The 10 best resources for achieving fluency in Portuguese

On this page I’ve compiled the resources that I have found to be most useful for those teaching themselves Brazilian Portuguese. These are the best of the best; I only recommend materials that I actually own and that have helped me reach my Portuguese goals. If you’d like to see how these resources could be combined into a program of study, see the Roadmaps page.

As this continues to be the most popular page on HP, I have been keeping it updated to make sure it reflects the most current resources out there. Valeu!

last updated September 2014

  1. Best online video series : Semántica
  2. Best audio course for beginners : Pimsleur
  3. Best grammar reference : Modern Brazilian Portuguese Grammar
  4. Best textbooks : Muito Prazer, Ponto de Encontro, Falar/Ler/Escrever, Português via Brasil
  5. Best verb reference : 501 Portuguese Verbs
  6. Best online tutoring & conversational practice : StreetSmart Brazil
  7. Best podcast / best way to improve your pronunciation : Tá Falado
  8. Best ways to learn vocabulary : Anki, Port. in 10 Mins a Day, Frequency Dictionary
  9. Best portuguese/english dictionaries : Linguee, Infopédia, WordReference, Larousse
  10. Best portuguese learning blogs

Best video series: Semántica

CaptureSemantica is a small group of Americans and Brazilians living in Rio who have collaborated to create three wonderful series of video lessons. Series I is a collection of 36 short (3-5 minute) videos for absolute beginners. The videos follow a young American travel writer who comes to Rio on a work assignment, where he meets his Brazilian colleague Raquel, who shows him around the city and tries to keep him out of trouble.

One of the wonderful things about this series is that it is actually filmed in Rio with great Brazilian actors, which provides quite a bit of realism and also exposes you to how people actually speak and interact in Rio — you’ll hear plenty of that famous carioca accent (listen for all the shhhhh sounds). The actors are charming, the narrative is engaging, and the clips are short enough that they don’t overwhelm you with new material. The acting is pretty good and provides good insight into how to handle several common social situations – taking the bus, catching a cab, checking into a hotel, ordering at a restaurant, etc.

Series II is a collection of 14 longer (10-15 minute) videos for high-intermediate learners. I wouldn’t recommend them as an immediate followup to Series I because the dialogs are quite advanced and the actors speak as a normal (fast) pace. But for more advanced learners who want some listening practice, these are excellent.

Instead of one long serialized narrative, each video tells a different story of life in the cidade maravilhosa. The quality of the acting and production is even higher than Series I and it’s all shot in HD. Rio again forms the backdrop, but this time the stories are those of everyday cariocas from all walks of life – a young couple shops at a farmer’s market; two friends chat about an unplanned pregnancy on the beach; a woman haggles with some scrap metal dealers on the street; a couple of women get lost in a favela while trying to meet up with their friend.

What I love about the Series II videos is seeing cariocas in their native habitat, speaking in a way that illuminates the informal colloquial style of Brazilian portuguese. Each scene is shown first with no aides, and is then repeated by a narrator who speaks slowly with subtitles in portuguese so that you can catch everything that’s said. They do highlight some new grammar and vocabulary and break out into a few ‘teaching moments’, though anyone who’s advanced enough to follow the dialogs will probably find them too obvious or arbitrary; meanwhile some of more interesting usage issues that might have been highlighted are ignored.

Nevertheless, these videos are great fun to watch and they fill a real need for resources for intermediate-advanced students.

Semántica also has a new intermediate series of 100 videos with a whole new story — check out my review here. And get 15% off any subscription with the coupon code “hacking-portuguese” woot!

Alternative: Two more excellent resources for listening are ClicaBrasil and Conversa Brasileira, from the same folks who brought you Tá Falado. ClicaBrasil is designed for intermediate speakers, while Conversa Brasileira is more for advanced speakers, but both feature collections of conversations that have been transcribed and annotated. These are videos of actors conversing spontaneously and unscripted, using very colloquial language. You can choose to just listen, or follow transcriptions in English or Portuguese. The producers have inserted teaching moments liberally throughout, including lots of fascinating things you’ll never find in a textbook. It’s a very eye opening look at spoken Portuguese, and you will end up learning some pretty sophisticated points of usage.


Best Audio Course for Beginners: Pimsleur

An excellent and much cheaper alternative to Rosetta Stone for the absolute beginner is Pimsleur. This is an audio-only method consisting of 90 half-hour lessons that will take 3-6 months for most people to complete, if you do one lesson roughly every day. In my case it took me 7 months because I ended up not doing them every day and had to repeat them occasionally.

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 you’re learned and engaged in putting the words together in new ways.

Pimsleur has the advantage of being by far the cheapest beginning conversation course available, especially if you can get it from your local library.

For more advantages and disadvantages to using Pimsleur, see the page on Language learning on a budget: Great alternatives to Rosetta Stone.

Alternative: as a considerably cheaper alternative to Pimsleur, consider PortuguesePod101.


