Finding the best way to learn Portuguese is trickier than other languages. Some languages like English, Spanish, and French have a plethora of great language learning resources. Portuguese isn’t as commonly studied, as a result not every language learning service is going to offer it.
Here I’ll go through all five of the methods I used to improve my Portuguese. There are resources for every level. Using a combination of the methods I discuss can take you from a complete beginner to a fluent speaker.
If my memory serves me correctly, Duolingo was the first tool alongside LingQ that I used to start studying Portuguese 3 years ago. At the beginning, the app served me well. The Tips section of the lessons gave me valuable hints about grammar. I learned a lot of essential Portuguese vocabulary as well.
The app has developed a reputation for receiving criticism. Duolingo may not be the best way to learn Portuguese but it’s a great way to start.
A criticism that I often see tied to the app is that the lesson content is random. Another one, ridiculous as it sounds, is that the app won’t make you fluent in a language. It’s ridiculous because in no way does Duolingo advertise the app could make you fluent in Portuguese or any other language.
In terms of the nature of the content or vocabulary, the idea of it being too random also seems a little ridiculous. The nature of using vocabulary itself can be somewhat random. Not to mention a lot of the basic vocabulary that you’ll first learn with Duolingo will be used almost every time you speak.
Duolingo was a great way to get essential verbs like ter – to have and ir – to go. These are words that you without a doubt will use on a regular basis speaking Portuguese.
Nouns like maça – apple might seem random at first. It seems random until you have to ask a grocery store employee where you can find apples while spending time in Brazil or Portugal.
This doesn’t only apply to traveling. Say you and your Portuguese tutor begin talking about your favorite snacks and you want to say apple. That’s just one example, but I hope you see the point. The use of the vast majority of vocabulary is random by nature.
I used Duolingo to study Portuguese for roughly 6 months. Simultaneously, I used LingQ, italki, and spoke with native Brazilian Portuguese speakers offhand during this period. Both Duolingo and LingQ I began using side by side from the start.
My recommendation is to use Duolingo to study Portuguese between 3 and 6 months. I don’t regret using Duolingo for such a long period. After a couple more years of language learning under my belt, however, I question if Duolingo was the best use of time after 3 months compared to other language learning tools.
Duolingo and an Example of How to Use It Effectively
A Strategy for Starting a New Language: Apps
Best Way to Learn Portuguese with Apps: LingQ
If you asked me what the best way to learn Portuguese through an app was, I wouldn’t hesitate to say LingQ. As mentioned in the last section, this was my first tool alongside Duolingo to study Portuguese.
LingQ is not what you would think of as a typical language learning app. The main focus of the app is listening and reading. As you read you can use the dictionary integration to look up words instantaneously, save them as LingQs, then use them as flashcards if you so desire.
There are no killer owls or flashy animations on LingQ. The user interface is simple. One thing that may be confusing for new users is the lack of a clear study plan for users to follow. It’s good to search around the app a bit to get familiarized. You can find content for every level, although the quality can be a mixed bag, especially for lower proficiency levels.
At the same time, the array of content for every level is one of the shining features of LingQ. You could use it to study from knowing nothing (A0) to a highly advanced (C2) proficiency level and beyond.
Even Brazilian and Portuguese literary works like O Alienista by Machado de Asis and Os Lusíadas by Luís de Camões can be found on the app.
If you get bored of the content available on LingQ, you can import news articles from a set of credible sites that can be used within the app.
LingQ also has some more traditional features of apps. It has a streak function that counts how many days you’ve reached your daily goal on the app of 13 LingQs, or saved words that you didn’t know.
I only gave a brief overview of LingQ. If you want to learn more details, check out my article: LingQ – The Best Language Learning App?
During my journey studying Portuguese, LingQ was almost always there. From December 2018, going through beginner Portuguese content up until May of 2021, reading O Alienista. It’s a tool that never seemed to fail me.
italki and Speaking with Natives
(Plug italki and when to start speaking in a foreign articles)
The third resource that I used to learn Portuguese was native speakers. Most of those native speakers were italki teachers or tutors.
I began studying Portuguese December of 2018. A native speaker helped me with pronunciation and some vocabulary that same month. My first class on italki was in January of 2019, the next month.
Initially, I only had a teacher to help me build up my general knowledge of the language. However, very soon after my first class, I began primarily taking conversation lessons.
Improving my speaking seemed like a necessity. I was going to Brazil in March of 2019. Although my Portuguese was hardly ready for Brazil, practicing with teachers on italki provided me a tremendous of confidence to speak with natives.
If you want to get a better idea of when the right time to start speaking Portuguese is then check-out: When Should You Start Speaking a Foreign Language?
Conversations with tutors on italki can show you what you’re capable of at your proficiency level. It can also sometimes be misleading as native speakers don’t make as much of an effort to speak with clarity. Regardless, don’t be discouraged. Speaking is both a part of a wholistic skill as well as an individual one that takes time to improve.
I wouldn’t say that italki is the best way to learn Portuguese. It can, however, be a great long-term tool. You will need to speak with natives over time to master the use of Portuguese vocabulary.
italki as a Means for Conversation Practice
Living in Brazil
During my time living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I learned a ton about the linguistic customs of the people that live there. This is an essential part of gaining real fluency in Portuguese.
To explain my point, I’ll use one of my favorite examples. While I was in Rio, I always took cab rides with someone that would say “bom trabalho” at the end of Uber rides to the driver. At first, I found it a bit off-putting. In English it’s literally translated as “good work” and would only be said to compliment the way someone performed a task in American culture. To me it seemed as though they were complimenting the driver’s ability to drive the car.
