My Practical Hacking Portuguese Plan

So, you perhaps you’ve read I’m headed to Brazil soon.

Very soon.

In fact, when you read this I will already be there.

I need to learn Portuguese fast. I don’t have time for dilly-dally, clicking pictures, or time-consuming, low-yield efforts at learning the language.

I need a plan to hack it, and hack it fast.

Of all the writing on learning languages, there still seems to be lacking a practical layout of how to hack a language. People are constantly wondering how they can get started, or what programs or methods to use which are most effective.

I was wondering the same thing when I first started learning Spanish, but now I think I have a much better idea of what works and what doesn’t. I’m no hyperglot, but I do think I’ve gained a little bit of insight, and have garnered some of my favorite programs and technologies to accelerate the learning process.

So, here is my practical hacking Portuguese plan. (Note: This is specifically centered around the ‘academic’ or ‘study’ part of my plan, which in truth is only one aspect of the whole process. I will write about the technological, social and psychological aspects at a later time.)

Weeks 1-4

Focus: pronunciation & phonetics, survival phrases

1) Complete Pimsleur Portuguese Lessons 1-90.

I thought Pimsleur Spanish was a good program for beginners. It doesn’t do everything, mind you, but I think it does a great job of teaching pronunciation and survival phrases. And best of all, it gets you speaking right from the get go.

I spent way too much time with Pimsleur last time around. This time around, with the Pimsleur Portuguese, I won’t give it more than 3-4 weeks in total. I will probably listen to each of 30 minute recording once, with a few repeats. So it’ll be around 50 hours of work.

2) Complete the reading exercises in Livemocha Portuguese lessons.

In my guide to Livemocha, I noted that it would be a good idea to just skip the picture clicking altogether and go to where you can get reviewed by native speakers easily, according to how well you can read a paragraph aloud. They have Portuguese courses where I can do this immediately.

Note: The goal will not be reading the paragraphs for comprehension, but for pronunciation. I want to learn how to associate the production of certain sounds upon seeing the Portuguese characters. Then I’ll get feedback from natives very quickly according to my pronunciation. Again not comprehension… pronunciation.

3) Vocab notebook: 30 items per day of in-life vocabulary training.

As I’m going through my day, I am going to make a note of what I would like to say in Portuguese. Certain words or phrases will come to mind, like “I’m not sure,” “Sounds good to me,” “Your turn,”  “You seem like an interesting person” or “What’s up, brother!” It is these sentences and phrases from a day-in-the-life-of-Ryan that I will write down and make sure to get the Portuguese equivalent.

If I have a loose-hand notebook I can scribble on, I feel it will be much more fun (not to mention a conversation starter!) than studying lists of vocabulary words. And, I’ll have a few extra words I will come across either in Pimsleur or in conversations with (new) Brazilian friends that I will write down.

By the end of this first month, I should be able to carry on a decent conversation with a native about basic stuff (where I’m from, what I’m doing, where I’m going, if I like Brazil, etc.)

Weeks 5-8

Focus: grammar and structural understanding

1) Complete PortuguesePod101 lessons from beginner all the way through intermediate.

I had a good experience with SpanishPod101, especially when it came to understanding grammar. They teach grammar using a combination of conversation as well as formal instruction. So, I’m assuming a similar format will be used when it comes to PortuguesePod101.

If they don’t, I’ll need to find an audio-visual instructional grammar source.

2) Completely understand Wikipedia entry on Portuguese grammar

Wikipedia nearly always has a page on the grammar of certain languages, and often it is quite complete. I should be able to read it bit by bit until I understand it all. (Note: I will NOT be reading it all at once.) And it will be much better once I know how to pronounce the words I’m reading!

I will use this in conjunction with PortuguesePod101 to get the grammar. Just having the Wikipedia entry is not only incredibly boring, it leaves out the auditory aspect of information retention.

3) Vocabulary notebook: 30 items per day of in-life vocabulary training.

I will also have the extra words coming from PortuguesePod101 to make a note of, so there is opportunity for major vocabulary gains here in the second 4 weeks.

By the end of this second month, I should generally know the complete grammar structure of Portuguese, with few exceptions. I should be accurately using the major constructions and tenses of verbs with regularity. This means if I look at a paragraph of Portuguese, I can see all the sentence structures and the majority of grammatical turns. The principal missing element after the end of week 8 will (hopefully) just be vocabulary and exposure.

Weeks 9-12

Focus: exposure and vocabulary, exposure, exposure, exposure

1) Consult high frequency vocabulary lists for words I haven’t learned yet and put them into Anki.

If you haven’t heard of Anki, it’s an open-source spaced-repetition software for building your own set of flashcards. I used it a little when I was learning Spanish, but not nearly enough. It’s a great tool if you’re into flashcards. I just need to be more diligent, especially when I get into the latter stages of emerging fluency.

2) Lingq exercises of 2 hours per day.

I’ve only dabbled in Lingq so far, but I thought the interface was more or less what I was looking for when it came to exposure (native audio + text, instant dictionary, saving unfamiliar words). I always thought this is what I needed, so, I’m planning on giving this a deeper look as I learn Portuguese.

3) Vocabulary notebook: 30 items per day of in-life vocabulary training

Continue progress with my notebook. Make note of certain ironical sayings or colloquialisms of native speakers.

By the end of the 12th week, if I’ve carried through with everything, I should have a rather robust vocabulary, including practically everything I need in an ordinary day-in-the-life-of-Ryan, especially including the ability to be ironic and clever in the language.

End Result

So if everything goes according to plan, I should be able to converse easily and not have any difficulty communicating in most situations. I will be able to talk around words I don’t understand, yet will know practically all of the 3000 most frequently used Portuguese words. I will be able to talk with newly found acquaintances and friends, enjoy their company, and laugh at (most of) their jokes.

One major barometer I’ll use as I approach my desired level of proficiency will be if I can charm a Brazilian girl using only Portuguese, for at least 1 hour. This can be either in a nightlife setting or in a daytime setting.

I will report back on this… ;)

Anyways, I have a feeling this will work well, as long as I am diligent and I put forth the effort. With stuff like this, the question is rarely a matter of what to do, but rather have you done everything you know to do, and have you put for the maximum effort.

If you’d like to follow along with me, subscribe via RSS or follow me on twitter.

Let’s get it on!!

Published June 13, 2012

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  • Will – My Spanish Adventure

    Fucking player. Hats off.

    • Ryan

      lol we’ll see, bro

  • Mike Manning

    I *highly* recommend working through Ta Falado, a set of podcasts designed to jumpstart your Brazilian Portuguese knowledge if you’re already a Spanish speaker. I did it while I was in Medellin, before I went to Brazil. Worked for me! :) Boa sorte!

    • Ryan

      Thanks for the reference, Mike! Looks like it’s right in line with my plan, too… podcasts focusing on pronunciation, and then podcasts on grammar.

  • Ruben Palacio

    Hey man! how you did with your plan? were you able to reach your objective?

    • Ryan

      I was on target, especially in the early going, but my stay in Brazil was cut short so I stopped studying… However, I was able to charm girls using Portuguese only for about 15 minutes. :D

      Will pick up Portuguese again when I have plans to return to Brazil (sometime).

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