BrazilPod launches Língua da Gente, new series for beginners

We are very lucky to be living in a golden age where high quality portuguese instruction is now abundant on the web. When I started learning Portuguese just 5 years ago, it wasn’t so great. One of the few good things I stumbled onto back then was BrazilPod, a UT-Austin project lead by Dr. Orlando Kelm and an expert team of Brazilian professors.

BrazilPod hosts some of the best Portuguese materials on the web:

  • Tá Falado – portuguese for spanish speakers, in a podcast format. The podcast that helped me achieve near-native pronunciation (and I don’t even speak spanish).
  • ClicaBrasil – intermediate portuguese course with video interviews, readings and exercises
  • Conversas Brasileiras – native-level video dialogs with outstanding commentary, one of the very very few things out there for advanced learners

Until now, though, there was really nothing at BrazilPod for beginning Portuguese students who don’t speak Spanish. Their new offering, Língua da Gente, now fills that gap.

Língua da Gente takes the tried-and-true BrazilPod formula — an English speaker and a Portuguese speaker dissect a dialog together — and applies it to some short and simple dialogs. I’ve long been convinced that this bilingual dialog approach is a winning format for language instruction. It combines the advantages of both English-only and immersion instruction without thrusting beginners into an intimidating full immersion environment. Many courses have tried to copy this formula (e.g. PortuguesePod101), but few seem to do it as effectively as they could because they miss out on the key elements that make it work (and I urge other language courses to listen up here):

1. The Portuguese instructor speaks almost entirely in Portuguese during the lesson. Whenever they explain a point of grammar or usage, they do it in-language. This provides extra exposure to the language and develops listening skills in the context of a real (i.e. not contrived) conversation. While beginning students will not understand everything the native speakers say, Kelm jumps in often enough to translate their main points that it’s not a problem.

2. The Portuguese speakers are expert instructors who can comment intelligently on their own language. I’m tired of seeing an english speaker ask about why someone said something one way vs another, and the portuguese speaker says “Oh, it doesn’t matter, you can say it either way” when in fact there is a subtle but real difference. BrasilPod’s Brazilians are all professors who all understand the language and have experience teaching it, and when Kelm asks a question, they give smart, insightful answers.

3. The English and Portuguese speakers have good rapport. A hallmark of BrazilPod’s commentaries is the relaxed, fun atmosphere between the instructors. This is something you often don’t get when you hire actors merely to provide native pronunciation.

Let me also comment on the structure of the Língua da Gente / Tá Falado lessons. I think it’s important to point out what they’re doing here in some detail because there is a lot to be learned for those who want to produce genuinely good language materials. The lessons all follow the same structure:

1. Preview. The professors offer a preview of the dialog, talking about the content and giving the student a handful of words and phrases — no more than 3 to 5 — to listen for (eg. Que horas são? in a dialog about waking up early). This part is key and encourages active listening to the dialog.

2. Dialog x3. They play the dialog three times so you get repeated exposure without having to rewind.

3. Language commentary. The instructors comment on the interesting points of the dialog. The English-speaking instructor’s job is to highlight the interesting, to clarify the confusing, and to ask lots of questions of the other instructor. The Portuguese-speaking instructor’s job is to offer expert opinion on what is and is not acceptable in the language, to explain the grammar and usage in-language, and to provide native pronunciation. Note that both instructors need to have good knowledge of both English and Portuguese grammar/usage for this to work well.

4. They play the dialog another three times. This gives the student a chance to integrate the new vocabulary and catch the parts that they didn’t understand previously.

5. Cultural commentary. To learn the language, you have to become a little bit Brazilian, and this means acquiring cultural as well as linguistic fluency.

The only thing that is missing from Língua da Gente is lots and lots of practice producing (speaking) the language. Unless you’re living in-country, I still think you can’t truly internalize the language without a ton of spaced recall and prompted response, and I credit Pimsleur, old-fashioned and anodyne as it is, for getting me to that point.

Still, it has never been easier to learn real Brazilian Portuguese on the web with beautifully produced courses like BrazilPod, Semántica, and StreetSmart Brazil. Why would anyone prefer the sterile algorithmic environment of e.g. DuoLinguo when there is such rich, engaging and above all human instruction out there?

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Guide to Spanish for Portuguese speakers

Here’s something a bit unusual. Elsewhere on Hacking Portuguese I’ve pointed readers to resources for Spanish speakers wanting to learn Portuguese, but for those strange folks going in the opposite direction (like me), I recently stumbled across Guia do espanhol para quem só fala portunhol, a 100+ page pdf. It moves fairly briskly through the points of difference between the two languages in terms of pronunciation, spelling, grammar and usage, and seems like an excellent introduction to Spanish for those who already speak Portuguese well.

