the top courses for learning European Portuguese. Take a look at each of the courses and read through our reviews to see which one best fits your learning style.

Popular Courses

CostLevelsNotes
Mia Esmeriz Academy$399 + Tax (approx)A1 – B2Mimics classroom style. Very good on grammar. Read Review
Practice Portuguese€12.75 per monthA1 – B2Very affordable, interactive, and particularly great for audio. There’s also an accompanying app.Read Review
The Journey €25 per monthA1 – B2In-depth and immersive. Cinematic-quality video content.Read Review
Michel Thomas$152A1-B1 (estimated)A great approach for learning how to construct sentences (rather than just memorising phrases). Very interactive. Audio-based. Read Review
Pimsleur Level 1 & 2$20.95 per monthA1-A2 (estimated)Ideal for learning Portuguese on the go (e.g. while walking or at the gym or in the car). Read Review
You can see the full list of European Portuguese courses in this article.

These days, most people prefer to learn through an online course or app, but if you prefer old-fashioned textbooks and a CD, we’ve listed them in this article.

What about in-person classes? Honestly, whichever works best for you! If you’re motivated, self-study can be much more effective than group learning and the quality of the courses online is typically more engaging that what you’ll find in your average language school. In terms of speaking practice, you’re also better off booking a one-on-one class with a tutor on Italki than you are practicing with the other people in your class.

However, the benefit of committing to a class is that you (hopefully) turn up. Sometimes it can also provide you with a social group as well as some language schools offer after-class drinks and other social activities. There’s nothing to stop you attending an in-person class and then booking an extra Italki lesson once a week to get that all-important one-on-one attention.

What do all the levels mean?

While most of us refer to ourselves as being beginner, intermediate, advanced, or maybe having “conversational Portuguese,” that’s a bit vague for language schools and for professional qualifications.

The chart below explains what the different levels on both the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) and the Portuguese version, CAPLE. Generally, most people just use the CEFR scale, though.

BeginnerA1ACESSOSurvival Level
BeginnerA2CIPLEGood, but basic level
IntermediateB1DEPLEGetting by with relative ease
IntermediateB2DIPLEQuite comfortable
AdvancedC1DAPLEReally comfortable
AdvancedC2DUPLEBasically Fluent

The explanations are my own and summarise how the CEFR describes each level.

Ignore Duolingo

A lot of people (and I mean A LOT) make the mistake of downloading Duolingo and trying to learn Portuguese with that.

Here’s the problem: Duolingo teaches Brazilian Portuguese and not European Portuguese. So do Babbel, Rosetta Stone, and Mondly. Brazilian Portuguese has different vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar than European Portuguese.

What? There are two types of Portuguese?!

Essentially, yes. Although they are the same language, they are very different—much, much more than, say, American and British English.

Can you just learn Brazilian Portuguese instead? After all, it seems easier.

You could as it’s understood in Portugal. However, it’s better to focus on Portuguese as it’s spoken in Portugal if you’re moving here or even just visiting. If you focus on Brazilian Portuguese (as Duolingo teaches) you may struggle to understand Portuguese people when they speak to you in the cafes, restaurants, and shops here.

A much better plan would be to focus on an app or service that teaches Portuguese from Portugal. Practice Portuguese, as mentioned, does this and they have an app as well as videos, audio, and a podcast. It’s also incredibly-affordably priced so if you’re interested in an app-based learning approach, this is a good one to start with.

Here are some other apps to consider (and these focus on European Portuguese).

  • Memrise: Focused on vocabulary building through memorisation techniques, Memrise uses spaced repetition and interactive games to enhance language retention. It also incorporates real-life language use through videos of native speakers. There’s also Anki, but this is much more user-friendly.
  • Drops: Drops is a visually engaging app designed for short, daily language learning sessions. It emphasises vocabulary acquisition through playful and quick activities, ideal for beginners and busy learners.
  • Pimsleur: Pimsleur offers audio-based language learning, making it suitable for learning on the go. It emphasises oral language skills and conversational practice, making it great for improving speaking and listening proficiency. This isn’t really an app, but more of a way of playing the audio content.
  • Michel Thomas Method: This method focuses on building language skills through audio lessons led by an instructor. It encourages learners to construct sentences and grasp linguistic structures intuitively, without rote memorisation or written exercises. This isn’t really an app, but more of a way of playing the audio content.
  • Conjugemos: Conjugemos is an educational tool primarily focused on verb conjugation practice. It offers various interactive activities and games to help learners master verb forms in a fun and engaging way.
  • Lyrics Training: Lyrics Training is a unique app that uses music and song lyrics for language learning. Users listen to songs in the target language and fill in the missing lyrics, which is an entertaining way to improve listening skills and learn colloquial expressions.

