Dictionaries and resources to learn European Portuguese at different levels.

How To Learn European Portuguese For Free

Do you really need to learn European Portuguese if you’re coming to Portugal? The short answer is yes. Even if it’s only how to say please and thank you. How far you go beyond that will depend on many factors but if you’re planning to spend any significant amount of time here, it’s worth getting to grips with the language.

Once you get past the stage of having to resort to gestures and feeling as though you have the communicative powers of a drunk chimpanzee, you’ll be able to ask for, and in most cases get, the help or information you need rather than go home frustrated and baffled with your tail between your legs.

It needn’t cost you anything other than time, either.

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Should you learn Brazilian or European Portuguese?

Some Portuguese people may advise you to learn Brazilian Portuguese, claiming that it’s easier. That may be so, but why learn something that sounds very different from the way people speak in Portugal?  I don’t see the point of putting any additional barriers in the way of mutual comprehension. If you’re going to be using Portuguese to communicate in Portugal, it makes far more sense to learn the right grammar and pronunciation from the get go.

The trouble is, a lot of the resources for learning Portuguese are based on the Brazlian version. That’s why I’ve trawled through them to find free or dirt cheap language learning tools that focus on helping you learn European Portuguese. Use these and you can be confident that your attempts to imitate the native speaker’s pronunciation are at least a step in the right direction.

What level are you?

If you’ve studied a foreign language in the past 10 years or so, you might be familiar with these letters and numbers: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2. If you haven’t a clue what they mean, they are Council of Europe codes designed to standardise the levels that language learners reach.

In simple terms, A1 = Beginner, A2 = Elementary to Pre-Intermediate, B1 = Intermediate, B2 = Upper Intermediate (i.e. fairly independent language user) while C1 and C2 are Advanced levels.

You can use these codes to help you find courses and language materials that match your current level.

How to learn the basics of European Portuguese

There are plenty of free resources to help absolute beginners with greetings, essential vocabulary and useful phrases for travel and shopping.

Simple phrases and vocabulary 

The BBC website has a Portuguese language section which offers short videos, pronunciation practice, 10 facts about Portuguese and cultural and grammatical notes. Explanations and translations are, of course, in English. You can download some mp3s to practice offline, too.

If English isn’t your first language, or even if it is, you might want to check out Loecsen’s free online courses. Choose your source language then select a topic from various categories of phrases. You can listen to native speakers while you read the text and watch a simple animation that illustrates the meaning.

Although they start from the basics, the native speakers who model the phrases talk at normal speed so you’ll want to replay and repeat several times before moving on. As you read the accompanying text, think about how the words get smushed together when they’re spoken. Try to identify what individual words sound like in spoken sentences. This will help you cope better in live situations.

The paid version of Loecsen’s courses allows you to download mp3s and PDFs but I haven’t investigated that option.

Free for students, cheap for everyone else

The E-LOCAL online course offered by Coimbra University’s Centre for Social Studies has beginner level language and cultural information. Coimbra University students can register for free otherwise, it’s 20 euros for 1 year’s access. I find it a bit clunky but you can try a demo course to decide if it’s right for you. They cover 6 languages including Portuguese.

Video lessons for beginners

I found a series of videos on YouTube specifically for European Portuguese by native speakers with genuine Portuguese accents. The pace is rather slow but through repetition and building on verb forms, you get helpful drilling practice in conjugating verbs while learning vocabulary groups.

Grammar and vocabulary practice for beginners

Digital Dialects offers simple online games to help you recognise basic words and practice present tense verb conjugations. There’s no pronunciation support but you can get this from other sources.

Conjuguemos is probably my favourite discovery during the research I did for this post. I’m going to be using this one myself as it caters for more advanced verb conjugations as well as the basics. It also helps you study vocabulary in categories with flashcards and word lists. You then play games to test yourself and try to beat your own score. Set the timer for 5 minutes and see how well you can do.

Where to find multi-level materials

The Camões Institute have some online learning materials which are grouped according to level (beginner, intermediate and advanced) and skill (speaking, listening, reading) plus a few language games. It’s not the most user-friendly site in the world but it provides some challenging practice for higher levels.

