British expats in Portugal who are completely fluent in Portuguese are rather thin on the ground. Portuguese is a tricky language, and friendly locals who are willing to speak English (especially in the Algarve) can reduce the need and motivation to learn the lingo.
However, living in Portugal without knowing the basics – uma cerveja por favor (one beer please) – will make integrating that bit harder, ultimately making your experience here less enjoyable.
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With that in mind, here are five easy ways to improve Portuguese:
1. Immerse yourself in local media
Instead of paying several euros for a British newspaper, start buying a Portuguese jornal (newspaper) occasionally. Correio da Manhã is a good start. It’s a tabloid daily newspaper and won’t be a taxing read.
Instead of paying several euros for a British newspaper, start buying a Portuguese jornal (newspaper) occasionally.
It may take you a week to work through a Portuguese newspaper, and you may still feel you barely understand a word. However, before too long words and then sentences will begin to click.
The same applies to watching Portuguese TV. Exposing yourself to a mixture of local programs and international shows with Portuguese subtitles will help you get a basic grip of the language.
Using this to supplement your other learning will solidify the vocabulary in your mind.
2. Learn simple words to get you by
Some of the simplest expressions are those that you end up using every day and can prove very useful. For example “posso?” (pronounced poss-oo) simply means “may I?” and can apply to taking a chair from a neighbouring table or helping yourself to a drink.
Another good one is “já pedi’” (pronounced ja-pudee) which this means “I’ve already been asked”, and is handy for those moments in shops, bars and restaurants when someone tries to help you and you’re already being served.
From these small small shoots your grasp of the Portuguese language will grow, as your confidence improves and your understanding of the replies your receive develops.
3. Make friends with locals
When you make your first Portuguese friends, ask them if you can practice your Portuguese with them and continue to do so regularly. Even if they do find it hilarious as they correct pronunciations. They will also be able to teach you new words and colloquialisms.
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This can be much more useful than learning “proper” Portuguese using a language tape or course, as you’ll learn slang and understand different accents.
4. Try speaking Portuguese first
Sometimes it can be hard to actually get anyone to speak Portuguese to you in Portugal, as many of the locals have an excellent grasp of English. Especially if you’re in the Algarve and they know where you’re from, as there’s an common assumption that you won’t be willing to attempt speak the language.
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The best way round this is to always speak Portuguese first. It won’t always mean the person you’re talking to will reply in Portuguese, but if you act like a tourist you’ll continue to be treated like one.
This will be less of a problem in less touristy areas in the north of the country, where less people speak English. In fact you’ll need to make sure your Portuguese is up to scratch in some rural areas, otherwise you’ll have trouble communicating.
5. Speak Portuguese at home
You can do this as soon as you’ve decided on a move to Portugal, before and after you depart. Once you start learning, make a point of trying to speak Portuguese with your partner and family whenever possible. It will be a very fun, rewarding and frustrating process – especially as you see the kids improve at a much faster rate than you.