How to: Improve Your Portuguese Listening Skills

By | Last updated: May 20, 2020
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Has this ever happened to you: you’re speaking Portuguese, it’s going surprisingly well, and then the other person replies. Suddenly, it’s not going so well. In fact, it’s going so badly that you barely catch a single word of what the other person says.

This happens to everybody!

Learning to read another language is the easiest part. Listening is the hardest part and speaking and writing fall somewhere in between.

There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, listening is a skill in itself and it’s something that most people don’t practice. Secondly, when we read and learn new words, we don’t necessarily learn them quite how they’re spoken.

This is especially true of European Portuguese where the Portuguese are said to “swallow” their vowels. Brazilians, in contrast, stretch them. That’s why people usually have a much easier time understanding Brazilian Portuguese – they pronounce their words clearly.

The only solution: lots and lots of listening practice.

But while listening to Portuguese radio, for example, is good for passively getting familiar with the language, what you really need is audio or video with subtitles in Portuguese.

How to practice listening

Dictation

There are several methods for learning a language by listening, and one of the most effective is dictation.

Very simply:

  1. Play the audio without subtitles and write down what you hear. Re-play it as many times as you need.
  2. Compare what you’ve written to the transcript, highlighting all the words and phrases that you didn’t pick up.
  3. Listen to the audio again while reading the transcript.
  4. Now, try it again.
  5. Put all the words you didn’t know into Memrise, a notepad, or whatever you use for recording new Portuguese words and phrases.

It’s hard, it’s boring, and it’s a slog, but it’s effective. Not only are you practicing listening, but you’re practicing writing as well (you’ll see just how bad you are at spelling in Portuguese as well).

Reading & Listening

Reading and listening is a lot more effective than just reading, particularly in the beginning.

Why? Because in the beginning we pronounce the words in our head as we assume they’re pronounced. And, generally we get it wrong.

Portuguese videos & audio with subtitles

If you thought dictation was the hard part, it’s not. Finding videos, podcasts, and audio in Portuguese – especially European Portuguese – that have subtitles in Portuguese is almost impossible.

Thankfully, this article is here to make things a little easier for you.

Practice Portuguese

Practice Portuguese is a podcast dedicated to European Portuguese that has hundreds of conversations, short and long, in Portuguese. The conversations usually focus on topics and contain vocabulary that you’ll need in your day-to-day life, which is definitely important when you’re just starting out.

While it’s free to listen to the podcast, you’ll need to become a paid member to get access to the transcripts (as well as some other features).

Portugalist readers don’t pay full price: click here.

Portuguese from Portugal

Portuguese From Portugal is a podcast aimed at Portuguese language learners that includes the transcript for free.

The content is much drier, very simply because the narrator reads out a piece of text from Wikipedia, but did I mention it’s free?

As well as the text and the audio, there are also some quizzes at the bottom of the page to test that you understood the text correctly.

Say it in Portuguese

Say it in Portuguese is similar to Portuguese from Portugal: it provides both the audio and the transcript for free.

The podcast focuses more on Portuguese sayings, which are obviously useful to learn as well.

Easy Portuguese

Easy Portuguese is a YouTube channel where people the presenters go and out and chat to random people on the street. The videos are posted on YouTube, and there’s always a transcript of the conversations as well.

For a long time, Easy Portuguese only covered Brazilian Portuguese but they now cover European Portuguese as well.

Tip: It’s also worth listening to Easy Brazilian Portuguese as well. Even if you’re focusing on Portuguese from Portugal, it’s still good to get used to the way Brazilian Portuguese is spoken.

TEDx Videos

TED, if you haven’t heard of it, is a popular technology, education, and design conference that’s held in the United States. Previous speakers include Bill Clinton, Stephen Hawking, Al Gore, Richard Dawkins, Bill Gates, and Pope Francis.

TED Talks are normally in English but at TEDx, its grassroots shootoff, speakers normally speak in their native language. There have been TEDx conferences all over Portugal such as TEDxLisboa, TEDxPorto, and even TEDxLagoadasPatas on the island of Flores in The Azores.

The videos are normally uploaded to YouTube and some of them are subtitled as well.

The following TEDx videos have subtitles in Portuguese:

Portuguese TV Shows

Some Portuguese TV shows, including a few soaps and a few documentaries, have subtitles in Portuguese.

Unfortunately, the TV shows that do have subtitles aren’t necessarily the best shows on Portuguese television but there’s still a good selection of things that you can watch.

See the full list of TV shows here.

Song Lyrics

There are countless lyrics websites online, and they even have the lyrics for most popular Portuguese songs as well.

Using music to practice listening has its downsides in that it isn’t how people speak, the lyrics can be repetitive, and some songs have large chunks where there are no lyrics.

Still, it’s free and easy, and it’ll introduce you to a few Portuguese bands and singers as well.

To get you started, here’s are the lyrics for some singers and groups (and usually accompanying YouTube videos as well).

Fernando Pessoa Tour

An audio tour of Fernando Pessoa’s Lisbon, this podcast from FernandoPessoaTour.com contains both spoken audio and an accompanying transcript.

As well as improving your Portuguese, you’ll also learn a little more about both Lisbon and Fernando Pessoa.

Audiobooks

Audiobooks aren’t very common in Portugal, so finding an audiobook that’s narrated by a Portuguese speaker from Portugal is very challenging.

The other problem with audiobooks is that you usually have to buy the print book in order to have the transcript, and this makes it very costly.

If you do want to give audiobooks a try, however, some books to get you started are:

Listening Tests

Listening tests are another good way of working that listening muscle. Unfortunately, like everything else in this article, finding listening tests is also difficult.

About this article
This article was first published in December 2019. It was last updated on May 20, 2020.
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