Charting a couple's move from London to Portugal, tales, adventures and moving advice


Portuguese Language Learning – an Update from Lou 10

Posted on September 02, 2013 by Ben Algarve

It seems hard to believe that we are approaching the four year anniversary of our move to Portugal. I can still clearly remember driving to and from work in the weeks before our move, endlessly repeating phrases from my Portuguese language learning CD as I sat in traffic on the A3.

Portuguese language learning - my two essential grammar books

Portuguese language learning – my two essential grammar books

Our language skills have come a long way over the past four years. When I arrived in Portugal I could ask for a beer, count to twenty, order a tosta mixta and point to something and say ‘I would like this please.’ It was a limited selection but, along with a few additional phrases, it served us well in our initial nervous and faltering attempts at conversation.

This week, I’ve had the opportunity to realise just how far my Portuguese language learning has progressed. The lady in our local shop asked me what I did for a living. I was able to tell her and spend the next two minutes chatting about my job. When I left the shop, a car pulled up and asked if there was a supermarket in our village. I gave the driver two options and then directed him clearly to his chosen shop. Later in the week, a customer in the supermarket came up to me while I was queuing and asked if the checkout I was at was about to close. I informed her that it was not.

These three small interactions may not sound like much, but they combined to make me realise how confidently I can now chat to strangers in my second language. I’m still far from fluent and many situations still leave me feeling frustrated when I have to revert to English, but the number of these is gradually reducing.

Portuguese language learning - not perfect, but getting there

Portuguese language learning – not perfect, but getting there

Another triumph in my Portuguese language learning has been my progress with reading. Though I still struggle with hearing and speaking Portuguese at times, my reading skills have advanced enough that I have just finished reading my first ‘proper’ book in Portuguese that I haven’t read previously in English – Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers.

As an avid reader, it used to make me sad in Portuguese bookshops that my choice was limited to the tiny English language selection. Now, I feel confident in buying Portuguese books and being able to read them. Granted, I read much more slowly in Portuguese than in English, but I’m sure that I’ll get faster as time goes on.

My efforts to learn Portuguese have ranged from CDs in the car, to school exercise books aimed at five year olds, to grammar books in English that explain the intricacies of the language. We took a handful of lessons a year or so ago, but preferred our own methods of learning and didn’t continue with them for more than a couple of months.  I’ve also read progressively more grown up books, going from the Ruca children’s books, to Enid Blyton, to Stephen King, to Alexandre Dumas.

Portuguese language learning - from children's books to classics

Portuguese language learning – from children’s books to classics

The next book on my shelf to tackle is As Pupilas do Senhor Reitor by Júlio Dinis. I bought it a little over a year ago, but the first page made me realise it was too advance for me and it’s been on the bookshelf ever since. I’ll be interested to see whether I find it quite so daunting when I try it again later today.

I am under no illusions – I know I still have a long way to go, but it seems that my far-off dream of one day speaking fluent Portuguese may be getting just a little bit closer.


A quick addition to this post in response to one of the comments – if I had to recommend the course that I found most useful during my early days of learning Portuguese, it would be the double CD/book combo course Teach Yourself Portuguese: Coursebook & 2 CDs:

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I REALLY Need to Learn Portuguese 8

Posted on January 09, 2013 by Ben Algarve

Confession time.

I’m rather ashamed to say that, after over three years in the Algarve, I still cannot speak Portuguese particularly well.

Don’t get me wrong, I do get by, but I think the naïve, pre-expat me thought it would be much easier than this.

Well, let me tell you, it’s not. After three years, I don’t really think my Portuguese skills match those I had in French when I took my GCSE. And, on the subject of those French skills, they’ve now left me completely. Whenever I try to speak French now, I just come out with bad Portuguese.

Learning Portuguese isn't Easy

Learning Portuguese isn’t Easy

So, what should I have done differently? Well, first and foremost, I should have looked for language trainers before I left. Sure, the books and CDs helped a bit, but they tend to teach you a “Queen’s English” variation of a language, which sounds little like real people actually speak it.

I should also have dedicated a lot more time to learning Portuguese. Yes, you do “absorb” the language once you arrive, but absorbing means that after three years I understand a bit of the news, the occasional radio advert and snippets of people’s conversations. It doesn’t mean I can speak any more than pigeon Portuguese.

