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 the basics in Portuguese will depend on many factors but if you’re planning to spend any significant amount of time here, it’s definitely worth getting to grips with the language.
Learning Portuguese can be a challenge but it can also be fun and rewarding.
Once you learn how to speak Portuguese, you’ll get past feeling as though you have the communicative powers of a drunk chimpanzee. It really is empowering to 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.
You have plenty of choice as to how to learn Portuguese and it needn’t cost you anything other than time, although there are plenty of reasonably-priced paid resources like Portuguese dictionaries, phrasebooks and home study courses.
My favourite resource is the Practice Portuguese website as it helps you learn European Portuguese the way it’s used in everyday life. More on this later…
Should you learn Brazilian or European Portuguese?
Some Portuguese people may advise you to learn Brazilian Portuguese, telling you that it’s easier, or at least that’s the advice I got when I first moved here.
Perhaps it is easier to pronounce, but why learn a version of Portuguese that sounds very different from the way people speak here in Portugal? The subtle differences in vocabulary, pronunciation and usage between Brazilian and European Portuguese can affect your ability to communicate effectively.
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, learning European Portuguese just makes more sense!
The problem is that a lot of the available resources for learning Portuguese are based on Brazilian Portuguese.
That’s why I’ve trawled through many of the available resources to find free or dirt cheap language learning tools that will help 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.
How to learn the basics of European Portuguese online
There are plenty of free or very cheap Portuguese courses online to help absolute beginners with greetings, essential vocabulary and useful phrases for travel and shopping.
Simple Portuguese phrases and vocabulary
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.
Practice Portuguese Learning Studio (paid) has plenty of exercises for beginners and lower levels that will help you remember key words and how to form simple sentences through to more advanced levels. You also get to practice your pronunciation using examples by native speakers.
Learn Portuguese with Rafa gives you both European and Brazilian pronunciation of Portuguese words and phrases. You can listen and repeat or use his version of phonetics to help you pronounce words. There’s a useful explanation of commonly used expressions such as pois and much more.
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.
Free for students, cheap for everyone else
You can learn Portuguese online through Coimbra University’s Centre for Social Studies E-LOCAL online course . It provides 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 Portuguese 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.
Where to find multi-level materials to learn European Portuguese
Practice Portuguese podcasts are a great resource for learners at various levels. A Canadian/Portuguese team produce regular videos and podcasts which Rui provides subtitles and transcriptions for and you can control the speed at which you listen. They also have a quick dip feature called Shorties.
One of the things I love most about this resource is the element of fun they incorporate. Rui ropes in his parents and grandmother as well as other local friends to create videos and podcasts that offer a wealth of natural expressions in everyday situations.
While anyone can listen to the podcasts for free, 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.
Conjuguemos is one of my favourite discoveries during the research I did for this post. I use 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. You can learn other languages using this tool, such as Spanish and Italian.
The Alto Commissariado Para As Migrações (High Commission for Migrations) has recently launched a learn Portuguese platform. Instructions and welcome video are available in Portuguese, English and Arabic and learning materials cover elementary (Level A) and intermediate (Level B) topics.
You can learn vocabulary and grammar and practice your listening, reading and writing skills with online exercises and tasks. I don’t know if it’s possible to skip straight to the level B materials – I started in Level A to see what it was like and the system won’t let me see Level B until I complete A.
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.
Learn Portuguese From Portugal offers recordings of short texts so you can listen and read. Certain grammatical and vocabulary items are highlighted and explained and you can choose from easy, intermediate and difficult texts. Bear in mind that ‘easy’ is not for absolute beginners. Rita has also written a bilingual book of poetry specifically designed to help learners go beyond transactional language.
Home study Portuguese courses (paid)
Michel Thomas home study courses
Several people have recommended the Michel Thomas Portuguese 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. Note that you’ll need a CD player.
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 Michel Thomas programme but there are more advanced packs, too.
Books to learn Portuguese: dictionaries, phrase books & grammar books
Portuguese phrase books
If all you need is a little backup to help you out when you’re actually in Portugal and trying to get around, a pocket phrasebook may come in handy.
If you’re looking for a European Portuguese dictionary there are many Portuguese-English dictionaries to choose from.Collins Portuguese Dictionary and Grammarisn’t bad for general use at lower levels and it includes a grammar reference section, too:
After rediscovering my stepdaughter’s Disney picture dictionary, I can see the value in a grown-up’s version. This Portuguese-English Visual Bilingual Dictionary (DK Bilingual Dictionaries) is worth a look.
Portuguese grammar books
If you want to go beyond the tips in the above-mentioned dictionary, Portuguese Verbs & Essentials of Grammar is a very useful book which explains European Portuguese grammar usage in an easily digestible manner.
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.
Apps to learn Portuguese with
There has been an explosion of late in a variety of apps you can use to learn a range of languages, some are great, some not so good. These learn Portuguese apps can be the most affordable language resource and, of course, if you have your phone with you, you can study no matter where you are.
These apps tend to focus on vocabulary. One of the better ones is Memrise. The audio is good quality and expressive and native speakers are used in the videos.
L-Lingo Learn Portuguese uses images and has the benefit of allowing you to slow down audio clips.
If you want video content that’s ideal for language learners then FluentU is worth considering. These videos have interactive quizzies to help you with in-context definitions.
Portuguese translation apps
Of course, it’s always best to try to learn and use the language as naturally as possible. However, that’s not always possible. For these cases you do have translator apps. Just say what you want to communicate and the app translates for you. Difficult to have a fluent conversation but they work a treat. And they translate signs, documents and handwriting, too.
Trip Lingo offers culture guides, interactive flashcards, essential travel safety advice and much more.
Learn European Portuguese in Portugal
Free face to face classes
If you’re considering how to learn to speak Portuguese some local councils offer a limited number of free Portuguese classes at various levels to help immigrants integrate better. These classes definitely help to build confidence if your aim is to have a conversation in Portuguese.
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. Or check this page for contact details.
Online Portuguese classes
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, such as those run by Emma Sharratt at Portuguese Language Lessons – she also offers online classes.
Increasingly, the language schools in larger cities are offering online classes, either to groups or one to one. See Learning Center has been working in the online teaching sphere for a number of years but there are many others.
Portuguese food vocabulary
I 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.
If you enjoy a social drink on your travels, this post will help: How to say Cheers! in 50 different languages
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.
Even the Portuguese get confused about when to use a circumflect (^) and plenty more besides. The national television channel RTP had a regular feature called Bom Português where they stopped passers-by to 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 and other stations, including SIC and TVI.
The best Portuguese radio station for listening practice
I made a concerted effort to listen to Portuguese radio when taking the dog for a walk and it really did help my comprehension. 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.
Podcasts in European Portuguese
Thanks to a reader suggestion (thanks, Nick), I have discovered the joys of Portugueses no Mundo (Portuguese in the World). This is a fairly regular feature on RTP1 and is available to download as a podcast. Not for beginners, this is unabridged Portuguese and may be tricky to understand at times but offers insights into the experiences of Portuguese people living, studying and working in other countries.
If you’re still considering if Portugal is the place for you, check out my Why Visit Portugal? 15 Reasons To Make It Your Next Destination post.