Language learning on a budget: Great alternatives to Rosetta Stone

When it comes to language learning these days, there’s Rosetta Stone and there’s everything else. Or at least, that’s what Rosetta Stone would like us to think. They have spent a fortune in advertising trying to convince us that if we just spend enough money, we can have a computer program hold our hands as we move from step A to step B to step C and so on, eventually achieving our dream of being fluent in a new language. Of course, it will cost us a few hundred dollars. Like most luxury items, Rosetta Stone trades on its high price and slick marketing to create a perception of quality.

I think Rosetta Stone is a good, well-produced product. But it’s not a magic key. Actual language study is a messy thing, one that requires motivation, a diversity of approaches, and hard work. Rosetta Stone is well beyond the budget of many people who would like to learn a language, and its one-size-fits-all approach ignores the fact that different people learn in different ways, and at different rates. Rosetta Stone also sells us the idea that achieving fluency can be easy if we just spend enough money and then let a computer program take responsibility for our learning. But achieving fluency is not easy! It requires dedication, enthusiasm, discipline, and several years of work (a lot of which can be fun).

So let’s take a look at some of the alternatives to Rosetta Stone. One of the most popular alternatives is the Pimsleur audio course. I got hooked on Pimsleur early in my Portuguese journey and ended up completing all 90 of the Pimsleur lessons. I found my increasing ability to say ever more complex things to be completely addictive and it kept me going through the whole course. Pimsleur worked so well for me that I have a pretty strong bias towards it, as I’ll explain below. But I acknowledge that everyone learns in a different way and may need different tools. I have not gone through the entire Rosetta Stone Portuguese course, but I have used Rosetta Stone French Level I previously and have received feedback from others who did use RS Portuguese.

With so many language programs available, it’s worth making a distinction between methods that try to be truly comprehensive versus those that address only one part of the learning process (like learning vocabulary or memorizing common phrases). I think a method that is truly comprehensive should ideally integrate vocabulary learning, grammar practice, and all four modes of language communication: speaking, listening, reading, writing. But in reality, nothing like this exists; every method has strengths and deficiencies in these areas. So it’s necessary to create a well-rounded study regimen that includes a diversity of different resources and activities. See the Roadmaps page for some suggestions on creating a complete plan.

With all that said, let’s take a look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of each product, starting by comparing Rosetta Stone with Pimsleur:

Rosetta Stone

  • Type: Computer software, online app, supplemental audio, social website
  • Best for: Reading, listening
  • Not so good for: Speaking, writing
  • Dialects: Brazilian only
  • Cost: $200-600

Rosetta Stone comes in two forms, a very expensive software product that you install on your computer, and an online version that is cheaper but requires an internet connection. They also offer supplementary products like audio cds and a social website with access to native tutors (which can bring the bill up to $600, quite expensive when you can get a great affordable tutor locally or from StreetSmart Brazil instead). Rosetta Stone only offers Brazilian Portuguese, so if you’re learning European Portuguese you may want to go with something else.

Here are Rosetta Stone’s strengths compared with Pimsleur:

  • Larger vocabulary. You’ll come out of RS having a significantly larger vocabulary than with Pimsleur (which is limited to about 500 words).
  • Interactive and engaging. The interaction and greater variety of activities makes RS a better choice for visual learners, and for those who get bored or are easily distracted.
  • Go at your own pace. Pimsleur often doesn’t give you enough time to respond to the prompts, which can be frustrating. Rosetta Stone lets you take as much time as you need.
  • More reading practice. Since Rosetta Stone is more visual, reading is a part of most activities. Pimsleur offers very little reading practice.
  • More comprehensive. While neither RS nor Pimsleur will get you anywhere near fluency, RS through Level III has enough material to take you farther toward that goal.

The main weakness is that Rosetta Stone emphasizes the receptive modes of communication (reading, listening) over the productive modes (speaking, writing). True, it does have some speech recognition capability to help you with your pronunciation, but from what I’ve seen this doesn’t work as well as I might like. And while it encourages you to repeat words and short phrases, it doesn’t give you much practice producing complete thoughts as you would do in a real conversation. The writing excercises teach you correct spellings but don’t give you much practice doing substantive writing. However, I give RS credit for at least trying to incorporate all four modes, so I think it comes close to being Comprehensive.


  • Type: Audio course, mp3 or cd
  • Good for: Speaking and listening
  • Not as good for: Reading and writing
  • Cost: $0 – $180
  • Dialects: Brazilian and European

Pimsleur is an audio-only method consisting of 90 half-hour lessons that will theoretically take 3 months to complete, if you do one lesson roughly every day. In my case, it actually took me 7 months because I ended up not doing them every day and had to repeat them occasionally.

Unfortunately, there are a confusing number of different Pimsleur products out there. The only difference between them is how many lessons each product contains – the lessons themselves are identical from product to product. If you’re planning on doing the whole course of 90 lessons, the ones you want are called “Pimsleur Portuguese (Brazilian), Comprehensive, Revised 2nd edition, Levels I, II and III”. (You can also choose to study the European dialect, although unfortunately there are only 10 lessons offered). Each level (I, II, or III) contains 30 lessons. Make sure the product you’re getting says “Comprehensive” – that’s the only series that has all the lessons.

What Pimsleur has going for it is that rather than asking you to just memorize and repeat phrases like so many other courses, it actually prepares you for conversation by training you to quickly turn English thoughts into Portuguese speech. This means you’re actively involved in remembering the vocabulary that you’ve learned, and you’re engaged in putting the words together in new ways.

Everything in Pismleur happens in the context of a mock conversation. During the conversation, the narrator might prompt you in English, “How would you ask the clerk, ‘What are the directions to the hotel?'”, then there’s a pause of a few seconds for you to respond, and then the speaker will give the answer, which you repeat a second time trying to make your pronunciation match the speaker’s. You can try the first lesson for free on their website to get a feel for how it works.

In each lesson new words are introduced. You are asked to use them in your responses, at first frequently, and then as you move them into long-term memory, less so. This is what’s known as spaced repetition, and Dr. Paul Pimsleur developed it in the 1960s. This solves a common problem with language programs, which is that when you move on to a new section, you end up forgetting what you’ve learned previously. Pimsleur doesn’t let you forget, by constantly asking you to recall the words that you learned in previous units.

I’ll admit, the prompt-and-response format can definitely be tedious and unexciting for some people. But I would suggest at least trying the first 5 lessons of Pimsleur. If you’re like me, you might find that the thrill of being able to say ever-more-complex things in Portuguese makes you stick with it, even when it gets boring. But it does require some teeth-gritting.

So here are the main advantages of Pimsleur over Rosetta Stone:

  • Much better conversational practice. Pimsleur trains you to quickly translate thoughts in English into speech in Portuguese, which is exactly what you’ll be doing during conversation, in the early-intermediate stages of learning at least. You’ll come out of Pimsleur much more capable and comfortable with carrying on simple conversations.
  • Emphasis on language creation rather than memorization. With Pimsleur you won’t be just memorizing and repeating back phrases, you’ll be actively involved in using the words and grammar you know to create new sentences and express new ideas on your own. This means you actually have to focus and use your brain during each unit. Grammar is never explicitly taught, but is introduced gently by way of example, without you even noticing that you’re learning grammar.
  • Better pronunciation. Because Pimsleur is so focused on listening and speaking, I think students will come out with clearer pronunciation. You get instant feedback from a native speaker after each of your responses, after which you can try a second time to perfect the response or the pronunciation. And being more secure with your pronunciation gives you greater confidence during conversation. Pimsleur is the obvious choice for aural learners.
  • Cheap! Many libraries have a language learning section where you can check out Pimsleur cds, in which case it’s absolutely free. I completed the entire course this way and didn’t pay a cent.
  • You don’t have to be sitting at your computer. You can do a Pimsleur lesson while driving, cooking, or even taking a bath. But unlike Rosetta Stone, you do need privacy, unless you don’t mind people wondering why that strange person is talking to themselves in Portuguese.