I really do wish that I’d spent every spare minute in the run up to our move absorbing Portuguese. I should have typed “where should I take Portuguese classes in London?” into Google back in 2009! Because I didn’t, I’m still playing catch-up.

This is the year I get it sorted. I can’t have the Portuguese version of Enid Blyton’s “Famous Five” taunting me from my bedside table any longer. I’ll be fluent one day—just you wait!

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Portugal A to Z Project – M, N and O 4

Posted on April 03, 2012 by Ben Algarve

M is for Mopeds

Anyone who knows me personally will know that these had to get a mention. After all, they are my current favourite toy (move over iPhone, you’re no longer the new kid on the block).

A few weeks back we took delivery of the two shiny electric scooters you will see in the photograph. These are the perfect transportation between apartment, café and beach (but not bar – you wouldn’t want to wobble too much on these little things!)

Electric Mopeds in Portugal

Electric Mopeds in Portugal

These electric mopeds seem to be becoming increasingly popular in our area. Restricted to just 25km/h, they have pedals and are legally treated as pushbikes. You don’t need license, registration or insurance and, best of all, you can ride them on the lovely network of Algarve cycle paths.

Above all, I’m now a southern-European; I could hardly NOT have bought a moped now could I? 😉

N is for Nobre (Hotdogs!)

OK, so my choice for “N” is perhaps a little weak. But these inexplicably popular and rather nondescript hotdog frankfurters were the first thing that sprang to mind – and, if I’m being honest, I couldn’t think of anything else!

All Portuguese supermarkets have a surprisingly large section of tinned hotdog sausages. While we often go months without eating them, there is usually a tin of this Nobre brand in our cupboard ready to be thrown in a burger bun with fried onions and mustard when a particularly troublesome hangover rears its head.

Nobre Hotdogs in Portugal

Nobre Hotdogs in Portugal

We have also encountered Nobre hotdogs at tourist attractions such as Zoomarine Algarve. These come with little thin potato chips inside that make for a surprisingly agreeable, crunchy addition. So, there you have it. N is for Nobre.

O is for Olhão

I have chosen Olhão for my “O” for two reasons.

First of all this town in the East Algarve is quite unique in that it is still essentially a working town that remains stubbornly untouched by tourism (although a very posh hotel and spa at the western end of the seafront is doing its best to change that).

Olhão is a down to earth kind of town with lots of restaurants and shops, and also an agreeable place to walk along the waterfront. From here, ferries run to the beautiful beach islands of Armona and Culatra – where a five minute walk can provide you with peace and tranquility, even in the peak of the summer season.

Ilha da Armona - Accessed from Olhao

Ilha da Armona - Accessed from Olhao

My second reason for choosing Olhão is that the word itself separates the men from the boys in terms of Portuguese pronunciation. While phonetically, an English speaker may be tempted to say “Ol-how,” “ão” with the accent over the “a” in Portuguese make a “yaow” sound (“yaow” as in “how,” not as in “sow”).

So, what you are looking for is “OL-YAOW” – go on, practice it!

Now you’re in the mood for Portuguse, perhaps it’s time to learn a bit more? Here’s how we started off!

Get Talking Portuguese in Ten Days (Teach Yourself)

Image credit: Visitar Portugal

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Learning Portuguese 6

Posted on April 06, 2010 by Ben Algarve

“How’s your Portuguese coming along?” Probably the only question our friends and family ask us as much as “how’s the weather?”
So, how is it coming along? Slowly is probably the most appropriate word. Having said that, it was pleasing last weekend when some guests who last visited us a couple of months ago commented that we seemed a lot more confident this time around.

On a basic level, we are doing alright. Things like going to restaurants, ordering train tickets and asking directions are second nature now and nowadays we are far less likely to need Google Translate when deciphering cooking instructions on packets of food. Even better, when it comes to using a cash machine, road signs etc. we generally know the words without translating in our heads any more.

It really helps that the vast majority of Portuguese people are so helpful and appreciative of our attempts to learn. Over the weekend at least three different people asked “Fala Portuges?” with a surprised smile when we spoke to them in the correct language. It’s a shame so few people who visit (or in some case live in) this country don’t make any attempt at all – and the hugely positive reaction we get reflects how used to this arrogance the locals have become. I can only begin to imagine the reaction someone would get in a London restaurant if they stubbornly refused even say thank you in English!