Best Grammar Reference: Modern Brazilian Portuguese Grammar: A Practical Guide

You have a bunch of options when it comes to grammar references, but I have no reservations about telling you to you forget all of them and just buy this book. Let’s take a look at some of the fantastic things about ‘the green book’. First, it was published in 2010, so it’s current. Second, it’s specific to the Brazilian dialect of portuguese. Third, it was written by someone who really gets that Brazilian Portuguese is actually two different languages.

There are different ways of expressing yourself in Portuguese depending on whether you’re speaking or writing, and whether the situation is formal or informal. Linguists call it diglossia. And this is probably true for Portuguese more than any of the other Romance languages. Many Portuguese grammars tend to ignore the more informal variant of the language, despite the fact that it is the version all Brazilians speak in day-to-day life.

Note that I’m not talking about slang, gíria, or regionalisms — I’m referring to the informal register of Brazilian Portuguese that is spoken by people of all educational levels, all over the country, but which differs from the more formal language you would find in a newspaper, a novel, or a presidential speech. As a student, you need to be fluent in both registers. And here is where this particular book rises above the rest. John Whitlam isn’t afraid of vulgar ordinary spoken Portuguese, and he’s happy to show you the places where the language diverges, the places where you have choices in the level of formality that you use.

The book is divided into two parts, a grammar reference and a practical communication guide. The grammar section is excellent, covering everything from the nuances of pronunciation and spelling up through very advanced topics. As an example of the attention to detail, consider the section on subject and object pronouns. This is one area where there is a bewildering confusion of different rules depending on the context and register. This section does not gloss over these important differences or try to prescribe an overly formal but more “correct” style, but instead goes through the differences methodically, illustrating how pronouns are used in informal speech vs. informal writing vs. formal writing. This kind of granularity is a great help to students who are looking to fine-tune their command of the language.

The 238-page communication guide, however, is where this book shines. Combining elements of a traditional grammar and a phrase book, the approach is novel: Rather than looking up a specific grammatical subject, you look up what communication task you’re trying to accomplish, and the book presents you with a range of options. A few of the headings give an example of the breadth of information here: “Giving permission”, “Reporting on other people’s opinions”, “Talking about plans for the future”, “Saying one is sorry about something”, “Describing a person’s character and attitudes”, “Saying how certain one is of something”, “Wishing someone a good sleep or rest”. Under each heading the book presents several options in varying levels of style and formality, from formal written style to highly colloquial informal speech. When there are multiple ways of saying something, the book discusses subtle nuances in meaning between them.

In a language with such distinct differences in formal style and register as Brazilian portuguese, being presented with a wide range of options for saying something is incredibly useful and allows you to choose exactly the right register for the situation.

Besides being a great reference to have for any student of Portuguese, I think this book holds special value for more advanced students. If you’ve already worked your way through a textbook and are wondering how to proceed, or if you’re an advanced speaker wanting to know how to get that native polish to your language, this book will help you immensely. Chances are, even if you speak the language pretty well, there are some things that still trip you up. For example, I still struggle to use era, estava, foi, and estive correctly when talking about the past — there are many cases where the choice between imperfect vs. preterite, and ser vs. estar is not at all obvious. Well, I guarantee you, whatever your particular stumbling blocks are, this book will provide some much needed clarity and nuance. I learn something new almost every time I open it.

Though this reference is definitely not a textbook and I wouldn’t recommend working through it cover to cover, there is an accompanying workbook of exercises that can help you practice the material in each chapter.

Another option: There is one other grammar reference that I think is of similar quality to Whitlam’s book, and that is Portuguese: A Reference Manual. The only thing I don’t like about this one is that it is visually chaotic, filled with tables and charts that could use the attention of a good typesetter, perhaps some different fonts or colors too.

There’s one more excellent option, but only if you are really deep into your Portuguese studies, or have a more academic interest in the language. Modern Portuguese: A Reference Grammar by Mario Perini (aka the orange book) is without a doubt the most detailed, comprehensive book on Brazilian Portuguese you can buy. It too takes an interest in detailing the differences between the written and informal spoken varieties of the language. Mario Perini is an actual linguist, and he has written a beautiful book that is sophisticated enough for fellow linguists but also accessible to motivated students — at least, I found it accessible. See my review on Amazon for more details.

Free alternative: There are a few online grammar references out there, though none with the depth, nuance and usability of a book. Here’s one of the better ones. A good online verb conjugator is Conjuga-me. And don’t forget that your library’s Languages department may stock some reference grammars.

Stay away from: Essential Portuguese Grammar (very outdated from 1966, no one speaks like this anymore, treats European portuguese only); Portuguese: An Essential Grammar (treats European Portuguese only); Portuguese Verbs And Essentials of Grammar: A Practical Guide to the Mastery of Portuguese (outdated and just…bad); Modern Portuguese: A Reference Grammar (an excellent book, but a huge tome written by a linguist for linguists)


Best Textbooks

When it comes to textbooks, a quick perusal of Amazon reveals that you have many choices – enough to be a little overwhelming. But some of these are much better for self-learners than others. The ones I recommend are specific to Brazilian Portuguese, do not teach an overly-formal style, and contain lots of writing and listening exercises that can be done on your own (as opposed to group or class activities that aren’t very useful for study at home). One thing to consider is that classroom texts are designed for 1 or 2 year courses, which means they present grammar and vocabulary sprinkled throughout thematic units. This can make studying more interesting and give you cultural insights, but it also makes it hard to use the texts as a reference for when you have grammar questions. It’s also not ideal for those who may want to learn at a faster pace. For this reason I suggest getting a grammar reference too – or consider using a comprehensive course designed for self study.

