Reader reviews

Here you’ll find materials recommended by Hacking Portuguese readers. Have a book or course you’d like to recommend or review? Tell us about it in the comments.

Reader Phil (who already speaks Spanish, French, and Italian!) has been using an iOS/Android app called iTranslate to look up words while reading online:

It’s available in a free, ad-sponsored version, which you can upgrade for $2.99. It includes a large variety of languages and can translate both ways. The interface is intuitive and attractive (once you get rid of the ads, anyway). The spoken translation feature supports Brazilian and European Portuguese, and depending on the language, even allows you to select a male or female speaker. You can adjust the speed of the spoken translation, too, which is very convenient.

It also offers an in-app purchase that adds voice recognition for 99 cents, so that you can input the text with your voice instead of the keyboard, and this seems to work quite well. It doesn’t understand a lot of my Portuguese yet, but it does recognize much of my French, Spanish, and all of my English. It’s easier than typing what you want to translate, and I think it could be a useful way to test the accuracy of one’s pronunciation. I am also using it as a Portuguese-English dictionary when I read Portuguese on my iPad. It’s faster than using an online translator.

Phil also recommends a book called Say it Right in Brazilian Portuguese:

The best written representation of spoken Brazilian Portuguese that I have seen so far is in a small book called “Say It Right in Brazilian Portuguese,” which is designed as a phrase book for speakers of English. It’s not perfect, but it uses its own set of symbols that is relatively intuitive and less ambiguous than systems which rely on trying to represent the sounds of Portuguese with the standard English alphabet. There are errors in the book (final “L” is shown as “L”, instead of “W”), and they aren’t consistent with “D” before “I” (they have “dee” for “dinheiro,” but “jee” for “perdido” and “dizer”). However, this book actually helped me with nasal diphthongs (your hint about using my knowledge of French for nasal vowels was also very helpful).

The book includes pages with what the program calls “key words” and “useful phrases” organized by topic, with a limited number per page, so it’s manageable and easy to find what you want (there is also an index). One handy feature is what they call a “phrase maker,” which gives an opening phrase such as “I would like to go…”, followed by a variety of words that complete the sentence. In this way, it uses what you call “chunking,” and it makes sense. I think it’s a decent resource as a traveler’s phrasebook, or as a supplement to an all-audio program. It costs less than $10 on Amazon. One final advantage of this book is that it’s part of a series that uses the same set of symbols for phrase books in other languages, so for someone traveling to several foreign countries, this could be helpful.

He also points us to a concise $6 book called 50 Ways to Improve Your Portuguese:

It was published in 2010, by the same company that publishes the “Teach Yourself” books. It is aimed at beginning to intermediate learners, and the cover of the book advertises a free audio download. I had to email the publisher to get the download (no mention was made of how to get it in the book itself), but the audio is actually pretty good. It offers a couple of examples for each of the sounds that are likely to challenge students who speak English, with both a European and Brazilian Portuguese native on hand to give examples when the sounds are different. The audio file is only about 20 minutes long, but it’s a step in the right direction.

The book itself covers some very basic topics, such as gender agreement for nouns and adjectives, as well as topics like the personal infinitive. The focus is on issues that the authors know are challenging for English-speaking students of Portuguese (both of them have taught it).

The first section is called “Sounding right: pronunciation and spelling.” It is about 20 pages long. Without the audio file, the descriptions of how to pronounce the sounds would be totally inadequate, and this is compounded by the fact that the authors use British English as their standard. It would have been better if the audio file had included all of the examples given in this section of the book, but it’s better than nothing.

The next section is about 50 pages long and is called “Getting the Structure Right” (I guess they were afraid of scaring people off if they used the word “grammar”). It is a very user-friendly presentation of key grammar concepts.

The last section is called “Choosing the Right Words.” It is about 40 pages long, and deals with vocabulary (actually, vocabulary and grammar), and there are entries on “ser” versus “estar,” “saber” versus “conhecer,” common uses of “ter,” proper use of dates, days, numbers, etc. There is also a glossary of grammatical terms, which is fairly basic but includes everything covered in the book, and an index.

This book is an inexpensive resource that I will use as a supplement to my audio-only lessons. It’s much less comprehensive than a full-fledged course like “Pois Não” or one of the big textbooks, but that’s what makes it so accessible, which could be a plus for many learners.

It’s also a good book to just pick up and browse through, as the style is engaging and each item is fairly brief. For the money, I think it is a worthwhile purchase for a beginning or early intermediate student. It would be especially helpful for anyone who has little or no prior knowledge of grammar, since the authors manage to cover grammar topics in a way that is easily understood and isn’t at all intimidating.

The only caveat is that someone who buys it expecting to get the audio file should be prepared to email the publisher, since as of now, there apparently isn’t any other way to get it. However, this isn’t a big deal, and I had a reply with a link to the file within 24 hours of sending my email. For learners who have already acquired reasonably good pronunciation, the audio file isn’t really necessary, and they’d be better off spending their time with “Tá Falado.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *