This is an update to Holly’s Portuguese in 3 Months mission.
In my last update, I filled you in on the first month of my Portuguese in 3 months mission. During that month, I discovered quite a few listening resources, had several talks with native speakers, and adjusted some of my personal expectations along the way.
In this update, I’ll discuss my second month, how it differed from month one, and how I overcame some of the challenges I was faced with.
I’ll also share the my two-month video.
Let’s get started!
New Portuguese Study Resources
A LOT of my time throughout my mission was spent researching and trying out different Portuguese resources. I don’t know if I’m just picky, but quite a few resources just didn’t work for me, so I abandoned them and tried again.
PortuguesePod101 was my top go-to course for most of my mission. However, I actually took a two-week break from it this month because I started to get sick of the repetitiveness after binging on so many lessons in such a short time (In my first five weeks, I burned through all the lessons in lower beginner and upper beginner seasons 1 and 2). This isn’t a knock against the product; it’s just a side-effect of depending too much on a single resource.
The Portuguese Language Resources I Used in Month 2
So I branched out more this month to find other ways to improve my Portuguese:
Practice Portuguese is a free European Portuguese podcast for upper-beginner and intermediate students.
I fell in love with the format after listening to a few episodes. It’s presented in 100% Portuguese, so there’s no time wasted listening to English (though I discovered later that some of their most recent episodes do feature some English, to help lower-beginner Portuguese students).
There are different types of episodes: “artigo” (article), “atualidade” (news), “diálogo” (dialogue) and more. The host speaks very slowly and clearly, which is especially useful if you’re not familiar with the European Portuguese accent. The “artigo” episodes are my favourite, because they’re always read twice: once slowly, and once quickly. I also like that there are no vocab lists dictated, and no grammar drills in any of the episodes. You just get to listen to natural spoken Portuguese for a small chunk of time – not too much to be overwhelming.
Semantica Portuguese is a video course in Brazilian Portuguese.
It has 25 free episodes on iTunes. They’re meant to be watched in order because they follow a storyline, the way a TV series does. This keeps you coming back because you’ll want to know what happens next. I could definitely see the potential of this course, but ultimately I decided not to go forward with a subscription.
Most of my Portuguese studying has been done away from a screen (such as through audio lessons, podcasts and Portuguese music), and I wanted to keep it that way. But if you prefer a visual approach from time to time, definitely give this course a try.
The Conta-me Tudo (“Tell Me Everything”) Podcast
I wanted the Conta-me Tudo (“Tell Me Everything”) podcast to work out for me, I really did.
The premise is fascinating: in each episode, an ordinary person gives a talk to a live audience about an incredible, funny, scary, or life-changing story that happened to them. The topics are extremely varied, from improbable love stories to travel disasters.
Every episode summary looked so interesting that I wanted to listen to it just for the story, never mind improving my Portuguese! But I listened to five episodes, and try as I might, I couldn’t pick out enough words to get the gist of any of the stories. But this podcast was super motivational to me. My new long-term goal in the language is to reach a good-enough level to be able to understand this podcast. Once I do, I’m coming straight back to listen to every episode!
More TV Shows
I watched several episodes of Got Talent Brazil, but I kept coming back to Got Talent Portugal, probably because I know that show better and am used to the judges. I also found an episode of the kids’ show Caillou in Portuguese!
I’ll share a little more on these in a moment.
How Editing My Portuguese Mission Videos Helped My Language Learning
Editing and adding subtitles to my videos was a surprisingly big help.
As I played and replayed sections of my month-one video to hear the dialogue, I noticed many of my mistakes for the first time. For example, I pronounced the word “frequently” as “frequemente” instead of “frequentemente” several times. (I blame my French knowledge for this mistake – in French, the word is “fréquemment”, NOT “fréquentement”.) I wasn’t aware I was doing it until I listened to myself speaking Portuguese.
After hearing that and my other mistakes from the video – over and over in painfully clear slow motion as I typed out the subtitles – I can assure you I never made those mistakes again!
I highly recommend to anyone studying a foreign language to watch yourself speaking the language on video.
When you’re speaking in the moment, you don’t notice all of your mistakes, but you’ll easily catch them when you listen to yourself on tape. It’s a very useful exercise. Don’t worry, you’ll get over the cringe factor pretty quickly.
Was it a Mistake to Avoid Reading and Writing?
A key part of my Portuguese mission is learning through listening and speaking. As far as possible, I’ve avoided resources that involve reading and writing.
When I found good Portuguese audio or video resources to study, it was very motivating. But searching for good resources sometimes took so long that it became frustrating.
Hunting for fun and motivating things to listen to wasn’t easy. Sometimes it was a big waste of time. Especially with music.
I listened to hours of music by Legião Urbana, Mariza, Titãs and more, trying to find songs that I liked enough to memorize. That’s where my motivation slipped the most, because none of the music really clicked with me. However, I did eventually find a few fun songs this month. I memorized one of them: “Balada do Desajeitado” (Ballad of clumsiness/awkwardness/ungainliness…the word doesn’t translate very well) by D.A.M.A.:
Memorizing this song was hard! It goes fast, and a lot of syllables are eaten up for the sake of rhythm. But I feel that learning this song improved my speaking skills quite a bit. I started to feel comfortable “glossing over” certain words and pronouncing them more naturally, much like an English language student might learn to say “gonna” instead of “going to”.
