Portuguese Language Learning – an Update from Lou

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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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  1. Brilliant, well done Lou. I take my hat off to you, I gave up my evening classes a couple of years ago as I was too lazy to do the homework! Also, it didnt help that most of the class spoke fluent Spanish . . . Nige has continued on with his learning and is now on level four as part of a degree course. It must give you a real sense of achievement when the locals understand and chat back to you. Cant wait until we come out in three weeks, yay. Saz

  2. Hi! I’d love to move to Portugal one day too 🙂
    So, I absolutely love reading your blog to hear what it’s like!
    I like that you talk about both the ups and downs 🙂
    Since, I’m not anywhere near people speaking Portuguese, what would you say I should try out? Because I really want to become fluent!!!

    Thank you so much 🙂

  3. I did some evening classes in Portuguese before moving here, and when they stopped a friend and I met each week and read and translated books in Portuguese. We found Mort by Terry Pratchett and Sense & Sensibility quite challenging, but fortunately had English translations to refer to. We started ‘As Pupilas do Senhor Reitor’ shortly before I moved, but actually found it quite difficult, particularly as my big dictionary was in storage by then. I’ve also read several Enid Blyton books in Portuguese, and found a Portuguese series of children’s books about an academy for dragon hunters (sorry, can’t remember name and I’m on holiday at present) very good.

  4. Hi Saz,

    I think your comment highlights that different learning methods suit different people. I loved using the CDs to learn from, but my husband didn’t really enjoy them that much. We also both had the problem of not spending too much time on our homework when we had lessons 🙂

    Best wishes,


  5. Hi L. Khan,

    I’m glad you like the blog and the you find it useful – we do try to give a picture of the bad bits as well as the good bits.

    Personally I found the Teach Yourself Portuguese CD course by Manuela Cook really good – it’s probably the one that I would recommend to anyone wanting to hear and speak Portuguese.

    Good luck with your language learning!

    Best wishes,


  6. Hi jpduck,

    It sounds like you have taken a similar approach to reading as I have. I do think As Pupilas do Senhor Reitor is a particularly hard book. I have managed about two paragraphs so far and I will certainly need my dictionary on hand as I read it! Still, it’s a good way to continue my learning 🙂

    Best wishes,


  7. Congratulations, and thank you for trying and effectively learn our language.

  8. Thank you Bessa – it is a beautiful language to learn 🙂

  9. “it was too advance for me”

    Of course it is. A classic novel. That is for secundary students. Forget those, if you’re not advanced yet.

    Why don’t you try first some children’s book?

    Maybe “Uma aventura” series? based on Blyton’s adventures.

    Or for the younger something like Matilde Rosa Araujo’s classic “O palhaço verde” (“The green clown”)?

    There is a long tradition of Portuguese books for children, i strongly advise you try to read one of those first.

    Then you can jump to more advanced reading, like Julio Dinis’ classic novels.

  10. Hi Sado,

    I have read several children’s books in Portuguese, including an Enid Blyton one. I’ve also read a number of adult books successfully, including a French classic, so while As Pupilas do Senhor Reitor by Júlio Dinis was previously too advanced for me, I think that I am finally ready for it now!

    Best wishes 🙂

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