Focus on the Sounds

We’re talking about pronunciation…again! But this really is important when it comes to European Portuguese.

Joel Rendall, who co-runs Practice Portuguese, says, “I think focusing on those vowel sounds early on would give someone a huge advantage to not only pronunciation but also comprehension – If you can’t produce the sounds yourself, you won’t be able to recognise them when others speak to you either. 

In European Portuguese, however, there are a lot of medium and closed vowel sounds that don’t exist in English, so we have to spend extra time tuning our ears to them. 

In 2016, we created a video about vowels and a chart that shows the open, medium, and closed vowel sounds for the different letters. Now my ears can hear the difference between say a closed a and an open a.” 

Learn the Most Useful Words & Phrases

Resources like Michel Thomas are great for learning how to structure sentences rather than regurgitate memorised phrases, but there’s actually a lot of value in being able to regurgitate these common words and phrases — particularly in the beginning. And, it’ll boost your confidence too!

A tourist phrasebook will give you all of the words and phrases that you’re likely to need in day-to-day situations, such as at a hotel or at the supermarket. 50 Languages offers as much content as the phrasebooks produces like big companies like The Lonely Planet or Rough Guides and it’s free.

Set Goals

Learning a new language can be incredibly overwhelming, particularly if you set vague goals like ‘I want to learn to speak Portuguese.’ Instead, decide what you actually want to achieve.

The following are examples of some good, concrete goals:

  • I want to learn enough Portuguese to get Portuguese citizenship or permanent residency (A2 level).
  • I just want to know the basics like being able to order coffee or speak to someone at the supermarket (probably an A2 level but possibly just an A1).
  • I want a decent day-to-day level of Portuguese (probably B2 or even C1 level).
  • I want to be able to comfortably hold conversations with native speakers without having them switch to English (probably C1 or even C2 level).

If your goal is to pass an exam, such as the A2, book the exam for a few months in advance so you really have something to work towards. Knowing that you have the exam booked and paid for will encourage you to study harder.

If your goal is to get to a higher level, such as B2 or even C1 or C2, set mini milestones. You may want to book in for one exam (e.g. the A2) for six months down the line and then book another exam in another six months.

Be Willing to Spend a Little Money

It’s understandable that everyone wants to learn a language for free. However, despite the saying that the best things in life are free, when it comes to language learning the best courses and resources are usually paid-for.

That said, you don’t have to spend thousands trying to learn Portuguese. Practice Portuguese, as mentioned, is incredible value for money. Michel Thomas Portuguese is also very well-liked and you can sometimes find old CDs at your local library or second-hand on Amazon or eBay. The same applies for Pimsleur.

And that’s not to say there aren’t some great free resources out there.

  • 50Languages has hundreds of useful phrases in European Portuguese, complete with audio clips that tell you how to pronounce them. It’s available as a website as well as an app for both Android and iOS.
  • Websites like HelloTalk and Tandem.net make it easy to find a tandem language partner, someone you can practice with – for free!
  • Apps like Memrise and Conjugemos are both available for free.
  • There’s a lot of great content on YouTube that you can watch for free, both in terms of lessons and content from native Portuguese speakers like these videos from Liz Sharma.

On a budget? Practice Portuguese is probably the best value for money, and there are lots of free resources for learning European Portuguese as well.

Put A Big Emphasis on Listening

Listening practice is important when learning any foreign language but it’s especially important when it comes to learning European Portuguese. This is because the Portuguese famously “swallow” their vowels, meaning that people seem to pronounce words without saying the vowels and clip the endings off words so that each word runs into the next.

This means that if you learn words by reading, and don’t listen to how they’re pronounced, you are very likely to learn them wrong. Not only will you pronounce them wrong but it’ll also be harder for you to understand Portuguese speakers as you’ll be expecting them to pronounce the words in a different way.

It can be very difficult to understand what’s being said, but you can improve your comprehension by:

  1. Studying how words are pronounced so you can hear better (and speak better Portuguese)
  2. Listening to a lot of European Portuguese spoken by native speakers

A good place to begin your understanding of European Portuguese pronunciation is with this video that covers the open and closed vowels in European Portuguese.

For general listening, some helpful resources include:

  • Practice Portuguese – Has a lot of audio content, especially the ‘shorties.’
  • Portuguese Podcasts – There are some useful podcasts aimed at language learners that include a transcription.
  • Portuguese TV shows – There are a handful of Portuguese TV shows that have subtitles in Portuguese.

Unfortunately, it can be incredibly challenging to find European Portuguese audio (or video) with subtitles. This is changing as more and more people create interesting YouTube channels, but it’s still a challenge.