And, as mentioned above, Conjuguemos covers a wide range of verb tenses, taking you into intermediate level and beyond.

Free face-to-face Portuguese classes

Some local councils offer a limited number of free Portuguese classes at various levels to help immigrants integrate better. The courses may be intensives in August or less intensive long-term classes that start in September or October and run until May or June. Classes are usually held in local schools or colleges.

Don’t get your hopes up, or rely on these courses. It’s hard to find out about them in advance of the start date and there aren’t that many in each district. Ask at your local câmara municipal.

If you’re living in Portugal and can’t find a free class, ask around and you’ll probably find a local private teacher who can come to your house or run small classes at a fairly low cost.

Otherwise, you could check the list of Portuguese for Foreigners courses run by various universities in Portugal but they usually involve a substantial time and financial commitment.

Learn European Portuguese the way it’s really used

Practice Portuguese is a great resource for intermediate learners. Joel Rendall, a Canadian, has teamed up with a Portuguese guy, Rui Coimbra, to produce regular videos and podcasts which Rui provides subtitles and transcriptions for. You have to pay a nominal subscription a month to get the transcriptions and full premium features but they are well worth it. They also provide a glossary of shortened words so you can see and understand what people actually say and practice sounding like a local yourself.

Portuguese food vocabulary

I just came across this very helpful glossary of Portuguese food terms. You’ll have to work out the pronunciation yourself, or with the help of an online dictionary that has audio but it will go a long way towards helping you understand menus in restaurants.

Practice your Portuguese proverbs

Portuguese Sayings is a fun Facebook page which translates traditional Portuguese proverbs into literal English which usually sounds nonsensical. Fortunately, it also explains the real meaning and when you’d use such an expression.

Pit yourself against native speakers

The 1990 Acordo Ortográfico (orthographic agreement) was designed to simplify the spelling of Portuguese and remove redundant letters and accents. The result? Even the Portuguese are confused about when to use a circumflect (^) and plenty more besides. The national television channel RTP has a regular feature called Bom Português where they stop passers-by and test their knowledge of their own language. It could help you learn the correct spelling of tricky words, too.

Watch Portuguese television online

Even if you’re not living in Portugal or hooked up to the national channels, you can still watch programmes on demand on your PC or mobile devices via RTP Play.

The best Portuguese radio station for listening practice

I made a concerted effort last year to listen to Portuguese radio when taking the dog for a walk. The best station for this, i.e. the one with more speaking than music, is TSF, which you can also listen to online. It’s a bit like listening to the more serious BBC radio stations which makes it easier to understand as there’s less slang and chit chat and more journalistic news reporting.

Dictionaries and CD courses (not free)

Several people have recommended the Michel Thomas course to me so I tried it out. It’s an interesting method of teaching Portuguese which is especially good for people who learn best through listening.

You’re not allowed to write anything down but they do spell words out to help visual learners cope. There’s lots of pronunication work and helpful memory hooks to help the vocabulary and grammar stick in your mind.

The courses aren’t free but they don’t cost the earth, either. This is the beginner level programme but there are more advanced packs, too.

Of course,there are many Portuguese-English dictionaries to choose from. This one isn’t bad for general use at lower levels and it includes a grammar reference section, too: Collins Portuguese Dictionary and Grammar (Collins Dictionary and Grammar)

I haven’t actually tried this but after rediscovering my stepdaughter’s Disney picture dictionary, I can see the value in a grown-up’s version. It’s had good reviews on Amazon: Portuguese-English Visual Bilingual Dictionary (DK Bilingual Dictionaries)


That’s all I have for you at the moment but please let me know if you know of any other free or nearly free resources to add to the list.

Otherwise, feel free to share your Portuguese language learning successes and frustrations in the comments.

