Of all the skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking), speaking is one of the hardest to master.
The two main components that people struggle with is
- The act of speaking, especially thinking on your feet.
But, practice makes perfect, and the more you specifically work on your Portuguese speaking skills, the more you’ll improve.
The following are some ways to improve your Portuguese speaking abilities.
Improving your Pronunciation
You’re probably pronouncing things wrong. It’s a fact.
If you’re primarily learning Portuguese by reading, then you probably aren’t memorising the correct pronounciation of the word: you’re memorising it how you think it should sound.
But Portuguese doesn’t sound like a non-Portuguese speaker thinks it should, and that’s definitely true of European Portuguese.
Learn the sounds of Portuguese
If you haven’t already spent some time learning the different sounds in Portuguese and how words are pronounced different, now is a good time to do it. You’ll save yourself a lot of mistakes in the long run.
- Mimic Method: 54 Elemental Sounds of European Portuguese [Soundcloud link] & [Accompanying PDF]
- YouTube video: Mystery of the Disappearing Sounds (in European Portuguese!) [Link]
- YouTube video: Open & Closed Vowels – The Secret to Understanding EU Portuguese Natives [Link]
- YouTube video: Tricky Sounds of European Portuguese [Link]
- YouTube Video: 7 difficult sounds to pronounce in Brazilian Portuguese [Link]
- YouTube Video: Portuguese Vowels – Ultimate Portuguese Pronunciation Guide [Link]
Bonus: Here are some videos showing the different between how European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese is spoken. Basically: Portuguese “swallow” their words whereas Brazilians annunciate their words.
- YouTube Video: Brazilian Portuguese vs Portugal Portuguese accent – I SPEAK BOTH! [Link]
- YouTube Video: Brazilian Portuguese vs. European Portuguese [Link]
- YouTube Video: The Portuguese Language in Different Accents (includes countries like Macau, Timor-Este, and Angola as well as Portugal and Brazil) [Link]
Record & Play back
How well do you think you pronounce Portuguese words? Let’s find out.
Record yourself reading a Portuguese text and then listen to what it sounds like when read by a native speaker. You’ll quickly see where you tend to make mistakes.
The following are some places where you can find audio and accompanying texts.
- Practice Portuguese [*special offer*] – Has hundreds of interesting dialogues that you can use to work on your pronunciation. You have to pay to access the transcripts, but it’s worth it as it also includes access to their entire learning studio (here’s a *sample lesson* that you can practice with or read more about Practice Portuguese here).
- Say it in Portuguese [link] – A podcast with free accompanying transcripts. The content of the podcast isn’t always the most interesting, but it’s perfectly suitable for this exercise.
- PortuguesePod101 Audio Blogs [link] – The “Audio Blogs” on the advanced section of PortuguesePod101 are perfect for practicing your pronunciation.
Chat with native speakers
The simplest reason that most people struggle with speaking Portuguese: they don’t speak enough.
This is a big problem for anyone who doesn’t live in a Portuguese-speaking country, but it’s even an issue for expats or those that work from home in Portugal. If you don’t speak Portuguese in your day-to-day life, you’ll only end up doing it when you go to the restaurant, café, or supermarket. And, that’s not enough.
Thankfully, there are several ways that you can speak with natives.
Take A conversational class
Taking a conversational one-on-one class is easy thanks to websites like iTalki [*link*].
The benefit of a conversational class with a teacher over a language exchange with another native speaker is that the teacher will be better at picking up your mistakes and helping you correct them.
Italki isn’t the only one of these websites. Preply and Verbling are also popular, but iTalki tends to have the most teachers and it’s usually the cheapest as well.
Note: Sometimes Portuguese people don’t like to criticise, so if you feel like you’re not getting corrected enough be sure to point this out and ask for more criticism.
Find a tandem partner
Tandem language partners can be hit and miss for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it’s hard to find someone you connect with and have something in common with. Anyone who’s tried to make friends as an adult or tried dating will know how hard it is to make new friends.
Secondly, it can be hard to find someone who works well as a language exchange partner. You want someone who can correct you, who’s as interested in learning another language as you are, and who’s willing to commit to regularly Skyping or meeting up to practice. All of that is hard to find.
There are lots of sites for finding tandem partners, but sometimes it’s easier to start chatting by text with someone on HelloTalk. As things progress you can get to the stage where you leave voice messages and then maybe even set a date for a real-time conversation.
Other places to find tandem partners include:
Language exchange meetups
Don’t forget you can also meet people in real life too – especially if you live in a Portuguese speaking country. Language exchange meetups are a good place to start.
Meetup.com is a good place to begin your search for English-Portuguese meetups. In Lisbon, for example, there’s an English-Portuguese language exchange that meets once per week. And, it’s not the only group language exchange meetup in Lisbon.
SPEAK is also worth looking at and is available in several cities in Portugal, including Porto, Coimbra, and Braga.
If you don’t like in a Portuguese-speaking country, you’ll probably struggle to find Portuguese-English language exchange meetups, but most large cities will have a more general language exchange where people from multiple countries come and meetup to practice their languages.
Writing, like speaking, is output.
While writing won’t help you improve your pronunciation, it will help you get better at thinking in Portuguese and, in a way, you’re talking in Portuguese. You’re just doing it via text rather than opening and closing your mouth.
Find some Portuguese friends and text them or e-mail them.
Don’t have any Portuguese friends? Chat with people on HelloTalk.
Getting better at speaking doesn’t always mean speaking more (although that’s a huge part of it) — sometimes it means being a better listener.
Are you spending enough time listening to Portuguese spoken? If you’re mainly learning through reading, the answer is no.
Make sure you listen to Portuguese more. Watching TV shows in Portuguese is a good place to start, but you can also listen to the radio or podcasts as well.
Don’t just listen to the words (although this is important) but listen to the sounds and the rhythms.
Talk to yourself
Talking to yourself can be a sign of madness, but it’s also useful for getting less rusty at speaking Portuguese.
It doesn’t really matter what you say, just as long as you get used to talking in Portuguese.
A common technique people use is to walk around the house, point at objects, and talk about them.
For example you might point at the TV and say anything from “The TV is black” to “I can’t remember the last time I watched TV.” Anything that comes into your head really.
Again, the main focus here is just speaking in Portuguese. Start off by trying to do it for 5 minutes per day, and then work from there.
(Or Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Portugal, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Macau, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe).
If you’re not already living in a Portuguese speaking country, take the time to visit one.
Come eat pastéis de nata in Lisbon or go see Carnival in Rio.
Seriously! What’s the point of learning Portuguese if you never spend time in a Portuguese speaking country?