Accept that It’ll Take Time

Learning a language is hard, despite all of the language courses that promise to teach you a new language in 30 days. And, unfortunately, you won’t learn European Portuguese with just an app – although there are some apps that can complement your language learning.

Joel Rendall, who co-runs Practice Portuguese, says students typically take anywhere from a few months to a few years to reach an A2-level of Portuguese. This is the upper-beginner level, and also the required level if you’re planning to apply for Portuguese citizenship.

Achieving something closer to fluency will take a bit longer, unfortunately. Portugalist reader, Jonah Salita, was able to reach roughly a C1-level of Portuguese (which is essentially fluency) in 18 months, but this was with him studying for around 3 hours every day.

Get Lots of Speaking Practice

When you have a reasonable amount of Portuguese under your belt, it’s time to practice speaking Portuguese.

One thing many people don’t realise is how little speaking opportunities they’ll get by living in Portugal. This is because:

  • Many Portuguese people speak excellent English and prefer to speak in English if you can’t speak Portuguese.
  • Most expats aren’t surrounded by Portuguese people (e.g. through work or school) and are more likely to be surrounded by English speakers and English-language content instead.
  • You typically end up using the same words and phrases in the same situation (e.g. at the supermarket or at the café) so if these are your only interactions in Portuguese, you will struggle to progress beyond this.

Practicing speaking is important in any language but it’s particularly important in European Portuguese because of how key pronunciation is.

The best way to get speaking practice is either with a language tutor or with a language exchange partner. In theory, a tutor is the better option as they’ll be better equipped to give you feedback and tell you where you’re going wrong but it’s actually quite difficult to find a European Portuguese tutor who gives good feedback. You may have to try out a few different tutors and perhaps combine this with a language exchange partner as well.

  • Italki (or similar sites like Preply and Verbling) are great for finding affordable tutors that work over Skype
  • HelloTalk is a useful resource for finding native speakers who want to do a language exchange. Similar sites include Tandem.net and MyLanguageExchange.com.

Don’t Avoid Brazilian Portuguese Completely

You’ll want to avoid materials that teach Brazilian Portuguese so you don’t get confused with the grammar and pronunciation — this includes Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Babbel, and Mondly — but you should familiarise yourself with Brazilian Portuguese (even if you won’t aim to speak like a Brazilian).

There are so many Brazilians in Portugal that it’s likely you’ll have several Brazilian friends. Brazilians are known for being extremely friendly and you may even end up speaking to Brazilians more than you do local Portuguese people.

The following are some resources that can help familiarise you with the sounds of Brazilian Portuguese:

  • iTalki – Find native teachers and speakers in Brazil that you can practice speaking with or take classes from. Have them speak in Brazilian Portuguese and you speak in European Portuguese.
  • Easy Portuguese – Listen to the videos on this YouTube channel to hear Brazilian Portuguese as its spoken by native speakers. Another great YouTube channel is Speaking Brazilian.
  • Netflix – Netflix has quite a bit of content in Brazil, and you can also change the language to PT-BR on many shows and watch the shows with both Portuguese and English subtitles.
  • Lingopie – Lingopie is a little like Netflix for language learners. There isn’t as much Portuguese content as there is for other languages, but there are some interesting Brazilian TV shows and movies you can watch.

Learn The Grammar

A lot of people will tell you that you’ll pick it all up through immersion, but the reality is that grammar is something most people have to sit down and learn.

The best place to start with the grammar is with a course as it’ll tell you what grammar you need to know at the beginner level, then the intermediate level, etc. This way it’s much less overwhelming than opening a grammar book and trying to learn everything.

In terms of learning how to construct sentences in Portuguese, the Michel Thomas course is probably the most helpful. This will give you enough grammar to get started and from there, you can learn to construct more complex sentences.

If you want to practice your grammar, these apps are useful and fun:

  • Linguno [Link] – A fun app that tests you on several things including grammar. [Read Reviews]
  • Conjugemos [Link] – Has several games where you can test your ability to conjugate verbs. It’s much more fun than trying to memorise verb tables!
  • Verbix [Link] – A simple verb conjugation tool that covers European Portuguese. Simply enter a verb (e.g. falar – to speak) and it’ll show you the Portuguese for I speak, you speak, I will speak, etc in European Portuguese.

Don’t Forget to 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. If you want something that’s fun, watch a telenovela or O Preço Certo. These shows are far from what you might call quality television, but they are entertaining to watch.
  • Listen to Portuguese music. Think about the type of music your normally listen to (for example rock or rap) and try to find Portuguese bands and singers that cover those genres. You can also have fun listening to Portuguese music and trying to guess the lyrics with the app LingoClip (formerly LyricsTraining).
  • Listen to Portuguese Radio. One of the easiest shows without transcripts is Portugueses no Mundo, a show that interviews Portuguese people living abroad.
  • 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.
  • Learn the slang, insults, and other rude words.
  • Chat with natives via text using HelloTalk to build up your confidence before you chat to them over Skype using iTalki. 
  • Join a community of other people who are self-studying Portuguese. Practice Portuguese have their forums and many other courses, like Portuguese Master Course, have private Facebook groups.