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Resources, advice, links to courses, language games, videos and other resources to help you Learn European Portuguese
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49 Comments

  1. Hi Julie

    Can you amend the comment I sent earlier. I meant to say: For more podcasts, go to the bottom of the page and select ‘Efemerides’. Sorry about that.
    Sue

    1. Done, Sue. Thanks for the tip 🙂

  2. Hi Julie. What a brilliant site – thank you for you investigations. I use this podcast site for listening practice. It’s very fast but each podcast lasts only for about 5 minutes. It’s made by a radio station in Madeira and is about what has happened on this day in the past. For more podcasts go to the bottom of the page and click ‘Efemerides’ and then choose a day. This one is for 1st July.

    http://pef.pt/sitepef/podcast/efemerides-01jul2017/

  3. Hi Julie – Great post, have finally made it to the end 🙂 Just wanted to say the linguee dictionary is really helpful, have you tried it? It gives you lots of examples from authentic texts and for the entry you see all the similar words, added preopsitions etc plus audio for most words in both European and Brazilian Portuguese. You can put it as an app õn your phone / device and download a dictionary to use when you are off line (not as extenseive as the online version, but really good, a lot better than most)

  4. Hi, You mention the BBC website and their Talk Portuguese materials which are also available from bookshops. I bought a pack but heard that it is Brazilian. Also the BBC web page makes references to Brazil, so I took it back (no mention on the packaging). Not that I’m an expert. Its the only off-the-shelf material I’ve found. Can you confirm if its European or Brazilian. I’m moving to Portugal and as you say, I want to get it right. Thanks.

  5. This post is terrific!!! Since my trip to Lisbon in 2015, I have been very interested in learning Portuguese. I took 5 years of Russian “back in the day”, and the sound of Portuguese reminds me very much of Russian. I wasn’t sure where to start when it comes to learning European Portuguese. So thank you so much for this!!!!

    1. You’re welcome! Boa sorte 🙂

  6. If anyone needs comprehensive, specific, translations between Portuguese and English words (with pictorials thereof), I would recommend the Oxford-Duden Pictorial Portuguese & English Dictionary. It was last published in 1993 but a good-quality, second-hand, version can still be bought from Amazon for around €23. And none of those words, whether they be topic, profession, or industry related, have changed in the interim.

    1. Author

      Thanks for your suggestions, Yvonne.

  7. Thank you for your research! My specific problem is with spoken Portuguese, and I found a couple of useful audio sites in your list.

    I worked at a Portuguese firm where the lingua franca was English; my Portuguese colleagues were bilingual. However, I did learn to read/write Portuguese tolerably well. And, having fallen in love with the country, I decided to retire here. I’ve become part of the local community — but they have to make an effort to comprehend my awful pronunciation (and repeat everything said to me at least twice). Seeing their furrowed brows as they do so makes me painfully aware of my deficiency!

    That said, I am a qualified TEFLA teacher (Teaching English as a Foreign Language to Adults). So I will now explore the other options that you mentioned: I speak English, they speak Portuguese.

  8. Julie, Some useful suggestions in your blog here and from your readers, for learning European Portuguese. Thanks for these.
    Now, I’ve a poor record at acquiring any second language, but given the frequency of my visits, would benefit greatly from reaching just A1 level of competence in European Portuguese. Haven’t yet made my choice of which learning resources to follow, but can offer the following additional discoveries for other potential learners:
    http://www.learningportuguese.co.uk/
    http://www.learn-portuguese-with-rafa.com/
    I’ve promised friends in Lisbon I’ll at least make some serious effort this year (2016). Choice of program initially determined, perhaps, by availability of Android apps and mp3 resources. That is, before thinking of committing to more structured learning, commitment and expense. Sustaining motivation as a distance learner will be a big challenge for me. Garry

  9. Great site! I am however still lost…lol I would like to learn European Portuguese as my bf speaks fluent and spanish, english as well. His relatives are from Azores and my great aunt who is not alive anymore was from there too. I would like to impress him by learning this. I however was diagnosed with late stage lymes disease this year and it has done damage to my brain. 🙁 This especially being short term memory…so I am not sure if I can do this or not and need to find something that works for me so I can speak to him. Any help you can provide I appreciate and I am on a budget as well.

    1. Author

      Hi Nicole, I don’t know how successful it would be for you personally, but the Michel Thomas course involves lots of repetition and helps with memory hooks.