My Feelings at the Halfway Point of My Portuguese Mission
Around the six-week mark of my mission, I sat down to reflect on my progress so far. Certainly, I was very happy with my progress to date.
Here are some of my thoughts:
Does No-Reading-or-Writing Really Work?
Honestly, when I first started this mission, I had no idea if a no-reading-or-writing approach would work at all!
It was a big experiment for me. But I was happy to see that I was making more progress than I had in all of my other language attempts in the previous 15 years. For the first time, I wasn’t treating listening comprehension as an afterthought – and it was working.
I Did Have One Achilles Heel…
There was one area that I could tell I was weak in. It’s yet another area that I’ve always had trouble with in every language I’ve studied: vocabulary. See, I’m kind of a grammar nerd, and grammar rules tend to come naturally to me. Vocabulary has always been a bigger struggle. And my listening-only approach to learning Portuguese didn’t offer any new solutions to this problem. TV shows and podcasts exposed me to vast amounts of new vocabulary, but didn’t do much to reinforce the words so I could reproduce them later.
Knowing French was definitely a big help when it came to guessing new words in Portuguese conversation, but that would only take me so far. I realized that if I wanted to memorize new words, and not just French cognates, I’d better put some more effort into vocabulary. But how to do this without making long vocab lists to read and drill until I memorized them?
That’s when I discovered audio flashcards…
Audio Flashcards – My New Superpower!
I’d considered creating audio flashcards at the beginning of my mission, but I hadn’t yet gotten around to it. It seemed like too much work!
But now that I could see that vocabulary was a sticking point in my progress, I was finally motivated to do it.
Here’s what I did:
A good flashcard app will let you record sound to go with your text flashcards. Anki is a great app for this purpose if you use Android or a personal computer for your flashcards. For iOS, Anki is a little pricey for some people, so Flashcards Deluxe is a good substitute.
There are some online guides for how to load mp3 files into your Anki decks. With this method, you can take clips of words and phrases spoken by a native speaker or an audio dictionary so you’ll be sure they’re pronounced correctly. I took the simpler route of using the app’s built-in record button to record my own voice speaking the English, Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese translations for each card (yes, you can make three-sided cards in both Anki and Flashcards Deluxe!). This proved to be the quickest and easiest way for me – I was up and using my first set of audio flashcards within half an hour.
To keep with my no-reading-or-writing goal, I didn’t want to have any Portuguese or English writing in my flashcard deck. I didn’t want to associate the audio with any visual reference in my mind.
I know from experience that long after I become fluent in a foreign language, I still find myself imagining words written down before I say them, and having to picture the words that native speakers say before they “click” for me in conversation. I didn’t want to have this obstacle in Portuguese. So instead of a standard three-sided flashcard, which might look, for example, like this:
- Side 1: “Did you like it?”
- Side 2: “Tu gostaste?”
- Side 3: “Você gostou?”
My flashcards all looked exactly the same:
- Side 1: “English”
- Side 2: “European Portuguese”
- Side 3: “Brazilian Portuguese”
To know what was on each card, I would have to press Play to hear the audio. I couldn’t “cheat” and see the written words. I had no choice but to rely on my ears only. This worked wonderfully for me.
In fact, there was only one drawback to the way I created my flashcards, though really it was more of an advantage. Before pressing record for each phrase I wanted to learn, I practised the line several times so I would say it right (I did read the written Portuguese for this part, to be sure I was saying it correctly). Well, after all that work of practising each line and recording it, I sat down to use my flashcards and found I had already memorized about two thirds of the deck! Oops, I guess? So the next day I made a new deck and recorded longer, harder phrases to learn.
No matter which type of flashcards you make – audio, written, or even image-based – when you’re studying, always say the target words and phrases out loud before flipping over the card to see/hear the answer.
Portuguese in 3 Months: My Two-Month Update Video
Finally, here’s the video that I made with my Portuguese teacher, Tatiana, at the end of month 2 (click CC to see the English subtitles):
Tatiana asked me the previous week to think of a movie to discuss during our chat. Naturally, I picked Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is the best movie I’ve seen in the past year.
I found a European Portuguese podcast all about movies, called Arena dos filmes. They had one episode from early 2016 devoted entirely to the latest Star Wars movie. I listened to it three times in preparation for our chat.
I didn’t feel as good about this conversation as I did about my month 1 update video. I wanted the conversation to be completely spontaneous, so I didn’t prepare any specific material, or even study any vocabulary. I just listened to the podcast and tried to absorb Star Wars-related Portuguese that way. I did remember a couple key phrases, such as “o lado negro da força” (“the dark side of The Force” – no discussion of Star Wars is complete without this!), but not enough to easily describe the plot.
This is where I feel that my natural, somewhat unstructured approach to Portuguese faltered the most. Specialised vocabulary sometimes just has to be memorised, “brute force” style.
In hindsight, I should have created some audio flashcards containing the main ideas of the movie plot and studied those instead of listening to the podcast that third time.
On the plus side, the video does give a pretty good picture of how my Portuguese sounds when I’m truly on the spot. Tatiana mentioned afterwards that she would’ve liked to have helped me a bit more with plot points and vocab, but she had never seen any Star Wars films before (!) so it was up to me to explain the storyline. I’m hoping to find a Portuguese-dubbed version of The Empire Strikes Back so I can watch it and tell her about the best Star Wars movie of all 😉 .
One Month to Go in My Portuguese Mission!
Thanks for following along! Stay tuned for the final update of my Portuguese in 3 Months mission.