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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.
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.
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.
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: