How Long Does It Take To Learn Portuguese? 5 Tips To Learn Quickly

How Long Does It Take To Learn Portuguese? 5 Tips To Learn Quickly

Whether you love it or hate it, every second language is the hardest language to learn. And Portuguese is not an exception: you either hate it or embrace it. At the end of the road, you’ll find it rewarding to conquer another language and become fluent with it. And because of the availability of online learning materials, picking up language study has never been this easy before. At this age of accessible technology, it really all boils down to one question: how long does it take to learn Portuguese? 

There’s a lot of factors that affect the speed of picking up a new language. Time and motivation are among these factors and play significant roles in the overall language learning journey. But the most important factor is still your first language. Depending on your native tongue, you can either breeze through Portuguese or receive the hardest language lessons you’ll ever get in your life. 

If You Speak English

English is currently the de facto lingua franca used worldwide. Almost 20% of the Earth’s population can speak English to some degree. In fact, it is one of the most studied L2 languages, as well as the default settings for web-based platforms. 

But wait, aren’t we talking about Portuguese? What does knowledge of English have to do with Portuguese studies? As it turns out, your experience in English can help in determining how fast would you learn Portuguese and other romantic languages. 

The US Foreign Service Institute had observed how US diplomats react to learning new languages for 70 years. Based on their data, English native speakers will have tons of difficulties in Category IV languages or those that are very different in English. Among these languages are Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. 

Meanwhile, languages that belong to Category I are the easiest language to learn. These languages have the most similarities in English when it comes to grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and sentence structure. Category I includes Danish, Dutch, French, Italian, Norwegian, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish, and Portuguese. 

Most English speakers can take up to 24 to 30 weeks (or 600-750 class hours) to be able to speak fluently using Category I languages. So at best, a native English speaker will be able to learn Portuguese in the 24 to 30-week time frame. 

Can you master Portuguese in less than 24 weeks? It depends on a lot of factors, including your ability to pick up a new language. Take note that FSI conducted this study with the purpose of testing how fast can an English native speaker master another language with competence in professional settings. So if you’re learning at full speed, you can probably reach decent fluency with common phrases in 24 weeks or less. 

If You Don’t Speak English

Since Portuguese is in Category I, it is considered as a language close to English. Hence, non-English speakers who know a Category I language can still have an easier time learning Portuguese than those whose first languages are on other category tiers. For example, a Spanish speaker would find familiar concepts and language rules in Portuguese. 

But someone who speaks Korean or Japanese (Category IV) would likely face more challenges. This is because Category IV languages have exceptionally different linguistic and cultural differences compared to Category I languages. According to the same FSI study, it can take a native English speaker at least 88 weeks or 2,200 class hours to learn one of the Category IV languages. 

Language study is considered a never-ending journey of self-improvement. As long as you practice regularly, you’ll eventually reach the level of mastery that you want. What’s important is not giving up on Portuguese or any language that you aspire to master. 

Common Difficulties In Learning Portuguese

All languages have difficult parts, and Portuguese is no exception. Although some of its grammar rules and structures are similar to English, there are significant differences that can frustrate the majority of Portuguese learners. Here are some of the common difficulties in learning the Portuguese language. 

Gendered Inanimate Objects

English doesn’t use genders when it comes to inanimate objects. Hence, gendered inanimate objects are often very challenging to grasp. In Portuguese, even objects are considered either masculine (e.g. mapa for map, mar for sea) or feminine (e.g. arvore for tree, flor for flower). 

In most cases, words that end with “-o” or “-os” are masculine while those that end with “-a” and “-as” are feminine. What makes this concept hard to grasp is that this rule doesn’t always apply, and there are a lot of irregular exceptions. 

Object Pronoun Placement

Another difficult lesson in Portuguese is the object pronoun placement. You would often find yourself conflicted on whether you will use a pronoun before or after a verb. In addition, there are times that you need to drop the object pronouns altogether. What makes this problem more complicated is when there are multiple object pronouns at the same time. Although this problem goes away with experience, it can still trip you once in a while.

