Welcome to Hacking Portuguese! No matter whether you’re just thinking about learning Portuguese, already know a little bit, or are fully conversational, this site is here to help you level up and reach your goals. I have been a student of Portuguese for 3 years, and I only recommend things that I have actually used as a learner and found helpful.
First take 15 seconds and read this: How to learn any language.
If you’re ready to dive in, read on.
> You’re here because you want to:
- start learning Portuguese from scratch
- improve your pronunciation
- get a better handle on grammar
- expand your vocabulary
- improve your listening comprehension
- improve your reading comprehension
- have better conversations
- apply your knowledge of Spanish to speak Portuguese
- develop a learning plan
- take your existing Portuguese to the next level!
Start Learning Portuguese from Scratch
When you’re just starting out, the sheer number of Portuguese resources out there can be overwhelming. At this point, I wouldn’t worry about finding the ‘best’ course so much as finding something that hooks you on the language and keeps you coming back. Here are some courses that I recommend for absolute beginners; any one of these could be a gentle gateway to Portuguese:
Semântica Series 1 – These 30 short videos tell the story of Paul, a young American journalist who comes to Rio to write a travel story. Through his adventures (and mishaps) with his Brazilian guide Raquel, we get introduced to the sound and structure of Brazilian Portuguese as it’s spoken in Rio, and we learn enough of the language to survive as a tourist in the cidade maravilhosa. The videos are focused on situations that travelers will find themselves in: ordering food, checking into a hotel, riding in a cab/bus/subway, meeting a colleague. The story is entertaining and the instruction is well worth the price. Full Review
PortuguesePod101.com – A subscription-based website with multiple levels of instruction – more than enough to keep a beginner busy for a year. They have done an excellet job at creating a complete learning environment that includes integrated text and audio for reading and listening practice, a visual dictionary, and a built-in flashcard app for studying vocabulary.
Língua da Gente – a high quality beginner-level podcast from the wonderful folks at UT Austin’s BrazilPod.
Portuguese in 10 Minutes a Day – A gentle introduction to the language, this colorful, unintimidating book won’t teach you much grammar or pronunciation but will teach you a few hundred basic vocabulary words for everyday objects, colors, numbers, weather, clothing, and much more. The workbook format encourages you to practice by writing in the book, and sheets of stickers let you label household items with their Portuguese names. A great foundation for future studies. My recommendation: don’t bother with the CD version. Full Review
Pimsleur – Available for both European and Brazilian dialects, Pimsleur is much-hyped but, in my experience, really works. Over the course of 90 half-hour audio lessons, this course takes you from the absolute basics to a low-intermediate level, focusing only on the sound of the language. The recorded conversations and audio prompts provide ample opportunity for you to fine-tune your pronunciation. You won’t learn very many words, but you will learn them extremely well, and you will gain an instinctive feel for the structure of the language. Best of all: if you have access to a library, you can probably check out the cds for free. Full Review
Duolingo – Although I wrote a fairly critical review of Duolingo, I have heard from many people who used it to great success. It has a very gamified interface, and of all of these resources it’s the one you’re most likely to get addicted to. The biggest problem I see is that Duolingo trains you on reading and writing without much listening or speaking practice.
Rosetta Stone – I don’t need to say much about Rosetta Stone, other than that it is pretty good but very expensive, and you can learn just as well using the less pricey or free resources that I recommend here, if you’re willing to put in just a bit more work. Here’s some more of my thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of Rosetta Stone.
Byki – This flashcard app comes with a few dozen premade lists of beginner-level vocabulary, including professional-sounding audio pronunciations. A simplified version is also available for iOS devices. Good for hearing the sounds of Portuguese and learning some basic vocabulary and travel-oriented phrases.
Of course, nothing beats a good tutor or group class. Find one here.
Though there’s a lot of great Portuguese material online these days, there are still a few must-have reference books that you will probably want to own. Here’s my Portuguese Starter Pack.