  10. Listening to the radio and waching tv without subtitles are good options, like Jackie said. Another one is getting envolved with people. When you go shopping ask the employees about a certain product. He/she will notice you aren’t from here and will try to explain in english, but just tell them to say it in portuguese (even say that you are german and don’t quite understand english). In a coffee shop or other public place try to understand what other people are saying to each other.

    1. Author

      Thanks for the tips, Rui. I found listening to the radio especially helpful, and eavesdropping 🙂

  11. Hello Julie, thank you for that post – I’ve been fed up with coming across tons of great websites/apps with Brazilian Portuguese when I was looking for the Portuguese from Portugal. Conjugemos website seems great for drilling the verbs, exactly what I was looking for. Thank you again and all the best! 🙂

    1. Author

      You’re welcome! Happy to hear you found it useful – I had the same frustrations, which is why I complied this list. Boa sorte!

    2. I can´t remember if someone has already mentioned the http://www.memrise.com site or not. However, I just found it and it has a number of free lessons in European Portuguese.

  12. Language Exchange Websites

    In the last two months I have acquired numerous Portuguese pen pals and Skype partners from the websites below. This has been a great help to me in speaking the language.

    The first was MyLanguageExchange.com. There is a free membership. However, the Gold Membership gives you the right to contact anyone and not just wait for people to contact you. It was cheap, about US $6 for the first month or about $18 for a three-month subscription. This is a serious website and the folks who responded wanted a mutually beneficial language learning exchange experience.

    Next was PenPalWorld.com, which is free for a basic membership. This free membership has worked well for me. While it is not specifically a language exchange site, you can specify in your profile that that is what you are looking for. Again, I got very good responses from good quality people.

    Last is livemocha.com which has a free component, a social network feature, and some pay lessons. I have not used this but did read an excellent review of the site in the New York Times. It was highly recommended.

    In summary, if you are a native English speaker you will be in demand on any of the above sites. The Portuguese economy is so weak that many Portuguese want to learn English either to improve their ability to compete in the workplace or just to emigrate to somewhere else.

    Also, if you are an English speaker based in a European time zone you will be in great demand. That is because many Americans, Canadians and Australians live in time zones that are difficult for most Portuguese to coordinate with.

    To give you an idea of the demand there is on the first two of the above websites: In the first month of placing my advert I had over 50 responses. I whittled that down to about 6 people who I to have a lot in common with and to connect well with.

    Now, I do six, one-hour Skpye sessions per week; plus, numerous e-mail exchanges and text chats. It doesn´t get any better than this!

    Good luck!

    1. “good quality people” lol as in good quality beer 🙂 Anyway, I remember when internet still didn’t exist, in the times of Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum computers, we exchanged “snail mail” letters with other young people around the world with the “Pen Friends” company, and I felt so good everytime I received one. It was first opportunity to comunicate with other people in a language that was not my own.
      Then a few years later, in the times of Windows 95 and 98, I spent many hours chatting online using the good old program mIRC. My english improved a lot. That and spanish. At least in writing 🙂
      My favourite IRC channel, Dal.Net, still exists (you can find it in google), but I don’t know what languages besides english you can find there, and the amount of users. As an alternative, there are many dating websites, some of them free, that usually have chat rooms. The advantage of dating websites is that you can start a relationship, in case you don’t have one, and eventually have a pillow friend 🙂 , who would really be your greatest teacher.

      1. Author

        LOL, Rui. I like the dating site to pillow talk idea, although I don’t think my husband would be too thrilled if I tried it 😉

    2. Author

      Thank you so much for this very useful tip and for sharing your experience. I’ll have to give them a go and I’m sure other readers will find this useful.

  13. Hi,
    I thought a native speaker of spanish like mexicanoandino would find portuguese easier to learn. My spanish is good and I’ve never learnt it (I’m a native portuguese), but I read a lot in spanish on the internet, and listen to what people say on youtube and tv, and both languages are very similar.
    In the case of english, it is very easy 🙂 The grammar, vocabulary… and it’s everywhere! although the accents take a little effort initially, like the one of Liverpool (they speak half words 🙂 ).
    Now I’m trying to learn german to get level A2 (in six months 🙂 ), and compared to english, it is much much harder. Many of the words don’t remind me of anything.