An excellent recent (2008) addition to the field, Muito Prazer teaches a colloquial and very contemporary style of Brazilian Portuguese. I think it is the best book out there for advanced beginner to intermediate students. But because it is written entirely in Portuguese (there are no English explanations), I think absolute beginners would find it difficult to get started without the aid of a teacher or tutor. Better for self-learners who already have some basic proficiency, or those studying with a tutor or class. Unfortunately, it is currently very expensive ($300-500!) to purchase through Amazon, even in used form. I recommend buying it at about half that price through Atlântico Books.

This is a hardcover classroom text, so it’s not cheap, but it’s very well produced and quite recent (2012). Alternatively, you can get the first edition (2007) for much cheaper. As its title, “Portuguese as a world language” would suggest, it is designed to be used in both European and Brazilian courses. In most of the grammar lessons there are two separate boxes for EP and BP so regardless of which dialect you’re studying, you can at least take note of the differences and be aware that there is variation. The grammar explanations are in English. A focus of this book is the different places in which Portuguese is spoken, and the editors have admirably included many readings and cultural notes from the oft-neglected African and Asian lusophone countries – Angola, Cabo Verde, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé & Príncipe, and East Timor – in addition to segments on the various regions of Portugal and Brazil. One problem is that the book is disorganized, with grammar scattered widely throughout the various chapters, making it difficult to use for self-study, or for a quick consultation.

The exercises in the book tend to be more conversational, requiring partner or small group work, which isn’t very useful for independent learners. To remedy this, you can get the separate student exercise book which contains plenty of written and listening exercises, though the cost for both books may be prohibitive. One great resource associated with this text is the student website, where even if you don’t own the books you can access a wealth of multiple choice exercises and audio clips. The audio clips are actually excellent listening practice because they’re one of the few times you’ll hear Brazilians speaking reasonably slowly.

This book from 2003 has clear explanations (mostly in Portuguese) and numerous reading/writing exercises to help you practice using the grammar. This is probably the best textbook for teaching grammar and has the most numerous and useful exercises.

 

Português via Brasil: Um curso avançado para estrangeiros

 For more advanced (third-year) students, I suggest this recently revised text from 2010. Entirely in Portuguese, this book presents some fairly advanced grammar and vocabulary that will take students to a very high level. It’s thoughtfully designed; unlike many books which have you learning vocabulary that you’ll never see again, this book draws new vocabulary from each lesson’s reading and then repeats it throughout the exercises, so that you encounter each new word several times. I found the exercises to be interesting and challenging.

One textbook series I have used but not liked is Avenida Brasil. Many teachers like it because it is entirely in Portuguese, but from my perspective as a student it is poorly designed and confusing.


Best Verb Reference: 501 Portuguese Verbs

While owning this book isn’t strictly necessary (the other books that I’ve suggested contain mostly the same information, albeit spread out over multiple chapters), it’s nevertheless a nice distillation of the nuances and complexities of Portuguese’s somewhat esoteric verb system. And esoteric it is – Portuguese probably has the most complex system of verbs of any Romance language. And with plenty of irregular verbs in the language, it’s nice to be able to grab this volume and easily find your answer when you can’t remember, say, the third-person plural of the imperfect subjunctive of trazer. I mostly use this book because it’s fast to look up information. In addition to the eponimous 500 verbs, it includes another 1,000 verbs in the appendix that are defined and referenced to similar verbs in the tables.

But the real value of the book is this: There’s something about seeing all those verb forms together on a single page that just makes verbs start to click. You begin to notice the patterns, the way certain forms are built off of other forms. You also notice the elegant parallels between the compound tenses: tem feito, tinha feito, teria feita, tenha feito, tivesse feito, tiver feito.

The 501 Verbs series varies a lot in quality depending on the language,  and this one is pretty good but not great. One thing a book about verbs should do really well, especially in a language with a bewildering plethora of moods and tenses as Portuguese, is explain the differences between the different moods and tenses. Unfortunately, this book completely omits any explanation. But if you own John Whitlam’s Modern Portuguese Grammar, and a towel – then Don’t Panic, because you’re in good hands. All you need are the tables. And tables this book has.

Free alternative: Conjuga-me is a online verb conjugator with a well-designed interface. It doesn’t give the compound tenses with ter, or provide definitions or example sentences, but it’s a great free reference.


Best online tutoring & conversational practice: StreetSmart Brazil

As fun and productive as it can be to study portuguese on your own, the best way to get better at portuguese is to speak it, at least weekly, with a native speaker. But what if you don’t live in a portuguese-speaking country, or have any portuguese-speaking friends? That might have been a problem, before the internet and StreetSmart Brazil came along.