Improve your Pronunciation
Tá Falado pronunciation podcast – Don’t let the speed of the speakers or the advanced level of the dialogs scare you away – you don’t need to understand what they’re saying to get the most out of this audio/pdf series. The focus here is on the sounds of Brazilian Portuguese, and no one explains it better than Professor Orlando Kelm and his amiable team of Brazilian and Venezuelan colleagues. Though it’s aimed at Spanish speakers, the explanations are in English and require no prior knowledge of Spanish (and as a bonus, you’ll learn a thing or two about Spanish in the process). Be sure to download the pdf guides for each lesson. Full Review
Pimsleur – Available for both European and Brazilian dialects, Pimsleur is much-hyped but, in my experience, really does work. Over the course of 90 half-hour audio lessons, this course takes you from the absolute basics to a low-intermediate level, focusing only on the sound of the language. The recorded conversations and audio prompts provide ample opportunity for you to fine-tune your pronunciation. Best of all: if you have access to a library, you can check out the cds for free. Full Review
Talking Brazilian: A Brazilian Portuguese Pronunciation Workbook – This is the only book I know of that focuses exclusively on the sounds and pronunciation of the language. A good resource for a beginner who wants to have a solid foundational, or a more advanced speaker who wants to improve their pronunciation and soften their accent. The accompanying CDs are good for those who don’t have the benefit of a native teacher.
Get a better handle on grammar
Tá Falado grammar podcast – A good basic overview of the unusual grammatical features of Brazilian Portuguese, most useful for those who are already familiar with at least one Romance language (esp. Spanish). Once again, you don’t have to actually understand the entire dialog to benefit from the focused grammar explanations. Be sure to check out the pdfs that accompany each lesson. Full Review
Modern Brazilian Portuguese – The best of a crowded field of grammar references, “the green book” as I call it teaches the language with an ear to how Brazilians actually speak. No matter where you are with your studies, this book will help you level up. The entire second half of the book is an ingenious Practical Communications Guide that every student should own. Whatever stubborn little points of grammar are frustrating you, I guarantee this book will demystify them and provide much-needed clarity. Intermediate/Advanced speakers especially will gain insight into the more subtle uses of the colloquial language. Full Review
501 Portuguese Verbs – You’ve seen these books before. If you’re ready to really get into the various verb moods and tenses – and no Romance language has more of them than Portuguese – then this is an indispensable reference. The explanatory chapter in the front leaves a lot to be desired (get the green book for that) but the real value is in the verb tables, a real lifesaver when you are learning irregular verbs and confusing pairs like ver versus vir. Full Review
You might also want to try one of the recommended textbooks.
Expand your Vocabulary
Portuguese in 10 Minutes a Day – For Beginners. This colorful, unintimidating book won’t teach you much grammar but will teach you a few hundred basic vocabulary words for everyday objects, colors, numbers, weather, clothing, and much more. The workbook format encourages you to practice by writing in the book, and sheets of stickers let you label household items with their Portuguese names. My recommendation: don’t bother with the CD version. Full Review
A Frequency Dictionary of Portuguese – Once you’ve acquired the basics, this simple dictionary of the 5000 most frequently-used words, sorted by frequency, part of speech and theme, will give you a broad base of more advanced vocabulary. Full Review
Portuguese Blog – Board games? Films? Pets? Taking a shower? Bicycling? Eggs? Whatever you like to do when you’re not learning Portuguese, Laurena Rowe’s blog has a page of vocabulary all about it. (And learning the jargon of your work, hobbies and interests is one of the best ways to increase your vocabulary). Or just pick a random list to study each week using Anki. Either way, you will have hundreds of new words at your command.
Portuguese-Flashcards – a brand new site that offers a fairly sophisticated vocabulary-learning platform. I checked out some of their intermediate word decks and was impressed to find that their words go far beyond the basics.