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BRIC Language Program

As you may have noticed, I’ve been incommunicado for the past few months. The reason is that I started a graduate program in environmental science and that’s been taking up a huge chunk of my time. But it’s also given me a new Portuguese goal. You see, I’d really like to get an internship with a Brazilian NGO working on water management, and to do that, I’m going to need to up my fluency between now and this summer. In the meantime, I’ll be restarting my lessons and that will mean more material for Hacking Portuguese.

A commenter brought this (new?) language program to my attention:

BRIC Language Program

They are offering lessons for emerging economy languages, though so far it’s just Portuguese, Chinese and Spanish. At $45/lesson, it’s pricey. That is, unless you buy in enormous blocks of 24/48 hours, in which case it comes down to $27-29/hour — competitive, but who really wants to drop that much up front? It looks like they have 3 Portuguese instructors, all based in Brazil, and they use WebEx rather than Skype to conduct remote lessons, which I imagine gives you access to a shared whiteboard and document view in addition to the video conference. If you’ve taken lessons with BRIC, please share your experience in the comments!

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Coming soon: a new Hacking Portuguese

braP.203a10000CruzeirosND1984PrefixA3011BAMay was a big month for Hacking Portuguese as we hit 10,000 monthly visitors for the first time. That’s not very many as the webby world goes, but it’s a long way from where we started in November 2011. What began as a blog for me to share my accomplishments and frustrations has become a clearinghouse for those who love the Portuguese language and want to speak it better.

Now that it’s the summer for us norteamericanos and I have some more time, there are some changes in store. First of all:

You can now get HP posts delivered straight to your news feed on Facebook. Click the Like button on the upper-right side of the sidebar, or just visit our Facebook page.

I already follow StreetSmart Brazil and Learn Brazilian Portuguese on FB, and I think it’s a marvelous way to engage with the language in small doses everyday, not to mention an un-intimidating way to do some writing (in the comments). This means you can now also ask a question or make a suggestion on FB instead of in the comments.

I’m also planning a refresh to the entire site, including:

  • updated design
  • less wordy posts and more advice for beginners
  • a comprehensive video series that will teach Brazilian pronunciation
  • interviews with Second Language Acquisition experts
  • a new page for European Portuguese resources

Most importantly, I’ll be rewriting and reorganizing the most popular pages with a focus on how to use all these new resources together. The landscape of language learning on the web has changed quite a bit since 2011, and although I’ve made updates here and there to stay current, students need a better guide through the confusing clutter of sites that are out there. Here’s just some of the new resources that have appeared recently that I plan to review:

One of the things that happens when you learn Portuguese is that you fall down the deep rabbit hole of Brazilian culture. I’ve been indulging this side of myself (and practicing my Portuguese writing skills) with posts about Tropicália music and travel, but they don’t really belong here. All of these posts will be moved to a sister site, Brazil Made Me Smart, so that we can stay focused on the language.

Also going up on the new site will be a travelogue about my time in Rio, provisionally titled Deriva: Rio for musicians, introverts and flâneurs which will uncover a more intimate side of Rio. You will learn such things as how to ascend Corcovado on foot (both the sanctioned and unsanctioned routes), how to enjoy the views from the Morro da Urca without waiting in line for the tram, how to get lost in the alleys of O Centro, and how to stumble into impromptu rodas de capoeira in the becos of Lapa. We’ll talk about the neighborhoods that reward undirected exploration, the hidden stairways and museums of Santa Teresa, the winding mountain road that is a biker’s paradise, and the park full of creepy ruins in the forest that is hands down more exciting than the Jardim Botânico. We’ll consider the ethics of favela tourism, and whether it is really wise for a solo gringa to be doing all these things.

So, fique atenado (stay tuned)!

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the impasse: moving from B2 to C1

I’m back in LA for the summer and looking for some Portuguese speaking opportunities. While I did quite a bit of writing and conversation this spring, I feel like I’ve plateaued again. Looking at the CEFR scale of language aptitude, I feel pretty solidly in the B2 camp:

  • Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation.
  • Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.
  • Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

But I also feel I have been at this level for well over a year now. Yes, yes: patience, grasshopper. I have no illusions of ever getting to C2 without living in Brazil, but I would really love to be at C1:

  • Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning.
  • Can express ideas fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions.
  • Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes.
  • Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

The common wisdom at this point seems to be, watch movies – listen to music – converse as much as possible. And I’m doing all of this. My plans for this summer include going to more Portuguese meetups, and getting the most out of Verbling.

Yet reading an entire novel is still a slog. Listening to fast speech I get the gist but lose the details. Speaking I can get my point across fine but I yearn for a richer, more relaxed expression. I can write in an academic mode but I fear I use too many structures that parallel my writing style in English, and perhaps sound awkward in Portuguese. I’m not sure if there’s a way beyond this impasse that doesn’t involve moving to Brazil, but if there are any tutors out there that want to give it a shot with a dedicated student, you’ll get a fantastic writeup (and money of course).

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