This small company was founded by Luciana Lage, a portuguese teacher from Recife who now lives in San Francisco. Luciana has assembled an excellent team of teachers who offer classes both in person and over the internet using Skype.

I cannot recommend these folks enough. I have been doing a weekly hour-long Skype lesson with SSB for nearly two years now, and it’s been a fantastic experience (and very affordable as well). The best thing about these lessons is that they are personal and fully customized to your interests and needs. For example, when I came back from my first trip to Rio, I recognized that I really needed to work on my listening skills because I had found the way cariocas talk to be very difficult to understand. Luciana promptly hooked me up with one of her professors who is from Rio, who has been great at finding listening exercises for me. What impresses me most is actually that every instructor I’ve worked with has taken the time to come up with personalized lesson plans, creating exercises and assignments that are completely different every week. Every lesson is different and I never know if we will be watching a short film, listening to a song, reading a newspaper article, or listening to an audiobook story. The media then becomes a jumping off point for exploring vocabulary and grammar.

Another reason to do lessons with StreetSmart is that Brazilian Portuguese is a language with a lot of gîria (slang) and colloquial expressions that people use in conversation, but you won’t find in most books. Some linguists even think that the spoken variety of Brazilian Portuguese is so different from the formal written variety, it may almost constitute a different language. So to sound like a Brazilian, you need to learn from a Brazilian.

They are great for complete beginners, too. Luciana has created her own materials especially for beginners that introduce grammar by way of conversation. To see some of this teaching in action, you can check out SSB’s youtube videos.

I’ve been so happy with the progress I’ve made working with StreetSmart Brazil that I’ve asked them to give HackingPortuguese readers a discount. Just use the coupon code 10%offssbshcrtsts when you purchase your first subscription, and you’ll get a 10% discount.

See the page on Portuguese tutoring and group classes for more suggestions.


Best podcast (and best way to improve your pronunciation): Tá Falado

Tá Falado is a podcast produced by the University of Texas at Austin that is split into two sequences, one for pronunciation and one for grammar. Although it’s designed for Spanish speakers who are learning portuguese, I think it’s extremely helpful for English speakers too (the explanations are all in english). In fact, this was one of the first resources I used when I began studying portuguese, and it helped me develop solid pronunciation right from the start.

I think it’s a good idea when approaching a language for the first time to learn the sound inventory of the language, and build a foundation in pronunciation before you tackle grammar or vocabulary. Tá Falado is a great introduction to the sounds of Brazilian Portuguese and how they are different from both Spanish and English. If you are new to Portuguese, you will not understand most of the dialogs without the translation. That’s ok. The point is to focus at first just on the sounds before anything else. This will also help your reading as you learn to associate letter combinations in words with the sounds they make.

Once you’ve got the sounds down, move on to the grammar podcasts. Those who speak Spanish might be pleased to find out that grammatically, Portuguese eleminates a lot of the more confusing aspects of Spanish grammar (though it does have complications of its own).

Orlando Kelm, the producer and main teacher, reveals himself to be a friendly and charismatic instructor, and the two Brazilians and one Venezuelan are fun to listen to – Michelle in particular has a wonderful example of a Paulista (São Paulo) accent. The podcasts have the flavor of a group of good friends meeting up each week.

Another pronunciation resource is Forvo, a website where you can search for words and hear native speakers pronounce them. Portuguese is currently the second largest language on Forvo, with about 100,00 words available to listen to. For some words you can hear speakers from different regions with different accents, which is a neat way to hear the regional variation in pronunciation.


Best ways to learn vocabulary

For the absolute beginner, pick up a copy of Portuguese In 10 Minutes A Day by Kristine Kershul. This tiny workbook is an breezy and engaging way to build a basic vocabulary of common, everyday words: numbers, colors, times, seasons, weather, foods, clothing, household objects, and simple verbs. The book comes with a sheet of stickers that you can stick around your house to help you remember their names. While it does look a little silly to have a sticker that says “a geladeira” stuck on your refrigerator or “o abajur” on your lamp, it actually works really well since the visual association gets burned into your brain every time you see the object. The book is in a workbook format, which gives you plenty of opportunity to practice reading and writing. Save a few dollars and buy the version without the cd-rom, which isn’t that great. While this book won’t teach you very much grammar, its true value lies in the vocabulary and for that I recommend it.

For intermediate learners, I recommend A Frequency Dictionary of Portuguese, a wonderful way to optimize your vocabulary learning. It’s been said that the 1,000 most frequent words in English account for 85% of speech, and the same is probably true for Portuguese. With a frequency dictionary, you can put this fact to your advantage by focusing on learning the words you are most likely to encounter. This dictionary draws on the 20 million word Corpus do Portuguese to give you the 5000 most used words in the language, with definitions, and organized by frequency, part of speech, or alphabetically.

Free alternative: This might be only for the hardiest linguaphiles, but the rather amazing Corpus do Portuguese will let you create your own frequency lists of words, using the same database that the Frequency Dictionary draws on. While this offers you much more flexibility, you will have to look up the definitions yourself, and as a free user you can’t create lists larger than 1000 words. You’ll also have to learn to use the corpus web interface, which can be a little confusing — though as a non-linguist I was able to mostly figure it out after taking the 5-minute tour offered on the website. See my post on Using an online corpus to study more efficiently.