PortuguesePod101 – A subscription-based website with multiple levels of instruction from absolute beginner to high-intermediate. Each lesson introduces new vocabulary words, and a built-in visual/pronunciation dictionary and spaced-repetition flashcard system helps you learn them.
Anki – Widely acknowledged to be one of the most effective ways of memorizing almost anything, Anki is the best spaced-repetition software out there. It’s also available for iOS devices. Also see my page on how to get the most out of Anki. Full Review
Perhaps you also need a good online or paper dictionary?
Improve your Listening comprehension
I have a whole page on listening strategies and resources.
Looking for some Brazilian films to watch? Try here.
Improve your reading comprehension
Crônicas Brasileiras – A book of newspaper articles, short stories and essays about Brazilian culture, for intermediate-advanced students.
Atlântico Books – An NYC-based Brazilian book importer and a great (though not always cheap) source for Brazilian novels, literature, children’s books, nonfiction, textbooks, and music books. I recommend Ao Redor do Mundo, an intermediate-level collection of essays about all the places where Portuguese is spoken in the world.
Many textbooks contain interesting things to read. The best for this are Para a Frente, Ponto de Encontro, and Português via Brasil.
I also have a whole page on reading, including links to Brazilian newspapers, blogs and magazines.
Improve your Conversational skills
Verbling is a fantastic new site that lets you find language exchange partners (ie Portuguese speakers learning English) to practice with. There’s a built-in video chat interface to make it as easy as possible.
Find a tutor, a conversation class, or a meetup – If you live near a city, chances are there are opportunities to practice your Portuguese with teachers, other students and native speakers.
Apply your knowledge of Spanish to speak Portuguese
Tengo una página entera sólo para usted!
Build a learning plan
You’ll want the Roadsmaps to Fluency page
Take your Portuguese to the next level
High-intermediate and advanced speakers sometimes feel like they’ve reached a plateau where they’re not getting any better. If you’re ready to level up, try some of these resources:
Clica Brasil – A website for high-intermediate speakers with 7 thematic lessons that will enrich your knowledge of Brazilian culture and deepen your understanding of the grammar. Dozens of videos provide plenty of practice listening to Brazilians with every type of dialect and accent. Full Review
Conversa Brasileira – For the truly brave, or at least the already-fluent, CB provides annotated videos of Brazilians having real, unscripted conversations. It’s challenging stuff, but fascinating to observe the language in its natural environment. Orlando Kelm and a team of Brazilian instructors provide a play-by-play commentary on the expressions and structures deployed by the conversationalists. Full Review
Semântica Series 2 – Nearly as challenging as Conversa Brasileira, but scripted and more fun to watch, these videos show scenes in the daily life of young cariocas (Rio de Janeiro residents). The characters speak at a normal pace using lots of colloquialisms, but it’s all transcribed and explained through cut-in teaching moments. Well-acted and filmed on location in various settings across the city (Copacabana beach, Santa Teresa, a farmer’s market, a boteco, a favela, the bus, a salon) these dialogs provide an enjoyable glimpse into Rio’s unique culture and language. Observing the interactions with vendors is especially useful for anyone travelling to Brasil. Full Review
Português via Brasil – A textbook designed for third-year university classes, this is the best of the very few ‘advanced’ texts out there. If you think you’ve got a good vocabulary, try some of the readings in this book. Entirely in Portuguese. Full Review
Modern Brazilian Portuguese workbook – The companion exercise book for the excellent grammar reference that I suggested above. This is the Marine boot camp of grammar workbooks. It’s challenging, and contains no cartoons or audio, but it will get you where you’re going. I especially like the exercises for the Practical Communication Guide, which quiz you on using proper formal/informal register.
See also my pages on using an online corpus.
And finally, the best way to level up is just to go have more Portuguese conversations. Whether it’s via a Meetup.com group, an online tutor, a language exchange with an English learner, or a small group class, this page has plenty of suggestions on where to meet other people to converse with.