Category: Portuguese

Portuguese Week 5: Final Update and Analysis

I wrapped up my five-week Portuguese learning project last night with my final video.

My goal for this project was to reach level B1 of the CEFR in five weeks. While reaching for that level in such a short period might usually be a tough task for someone with a monolingual English-speaking family and a full-time day job, I felt confident I could reach my goal because of the similarity with Spanish, which I already speak fluently.

Experiments with shortcuts in related languages

In fact, part of my reasoning was to experiment on how the learning process is affected when you already speak a closely related language. There are numerous resources online that give an idea for how long it should take an English speaker to learn a language, depending on the similarities and differences, the “difficulty” of the language.

Spanish and Portuguese are both listed in the “Level 1” languages – the easiest class of languages for an English speaker to learn. Still, some estimates say it should take upwards of 600 class hours to learn these languages. I wanted to know how long it would take for a Spanish speaker to learn the closely related Portuguese.

We don’t really have a similarly closely related language in English. Because of the huge influence of French after the Norman Conquest of Britain and the dramatic grammatical shifts that occurred in Old and Middle English, the similarities of English to its Germanic cousins aren’t nearly as transparent as in the case of Spanish and Portuguese. True there is Scots, but it’s not very widely used or even well known outside of Scotland. In contrast, Spanish and Portuguese are both well known and widely spoken. In fact, both of these languages have more speakers outside of their countries of origin than inside.

Where I’m at

As I mention in the video, I feel comfortable using the language at a B1 level now. In fact, with the right preparation beforehand, I can sometimes even function at a B2 level. Still, for the most part I’d confidently say I’ve reached B1 level.

Going forward, while I won’t be putting special focus on Portuguese for now, I’ll continue to use the language and maintain it, and maybe even improve it, albeit probably much more slowly than during the last several weeks.

I’ll also be getting ready for my next project. What will it be? Stay tuned!

Portuguese Week 4 Update

Four weeks into my Portuguese project! Even though I originally set my goal deadline for the end of the World Cup, one month to the day after I started, I’m going to extend it through to next Thursday, so I get another good week in and a video update on schedule at the end.

So I’m feeling a lot more confident conversing in Portuguese. I’ve mostly been using WeSpeke, Skype, and a good old phone to talk to people. I’m to the point now where I can pretty much get across any meaning I want to, although sometimes I have to either talk my way around a word or concept I don’t know how to say, or just look it up. I’m also understanding spoken Portuguese much better, although listening comprehension hasn’t ever been my strongest suit in any language. Still, I’d definitely say this project has gone well, and quickly.

For those who aren’t able to watch the video, I mention that I was surprised (although I probably shouldn’t have been) to see that I’ve actually seen much more interference from Portuguese on my Spanish than vice versa. I went to a Mexican restaurant a few days ago, and I was talking to the wait staff in Spanish. At a few points in the conversation, I had to make an effort to keep speaking Spanish rather than reverting back to Portuguese. For example, when the waiter handed me my food, I meant to say “Gracias,” but it came out as “Obrigado!”

This is mostly due to the fact that I have been thinking and speaking almost entirely in Portuguese for the past month, and almost no Spanish. After finishing my five weeks of Portuguese, I’ll spend a lot more time speaking Spanish again, and hopefully develop a good separation between the two in my mind.


Portuguese Week 3 Update

I’ve now been working on my Portuguese project for three weeks.

Last week I mentioned how I had a much easier time speaking than understanding spoken Portuguese. Even though I might still speak rather pausedly, if I give it some thought, I can usually figure out a way to put my thoughts in words, even if it’s not the most efficient wording.

Still, I really needed to spend a lot of time working on my listening comprehension, so this past week I made that a special focus, mostly watching and listening to the news, watching movies, and conversing with native or fluent speakers.

Some of my favorite sites for listening to the news in other languages are RFI and BBC World Service. They both have podcasts for a variety of different languages. I’ve mostly been listening to the RFI Brasil podcasts (news and special topics), as they’re in a format I find the most convenient.

I also watched the movie Apenas o Fim, which has a sort of (500) Days of Summer or Once vibe, for anyone who has seen either of those movies. The movie is very heavy on dialog, and it’s a casual, informal, conversational dialog, so that was helpful. I didn’t understand a ton of the spoken dialog, but watching with the Portuguese subtitles I was fully able to understand everything that was going on.