Pimsleur does have its weaknesses:

  • The Pimsleur series is starting to show its age. It’s only available on cd (unless you download from, so you’ll have to rip it to mp3 in order to get it into a more portable format. The narrator and speakers sound a bit … old fashioned. A lot of the scenarios revolve around “an American businessman” in Rio, and you’ll find yourself in some corny conversations about golf and trade shows. And it’s not as much fun as clicking on colorful photos on the computer.
  • Limited vocabulary. Pimsleur teaches you a very small, though well-chosen, collection of about 500 words. This is one area where Rosetta Stone outdoes Pimsleur in spades. But in my opinion, having a huge vocabulary isn’t all that important when you’re just starting out. What’s important is internalizing the sounds of the language, the sentence structures, how to form questions, etc. On the Roadmaps page, we’ll see how it’s possible to combine Pimsleur with other resources to supplement your vocabulary while you work through the course.
  • Not enough focus on reading. Pimsleur does include some reading practice, but these are nothing more than short lists of words in a little booklet that you are asked to repeat as a speaker reads them. This means you get little actual practice connecting the sounds you are learning to the written words. This is an important consideration for Portuguese, because like French (and unlike Spanish!), words are not always spelled like they sound. In fact, words are rarely pronounced in the way an English or Spanish speaker wants to pronounce them. So you need to get your reading practice another way, perhaps through Tá Falado, Semantica videos, or a textbook. And if you’re a visual learner like me, you might find it easier to remember words by their spelling rather than just the sound alone.
  • A final thing I should mention is that Pimsleur teaches you an overly formal way of speaking, especially in the early lessons, that would honestly sound pretty weird to most Brazilians if you spoke like that in everyday conversation. Imagine the Queen of England trying to have a conversation with a random New Yorker on the street and you get the idea. Portuguese is a language that is very sensitive to social register, and the formal structures you are often taught to use in business-oriented courses like Pimsleur can sound very out of place in casual speech.

But here’s the thing: Despite all these shortcomings, Pimsleur still works beautifully. It gets you listening and speaking the language immediately, it gets you thinking in Portuguese sentence structures, and it drills the basic skeleton of the language into your brain until it becomes second nature. By the time you finish the whole series, you’ll have a strong foundation on which to expand your vocabulary, learn new verb forms, and make your speech more colloquial.

Some people get hung up over the lack of reading practice in Pimsleur. Let me just say that language is at heart about stringing together sounds to produce meaning. Reading and writing are just ways of manipulating symbols that stand in for the sounds. What is your mind doing when you read? It’s mentally vocalizing the sounds. When do you really know a word? When you recognize it by its sound, not by its visual transcription. What this means for language learning is that speaking and listening have to come first. Once the sounds are internalized, reading becomes a piece of cake.

Of course, no one program is going to do it all. No matter what you choose, you should round out your studying by using several different types of resources. But I still think Pimsleur offers the best value for the price. If you think of Pimsleur as your first gentle introduction to the language rather than a magic key to fluency, and if you have a well-rounded study regimen to make up for the shortcomings, then these disadvantages can all be easily overcome.

On a final note, in winter 2012 Pimsleur released a new product called Pimsleur Unlimited, which is a software program clearly designed to compete with Rosetta Stone. It looks like this product will address many of the weaknesses I mentioned and turn Pimsleur into more of a comprehensive system, adding tools for reading and vocabulary learning. Unfortunately, it is only available for Spanish, French, German and Italian right now. I have no idea if they plan to release a Portuguese version, but I imagine that if the product turns out to be competitive, they will gradually roll out other languages.


  • Type: Video lessons featuring on-location storytelling
  • Good for: Listening and pronunciation
  • Not as good for: Reading and writing
  • Cost: $15 – $30 per month. Use coupon code ‘hacking-portuguese’ for 15% off any subscription.
  • Dialects: Brazilian

Semántica is the brainchild of James Hall, an american living in Rio who produces incredibly stories of life in Rio designed to teach Portuguese at the beginner-intermediate level. I consider them one of the gold standard Portuguese programs on the web because of their focus on Portuguese as it is actually spoken in Brazilian cities. Semántica was crucial in helping me develop fluency. See my reviews of Semántica’s beginner and advanced series’ here and their new intermediate series here.

portuguesepod101-logoI’ve used PortuguesePod101 for a year, and I think it’s fantastic. There is so much material here at so many different levels that this could keep you occupied for a couple years at least. There are audio dialogs, written texts, exercises, spaced-repetition flashcards, wordbanks. I recommend signing up for their email list, because they have sales quite frequently.

Other Audio Courses

Michel Thomas Method

  • Type: Audio course
  • Dialects: European only
  • Good for: Listening, speaking
  • Not so good for: Reading, writing
  • Cost: $50

The Michel Thomas method is similar in approach to Pimsleur, but the teaching is more engaging, with more explanations in English since you are listening to a teacher instructing a live group of 2-3 students (there is very little explanation in Pimsleur). The explanations are interesting the first time around, but many people find them annoying when they re-listen to lessons. This method encourages you to relax and let the teacher be responsible for your learning, which they do by using spaced repetition and prompts which are all rather similar to Pimsleur. I’ve only done a cursory evaluation of this method, but from what I’ve seen it seems like it is more thoughtfully designed and less cookie-cutter than Pimsleur. On the other hand, you will have to listen to two other student learners which can be distracting.

The same strengths and weaknesses I discussed with Pimsleur also apply to Michel Thomas. There are two levels, beginning and ‘advanced’. There is no reading or writing practice. Also, some people don’t like hearing the other students’ responses because their pronunciation isn’t perfect; on the other hand, it can be instructive to learn from their mistakes when the teacher corrects them.

The one caveat I’ve noticed is that the teacher and speakers have a strong European accent, and therefore I assume that they teach European Portuguese grammar and vocabulary as well. If you want to learn European Portuguese, that’s wonderful, but if you really want to learn Brazilian Portuguese, Pimsleur may be a better option since it offers you the choice of either dialect.

Foreign Service Institute

  • Type: Audio course with written guide
  • Good for: Listening, speaking, reading
  • Not so good for: Writing
  • Dialects: European/Very formal Brazilian
  • Cost: Free

The so-called “FSI tapes” are a series of language courses developed by the US Foreign Service Institute in the 1950s-1970s for the purpose of training diplomats. They are now in the public domain and are available on the internet as audio files accompanied by poorly scanned pdfs. You can download all 48 units for free here. Watch out for shady companies trying to sell you these courses at cost by advertising “the same courses used by the US State Department” or similar language. The courses are public domain and should be free.

I know that many people swear by the FSI course for helping them achieve fluency, and obviously at one point it was good enough to train US diplomats to communicate well. And I’ve heard that the FSI course take you much farther towards fluency that either RS or Pimsleur, which at best are mere introductions to a language. Unit 48 seems to get into the subjunctive, which is fairly advanced. But having worked through a bit of the FSI Portuguese program, it seems to me like an outmoded way of learning that few people today would have the patience for. You have to continuously pause and unpause the audio, as if you were sitting in front of a tape recorder. The course is very dry and teaches a pretty formal way of speaking, consistent with its intended audience.