Oh, and don’t forget to make mistakes! Don’t worry: you won’t need to try to make them; you’ll make them anyway.

You might mix up the word for granddad (avô) with the word for egg (ovo) or you might mean to ask if the chocolate has preservatives (conservantes) but instead ask if it has condoms (preservativos).

If you do, you won’t be alone! Check out all the funny mistakes other people have made learning Portuguese.

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James Cave is the founder of Portugalist and the author of the bestselling book, Moving to Portugal Made Simple. He has visited just about every part of Portugal, including Madeira and all nine islands of the Azores, and lived in several parts of Portugal including Lisbon, the Algarve, and Northern Portugal.

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Comments

  1. 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
  2. Hi,
    Do you have any suggestions for fun apps/websites to teach a toddler the european Portuguese language. There are a ton that teach Brazilian, but i prefer my son to learn the mainland Portuguese, as did I.

    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
    • Hi Craig,

      Practice Portuguese is great for realistic dialogues with their ‘shorties.’

      There are also some podcasts and videos that have subtitles. The content is a bit boring on some of them, but if you can get past that, they’re helpful learning resources.

      Reply
  4. 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 Ray,

      I’ve seen those rates in Lisbon too. I’ve found Italki (and other similar sites like Preply) to be a much better way of finding affordable tutors.

      People living in Lisbon or Porto have to charge more due to the cost of living. On ITalki you can find a student living in the middle of the countryside who charges €10 per hour or so.

      You obviously get what you pay for and the more experienced teachers will charge at least €20 per hour. However, if you’re looking for affordable speaking practice, it’s a good place to begin.

      Reply
  5. 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,

      In the article, I recommend that people watch Brazilian movies and tv and listen to Brazilian music but for their actual course, study European Portuguese. I also think people really need to listen to European Portuguese and practice speaking it because of the pronunciation.

      I definitely don’t want people to miss out on all the great resources in Brazilian Portuguese, but I do think you need to focus on European Portuguese initially or they will get confused between the two.

      Reply
    • What you say about shortcuts and essentially “lazy” speech is interesting. There is a distinct tendency that way in the Spanish of Venezuela, which i believe is Brazilian influence. An example is they like to slide the ends of certain words so that something like”mercado” becomes “mercao”. This gives an interesting twist that is quite noticeable to other Spanish speakers.

      Reply
  6. Hello! First – I’m so happy to have found your site. It’s incredibly helpful; thank you!

    I’m trying to choose a strategy for learning European Portuguese, and I saw Michel Thomas’ Total Portuguese mentioned elsewhere on this site. Would it belong on this page, as well? (It seems like it might be a little more comprehensive than Pimsleur?)

    Also, although I love the advantages of a self-study format (like lifetime access to course content that I can access at my own pace, on my own schedule), I’ve found it’s hard for me to make the time, stick with it, and not let life get in the way, and keep my motivation up! So I would love to find a self-study format that also offers the advantages of a traditional class: a built-in, goal-oriented timeline for achieving specific proficiency levels, with interaction and accountability. Any chance you’ve come across a format that combines the best of these two worlds?

    Muito obrigada!

    Reply
  7. Hi Lea,

    You’re right! This page is due an update, so I will add it in. I will also do a full writeup on Total Portuguese soon.

    You’re also right in saying that it’s more comprehensive than Pimsleur – much more. While I really like the Pimsleur Method, the European Portuguese course is quite especially limited because it only covers the first level. I should add that although Total Portuguese has similarities to Pimsleur, it’s more like an audio-based class and there’s a lot of instruction in it.

    In terms of something that offers the best of both worlds, there are a few options.

    At the moment, lots of language schools in Portugal are going online so you could actually do an entire language course from home. That’s one option.

    Another option would be to combine a self-study course with with weekly classes with a personal tutor through Italki (or something similar). The tutor should be able to set goals and tell you what to study, but you would still need to do a lot of self-study between classes.

    Would that work?

    Reply
  8. Hello,

    As the son of Azorean immigrants I have always regretted that my mother refused to teach us Azorean Portuguese. She was worried that it would negatively impact our English. Now that I am an older adult I would like to rectify that.

    While it is very difficult to find learning resources for European Portuguese, finding resources for learning Azorean Portuguese seems to be almost impossible.

    Do you have any suggestions for learning Azorean Portuguese?

    Thanks,
    rik

    Reply

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