Learning Portuguese

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“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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6 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. Hello Ben,

    my name is Tomas and my wife Martina has found your web just recently. This is great web!

    The reason why I am writing you is that we have moved to Portugal recently too. Just 4 weeks ago. We are living close to Lagos and we also work through internet.

    We know Tavira pretty well – it is beautiful city, good choice!

    Because it seems from your page that you and us have pretty much in common, including many opinions on life, I wanted to make a suggestion of possible meeting. What would you think about such a suggestion? We would love to meet people like you in person.

    But, of yourse, if you preffer privacy and are not interested, we understand too!

    We will be looking forward to any your reply,

    ate logo,

    Tomas and Martina
    tomas@nesnidal-financnik.cz

  2. It’s nice to hear that your experience with the language has been generally positive. People seem to be genuinely impressed when an English speaker attempts Portuguese. Although I speak the language fluently, I do have a little bit of an accent (something that my relatives find humourous–all in good fun of course!) I’ve been trying to teach my husband to speak Portuguese & his few attempts have been met with a lot of encouragement.
    Did you ever use the language programmes (CDs etc) & have you found them to be effective?

  3. Hi

    What a great site. We are in the process of packing ahead of our permanent move to Carvoeiro – following 20 years as visitors.

    All the fears and uncertainties are gradually eroding and it’s great to read of others experiences – keep them coming.

    Tony Donnelly

  4. It’s nice to hear that your experience with the language has been generally positive. People seem to be genuinely impressed when an English speaker attempts Portuguese. Although I speak the language fluently, I do have a little bit of an accent (something that my relatives find humourous–all in good fun of course!) I’ve been trying to teach my husband to speak Portuguese & his few attempts have been met with a lot of encouragement.
    Did you ever use the language programmes (CDs etc) & have you found them to be effective?

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

  5. Hi and welcome to the blog.

    My wife used the book and cd combo as shown in my bookstore link and she found it very effective. I used an online thing called Before You Know It (BYKI) which drums words and phrases into you until you know them which is really good and helps you to memorise spellings as well. We still have a LONG way to go though 🙂

    B

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

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