Book-based Comprehensive Portuguese Methods

In addition to the courses mentioned above, there are a few other popular courses that try to be comprehensive. The two courses below are similar in their approach in that they use a book supplemented with spoken dialogs on a cd.  They differ from regular textbooks in that they are designed for self-study rather than classroom use — this generally means more explanatory text in English, more written grammar exercises to provide opportunities to practice on paper, and more listening exercises, but few exercises based on group interaction or speech. These courses could be a great option for those who prefer to study more from a book and are less concerned about conversational skills.

Teach Yourself Books

  • Type: Self-teaching book plus supplementary audio
  • Cost: $30
  • Dialects: Brazilian / European+Brazilian

I recommend this book + 2 cds for beginners who are going it alone, as a supplement to a more audio-focused course like Pimsleur. There are several versions of this well-respected course available. “Complete Portuguese: A Teach Yourself Guide” by Manuela Cook attempts to teach both dialects at the same time, which I find confusing. A better option, if you’re learning the Brazilian dialect, is “Complete Brazilian Portuguese: A Teach Yourself Guide” by Sue Tyson-Ward. In either case, make sure you are getting the most recent edition from 2010.

Colloquial Portuguese of Brazil: The Complete Course for Beginners

  • Type: Self-teaching book plus supplementary cds with dialogs
  • Good for: Reading, writing, listening
  • Not so good for: Speaking
  • Dialects: Brazilian only
  • Cost: $22

This is a very reasonably priced course that consists of two books, Level 1 and 2, along with supplementary cds that contain spoken dialogs. It’s almost more of a self-study textbook, which makes it quite different from RS or Pimsleur. I like that it’s designed specifically for self-learners, that there are lots of exercises, that it’s specific to Brazil, and that it’s of fairly recent vintage (Level 1 was published in 1997, Level 2 in 2008).

Like many textbooks, it’s divided into thematic units like Education, Work, Sports, Holidays, etc. (which is an excellent way of learning vocabulary, in thematic chunks) and grammar is sprinkled throughout but is not foregrounded. The exercises are all written and some involve listening to a spoken dialog; there’s little chance to practice speaking or fine-tune pronunciation. The text can be a little dry and unengaging, moreso than the Teach Yourself book.

Online Courses

Transparent Language

  • Type: Desktop software, online apps, iPhone apps
  • Good for: Vocabulary learning, pronunciation, reading (depending on product)
  • Not so good for: Speaking, writing
  • Dialects: Brazilian and European
  • Cost: Depends on product

Transparent Language offers a whole page of different products, most of which I haven’t tried and can’t vouch for. It seems like many of their products, though, are based on the Byki platform, which I’ve used on my iPhone, and which is little more than a fancy flashcard app. As flashcard apps go, it’s actually one of the better ones out there, with an extensive database of premade vocabulary lists, a few games, and good recordings of each word to help with pronunciation — but still, I question whether any product relying heavily on this platform is really a comprehensive method rather than just applied vocabulary learning. At best it might be a good supplement to expand your vocabulary, or a gentle way to introduce yourself to the sound of the language by learning a few words and phrases. In the early stages of my learning, I did successfully use Byki to learn a bunch of verbs and the names of things like vegetables, so it has its uses. Transparent’s Portuguese blog is pretty good, by the way.


  • Type: Online course
  • Dialects: Not differentiated
  • Good for: Reading, writing
  • Not so good for: Speaking, listening
  • Cost: Free

Read my complete review of Duolingo.


  • Type: Online
  • Dialects: User-defined
  • Good for: Primarily reading and writing for beginning and intermediate learners
  • Not so good for: listening, speaking, advanced learners
  • Cost: Four levels of membership, from $0-$79 a month

LingQ is less of a comprehensive language system than a tool designed to solve one specific problem. As you progress in learning a language, you eventually want to seek out reading material on the web that both challenges and interests you – newspaper articles, blog posts, etc. This is a great way to introduce yourself to new vocabulary in real-world contexts. The problem is that every time you encounter an unfamiliar word, you must stop reading, look up the word either in a dictionary or online, perhaps write it down in a notebook, and return to your reading. Then, you need some way of keeping track of the words you have looked up so you can review them later and eventually move them into your long-term memory. Thus your reading experience becomes painstakingly frustrating.

LingQ is designed to make this process as fast and seamless as possible, by bringing together several different tools into one interface. It works like this: you find a text you would like to read online. You then import it into LingQ, at which point it scans the article and highlights in blue any new words that it thinks will be unfamiliar to you. As you read, you can click on one of these unfamiliar words to bring up an instant dictionary definition. Another click will save it to your collection of vocabulary flashcards, which you can review according to an Anki-like memory schedule.

How does LingQ know which words are new to you? Well, at the beginning it assumes you don’t know anything and every word is new. As you add words to your vocabulary stack, it remembers each time you encounter them in a text or review them, and eventually they become ‘known’ words. Over time, your collection of known words increases and you will see fewer and fewer unfamiliar words highlighted in blue. This provides a nice psychological sense of your progress.

But what this also means is that you only get the full benefit of LingQ by using it frequently. For the process to work, it needs to have an accurate picture of which words you do and don’t know, which requires the time and investment on your part to read lots of texts, flagging the words you already know, and ‘LingQing’ the ones you don’t. For a beginner starting out from scratch, who has just a small vocabulary, this works quite well. But intermediate or advanced users, unless they have been using LingQ from the start, will soon tire of loading up a text filled with blue words and having to teach LingQ the hundreds of words they already know. For these users, it would be helpful to let them select their own starting point, automatically marking the 100 or 500 or 1000 most common words in the language as known.

LingQ also provides some social aspects, allowing you to participate in Skype conversations and have native speakers grade your writings, but the real meat of the system is reading.


Verbling is a system that pairs you with language exchange partners and lets you video chat instantly.

Livemocha and Busuu

  • Type: Social language websites
  • Dialects: Numerous, depending on the user base
  • Good for: Reading and writing in chat-based conversations, proofreading writing, asking complex usage questions
  • Not so good for: Listening, speaking
  • Cost: Free to register and use limited features; some courses may cost extra

Livemocha and Busuu are part of an emerging trend of websites that offer “social language learning” by connecting you with native speakers of your target language who are themselves learning your native language. So, as a portuguese learner, you might be partnered with someone in Brazil who is learning English. There are partnered activities like chats and games where you complete tasks by helping each other learn your native languages. There are also places where you can have native speakers review writing that you’ve done.

I haven’t used these sites much, but I think they could be great for more advanced learners who have usage questions that only a native speaker can answer. I’d be interested to hear about the experience of a beginner using them. It’s also very satisfying to help another person learn your native language, too. As for the online beginner classes that these sites offer, my hunch is that they are mostly an incentive to get people to register to use the site, and probably don’t take you very far.

StreetSmart Brazil

  • Type: Online tutoring via Skype
  • Good for: Listening and speaking in actual conversations, pronunciation, grammar
  • Dialects: Brazilian only
  • Cost: Contact SSB for current hourly rates

I’ve reviewed StreetSmart Brazil elsewhere on this site, and even though they are a tutoring service rather than a product, I can’t fail to mention them here. None of the other courses on this page offer the same opportunity for learning conversation, grammar, pronunciation and all four modes of communication at once. The wonderful thing about Streetsmart is you get to interact with a professor who can customize the lessons according to your ability and interests. Your lessons could include any of the following: conversing with your professor, studying grammar using their proprietary materials and materials from other textbooks, reading news articles or blogs, listening to songs on youtube, or going over a writing exercise. It can be as structured or as unstructured as you want. Plus you’re constantly getting instant feedback from a native speaker.

Everything else…

Besides all of the courses mentioned here, there are dozens of other websites, phone apps, desktop software, and companies out there with products claiming to teach you Portuguese “quickly and easily”.

