While Portuguese was technically my first language, I don't speak it fluently.
For a long time, I felt ashamed about my limited Portuguese skills. As an adolescent, elders would sadly shake their heads at my accented Portuguese. Peers would tease me and question my pride in our heritage like it was a competition I was obviously losing. Non-Portuguese speakers would express pity that I had lost the opportunity to be fully bilingual (or trilingual in the case of fellow students in Spanish classes).
While I admittedly still feel a ping of shame that I'm not fluent in Portuguese, I have also let go of those negative, unproductive voices that have lingered too long in my subconscious. I can't edit the past. Sometimes circumstances can't be controlled (another story for another time). And that's okay.
I was in my 20s when I started learning how to read and write in Portuguese. And, now--in my 30s, living in an English-speaking home in an area with few Portuguese speakers, mom to a 3-year-old, and working full-time+ outside the household--it can be challenging to devote time to expanding my Portuguese language skills.
I've learned a lot over the years about language acquisition, not only as a student but also as an educator for English language learners. I've found stacking--linking new habits to already-established routines and behaviors--helps me fit Portuguese language practice in my full schedule. Similar to bundling, it's a great strategy when time is limited.
Here are my go-to Portuguese learning resources that complement stacking and bundling strategies. These resources focus on European Portuguese, since that's what my family speaks and what I'm working to refine.
1) Children's Books
Since having a child, reading Portuguese children's books has rocketed to #1 on my resource list. It allows me to stack 1) reading time with my daughter and 2) Portuguese language practice.
This isn't just a shameless plug for my recently published children's book. Books for younger audiences generally have simpler language that makes it easier for beginning learners of any age to digest.
- Baking ABC - English / Portuguese. Now, this is my shameless plug for my book, Baking ABC - English Portuguese. ;) I wrote it because I wanted more options for reading in Portuguese with my daughter. It's a supremely-designed and well-laid-out book (thanks to my husband, Justin, who is a talented graphic designer). Each letter from the English alphabet includes a photo illustration, English and Portuguese words, and Portuguese transliteration (i.e. pronunciation).
- Riso Books. Riso Books publishes a series of Portuguese/English bilingual children's books by Angela Costa Simoes. When I was pregnant, Linda Menina was one of two (European) Portuguese children's books I could find (the other was Maria and the Lost Calf by Kate Morejohn). Riso Books has since published a couple of other Portuguese children's books.
Listening to podcasts is one of the easiest ways to stack language learning into your regular schedule, especially if you have at least some understanding of Portuguese. I like to listen to podcasts when I'm making dinner, taking a shower, when I'm walking, and--before being quarantined--commuting to and from work.
- Practice Portuguese - Podcast. I highly recommend the podcasts from Practice Portuguese Learning Studio, based in Portugal. Before my trip to the Azores in 2016, I listened to all of their episodes during my commute to and from work. "Immersing" myself in the language for 30-60 minutes daily improved my comprehension skills immensely. Check out their website for more rich content and premium membership. They offer options for beginner, intermediate, and advanced learners.
- Practice Portuguese - Shorties. If you're especially short on time, the Shorties podcast provides bite-sized, daily, 2-minute episodes that easily fit into your day. This is also from the Practice Portuguese Learning Studio. Access all of their podcast content back to 2013.
- Portugueses no Mundo. I just found this podcast as I was doing research for this blog post. So far, it's pretty neat. Not only do you hear stories of Portuguese people living around the world, it's a great way to hear Portuguese spoken at a "real-world" pace.
- Our Portuguese Table. This is not a Portuguese language learning podcast. However, if you're like me, and miss gathering around a full table with your Portuguese family or community, this podcast helps you feel connected to the food and culture of Portugal and Portuguese Americans.
3) Handwritten Print Materials
- Journaling. If you regularly journal, I recommend filling those daily pages with Portuguese words. When I'm in Portuguese-journaling mode, I rarely look up words or worry about spelling or grammar. My goals are 1) keep writing 2) force my brain to "switch" to and think in Portuguese and 3) prioritize flow over accuracy. I even talk to myself quietly in Portuguese as I'm writing. Great for intermediate and advanced learners.
- Postcards. Write and exchange postcards with Portuguese speakers or fellow learners in your life. Handwritten mail is a lovely way to connect when you can't meet in person, so why not do it in Portuguese? Writing postcards is a great time to work on grammar, spelling, and vocabulary. I like DeepL Translator for quick translations, and I also reference my pocket dictionary and 501 Portuguese Verbs book. And, with that, I just wrote and mailed my mãe a note in Portuguese. :)
Incorporating Portuguese classes into my current schedule is unrealistic. Additionally, I prefer in-person classroom instruction, but there are no European Portuguese classes near me. However, I definitely recommend classroom instruction and/or tutoring (with a fluent speaker and teacher) for language development, if it can fit into your schedule and routine.
I also prefer and recommend classes that are almost exclusively taught in the language you're learning--even at the beginning level. When I was learning Spanish in high school and college, my language skills improved exponentially in classes that were taught almost exclusively in Spanish.
- In-Person Classes. Once it's safe to gather in person again, check local community colleges or centers for options. If you prefer Brazilian or European Portuguese, be sure to ask ahead of time how the class will be taught.
- Online Classes. Personally, I don't prefer online classes. However, they are great for lots of people and there are options available: Maria Oliveira Language Learning Center, Practice Portuguese Learning Studio, and Learn European Portuguese Online are a few. While these look promising, I have never taken these classes before and can't offer recommendations. Definitely research these on your own and decide what might work for you.
5) Immersion and Conversation
Immersive experiences are the best ways to expand your language skills. You can't just read and write on your own. You also need to struggle through real-life situations and conversations. For me, that has looked like conversing with family members who only speak Portuguese, chatting with my mãe, cooking and baking Portuguese recipes, and visiting the Azores. If you have the chance to immerse yourself in the language in some way, do it. If there's one thing I wish I had done when I was in college, it would have been enrolling in a study abroad program in Portugal.
Wait...are there options for a family of three to study Portuguese while visiting Portugal or the Azores for an extended period of time??? Comment below. That's a resource I'd love to know more about!
Note: We all learn differently and our access to resources will vary. Find and use whatever works for you!