For intermediate and advanced learners, Anki is a free desktop program that can help you study the vocabulary lists that you create yourself, based on the principles of active recall and spaced repetition. These are the same principle used in the Pimsleur courses, where you are asked to recall a new word frequently at first and then less-often over time, according to a memory schedule. For each word, Anki creates a schedule that determines how often it will show you the word, based on your feedback of how easy it is to remember – easier words get shown less often, harder ones more often. This is much more effective than traditional flashcards, where you have to review the entire deck each time. There are even versions of Anki for iPhone and Android, which makes it very easy to study on-the-go. Before I discovered Anki, I did not really have a systematic way of reviewing vocabulary I had learned and moving it into long-term memory. After using it for a few months, just a few minutes each day, it has totally revolutionized how I study and how much I remember.


Best Portuguese-English Dictionaries

When evaluating dictionaries, one criteria is to look at how many entries they have — usually this will be written on the cover. You also need to decide whether a small pocket dictionary, a medium-sized concise dictionary, or a large unabridged dictionary will fit your needs.

Pocket Dictionaries

With the wide availability of dictionary apps and Google Translate available for any smartphone, I think pocket dictionaries are no longer necessary. If all you need is a quick and simple definition, there are much faster ways of getting it than thumbing through a dictionary. Better to invest in a more comprehensive dictionary that you can turn to when you really need to understand a more obscure meaning of a word, an idiom, or a bit of technical jargon. If you still feel you need pocket dictionary, Random House Webster’s Pocket Portuguese Dictionary is a good option.

Concise Dictionaries

 The Larousse Concise Portuguese-English Dictionary is a good compromise – with 230,000 definitions, it’s small enough to slip into a backpack but still comprehensive enough that it will probably have the word you’re looking for. A good workhorse, basically. It’s not quite as comprehensive as a real desk dictionary, but I’ve only been able to find a single desk reference online, and it’s both huge and very expensive. Pronunciation in the Larousse is given in a carioca dialect (that’s portuguese from Rio de Janeiro), but otherwise it’s fairly neutral between Brazilian and European Portuguese, and between American and British English.

Unabridged Dictionaries

The 5th edition Dicionário Editora de Inglês – Português was updated in 2010 and contains hundreds of thousands of entries. Though it’s from a publisher in Lisbon, it claims to include Brazilian vocabulary as well. It’s available in 3 versions:

  • an expensive hardcover desk reference
  • a free online reference at infopedia.pt – This is the best online dictionary I’ve found. I’m not certain if this version has the same content as the hardcover edition – some of the entries do seem a bit sparse. Hover the mouse cursor over “21 Dicionários” to choose the dictionary you want to search. In addition to the Portuguese-English version, there is a straight-up Portuguese version, a verb conjugator (choose “Verbos Portugueses” from the dictionary menu), an encyclopedia, and dictionaries for other languages.
  • a $5 iPhone app that has content identical to the online version, with a nicer interface – though it does require an internet connection. This is the best iPhone dictionary app I’ve found.

Online Dictionaries

Besides the free online dictionary at infopedia.pt, another rather ingenious online dictionary is Linguee.com. Linguee is unique because in addition to giving you a dictionary translation, it shows you snippets of human-translated texts, illustrating how human translators have translated the word or phrase, in context. This is an excellent resource that I use all the time when I’m writing a letter or an email, hunting for just the right phrase to use. The interface is beautiful and very sleek. I especially like that you can hover your cursor over one particular meaning of a word and see just the translated examples of that meaning.

Another nice feature is that Linguee is not limited to single words – it can search for short phrases, which is great when you consider all the phrasal verbs in English. This means you can translate things like “get up”, “get over”, “get out”. It’s hard to look up phrasal verbs like these in a traditional dictionary, and it’s also very tempting for English speakers to translate phrasal verbs like these literally. But Linguee is smart and correctly gives the translation of “get up” as se levantar, “get over” as se superar/recuperar, and “get out” as escapar  – three completely different verbs. Portuguese has its own share of phrasal verbs, and Linguee is great for these too – type in the expression dar à luz for example, and you get the idiomatic meaning “give birth”.

A few issues cause troubles: the translated texts are biased towards European Portuguese government/business documents, which tend to be quite formal, and sometimes the English->Portuguese translations are a bit thin or nonexistent. Hopefully Linguee will improve as they add more texts.

Another very good online dictionary is the one at WordReference.com. This has the advantage of giving you not just dictionary definitions and example sentences, but also threads on the WordReference forum where people have asked about usage questions. So the next time you want to know whether to use pular vs saltar, or aquecer vs esquentar, try it out!

Finally, as a last resort, there’s always Google Translate. While lacking the nuance of a good dictionary, Google Translate has become pretty good, at least in the Portuguese->English direction. When you type in a simple noun or a verb infinitive, it will often give you a whole list of definitions from which to choose, which is great for quickly understanding the range of meanings of a word. But even more powerfully, if you provide that word in the context of a phrase or sentence, Google will select the most context-sensitive definition. See Using Google Translate for Language Learning for suggestions on how to make the best use of this tool.