My experience is that 90% of these are claiming to be comprehensive programs for learning Portuguese, when really they are nothing more than phrasebooks, lists of vocabulary, poorly-done videos, or flashcard-type apps. Most of them are of terrible quality with no thought given to pedagogical approach, the difference between European and Brazilian Portuguese, or teaching proper pronunciation. And most of them take a cookie-cutter approach, using the same approach for every language.

My advice is to stick with one of the respected courses above: Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone, Michel Thomas, StreetSmart Brazil, Teach Yourself, or Colloquial Portuguese of Brazil as the foundation of your learning, and supplement it with the other resources mentioned on The Top 10 Resources for Achieving Fluency in Portuguese.

If there are other courses or products you would like to see reviewed here, let me know in the comments.

61 Responses to Language learning on a budget: Great alternatives to Rosetta Stone

  1. David says:

    I’m trying to learn Portuguese. None of my friends or relatives speak it.
    I just want to learn it to expand my horizons.I don’t think the language gets the respect it deserves. I don’t plan on visiting any Portuguese countries. Is this a worthwhile endeavor?

    • Lauren says:

      Hi David, that’s wonderful that you are thinking about learning Portuguese. As I wrote on the front page, I think Portuguese is an absolutely gorgeous language that is quickly becoming an important world language as Brazil gains cultural and economic influence. If there’s something about the language that draws you to it, I say go for it. You don’t have to commit to becoming fluent right away – you can instead take it for a test drive to see if you get into it or not – that’s pretty much how I started. The Semantica videos, the book Portuguese in 10 Minutes a Day, and the Byki app are all fun and gentle ways to get more acquainted with Portuguese and see how you like it. If you do get hooked, you can pursue a more serious course of study later, but at the very beginning stages I think it’s important to keep it light and explore the language in a more freeform way.

      Having said all this, there is one thing I thing you should consider. Learning a language takes a sustained effort over several months or years, depending on how far you take it, and I think it’s difficult to keep up your motivation unless you have 1) people to speak the language with, and 2) a personal reason for wanting to learn the language. In my case, I spent 5 years learning French in school but I’ve forgotten a lot of it, because I had no reason to keep speaking it and no French speakers to speak it with. With Portuguese, I made much faster progress because I wanted to learn it to understand a particular style of music, and I also had a trip to Rio planned that motivated me as well. Where I live in LA, I have a teacher that I meet with and several Brazilian friends so that I get somewhat regular practice speaking the language.

      Of course, the process of learning the language will most likely bring you into contact with speakers of the language, but it does take a little effort, and it helps if you live in a city or region where there is likely to be at least a small Portuguese-speaking community. And it’s also true that in learning the language, you may find new interests as the lusophile cultures becomes more accessible to you, and these interests will help motivate you too.

      I guess what I am saying is that you should look at your situation in terms of where you live and what you interests are. If you live someplace where there are a lot of speakers of, say, Spanish, it may ultimately be more fulfilling to spend your time learning Spanish because you will at least have the chance to use it regularly. But if you’re set on learning Portuguese, then I suggest you find a reason to learn Portuguese – something that learning the language will help you to accomplish. I really do think the number one factor for success in learning a language is motivation, and if you can find that reason, it will keep you motivated throughout the process. Take care and best of luck!


      • tony says:

        Hi David,

        Are you still available to teach portuguese? My wife and I are taking a course in language door and want to become fluent in the portuguese language.

        Thank you,


    • David says:

      Hi David, my name’s David too. I read what you wrote and felt I just had to reply. I think we could really help each other. I’m Brazilian, I speak Portuguese fluently like full on born and raised in Rio de Janeiro Brazilian yet I’m a born and raised English speak American of California. I’m quite literally the first American of my Brazilian family, a born natural at helping English speakers speak Portuguese and Portuguese speakers speak English. I’d really like to hear back from you and see if we can build a way for us to help each other. Please feel free to e-mail me personally if it sounds to you like this message makes sense.

  2. David says:

    You’re right, my learning Portuguese is like you learning French. With no one to converse with it will probably be futile. I guess I better get a dose of reality. Most people where I live speak Spanish. I just wanted to try to learn Portuguese.Now I have to face all my friends with my head held low, and hear them say “I told you so” Your input has been appreciated.
    Ate Logo,
    P.S. It was fun while it lasted. My sons liked to learn the names of fruits and vegetables in Portuguese

  3. Adriano says:

    @ David,

    There’s no reason why you shouldn’t learn Portuguese (or any other language). If you’re interested in the language, do as Lauren said, just take it easy, and study it during your free time. If the flirst evolves into a passion, you can take it more seriously, and eventually go to a Portuguese speaking country, and interact with natives.

    I personally learn languages because I want to gain a closer and more personal access to other cultures, especially literature and movies. It might be something else for you, but given the fact that the internet offers plenty of options to learn languages (and even interact with native speakers via Skype) for free, the only thing that you need to put in is time and effort.

    I learned English and German when I was in my twenties, and I’ve learned French on my opinion to an intermediate level in the last six months, and never once did I care to inform my friends that I’d do it or ask them their opinion whether I should do it or not. I did and do it and will continue doing it for myself.

    Besides French, I’m currently learning Russian, and it’s a quite difficult language, but I’ll be damned if I’ll let that stop me from learning it and reading the Russian classics in the near future. I might even decide to visit Russia or find a language exchange via Skype to practice my conversation, but that will be my decision, not anyone else’s.

    Don’t let anyone tell what you can’t or can’t do.

  4. Adriano says:

    Oops, where I wrote “on my opinion” should be “on my own”.

  5. Phil says:

    Hi Lauren,

    Your website is extremely helpful and I’m enjoying it very much. I have studied Spanish, French, and Italian, and am just beginning to learn Portuguese. The written language is easier for me than the spoken, because it looks a lot more like Spanish than it sounds, but I love the sounds and want to acquire at least a passable pronunciation.

    What do you think of Besides a paid website with a lot of lessons, they’ve published a couple iBooks that include audio. They offer a 7-day trial period, but I received a message that my trial had expired after less than 24 hours, so I’m not too impressed, but the lessons seemed pretty good.

    Also, are you at all familiar with the book “The Everything Learning Brazilian Portuguese Book: Speak, Write, and Understand Basic Portuguese in No Time” by Fernanda Ferreira? It’s not too expensive and from what I could see from the sample pages on Amazon, it looks as if it might be a good, basic introduction. Audio-only is a good way to start, but I want a basic grammar reference. I’m debating between this one, and the much more comprehensive book by John Whitlam which you have praised so highly.

    Any thoughts or suggestions for a very new beginner, who has some background in several other Romance languages?



    • Lauren says:

      Hey Phil, great question. I think you’ll be speaking Portuguese very quickly since you already understand Romance grammar and vocabulary. All you need now is to learn the little idiosyncrasies of Portuguese. So let’s see if we can save you a bit of time and money.

      With your background, I think you would get a lot out of the Tá Falado podcasts. They’re designed exactly for someone like you who knows some Spanish but wants to better understand the differences in pronunciation and grammar in Portuguese (and they’re free!). Even without knowing much Spanish, I personally found them very helpful for developing great pronunciation. If you try it, I recommend downloading the pdfs that come with each lesson and following along with the audio.

      Now, the grammar podcasts in Tá Falado are good but they don’t take you very far. So you could then check out Wikipedia, which gives a very nice overview of the differences between Spanish and Portuguese. There’s also a book on Amazon called Pois Não: Brazilian Portuguese for Speakers of Spanish. I’ve never used it myself, but it might be worth checking out to better understand the weird grammatical things going on in Portuguese. For example, Portuguese pronouns and verb tenses don’t really map onto their Spanish counterparts as simply as you might expect, and the way Brazilians use object pronouns in speech (ie, they often don’t :-) is quite different.