A final resource I’ve taken advantage of this week is WeSpeke, a social website that lets you practice speaking languages with people all over the world. You sign up for a profile, select your native language, the language you’re learning, and choose topics that interest you. Then you can see who’s currently online and available for a text or voice chat. The only thing I don’t like about WeSpeke so far is that you can only choose one language as your target language, but it’s easy to change, and you don’t have to limit your conversation partners to people who speak your target language.

This week I plan to keep working on my listening comprehension, but especially in an interactive, conversational context, not just passive listening. Also, now that I have a solid footing in the language, I intend to iron out some grammatical points I’m still a little shaky on, and fill in some of my vocabulary gaps.

Portuguese Week 2 Update

I’ve come up on my second week in my Portuguese project. So far, so good. I feel like I’m seeing some good progress.

For anyone who’s had trouble staying focused and keeping motivation in a language learning project, I highly recommend making a video series of yourself at regular intervals during your project. Not only does it provide a way to look back and review your progress, but it also gives you incentive to keep it up – as you’ve publicly committed to all your viewers that you’re going to stick with it. No turning back!

When I begin language learning projects, I’m usually pretty good at leveraging what little I know of the language early on to try and express what I’m trying to say. I may not know the exact word I’m looking for, but I can circumlocute, or “talk my way around it.”

On the other hand, as I mention in the video, learning to understand the spoken language is much more difficult for me than speaking it. It’s just a quirk in the way I learn. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. So this week I’ll be spending a lot more time listening to spoken Portuguese – watching videos, listening to recordings, and having conversations.

Portuguese Week 1 Update

I’ve been at my Portuguese project for a week now, and I’ve made a fair amount of progress. I want to stress that I’m not starting from scratch on this, as I have had some exposure to Brazilian Portuguese in the past, and am fluent in Spanish, so this video doesn’t represent where you should be after only a week of a new language. (On the other hand, if you are already much more proficient than I am at your language a mere week after starting from scratch, more power to you!)

For those not able to watch the video, I mention that, because Spanish and Portuguese are so similar in terms of vocabulary and grammar, I’m able to use Spanish as something of a crutch at this point. Any words I don’t know yet in Portuguese, I’m able to “fake” by pronouncing the Spanish with a bit of a Portuguese accent.

One thing many people notice when learning a language very similar to one they already speak is interference from their dominant language on their new, weaker one. I’ve noticed a little of that so far, for example, in the video at one point I use the Spanish va instead of the Portuguese vai.

Still, it’s a small price to pay in exchange for the head start that the Spanish gives me at this point in the game. It will be interesting to see what other interference shows up, especially as my Portuguese starts to develop to the point of standing on its own.

For anyone else for speaks Spanish and is interested in learning Portuguese, or vice versa, here are a few helpful articles on the subject, one from Wikipedia, and another from Fluent in 3 Months.

New Language Mission: Brazilian Portuguese!

brazil-flagIn honor of the 2014 Brazil Word Cup, I’m taking on a new language project: Brazilian Portuguese.

I spent two years living in Uruguay, right in Brazil’s shadow, so I’ve had a fair amount of exposure to Brazilian media, culture, and other influences. Still, it’s one thing to have tangential exposure to a linguistic community; it’s another thing altogether to jump right in and join them!

Brazil is a fascinating country and culture, and it’s quickly finding a respected place for itself in the world. As one of the BRIC Countries, it’s predicted to be the fourth largest economy in the world by 2050. And of course there is the current World Cup, and Summer Olympics coming up in 2016.

Like many, I’ve gotten especially caught up with all things Brazil with the start of the World Cup today. I’ve been wanting to do this for awhile, but now seems as good a time as any to start my new project – to see what kind of proficiency I can build up in the month from today (the start of the tournament) until July 13 (the final match).

This is kind of a unique mission, at least for me, because I’m not starting the language entirely from scratch. I’m fluent in Spanish, which is closely related to Portuguese; the vocabulary and grammar are very similar, so that gives me a big head start. Actually, one of the motivating factors in this project is learning about what kind of effect previously learned languages have when acquiring new, related languages. The advantages of already knowing Spanish are obvious, but what kind of disadvantages, if any, will I face?

To be honest, this is one of my first language projects that I’ve planned out to this extent. Most of my language learning has either been in a classroom setting, living for an extended period of time immersed in a foreign country, or on my own in a very unorganized, haphazard manner. I’m taking a page from the Benny Lewis playbook here, so I’m not exactly sure what to expect, but I’m shooting for B1 (conversational fluency).

Wish me luck! I’ll keep you posted on my progress.