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Fluent in 3 Months team member Holly is taking on the challenge of learning Portuguese in 3 months. This is the first update in her Portuguese mission.
How does she feel about taking on this challenge? Will she make it?
I’m a language enthusiast. I’m fluent in French and speak Thai at an upper intermediate level. But I started studying French in school at the age of eight, and Thai when I was 19 on an exchange program.
Since then, I’ve studied five other languages, but never made it very far, and have since forgotten everything. Recently, I realised that it had been FIFTEEN YEARS since I’d last learned a language to a useful level. What kind of “language enthusiast” was I? I decided to do something about it.
Right around the time that I was toying with the idea of learning Spanish or Portuguese, Benny contacted the Fluent in 3 Months (Fi3M) team about doing reviews of various language products. Woohoo! I thought. A chance to start a new language, and really stick with it this time.
How I Chose to Learn Portuguese
I couldn’t decide which language to choose, however. I recently moved to California, so Spanish would be a practical choice. On the other hand, I very much want to visit Portugal and Brazil in the near future (in fact, I already have a 5-year tourist visa for Brazil!). So I decided to let Benny choose for me. I told him I would be happy to review a product for either beginner Spanish or beginner Portuguese. He sent me the Michel Thomas Total Portuguese CD course, which teaches European Portuguese. I did the course, recorded a (very slow and painful) conversation with a native speaker, and wrote my review.
Honestly, if I hadn’t done that live conversation with a native speaker, I probably would have called it quits after finishing the review.
But using the language with a real person – even though I understood very little, and could express even less – gave me the enthusiasm to continue. In a few weeks, I had gone from knowing absolutely no Portuguese (not even “Hello” or “Thank you”), to having a basic conversation. In all the other languages I had studied and forgotten over the years, I had never gotten that far, because I was learning in a traditional classroom setting. This involved lots of reading and writing, a bit of listening, and very little speaking.
I didn’t want to forget Portuguese like I had so many other languages. With the Michel Thomas CD course and one conversation with a native speaker under my belt, I decided to do my very own three-month Portuguese mission. I set the very reasonable goal of reaching B1 level.
How I Started My First Ever Three-Month Language Mission
I had never done a three-month mission of my own before. Before starting, I took a good, long look at my past successes and failures in language learning. I wanted this mission to succeed where my other attempts had failed.
I asked myself what my biggest weaknesses were in language learning. Without a doubt, for every language I had ever studied, the answer was always the same: listening comprehension and speaking ability. (This appears to be the case for most Fi3M readers too.) Reading and writing for me are easy, even for languages with non-Latin alphabets. I’ve read 300-page Thai novels before, and yet still struggle to understand all the dialogue on a Thai children’s TV show!
I wanted things to be different this time. I wanted to be able to understand spoken Portuguese, and speak it myself, without struggling all the time. So I decided that the big rule I would follow throughout the entire mission would be:
Go All-in: No Reading or Writing – Only Speaking and Listening
I didn’t want to opt for a “mostly” speaking and listening approach; I went all-in. I decided to do virtually NO reading or writing in Portuguese for the entire three months. No Harry Potter books, newspapers or children’s picture books. No writing down vocabulary lists or useful phrases. No flashcards, even! Instead, any time I set aside time to study Portuguese, it would be either through listening or speaking the language
The reason I went “all-in” is simple: I know myself. I know that if I allowed myself to incorporate reading and writing exercises into my study routine, they would quickly take over. I would get lazy and stop scheduling Skype conversations or struggling through Portuguese TV shows. I’d always choose the easy way out whenever I sat down to study.
By not allowing myself to read and write, any time I decided to study Portuguese, it would have to be through audio exercises, Portuguese TV shows or podcasts, or a conversation with a native speaker.
That said, I did plan to allow myself three small exceptions to this rule:
- I changed my phone’s OS to Portuguese (because I have to use my phone anyway, so using it for everyday tasks wouldn’t replace an actual Portuguese study session)
- Duolingo (for vocabulary building, and because I don’t love the app enough to study it for long stretches – so it wouldn’t cut into my listening/speaking exercises very much)
- Reading song lyrics (because I wanted to use music to help me learn, but understanding song lyrics is difficult without seeing them written down – even in English!)
The other, more minor reason I decided to take this approach was to experiment with different learning methods. I wasn’t sure how well I would learn the language without reading and writing. Would it be possible to have intermediate-level conversations after only three months if I didn’t build up my grammar skills through reading and writing? I wanted to try it this way so I could report to you, the reader, about whether it was a viable approach.
My Plans for Getting Listening and Speaking Practice
Now that I’ve laid out what I planned NOT to do during my mission, here’s what I DID plan to do for getting tons of listening and speaking practice throughout the three months:
- italki – for meeting conversation partners and Portuguese teachers to get both speaking and listening practice.
- Meetup.com – for finding Portuguese meetups and language exchanges in my area.
- PortuguesePod101.com – for learning grammar, and getting experience with spoken Portuguese in a variety of settings. I purchased a three-month basic subscription, which gave me everything I needed for my three month mission.
- TV shows – anyone who knows me knows I love a good TV show. I planned to find as many Portuguese language TV shows online as I could, and actively listen to them.
- Music – when the TV’s off in my house, the music gets turned on. I LOVE music. So I planned to research some good Portuguese-speaking bands so I could learn their songs by heart.
- Podcasts – for (actively!) listening to spoken Portuguese when I couldn’t watch videos.
- Audio flashcards – for learning vocabulary, grammar and important phrases by listening to them, not reading them (I will explain how I did this in a later post).
My goal was to do at least one – preferably three or four – of these activities every single day.
What Was My Level on Day 1?
As I mentioned, I completed Michel Thomas Total Portuguese before starting this mission. Michel Thomas Total Portuguese is a seven-hour audio course – though it takes slightly longer than seven hours to complete since you’re supposed to pause playback a lot while you’re learning new phrases. Instead of teaching you canned phrases to memorize, it introduces you to the rules of the language little by little. After learning a new rule, the teacher asks you to use that rule, and the rules you’ve already learned, to deduce how to say new words and phrases.
By the end of the course, you can use what you’ve learned as a foundation to figure out how to say all kinds of phrases without having to memorize them or repeat after the instructor. For example: “I would like to…”, followed by a verb, or “Could you please”, followed by a request. You learn verbs as you go, so you can complete these phrases in a variety of different ways.
While it couldn’t teach a huge variety of material in a mere seven hours, I came away able to use what I’d learned with confidence.
When I completed the course and recorded my Portuguese conversation for the product review, I wasn’t planning on doing a three-month Portuguese mission. I didn’t start my mission until a few weeks after this. So technically, I didn’t start my Portuguese mission at zero.
However, I wouldn’t call myself a “false beginner”. Unlike most false beginners, I haven’t been studying the language on and off for years, or picked up the basics from my surroundings. In fact, before starting the Portuguese CD course, I had never studied the language a day in my life, and my level was literally zero. I didn’t even know how to say Olá or Tchau (hello and goodbye).
In my next post, I’ll talk about the first few days of my mission. You can also watch my “Day 0” video – the conversation I recorded after doing the Michel Thomas Total Portuguese CD course, and a few weeks before officially starting my three-month mission.
I hope you enjoy following along with my Portuguese in 3 months mission. Stay tuned for more updates!