      As for the book you mentioned, I took a look at the Amazon preview and it seems like a great book with good specificity toward the Brazilian dialect. I noticed that it does leave out a lot of important details about the language, but they tend to be mostly things that advanced speakers would be concerned about. For someone who wants a quick overview of the grammar it looks quite useful and fun.

      I also looked at the website I’ve never used it so I don’t have anything very insightful to add. However, websites like that always tend to make me suspicious, the way they claim to magically make you fluent (if you’ll just give them your credit card number!). From my experience, these sorts of programs often focus on vocabulary learning without really teaching you conversational skills or grammar. But who knows, maybe it is actually a well-designed resource. If you end up trying it and want to write a review for this site, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

      Best of luck and let me know how it goes!

      • Phil says:

        Thank you so much for your reply. The Wikipedia article is excellent and it has already been very helpful. I like the way it highlights the similarities and differences between Spanish and Portuguese, and it goes into a lot more depth than I had expected. I never would have found it without your help, so thanks!

        I’m still debating between the Ferreira book and the more comprehensive grammar by John Whitlam, and right now, Whitlam is looking like the better choice for me. I need a written reference to supplement the Pimsleur lessons, which are very good and seem to be quite effective (I remember a lot more from them than I think I will when I’m actually doing them). I want something that I won’t outgrow, and for that, I think Whitlam is the way to go.

        I had already started the Tá Falado pronunciation podcasts, based on your recommendation elsewhere on your site, and they are everything you say. The program is engaging and offers a systematic way to deal with the challenges of Portuguese pronunciation, and the PDFs are a huge help. I also like the way that each lesson includes a focus on cultural differences. I sometimes wish that they offered one read-through of the conversations at a slower, non-native pace, but I realize that a slower delivery can distort the real sounds of the spoken language, so I understand why they didn’t do it.

        Right now, pronunciation is the area where I’m having to work the hardest. The nasals, the various sounds that “r” can represent, and the way that the sounds of the words run together (more than in Spanish or even French, I think) require a lot of practice. But I’m having fun with it and it definitely helps to have some background in the other Romance languages.

        You’re right about wanting a credit card number. They say that you get a free seven day trial, but mine expired after just a few hours. Now, if I click on a lesson, I get redirected to their sign-up page. I have emailed them, but all I get are group emails encouraging me to sign up for a paid program. The material itself looks good, at least what I saw of it, but I’m not willing to make a longer term financial commitment based on a few hours of preview. Tá Falado looks just as good, if not better, and you can’t beat the price!

        I also want to thank you for your updated “Roadmaps to Fluency” page. This is exactly what I needed and I have printed it out to use as a course guide to follow.

        Have you seen the DK Portuguese-English Visual Bilingual Dictionary? I have the Italian dictionary from the same series and I like it. It doesn’t replace a full dictionary, of course, but it has over 6,000 words and phrases with lots of color photos, it has a good binding for a paperback, and it’s not very expensive.

        Thank you for providing this wonderful resource. I’ll be visiting often as I continue my studies!

        • Lauren says:

          Phil, thanks for checking in – I’m glad you found some of the suggestions useful. Yes, the way the words run together in speech is a major challenge and something that I still struggle with. Even if I know all the individual words a speaker is using, it can be hard to hear them clearly and make sense of them. For this reason I’ve tried to find listening resources that have subtitles or transcriptions in Portuguese, so I can use it as a crutch when I need it, without feeling like I’m cheating too much. I have a bunch of suggestions on the Listening page, but you might find the free Ponto de Encontro listening exercises most useful since the speakers are slow and clear.

          The Semantica Series 1 videos, though not free, are also a great introduction to the sound of the language as it is spoken in Rio, and they also give you a peek at the unique cadence and intonation of Brazilians as they speak, which is actually helpful for getting the sounds down.

          I’ve been exploring, listening to some of the audio and checking out the pdfs, and you know what, it’s better than I expected. It has way more material than any other website I’ve seen and the podcasts are actually well produced and not too mechanical. So I may have to give them a second look.

          Also, thanks for pointing me to the DK visual dictionary. I’ll have to get a copy and check it out. The only other visual dictionary I know of is the Oxford, which is terrible – this one sounds much better.

          Your original comment inspired me to finish working on a page I’d been meaning to upload on Portuguese for Spanish speakers. At this point it’s mostly a brain dump of stuff that I’m sure is available in a clearer format elsewhere, but maybe there is some useful info there.

          Good luck again, and have fun!

        • Lauren says:

          Ah, one more thing! You mentioned you were having trouble with the nasals. If you can do nasals in French, you can do nasals in Portuguese. French “bon” = Portuguese “bom”, exactly the same sound :-) Eles compram = je comprende. Sometimes it’s just a matter of hearing the same sounds across languages. I put some more info about this on the Spanish page.

  6. Phil says:

    Wow, your “Portuguese for Spanish speakers” page is awesome!! I have read it several times already and have added it to my rapidly growing pile of printouts (I’ve used my printer more in the past week than I have in a long time).

    I also decided to order “Pois Não.” The Amazon reviews were overwhelmingly positive as far as the content and scope of the course, with only some minor complaints about an overall lack of polish. I’ll let you know what I think after I’ve had a chance to use it.

    I’ve checked out the YouTube previews from Semantica, and I like what I’ve seen, but I wish it were a bit less expensive. Do you know if the downloads include all the material that comes with the DVDs?

    I’m plugging away with Pimsleur, and it is really working. I know it may be too formal, especially at the beginning, but it makes me feel as if I’m learning something when the “teacher” tells me to say something in Portuguese, and I’m able to do it.

    In the past, when studying other languages, I found parallel readers (original language on one page, English translation facing it) to be very helpful, but I haven’t seen anything like this for Portuguese. I want to start reading something besides dialogues, but I don’t want to get bogged down looking up every other word in the dictionary (I know that makes me sound lazy, but it really does interfere with one’s ability to enjoy the reading). Any suggestions? I found a book of short stories by Machado de Assis on a website called, and it includes notes and study questions, so I may give that a try.

    • Lauren says:

      I’m glad the Spanish page was helpful! I updated it a bit and will probably continue to make changes as I think of things to add.

      1. Please do let me know what you think of Pois Não, I’d like to know whether I should recommend it and I’d much prefer to hear from a Spanish speaker who’s just starting out with Portuguese.

      2. I bought all the Semantica Series 1 videos via the download option, and I never got anything except the videos – no pdfs or other materials. But, I thought the videos were fine by themselves and didn’t really need anything. But yes, they are a bit expensive.

      3. I totally agree about the continuing sense of progress that you experience with Pimsleur, it’s very motivating and one of the best things about that program.

      4. Parallel readings – I *wish* there was something like Assimil for Portuguese, but alas, I’ve yet to find anything good. However, I would recommend you avoid the Machado de Assis stories for the time being. He writes in a very florid, 19th century style that I find absolutely dreadful to read — lots of archaic verb forms and you will spend more time looking up words than enjoying the story. If you want to get a taste of it, you can download a pdf of his famous story Missa do Galo here:

      I would recommend instead O Principezinho (The Little Prince) and Ao Redor do Mundo, both of which are available off of Atlântico. I also highly recommend Brazilian writer Luís Fernando Veríssimo, who is a satirist who writes in a colloquial idiom – very fun to read. His collection of short stories As Mentiras que os homens contam” (2000) was a bestseller in Brazil, though it’s a bit hard to find in the US. It’s witty and gives an interesting perspective on Brazilian social norms. Since the stories are fairly short, it doesn’t try your patience too much. Plus you’ll be exposed to more modern vocabulary and language usage than you would with Machado de Assis.

