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?