Slang Dictionaries

It’s true, Brazilian Portuguese is chock full of strange expressions and gíria (slang). You won’t find many of these in traditional dictionaries, but there are a few resources to help you out when you come across an indecipherable phrase or palavrão.

The Dicionário InFormal is sort of the Urban Dictionary of Portuguese, though less irreverent and ‘cleaner’. See also wikipedia’s article on Portuguese profanity and this page. Dirty Portuguese is a good book available on Amazon. Portuguese Blog features many posts on Brazilian slang. Finally, searching the WordReference forums may be able to help you out.


Best Portuguese Learning Blogs

  • Semantica blog – intermediate-level tips and new vocabulary (also available on facebook as “Learn Brazilian Portuguese”)
  • StreetSmart Brazil blog – beginner-level tips, instructional videos, and cultural news (also available on facebook as “StreetSmart Brazil”)
  • Portuguese Blog – a blog full of topical vocabulary lists (“Taking a Shower” – “Office Furniture” – “Locks”) and explanations of Brazilian slang and colloquialisms
  • Transparent Language Portuguese blog
  • http://erikspen.wordpress.com/ – excellent blog for intermediate/advanced speakers, with a focus similar to Hacking Portuguese
  • Eyes on Brazil – cultural notes with some language mixed in
  • Fun With Brazilian Portuguese – London-based Portuguese teacher Fernando Nonohay’s blog with a huge range of tips, videos, and translated song lyrics
  • Sua Língua – a blog in Portuguese written by a Brazilian linguist, exploring the etymologies of various words, grammar and idiosyncrasies of the language
  • Portuguese Tips – written by a linguist
  • brazilianportuguese.wordpress.com – though it hasn’t been updated in a few years, Dave Maclure’s blog has some great reviews of books and other tidbits
  • EatRio – a great new blog from an American expat about carioca culture and language

Some of these blogs syndicate to Facebook, where it’s very nice to get a few daily posts of Portuguese tidbits mixed in with your news feed. Many of them often post videos and songs that are great for listening practice.

Finally, this list wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention Atlântico Books, an NYC-based Brazilian book importer than stocks textbooks, novels, audiobooks, children’s books, and music books. This is a great place to go if you’re looking for something interesting to read in Portuguese, whether it’s a Harry Potter novel, a Paulo Coelho audiobook, or an easy-to-read children’s book like O Principezinho (The Little Prince). If it’s published in Brazil, proprietress Elena Como can probably get it for you.

36 Responses to The 10 best resources for achieving fluency in Portuguese

  1. Mike B says:

    I totally agree with this list! Streetsmart Brazil is amazing! We took classes with Luciana and LOVED it!!! She’s an amazing teacher! Very happy to see her school on this list!!

  2. Luciana Lage says:

    Congratulations on your website! It looks great and offers useful information in an easy to read and easy to find manner.

    I am very proud to see Street Smart Brazil featured here! Muito obrigada! It’s been delightful to see your very fast progress with Portuguese and involvement with the Brazilian culture.

    Desejo sucesso continuado!

  3. Miguel says:

    Olá, gostei do seu site, sou brasileiro e acho que o seu site é o melhor em dicas para quem quer aprender a lingua falada no Brasil.

    Eu escrevo para te dar um dica que é útil para o meu aprendizado do inglês mas pode ser útil para quem quer aprender português.

    Trata-se do site http://compara.pt/. É semelhante ao Linguee, porém acho o compara melhor, pois tem conteúdo mais fácil para inciantes.

    Hi, I really like your site, I am Brazilian and I think your site has the best tips for learning the language spoken in Brazil.

    I write this comment to give you a tip that is useful for me in my learning of English but can be useful for anyone who wants to learn Portuguese.

    This is the site http://compara.pt/. Linguee is similar to, but I think “compara” is the best because it has easier content for beginners.

    As you can see, I keep trying to improve my english. Heheh.

    • Miguel says:

      My mistake.

      The correct link is the follow:

      http://www.linguateca.pt/COMPARA/

      Sorry

    • Lauren says:

      Hi Miguel, thanks so much for your comment. I think Portuguese speakers who are learning English and English speakers who are learning Portuguese have a lot to learn from each other. It’s always interesting to me to see what translation resources English learners like yourself are using.

      Thanks for introducing me to Compara. I played around with it and I think I’ll write a blog post about it at some point. I noticed that the Linguateca site, which hosts Compara, has dozens of other intriguing linguistic tools which I’ll have to explore when I have time.

      Your English in the comment you left, by the way, was perfect. I would only change one thing: you wrote “I write this comment…” but I would say “I’m writing this comment…”. We almost always use the present progressive “-ing” tense when we’re talking about something we’re doing right this second.

      abraços,
      Lauren

  4. Eric says:

    Lauren,

    I accidentally found a language exchange partner. I was searching craigslist for community events to attend and found a brazilian student who had placed a language exchange ad. Maybe that’s something you could mention to others in your blog. It was a little different meeting someone for language exchange via craigslist but it has been very helpful.