      If you’re looking for graded readings at an intermediate level, I’m assuming Pois Não will have some, but if not there are good textbooks that include readings. Ponto de Encontro is pricey, but it’s filled with readings about the various Portuguese-speaking countries, Brazilian food and culture, etc.

      Anyway, I hope this helps. Divirta-se!

  7. Phil says:

    Hi Lauren,

    I’m almost done with Pimsleur Level One, and am using other resources along with it, especially the Whitlam grammar, Tá Falado, Pois Não, the Larousse Dictionary, and 50 Ways to Improve Your Portuguese, which has been surprisingly helpful for such a concise book. PortugesePod101 has been good for extra practice, especially for listening, and I’m going to buy the first series of Semantica. The iPad apps I’ve downloaded give me another way to practice, and so far iTranslate is the one I use the most. As you can see, your suggestions and recommendations have been very helpful!

    I’m finding that my Spanish is improving as I study Portuguese, but I still have to be careful about the differences in pronunciation, and certain rules of Spanish have been challenging for me to discard when speaking Portuguese. The hardest so far: not using “a” in phrases such as “ele vai comer,” which in Spanish requires the “a” after the conjugated form of “ir” immediately before the infinitive (“él va a comer”). I thought I’d never get over that habit, but I rarely do it now. I’ve pretty much eliminated the Spanish “d” ( with the soft “th” sound) from my Portuguese, but now I have to remember not to mispronounce final “o” in Spanish! I feel a lot better about my Portuguese nasals than I did at first, too.

    I thought you might enjoy this article about why Brazilian Portuguese is the best language to learn:

    Be sure to read the comments from readers below the article, too, as they show a diversity of strong opinions, many from Brazilians themselves. One thing the author wrote that I think is an error, but maybe I misunderstood. She mentions the use of declensions in Portuguese, but I’m pretty sure she meant conjugations. Anyway, it’s a short and entertaining article, and the comments are fascinating.


    • Lauren says:

      Oi Phil, que bom que você tá avançando tão rápidamente. Fico muito feliz que os recursos que eu destaquei são úteis pra você. Eu já li aquela matéria sobre o portugûes, e achei interessante… a maioria das razões que ela dá poderiam se aplicar tanto a espanhol como portugûes, né? Mas claro que eu concordo com ela que todo mundo deveria aprender falar português :-) O futuro da língua brasileira brilha com grande promessa. Valeu por a atualização!

  8. Phil says:

    Hi Lauren,

    I still haven’t reached a level of fluency in writing where I can post in Portuguese yet (though I can read and understand your Portuguese posts), but I’ll get there. I’m about halfway through level 3 of Pimsleur, and have been supplementing it with a variety of other resources. I’ve been working on a blog that describes some of my experiences as a beginning student of Brazilian Portuguese, and since you’ve covered so much, and done it so well, I took the liberty of mentioning your blog in several of my posts. I hope that was OK. I continue to come here frequently, and I always find something helpful.

    I’m trying not to duplicate what you’ve already covered, and my blog is less structured than what you have created here. I do plan to include a review of “Pois Não” as well as some other books that you haven’t reviewed yet.

    For now, I can say that “Pois Não” is surprisingly comprehensive, though I have been using it more as a reference than a textbook. It is definitely aimed at speakers of Spanish, and while it’s not absolutely necessary that someone know Spanish in order to use the book, it’s probably not the best choice for someone who has no knowledge of Spanish at all. The good news is that you do not have to be fluent in Spanish to benefit from the many comparisons that the author makes between the two languages.

    I’ve been listening to a lot of Brazilian music (mostly contemporary), as well as watching Brazilian films and TV shows, and have found that both have helped me to build my listening skills. I’ve also downloaded the second Semantica series, which is excellent, though I agree with you that it would have benefited from a more consistent approach to dealing with grammar and vocabulary. Still, you can’t beat either of the Semantica series when it comes to offering interesting content presented in an engaging way.

    I just wanted you to know that I’m continuing to have a great time learning Portuguese, and to thank you again for your site, which has been a source of motivation and inspiration for me.

    Muito obrigado!

    • Lauren says:

      Hey Phil, thanks so much for your continuing updates – I’d love to read your blog when you’re ready to share it. One thing I regret is not writing down my initial impressions as a beginner studying the language.

      Sounds like you are doing plenty of listening practice – which is fantastic – but I also suggest taking the time to do some writing every week. Even if it’s just a short email or a comment on a blog/facebook post, it puts us in the position of using what we’ve learned. I’ve also found that it builds vocabulary quickly because it forces me to look up common Portuguese words/phrases that I don’t know yet, and I remember these new words better when I’m using them in my own writing.

      Keep at it and drop a line in portuguese when you feel ready!

  9. Phil says:

    Oi Lauren,

    Aqui está o endereço do meu blog:

    Obrigado pela sugestão sobre a importância de escrever. Vou tentar escrever algumas frases todos os dias.


  10. Anita says:

    I’d really love Semantica’s Video lessons. I’m better at visual learning. I found Rosetta Stone not to be worth the material it’s printed on. Pronunciation is poor, I am fluent in German and it was too choppy!!

    • Lauren says:

      Hi Anita – yes, Rosetta Stone is definitely not the best for everyone. It uses a cookie cutter approach to languages, whereas Semántica has some distinctly Brazilian heart and soul. Hope you enjoy!

  11. Meghan Pacheco says:

    My husband is full Portuguese and speaks, for the most part, fluently with his family. While I am picking up phrases and learning words I would still like to invest in a program that will help me become fluent in all aspects of the language. My husband can speak and read but he states that he doesn’t know how to write it or the grammar. He said that he would love to sit down and brush up on it. The one question I have is which Portuguese do I learn? His mother is from Saint Jorge and his father is from San Miguel. So I believe that I should do the European Portuguese instead of the Brazilian but I want to check and make sure before I invest in the wrong course. Thanks in advance for your help.


  12. Valerie says:

    Again, excellent and thank you very much. I recently discovered an iPhone app you might want to take a look at. MindSnacks Portuguese is strictly vocabulary practice (audio and written) but it’s tons of fun. Vocabulary practice is disguised as (addictive!) video games, and I’m so busy trying to “beat the game” that I hardly realize how many words I’m picking up.

  13. Steve says:

    Hi there,
    I just discovered this website while googling for a comparison of Rosetta stone and Pimsleur and thought I’d share my experience of learning languages.
    I’ve found that the best way is to be honest and decide exactly why you want to learn and -important – decide the level you want to attain. My own levels are Survival, Simple conversational, Full conversational, Semi fluency etc. For example, I learned greek using the Pimsleur CDs simply so I could enjoy our holidays more i.e. survival and then simple conv. level.
    The trick here is, once you’ve learned the very basics, to take control and ‘customise’ your learning. If I’m lost in the middle of Paris, my schoolboy french lessons years ago won’t be much help. “The apple is on the table” isn’t much help! So what I do is take time to think about what I really need to know and imagine myself travelling in that country. Then I actively find out how to say what I want and, very importantly, learn all possible answers to my questions!
    If you do this alongside your language course, you’ll find the progress is amazing!


  14. Mike says:

    Noyo would love to give you a promo copy of Noyo Portuguese app in the iTunes store for you to review.

    Please get in touch any time! You have an amazing site!

  15. Paul says:


    First let me say, amazing site! I’m just starting to learn European Portuguese and have started with the Michel Thomas method (halfway through). I’ve been trying to access the FSI files but keep getting a page error and cant access them, do you know of anywhere else that the resources are hosted free? Most seem to be paid variations :(

    Keep up the good work!