Other parts of the language learning are not proving nearly as easy. The Algarve does have a distinctive dialect, which, as far as we can tell, involves chopping both the beginning AND end off phrases. As an example, “Tudo Bem,” which is basically an informal “all good?” greeting is taught to you in language courses as a distinct three syllables. When you hear someone from the Algarve say it, it sounds more like “ooong-bay” with two syllables AT MOST! This leads on to the problem that as we pick up words and phrases by osmosis, we are learning Algarvian lingo and although we can be understood, we don’t necessarily know the actual words, let alone how to write or spell them!

The other problem is that the more convincingly we speak the words we do know, the more likely the person we are talking to is likely to fire something back at us that we don’t understand at all! Sometimes we are able to get round this by homing in on the one of two words we make out that we DO understand but this can be somewhat hit and miss.

All in all though, we are getting there slowly but surely, and we seem to have hit that critical mass of words now that we can make ourselves understood most of the time with the help of some arm waving. We do, however, have to get used to the fact that we are always going to look English, so even in several years when we are starting to approach some kind of fluency, the locals are still going to assume we don’t understand a word!

Click here to see our recommended language learning aids in my book store!

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Cultural Differences 9

Posted on December 08, 2009 by Ben Algarve

We had our first visitor from the UK last week and he asked what things had surprised us about living here in Portugal. It got me thinking about the “things that make you go hmmm” that we had noticed so far. Here’s a quick, light-hearted list.

1. Shopping (Part 1): When visiting a shopping centre in Portugal, it seems immensely important to the Portuguese to park on the exact level of the car park which they have driven into. People will circle the ground floor for several minutes waiting for a space when there is a level above containing only three cars. Strangely, we seem to have joined in the practice straight away.

2. Shopping (Part 2): We may have discovered the reason for the above. When parking in the car park of our local shopping centre, the Tavira Gran Plaza, you must remember the following information to find your car: a floor level, a letter, a number, a colour and an animal. For example – in the picture – basement, orange, C, 10, butterfly. I certainly won’t be needing that Brain Training game for Christmas.

Plenty to remember

Plenty to remember

3. Shopping (Part 3): All week long the shopping centre is quiet and you can have it to yourself, but on a Sunday, it seems you are not allowed to enter unless you take at least five family members , spanning a minimum of three generations.

4. Greeting People: Portugal is a wonderful, friendly place and people actually say hello to you in the street – this is where is can get tricky – we have “Bom Dia” (in the morning,) “Boa Tarde” (in the afternoon / evening,) and “Boa Noite” (evening/night.) The one thing no-one seems to agree on is the exact points in the day at which you stop using one and start using the next one. I can’t help but wonder if this is all a trick by the locals to try to catch out us newcomers.

5. Health and Safety: In a lot of respects, they don’t seem to have that here. It is a case of “if there is a hole in a pavement, look where you’re going and don’t be daft and fall down it,” I for one think this is fantastic, having come from the nanny-state lunacy that is Britain.

6. Driving: Portugal has a very laid back “amanhã” (tomorrow) attitude to most things, yet as soon as you are in a car, it seems it is customary to drive with the urgency of a man rushing to a hospital to take his wife to deliver a baby. All the time.

7. Driving (2): If you see a friend coming down the other side of the road, the most appropriate place to have a catch-up is in the middle of the road, the other cars can wait. This seems somewhat at odds with the point above.

7. Weather: Even if it seems hot to us Brits on a good day in December, we have had to learn to accept that if we wear flip-flops at this time of year, everyone it going to look at our feet, and then directly at us, as if we are crazy.

Flip Flops - in December?

Flip Flops - in December?

8. Cooking – If you buy a joint of meat in the supermarket, you are expected to know exactly how long to cook it for – no instructions are provided. Off to the cook-shop to buy a kitchen thermometer before I poison myself again….

All of these things just add to the day-to-day adventure and the more quirky little things I come up against the more I love it here. The other thing that constantly pleases me is how much more efficient and sensible some things are here compared with back in England (taking all of your rubbish to the end of your street for a daily collection just makes more sense.), although these efficiencies DO NOT include dealing with the town hall, the bank or Portuguese Telecom – more of that in a future post!

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