    • Lauren says:

      Great tip. I’ve recently started doing language exchange with a paulista and it’s been a great experience and a totally different type of interaction than I am used to with my professoras.

  5. Amir says:

    You should not forget Priberam (priberam.pt). It is Portuguese-Portuguese and gives you the conjugation of all the verbs.

  6. Jake says:

    Hi! Great blog. I’m a Canadian living in Brazil, and I have been learning Portuguese for almost a year now. I’m mostly fluent, but I still have trouble with certain things, and I have been considering getting a text book to help me out. I think that the Portugues via brasil sounds good, but I’ afraid to spend the money on the book while already knowing what it has to teach. Could you give me a brief outline of the concepts covered in the book, just so that I can know if it is worth buying? Thank you!

  7. Monica V says:

    This is great, thanks so much! I give English lessons, but I’m also learning Portuguese, so I’ll be checking out loads of these pages. Thanks again for taking the time to make the list, great work. : )

    Monica

  8. John says:

    Great site….I’m presently studying Brazilian Portuguese. I’ve done some of your recommendations above: Pimsleur, Semantica, etc. but the question is, in our little town of Palm Coast, Fl. they are offering a course in Portuguese at a local adult education center but it is Continental Portuguese from Portugal. I am wondering if this would “hurt me more than help me” with my Brazilian Portuguese attempts. What do you think? thanks….John

    • Lauren says:

      O the one hand, it’s in the conversational aspects where I see the biggest differences between the two dialects. But on the other hand, any opportunity to actually use the language and speak it with other people is worth a hundred teach-yourself type courses. And you will learn a lot of vocabulary and grammar that is pretty much the same. It sounds like you have enough background in the Brazilian dialect that you’ll be aware of the differences when you encounter them – I say go for it!

  9. John says:

    Thank you for your quick response…..I’ll give it some serious thought. There are many more Portuguese speakers from Portugal around here than Brazil. Though my wife is a Brasileira (carioca) and I’ve been there four times it is questionable to whether I can discern differences in dialect :) … I’ll leave learning the “slang” up to the Semantica series, which are great. Being filmed in Rio (city) the lessons are truly the way people speak there. Looking forward to the new series James is puttiing out at the end of the year. Thanks again….beijos, tchau

  10. Mark says:

    Hi, I don’t think I saw it above, but the BrazilianPodClass.com on ITunes and the Internet is the most amazing FREE Brazilian Portuguese learning program I’ve experienced.

  11. Artur says:

    You may want to add another great resource, duolingo.com
    There is brazilian portuguese in beta version since a few months.

  12. Neva Kizior says:

    i always consult an online dictionary whenever i need to find the meaning of a certain word. they are really very useful indeed.””*

    Visit our very own webpage too
    <http://www.putsakahayopka.co

  13. Lauren:
    Any chance of your adding by website to your listing?

    Thanx,

    Jim Becker, Webmaster

    http://www.uni.edu/becker/PortugueseWebsites.html

  14. Karen says:

    Hey, olà!

    This is such a great resource-thanks for grouping all this together. Does anyone know of any business Portuguese classes available in North Miami/Hollywood FL area?

  15. PencilLed says:

    Thanks Lauren! Glad to see that you’re keeping this bad boy updated. Not bashing StreetSmart Brazil, I don’t have any experience with that school, but I have used other Skype based lessons… generally they aren’t that great. Seems a little messy to me. You highlighted all the benefits, but the cost is that you can’t have any interactivity on Skype. I switched over to BRIC Language Systems recently, and would suggest you check it out. :) Obrigado!

    • Lauren says:

      I disagree – you can have quite a bit of interactivity on Skype! It’s not quite the same as meeting in person, but I have had some great lessons with remote professors. And it seems like the BRIC Language System you mentioned also includes sessions with a remote teacher? In any case, thanks so much for bringing this to my attention. It’s pricey, but I’m very curious to see what they have developed!

      cheers,
      lauren

    • Lauren says:

      By the way, I’m curious about your experience with BRIC – would you mind sharing?

      • PencilLed says:

        Hi Lauren,

        Sorry about the delayed response, but I’d be happy to share my experience.

        The interactivity I was talking about included having powerpoint slides and pages from their book side by side with the video. My teacher is usually will use a whiteboard and draw out examples or whatever else she wants to do. One time she shared her desktop with me too, so she could easily show me some examples without me having to download anything. That’s the interactivity within the platform I was referring to. Because I’m lazy, and don’t want to have to download files from Skype or use another software to do some of the stuff.

        The other huge added advantage is that my lessons are autorecorded. So I can go back and literally watch the lessons as many times as I want to review or hear her pronunciation.

        This aspect reminds of this course I took at my university years ago, where the lessons were recorded. I liked it then so I could study for finals… This has turned into a rambling tangent.

        Hope this helps!d

  16. lilian says:

    These teaching tips will be of general help to Brazilian Portuguese teachers like me! I believe language learning is all details. I’d like to share my blog here, Where I teach everyday Portuguese: speakbrazilian@blogspot.com
    Boa Sorte!