    • Lauren says:

      Hi Paul,

      I haven’t tried to access the FSI files in a while; that’s good to know that they’re gone. Maybe what I can do, since I *think* I have the complete collection, is host them here. I’ll leave you a message if I’m able to do that, but it won’t be for a couple weeks since I’m out of town.

      I wish I was more knowledgeable about European Portuguese resources, but there don’t seem to be that many out there. Many older books seem to teach that dialect by default. Ponto de Encontro is a good recent textbook that explicitly teaches both; Portuguese: A Reference Manual is another new one that tries to be neutral. If you find other resources that you like, please come back and share.

      • Paul says:

        Thanks Lauren, that would be great (or if you find out that they are hosted free elsewhere!).

        I have just received “Portuguese: A Reference Manual” today and am hoping to get the other book soon. There are a lot of universities which teach European Portuguese and use this textbook, however sadly none are local :(

        If I manage to find any European sources/materials of note, I’ll be sure to let you know.


  16. Forrest says:

    The FSI courses website has been down for some time, and it’s not clear whether it will become available again or not.

    But the entire site (minus the discussion forum) has been reconstituted here:

    The Portuguese materials are listed at the left in the alphabetical listing of languages.

    Another old but very extensive set of materials for Brazilian Portuguese is the DLI course, available for free download here:

    Boa sorte!

  17. Justin says:

    Hi. I am thrilled to find this site. My girlfriend is Brazilian, and while English is her native language, I want to learn Portuguese anyway. It would be fantastic to be able to converse with the rest of her family in Portuguese some day soon.

    I have been seriously considering the Pimsleur program. First of all, it has an excellent reputation. Secondly, most of the other training methods that I’ve found seem to be software or web based. Since I am totally blind, this would present a problem. It’s uncertain whether the software or site would be accessible with screen reading software. Even if it is fully accessible, my screen reader would read the materials with a real American sounding voice, which might throw me off.

    When I first looked into Pimsleur, I was expecting it to be highly expensive, and only available on CD. Well, they now offer mp3 downloads at $119 per phase. Even better, you can purchase as you go, buying mp3 lessons in packs of 5 at a time for $24.95 each. This is a good deal. Still, I thought I would see about other ways to save money on this. I googled “rent Pimsleur,” and found your page. I am absolutely stunned to learn that these lessons can be obtained through They also sell the five lesson packs for around $21 for non-members and about $15 for members. So I can use my 1 monthly Audible Listener credit on a pack, and buy more at the member rate. This is truly a fantastic find.

    I am curious to know if the versions offered by Audible are the latest revisions of these lessons. The release date shown on Audible is 2010, but the free lesson I obtained from mentions a 2012 copyright date. This leaves me wondering what, if anything, has changed? Should I pay more for potentially newer downloads straight from the source?

    Finally, while listening to the free lesson with me, my Girlfriend mentioned something that your post has confirmed. She said it sounds somewhat formal. My usage will be in very relaxed, informal settings. I would be self-conscious if I sounded out of place. Can you recommend any other audio resources to help me transition to a more informal way of speaking?

    Thanks again for all of the useful information in this blog post. I really appreciate it.

    • Lauren says:

      Hi Justin! I just went to listen to the free lesson on Pimsleur’s website, and I confirmed that it’s the same one that is offered on Audible and everywhere else. I was actually hoping that perhaps they had updated it, but no such luck. Your girlfriend is right — Pimsleur starts off teaching you excessively formal usage, which is a weakness. For example, they start off teaching you to use o senhor and a senhora, the very formal second-person pronouns that you will only encounter in customer-service contexts. But if you can get past that, after a certain point they teach you você and a less formal style. I’m sure most Brazilians will still find it a little stodgy, but hey, that’s how it is when you’re learning!

      While it would be better to teach a more natural style from the start, I still recommend Pimsleur because there is nothing else that trains your listening and speaking skills so rigorously. Other courses teach you vocabulary, grammar, reading, etc., but only Pimsleur drills it into your brain with enough repetition that you come out prepared to have actual conversations. It’s like doing reps at a gym. It took me half a year to finish the whole course, but I found that the things I had learned were learned at a very deep level, and rolled off of my tongue without much thought. Think about it as a solid foundation that you can then build on later by increasing your vocabulary and learning a less formal style.

      You might also enjoy the Tá Falado podcasts on grammar and pronunciation. Although they are designed for spanish speakers learning Portuguese, I learned a lot from them in the early stage. The Semántica Level 1 videos are also very good and I think you would get a lot of out them just from the audio.

      Finally, keep in mind that for what you will pay for the complete Pimsleur course, around $300 at best, you could have 9 hour-long lessons with a Street Smart Brazil instructor where you are getting a personalized lesson and conversing with a real person the entire time. For my money, that’s the best option there is.

  18. Justin says:

    After my earlier comment tonight, I still couldn’t sleep after getting excited by discovering this post. I headed over to, and on first glance I am highly impressed. When you first sign up for a free account, you instantly get a very hyped and pressured offer to get a nice-sounding deal. For $1, you get several items. Something called the “Ultimate getting started with portuguese box set,” a free month of the premium subscription level, plus a couple other items that I haven’t explored yet. If it hadn’t been for the positive things you said about the site in this post and in the comments, I would have been very skeptical. The marketing technique used on this welcome page is the only thing I dislike here, and very nearly scared me away from a true gold mine. I went for the $1 offer here because of your positive remarks.

    I must say, after downloading the huge zip file with the box set, it is very nearly all that was advertised. I know I will get a lot out of all of the audio lessons and PDF notes I received in this zip, not to mention what I have access to as a premium member. The pronunciation series was not in the zip as the email said, but I can easily download them separately because of the subscription. I did turn off automatic monthly renewal for now, strictly out of my own budget issues and not because of any content quality issues.

    Anyway, this is just to let anyone reading this know that the introductory offer from is legitimate, and a great value. Thanks again for the helpful site. I’m only now starting to read your other blog posts, and look forward to learning more as I go.

    • Lauren says:

      Yup, I agree, I stayed away from PP101 for a long time because the marketing was too hard-sell, but there is actually a ton of thoughtful content there. The subscription is well worth the price.

  19. Kelly says:

    Hi Lauren, my wife and I are moving to Brazil soon to be missionaries. We will be doing extensive language training in Brazil for the first year and completely realize that much of becoming fluent in Portuguese will happen there. However, we would like to at least get started while state side. Reading and Writing it is not as important to us as speaking and listening. We want to be able to have conversations. Which program or method of learning the language to you recommend to us? By your summaries of each, Pimsleur sounds like it may make the most sense. Though I am also going to look in to StreetSmart. I look forward to hearing from you, thanks!


  20. Mike says:

    Hi, good review, I am an intermediate Brasilian Portuguese speaker and I’ve tried most of the recommendations here, the top 3 on my list would be

    1. Pimsleur
    2. Rosetta
    3. Bussuu

    Pimsleur is fantastic because it can be used while driving, on a train, walking,etc, you can be ‘unplugged’ and be learning a language on the go. It helped me learn the most out of all the other programs. Its ‘dated’ but it has everything you need to start with the language and it has repetition in each lesson that drills vocabulary over time.

    Rosetta is great as well but requires dedicated time to sit and click through the lessons

    Bussuu is like Rosetta but less pricey, a great resource as well.

  21. Mike says:

    Ive also tried Portuguesepod101 but havent found it to be effective. Their audio clips have good ‘modern’ content but I couldnt really learn anything because the male host keeps talking in english most of the time and there is no repetition from lesson to lesson, making it very easy to forget new vocabulary, unless you replay the same audio clip numerous times.