Verb Conjugation 

When you say “Portuguese verb conjugation” in a classroom, the next thing you’ll hear are groans of disappointment from Portuguese learners. WIth six grammatical senses and three different moods, a regular verb can be expressed in over fifty forms. This high level of inflection makes it hard for beginners to get confused in verb conjugation. On top of this madness comes irregular verbs, which makes things even more confusing and challenging. 

Spanish Pronunciation Confusion

Of all Romance languages, both Portuguese and Spanish take the spot of being very similar to each other. With some grammatical and phonology similarities, it’s hard to deny how similar Spanish and Portuguese are. Unfortunately, this is also the reason why a lot of learners pronounce Portuguese words using Spanish pronunciation. There are sounds in Spanish that don’t exist in Portuguese (and vice versa). Mispronunciation can create confusion in a conversation. 

Nasal Vowels

Nasal vowels do exist in the Portuguese language and are an important part of meaning perception. A single mispronunciation of a nasal vowel can change the meaning of a word. For example, the word “pau” means wood, while the nasal “pão” means bread. Since the nasal vowels is a new concept to a lot of Portuguese learners, they tend to ignore it and only focus on the traditional vowel sound they know. 

Different Kind Of Portuguese

Most of us are familiar with Brazilian Portuguese. In fact, this variant is the one with most speakers in the world. However, this is not the only Portuguese variant and is actually not the language that came from Portugal. There are two popular variants of Portuguese: Brazilian and European. The differences between these two variants are so big. It’s better if you choose either Brazilian or European and stick with it to avoid confusing habits. 

5 Tips To Make Learning Portuguese Easier

1. Focus On Common Verb Conjugations First

The verb conjugation skill is something that improves through time and practice. You can’t really force yourself to learn all the forms of one verb. This will not only make your learning experience boring, it will also delay your mastery of sentence construction and pronunciation. To learn Portuguese easier and faster, focus on the verbs that you would likely use daily. 

 

By using the common verb conjugations first, you can cut the effort needed before you can start having conversations. If your aim is to sound fluent, you might want to practice Portuguese slang instead. This way, you can start conversations and get understood better by native speakers. 

2. Know Your Pronunciations

As long as your words are clear and understandable, native language speakers can fill up the context of what you’re trying to say. In addition to studying common words and phrases, practicing your pronunciation is a must for fast learning. Work on your nasal vowels and make sure to practice your CH, LH, RR. 

 

Using audio and visual materials will help you a lot in practicing your pronunciations. Fortunately,  there are movies and TV shows on Netflix with Portuguese subtitles or dub. If you want shorter content, you can check our the best Portuguese YouTube channels around. 

3. Use A “Visual” Approach (For Gendered Words) 

Just like verb conjugations, learning gendered words is tough for beginners. You must use proper pronouns and know the proper placements of those pronouns in your sentences. And the first thing to do is to know what words are masculine, feminine, or neutral. 

 

When learning a new word, use a colored paper to create your list. For example, masculine words should be written on blue paper, Use pink for feminine words, and white for neutral ones, or those who have double forms. It’s a subtle way to learn with visual cues without additional efforts. 

4. Practice By Learning Full Sentences And Phrases

One of the common mistakes that a Portuguese learner does is learning isolated words. With the massive inflections that happen in the Portuguese language, learning single words is meaningless or might cause confusion. If you want to hold a conversation as soon as possible, learn full sentences instead. 

Don’t get it wrong, learning isolated words is good for expanding your vocabulary and improving your pronunciation. But learning in a  “words only” might confuse you with verb conjugations, tenses, and moods later on since one single word can have dozens of equivalents in different situations. Speaking of verb conjugation, it is recommended to learn the common word first before adding inflections. 

5. Get A Portuguese Tutor

When time is a significant concern, you might want to consider getting a Portuguese tutor instead. This way, you can cut your learning time in half by focusing on learning and using concepts. You don’t have to worry too much about exercises or how to measure your progress. Your Portuguese tutor can help you with that. Getting a tutor is a proven and tested way to learn Portuguese.

Final Thoughts

Whether you master Portuguese in one month or one year, the most important part is you enjoyed learning a new language. Flex your language muscles and get into practice!

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