  17. Asbjørn Hansen says:

    Infopedia.pt online costs money if you want to see the full translation to English or other languages. Only a couple of lookups pr. day are free, thereafter you only see one line and a link, “ver mais”. Costs 40 € for anual membership. The Android/iPhone version gives you the full version with no expiration. Infopedia is from Portugal, very good, no doubt the best alternative, but not always perfect for Brazilian portuguese (says my Brazilian wife).

  18. Patrick says:

    Fanstastic compilation, what is your opinion on rocket portuguese and babel??

  19. jude says:

    I think this blog should be renamed as hacking BRAZILIAN portuguese and to give The 10 best resources for achieving BRAZILIAN fluency in Portuguese. Well, dude not all of us are interested in Brazil. in fact many of us love portugal and people from portugal. By the way I doubt you can be fluent by using Pimsleur or using a textbook, but this is another issue….

  20. Piero says:

    Oi Lauren! Congratulations on the excellent blog and resource list that you have created. I have used these as a starting point for learning Brazilian Portuguese, and have found most of your suggestions really useful.

    In the spirit of community sharing, here are some additional resources which I have found to be incredibly useful and which I believe are not mentioned anywhere on your blog:

    1. The Mimic method (www.mimicmethod) is an really innovative, interesting and effective way to improve your pronunciation and reduce your accent so that you can sound as close as possible to a native speaker. The site provides instructions on properly producing the sounds in your target language, and then provides an extensive series of exercises in order to practice producing these sounds. You can then submit the exercises for correction by the creator and owner of the site (Idahosa Ness). Idahosa has an uncanny ability to pinpoint pronunciation errors and then to provide very helpful suggestions for correcting them. The exercises are based on learning the lyrics to parts of a song (in the target language) and then pronouncing those lyrics in order to “mimic” as closely as possible the original artist (at the same speed as the artist, herein lies the challenge!). Each learning unit provides detailed instructions on how to pronounce the lyrics correctly. I am not very musical, but I have still found Idahosas’ system to be extremely useful and effective. Idahosa himself is extremely helpful and supportive, and he typically provides feedback within 24 hours. You can sign up for free to try it out. If you like it, the entire course is very reasonably priced at about 75$ USD, including all the corrections and feedback from Idahosa (lifetime subscription).

    2. Italki (www.italki.com) is a great site for finding a tutor for one-on-one conversation Practice and/or lessons via Skype. The great thing about this particular site is that it provides access to a large community of tutors who provide excellent services at an incredibly affordable price. Prices range from 5$ – 20$ (USD) for a one hour session. In my case, I have found a superb tutor from Brazil who provides one-hour Skype sessions for 14$ (or 5 sessions for 50$) . The Italki site provides comments and ratings from previous and current students, so that you can “shop around” for a tutor based on this information. Many of the tutors also provide trial lessons.

    3. Dicionário Informal (http://www.dicionarioinformal.com.br/ ) is by far most complete dictionary that I have been able to find. Whenever all other dictionaries fail me, this dictionary almost always provides the definition that I am looking for. The great thing is that it also includes all slang and informal expressions found in Brazilian Portuguese, and so it reflects the language as it is actually spoken by Brazilians.

  21. evandro says:

    The on-line dictionary and book dictionary I like using is Michaelis -the are only portuguese dictionary and english -portuguese /portuguese- english dictionary. this has two version – school and modern dictionary
    (portuguese with other languages too) . link

    http://michaelis.uol.com.br/

  22. Max says:

    Thank you for this most informative blog, especially for me “the absolute beginner”. I’m using your suggestions and working my way down your list. By Aug. 1, 2016 I ought to be prepared for the Summer Olympics :-)

    You’re definitely bookmarked!

  23. Piero says:

    Here is another very useful resources which I don’t believe are mentioned elsewhere.

    If you are unsure of the pronunciation of a word in Portuguese, then the following web site provides very good (and generally very accurate) text-to-speech synthesis. You have a choice of 4 different voices for Brazilian Portuguese and 4 other voices for European Portuguese. You just need to pick Portuguese from the drop down menu (under Language).

    http://www.oddcast.com/home/demos/tts/tts_example.php?sitepal

  24. John Whitlam says:

    Hi Lauren, I just found and read your review of my “green book”. Thank you for your kind words. It’s very gratifying to know that you like it and find it so useful. My intention was to write the Brazilian Portuguese grammar book I always wanted but could never find when I first started to learn the language. It took me many years of working with Portuguese and living in Brazil to feel qualified enough to write a grammar for other learners, so it’s great to know that it has been so well received. And congratulations on your blog – keep up the good work and I wish you all the very best.

    • Lauren says:

      Oi John! I know my response to you is a bit belated, but thanks so much for stopping by and commenting on Hacking Portuguese. I still use your book all the time, even as I’ve achieved some degree of fluency, and I’m so happy to recommend it to others. According to Amazon our readers have bought 112 copies of MBPG and 49 workbooks over the lifetime of the blog :-)

      Lauren

      • John Whitlam says:

        Oi Lauren! Que legal! Thanks so much for helping to publicize the book. Grande abraço do Rio e tudo de bom!

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