  22. Maria says:

    This is really helpful!
    I’ve been having a lot of trouble finding software for learning European Portuguese, as most websites and software seem to focus on Brazil. As I am planning to move to Portugal, I’d feel really silly speaking in a Brazillian accent.
    I already started on Livemocha, but only very basic levels are available on there. I’ve already lived in Portugal for a while, and even though I haven’t been focused on learning the language before (you can actually get around pretty well with English), the Livemocha courses are already too low level for me. Learning the colours and numbers is useful if you’ve never been in Portugal, but what I want to start learning is making sentences.

    Based on this review I’m now trying to get myself the Pimsleur mp3’s. I hope these will help me further!

  23. Kelly Saux says:

    The idea behind this program is that it uses a series of computer sequenced audio lessons that help you retain information from the very first lesson. Just about every Pimsleur Approach review that you will read mentions how much easier it is to use this program than other methods. The real reason for this is that you do not have to worry about reading, writing, spelling, or conjugating verbs – you simply focus on listening and speaking.

    Because there are fewer distractions with this type of learning, people find that they are able to understand native speakers much quicker and easier. Without the distraction of the written word, it is also a better way for people who are only interested in picking up a limited amount of language skills in order to travel.

  24. Daria Kaufman says:

    Hello Lauren,

    Great site! My husband and I are moving to Lisbon in Fall 2014, so we want to learn European Portuguese. We are primarily interested in speaking and listening. Pimsleur seems good but, as you mention, it only provides 10 lessons for European Portuguese. What do you suggest?


  25. Reality says:

    Pimsleur 500 words?! It’s a LIE!

    Pimsleur has 500 words PER LEVEL so it’s 1500 words total, more than Rosetta Stone and than you have Pimsleur plus (10 lessons) too, so even more than 1500 very common words.

  26. Zack says:

    My situation and reason for learning Portuguese is somewhat unique, so I was wondering if you could specifically suggest the best product(s) for me. My long term girlfriend is Brazilian (& American), so I have someone to converse with consistently and correct my mistakes immediately. Though I need to study consistently and learn on my own because we are both busy people and do not live together. I have a solid knowledge of Spanish which is also a huge advantage, but more so with conjugation and sentence structure, not too much with vocabulary and pronunciation. I have a few books, but they seem more supplemental and referential to someone starting and not in classes with an instructor. My girlfriend is not instructing me and has not intention to do so. I have been told by people that this is THE greatest gift you can give a significant other/spouse that is not a native English speaker. Not to mention, if we do get married I want to be able to understand her mother/other family and eventually my children (who will be dual citizens).

    Thank You

  27. Andrea says:

    Hi Lauren,

    Thank you for all your wonderful information on learning Brazilian Portuguese. I was wondering if you could offer me some advice. I was born in Brazil and speak it semi-fluently. We moved to the US when I was 5 but I continued to speak it with my parents. I made the mistake of not speaking it with my kids when they were born and now I regret it very much. They are now 12, 10 and 7. I would like for them to learn it. Can you recommend the best programs for kids?

    I know that I myself would be a great resource for them. I would like a program that they can use on their own and then I am available to review, practice and overall supplement what they’re learning. I never went to school in Brazil since we moved here when I was 5 so I am a much stronger at speaking and understanding than writing and reading.

    I regret so much not speaking it with them regularly as they were learning to talk. I was overwhelmed by motherhood and since English has become more native to me than Portuguese, it was easier. Also, I have forgotten so many words through the years that my Portuguese has become choppy. These are all excuses, I know. If I had spoken with them as I should have, they would at least know as much as I do and that would’ve been great.

    I know it will take some hard work on all our parts to make this happen but I am committed. I want to give them this connection to their heritage. Any advice you can offer will be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

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  30. Karen says:

    Hi I’m in the UK and want to learn Brazilian Portuguese because we have met some good friends in Portugal who are Brazilian. They speak a little English, but I want to know the best and quickest way to learn their language so we can communicate better. I’m not sure if UK libraries will have Brazilian Portuguese as opposed to just Portuguese. Would it be easier to learn just BP or P, as I am desperate to start. I know the two languages are different, but my friends speak both. Thanks

    • Lauren says:

      Hi Karen, it sounds like you’ve got a great reason to learn Portuguese and could use a gentle introduction to the conversational language. I can recommend a few things:
      Semantica’s beginner video series – an entertaining way to learn some basic phrases and words in BP. While it’s focused on phrases used during travel, I still think it’s a nice introduction to the language. Also check out the beginner lessons on Língua da Gente:

      If at some point you really want to dive in and gain a solid conversational foundation, I would either check out Pimsleur from your local library (either dialect should be fine, they’re not *that* different) or schedule some lessons with an instructor (Carla is a good teacher who is local to the UK –

  31. Darren says:

    Hey Lauren,

    After two years in Brazil I am pretty well fluent now. I can understand everything, and speak with ease. I used your site a look over the years, so thanks for that! I am going to be using the FSI Spanish material now as I am off to Colombia tomorrow.

    The FSI link you made doesn’t exist/work anymore unfortunately. :(

    You can find a new copy of it here FSI Portuguese Language Courses for download.

    This is actually my site and I am going to be turning the old school material into something more functional, Duolingo style. :) Watch this space.

    Espero que o seu português esteja ficando cada vez melhor!

    Beijos do Brasil, até mais,


  32. cathyc says:

    You mention ‘jumping’ to a review of Memrise, but there isn’t one on this page or elsewhere on your site? I’d be really interested!

  33. Blake says:

    I’m basically in love with Semantica. I just wish there was something similar for Italian, French…etc

  34. christine resendes says:

    Hi my family is Portuguese and I speak it pretty fluently and ive taught myself some reading and writingwriting I need to learn to read and write as well as I speak for work as soon as possible . Which program would you recommend?

  35. Roger says:

    What about Linguaphone? They have a European Portuguese course.

  36. Ann says:


    I am going to be moving to Portugal in the summer and wanted to learn some basic Portuguese before we get to the country, but a lot of the resources i come across online are for Brazilian Portuguese. Can anybody recommend the best resources for learning European Portuguese please?

  37. Natalie says:

    What are your thoughts on Babbel? Would you categorize it as a flashcard app that is poorly done and will not bring you closer to fluency?

  38. You only mention a very small handful of totally free options, and one of them (the Foreign Service Institute tapes) is quite outdated and becoming increasingly impractical in today’s world. I’d thought I’d mention one other one that was totally free with 1,000’s of lessons:

    With the Internet, there’s practically no legitimate reason why everything can’t be free.

  39. Ross Taylor says:

    Hi Lauren,

    I have just come across your website and I think it is fantastic! I started learning Brazilian Portuguese properly at the beginning of the year as my partner is Brazilian and I wanted to be able to speak to his friends and family when we visited. I have been teaching myself using the Living Language series which I find very good and I just wondered if you had come across this series? My only issue is that it doesn’t have listening comprehension excercises but I have found these elsewhere.

    I am now looking to buy a grammar book to go into more detail with grammar points and I think I will go with your recommendation on this. I would perhaps also like to get another textbook for when I have finished with my current one and wonder which one would be your top pick?

  40. Pingback: Follow These Trailblazing Portuguese Blogs by Language Learners and Experts | FluentU Portuguese

  41. Orsi says:

    I am planning to start learning European Portuguese and trying to find the most suitable online course or application. I was about to choose Rosetta Stone, but I realized it offers only Brasilian dialect. Based on your reviews I figured the Michael Thomas Method might be the best option for me, but I wanted to ask your opinion. I would like to see real results, learn strong basics in order to move forward with a native speaker teacher in the future. Where would you suggest me to start?

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