  14. INDUSTRIAL STRENGHT PORTUGUESE COURSES. Hi, Julie, nice blog! I needed to attain a high level of European Portuguese proficiency fairly quickly. Thus, I took all four of the Instituto Camoes on-line courses A2 through C-2. Also, I have completed a self-study of the Ponto de Encontro program used by Harvard and Brown universities in the USA. The Ponto de Encontro program consists of a detailed university-style text book in English and a European Student Activities Manual, each of which is over 500 pages. Also, the program comes with dozens of CDs and DVDs containing hundreds of hours of dialogs and exercises. Finally, there is an answer key guide to the exercises. This was published in 2007 and you can buy used copies various places on-line. Fortunately, they just came out with a new edition, so, the older edition is now much, much cheaper. I highly recommend both the Instituto Camoes classes and the Ponto de Encontro program. However, please be aware that they require a lot of time, effort, and determination; you are doing university level programs. Nevertheless, the payoff is enormous! (Finally, a disclaimer: I have no vested interest either financially or professionally in either of the above recommended programs.) Boa Sorte!

    1. Author

      Wow, that’s hardcore language learning! Thanks for sharing the tools you used – it could be useful for others who need to get up to speed with Portuguese. I wish I had the time to devote to perfecting my Portuguese but, as always, there are always too many demands on my time!

  15. Hi, Is there a Portuguese language program you could recommend to some one who is dyslexic. Thanks

      1. My children and husband are dyslexic – we lived in Spain for 4 months last year and the children went to school there for a term so that they could get a chance to immerse and learn by ear as much as possible. It wasn’t quite long enough for them to master the language but my daughter in particular understands a lot and my son (who was 7 at the time) has an amazing Spanish accent even if he doesn’t know what all the words mean! I loved the Michel Thomas CDs and, although they are a bit boring for children, I put them on in the car when we are all in there together sometimes and my husband and children are learning quite well from them. My husband and I have had Spanish lessons together in the past and I would say that the Michel Thomas method worked better than formal lessons for him. I know there are different forms of dyslexia and some dyslexics struggle to learn by ear but because Michel Thomas is not paper based I would say it’s definitely worth a try. I just play it over and over whenever I am in the car by myself. I know in theory you should not be doing anything else and give it your full attention. I found that when I learned Spanish with this method that I had to listen to the CDs probably hundreds of times before it was properly cemented in my brain to the point that the words were just there when I needed to use them in real life situations. But as driving time is often just wasted time it made sense to use it. We have actually just bought a house in Portugal – and so I have just embarked on the Michel Thomas method CDs in Portuguese. I think they are good for getting to grips with basic verb conjugation and other commonly used words that you need to form sentences. I would say that they do need to be used with other resources because they don’t cover other basic things like numbers or the time for example – but these things are quite easy to learn anyway. Another basic learning resource we have tried for beginner’s Portuguese is Ear Worms which again is a listen only CD and the idea is it gets into your brain by saying Portuguese phrases in an annoyingly rhythmic way and they kind of stick! Just as a side note to Julie – loved your post on Monsaraz – we have bought our house quite near there. We have had a love affair with the Spanish/Portuguese borderlands for years and couldn’t decide which side of the border we loved best. Portugal won out in the end.

        1. Author

          Hi Heather, Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences with learning both Spanish and Portuguese. It’s good to hear about what seems to work well for the dyslexics in your family, too.

          I’m also pleased you chose Portugal, and such a lovely part of it. I love both countries but Portugal wins for me these days, too.

    1. Hi Paul, I don´t have a direct, clear answer for your question. However, maybe something of the following will be of help. My son had a speech disorder, which is quite different than dyslexia. However, the therapists that helped him correct this problems worked a lot with phonetics, pronunciation exercises, and speech therapy. On another note, one of the biggest problems for anyone learning European Portuguese is correctly forming the various sounds that this language presents.

      I am an advanced student of Portuguese and two resources that I have found helpful have been: 1) Guia Prático de Fonetica by Hermínia Malcata, Lidel Edições Técnicas, and 2) the Paul Meier Dialect Services website has a free interactive International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) Chart. By using these two resources, one can really perfect the pesky pronunciation problems of Portuguese.