After hearing it several times, I asked why this person was saying this. I came to understand that it was a way to say “have a good work” like we would say “have a good afternoon” in English.
The best way to learn Brazilian Portuguese or European Portuguese, from a wholistic perspective, would include living in the respective countries. Context matters and living or even traveling to a country where Portuguese is spoken will teach you a lot about how to use the language.
If it wasn’t for the existence of LingQ, Kindle would be a serious contender for the best way to learn Portuguese for advanced learners.
Kindle shares some of the features that LingQ does but with less ideal characteristics. You can download dictionaries to look up unknown words. The system for looking up words, however, is more rigid and requires exact word matches. Kindle also has some availability when it comes to text-to-speech, however, I don’t have experience with it myself. Nonetheless LingQ has audio with native speakers, which will be more ideal regardless.
Where Kindle really shines is the much vaster collection of content to read through. You have a wide variety of literature to choose from on Kindle. If you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription you can find shorter content available for free, which is often more ideal for language learning.
I really began taking advantage of Kindle to study Portuguese during my second year studying the language in 2020. During the time I was working on a master’s in finance. As a way to learn Portuguese financial terms I read a couple of eBooks on investing by Thiago Reis.
These books expanded my point of view on investing. I learned about Brazilian attitudes towards money, investing, and regulation. As a result, I learned more about the global financial system. Most importantly these books taught me a lot of unique but relevant vocab. I used one of my Portuguese tutors, a finance professor in Brazil, to ask questions about vocab that wasn’t clear to me. A great example of using resources together.
Kindle is a great way to mix personal interests or hobbies with language learning.
You can read my article Kindle and Reading in Language Learning to learn more about how I use Kindle to study languages.
Watching movies and series is the best way to learn Portuguese for an advanced learner on a budget. I say this because it’s much cheaper than traveling abroad, but still a great way to learn through context.
Nothing can beat living in a foreign country, but Netflix is the next best thing. You can use other streaming services as well, but the Language Reactor browser extension makes Netflix more ideal.
I’ve already written an article on how I use Netflix, A Guide to Language Learning with Netflix, so I’m not going to go into a ton of detail on that aspect here.
There are two Brazilian series that I’ve watched, O Mecanismo, which I wrote a language learner’s review on, Netflix Review: “O Mecanismo” (No Spoilers). The second series is called 3% and I’ve yet to finish the first season.
I’ve watched movies in Portuguese also, but series are preferred. The reason being that they often use recurring vocabulary. By the end of the series, you not only learn but internalize new vocabulary. The longer the series the better.
I recommend watching both of the series I mentioned above. O Mecanismo is a series that follows a historically significant corruption scandal in Brazil that came to light in the past decade.
3% is a dystopian series about a futuristic society that allows 3% of the population to live in what’s considered an idealistic society separate from the rest of the population. To live within the 3%, however, you have to first compete in a set of challenges. The plot is reminiscent of content often targeted at teens, like the Hunger Games or the 100, but this series has a much more mature feel to it.
Watching series in Portuguese on Netflix really reinforced my knowledge of colloquial expressions from Brazil. After I left the country, watching episodes of 3% kept the style of communication that I was accustomed to hearing fresh in my mind.
Series and movies are a great way to learn new things about Portuguese as well. I watched a movie called Bróder that taught me new slang spoken in a Brazilian favela. I’ll likely never be in a position to use it. Nonetheless, the movie gave me a more well-rounded image of Brazilian society as a whole.
Read a language learner’s review of Bróder: Netflix Review: “Bróder” (No Spoilers)
Is the Best Way to Learn Brazilian Portuguese Different from European Portuguese?
The best way to learn Brazilian Portuguese compared to European Portuguese is going to differ in content. It won’t differ in the general strategy or tool you use. The majority of Portuguese learning material, be it Duolingo or the collection of Portuguese content on LingQ, is typically more tailored for learning Brazilian Portuguese. This is likely related to the pure size of the countries. Brazil has a population of over 210 million while Portugal is sitting at just over 10 million. Brazilian Portuguese is likely going to inadvertently create a larger market.
You’ll likely find that there is more content to explore in Brazilian Portuguese through telenovelas or Brazil’s rich literary culture.
If you do have a preference for one version of the language focus on content specifically from that country. You’ll more efficiently progress this way. Later on you can enjoy content besides that just from Brazil or Portugal. Most consider Brazilian and European Portuguese mutual intelligible.
The Best Way to Learn Portuguese: Combine Your Favorite Tools
No single tool is the best way to learn Portuguese in and of itself. You have to find a combination of tools that work best for you. At the very least, you should have one tool that gives you input and another output.
Speaking is important for building up a relationship with the language. You want the language learning experience to be memorable. Making a tutor, teacher, or friend a part of it does just that. You’re way more likely to remember a word that has a great memory attached to it.
Whether you need a teacher, casual tutor, or simple anyone to practice speaking with should be obvious if you understand you’re general speaking level.
On the side of input, you’ll need to adjust what you use to study as well as you progress through the language. This might mean starting out using Duolingo or LingQ for several months or a year then phase in watching Netflix series and reading books on Kindle.
As a final note, make sure you enjoy how you study Portuguese. Enjoying the process or content you’re using to study can go a long way. Motivation will be an important key in learning Portuguese.
If you can, make the most of your language learning journey by spending some time in Brazil or Portugal.