      I wish you the best in your learning journey!

  16. Thanks for this, Julie. The TSF radio is on in the kitchen non-stop now (and I’ve had to readjust the wall clock again now that I understand their news bulletins are two mins before the hour!) It was just what I was looking for. (They were playing The Smiths recently too!)

    Jackie

    1. Author

      The Smiths is enough to make me want to boycott the station! Glad you’re finding it helpful. I felt ridiculously pleased with myself the first time I fully understood a traffic report 🙂

  17. Thank you very much for this information as I want to help my husband start his Portuguese journey. I am using livemocha.com at the moment, the free version. You can receive lessons in excahnge for correcting other people’s attempts to learn English but I have not found anything other than beginner’s Portuguese on there so far.

    1. Author

      Happy to help, Celia. I hope you both find them useful.

  18. What a wonderful gift of your time and effort! Thank you so much for compiling this list!

    1. Author

      You’re welcome! Let me know how you get on…

  19. Julie, you have done so much legwork compiling this list, it’s so helpful. In December 2012 the only European Portuguese language resources I could find in the (massive) Toronto Library system was the visual bilingual dictionary, a CD, and two books. A Brazilian guy helped me look, but even he could only find Brazilian materials. I lived in “Little Poland”, only one neighbourhood over from “Little Portugal” but it was even difficult to find someone to pair up for a language exchange. I thought it would be easier with the big Portuguese community in Toronto, but it seems that the diaspora in Canada from Portugal — the last big wave was 2 generations ago — isn’t “fresh” enough compared to the recent wave of Brazilians there who are trying to learn English. It’s hard to ignore the BR:PT population ratio of 20:1, I suppose. The Brazilian guy, out of habit, would pronounce in Brazilian but then follow it up with “but they say it this way…” Poor guy.

    I’ve made a few gem discoveries in your list, but see no mention of the Pimsleur method, which I saw someone had reviewed quite positively:

    http://hackingportuguese.com/rosetta-stone-vs-pimsleur-vs/

    Have you tried it?

    1. Author

      Thanks, Gail. I hadn’t heard of the Pimsleur method before. It sounds quite similar to the Michel Thomas course in some ways in that it helps you construct phrases so you can ‘think on your feet’ when using Portuguese in real life although MT focuses solely on European Portuguese.

  20. Great resources Julie ! I’m learning French (again, as I had studied at school so many years ago) with a CD course. i will look at the Loecsen’s online for their French.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Sami. I hope you find it useful. I was surprised to find such a range of languages covered on their site, not just the popular ones.

  21. That’s all! Hehe, Julie this is such an amazing and comprehensive resource! You must have spent days researching this.

    Thanks for publishing such a useful post. Now the only excuse not to get more proficient at Portuguese is lack of time.

    Bookmarked.

    1. Author

      Yes, it did take me a while to find and check out these resources 😉 Now I need to find the time to use them! Good luck with your studies, Nick.

  22. Thank you Julie, very informative and helpful as usual. As I live on The Spanish side of the border, I have been concentrating on Spanish, but at some point I really will have to tackle Portuguese;it is only courtesy as I spend as much time there as here. I am amazed by people who move to a foreign country and make no attempt to learn the language. I have a friend who has lived in Portugal for about 8-10 years and can say nothing beyond “obrigada” I dont live in Portugal, but even I can manage more than that. I find languages very difficult, but at least I try. Her daughter in law told me of an amusing incident a few weeks ago, when she came into the small supermarket just as her mother in law was being served and was in time to hear the shopkeeper say “Dont you think it is about time you learned the language?” and her mother in law was cheesing and gurning at her like we all do when we havent a clue what has been said! Yet this same lady is very vocal about immigrants to England learning English!

    1. Author

      Hi Shelagh, I agree with you in that I think it’s important and basic good manners to learn the language of the country you are living in, as your friend who complains about immigrants in England says, although she obviously doesn’t ‘walk the walk’.

    1. Author

      Thank you for adding these. I’ve used the online dictionary and have found it very useful. I didn’t know about that grammar section but it looks really comprehensive and helpful.

Over to you. Please share your thoughts in a comment.