for those interested, i thought i might write a brief primer of my experiences learning brazilian portuguese for the purpose of immersing myself in the culture of capoeira. i suppose these tips could work for the acquisition of any language, although i suspect it may be more appropriate for romance languages, or at least, those of an indo-european origin.
also, since my girlfriend, a linguist, is asleep right now, so she’ll have to correct the details of this post after it has been published. 🙂
when i first took capoeira, i started learning a bit of portuguese here and there by trying to randomly memorize vocabulary that i heard in capoeira songs. i assume this is how most people start, and yet, many of the students in classes i attended had a lot more difficulty than i did, despite having more experience in general. although this could be because i speak french, these classes were in montreal, where a majority of people also do. i hope that isolating the things that worked for me can help readers improve upon their acquisition.
since i am a podcaster by day, as well as a capoeira player by night, my first instinct was to move towards audiobooks as a natural tool for learning. it turns out my instinct was correct. although the pickings are scarce due to the language’s lack of popularity (in terms of interest for learners), i did pick up two good audiobooks on audible.com – here and here. these are particularly good if you have an ipod or other portable device. both use words and phrases to help with comprehension, and are far more affordable and helpful than a once-a-week tutor, and allow you to bring it around and use it on a work break or other opportunity-impoverished period of your day.
learning vocabulary, by the way, should not be your first priority. your first priority should be learning just enough vocabulary (say, twenty words) to get you to understand the most basic of sentences and creating real sentences. the grammar of the language is what makes it alive, and sticking words together in an order that makes sense to an english speaker is not going to make the best results (though it’ll do in a pinch). so reading as many complete sentences as possible should be one of the things you work towards very early. after that, work on vocabulary to expand what you can say with the sentence structure you have become familiar with by then.
one of the things i tried for a long time, and that didn’t work at all, is to hire a private tutor. i did this early on, and it left with me with very little additional help in relation to the money i was spending. it’s unfortunate, but i ended up spending several hundred dollars that could have best been invested elsewhere, when what i really should have been doing is just putting in the necessary time. so one of the earliest lessons i discovered (the hard way) is that it’s work, not money, that will get them the comprehension they are looking for. this work usually is best done daily in small amounts, not in big lumps, as most books will tell you. short daily rehearsals will definitely get you better results than cramming, which is a massive waste of energy. once again, those breaks while waiting for the bus are your friend.
i also picked up a couple of books. one came with two CDs and it was ok, and the second came with a wonderful set of stickers to put around your house. although i’m way beyond that level now, i do still have my espelho sticker on the mirror, as well as the fogao sticker on my oven. these were very helpful, and i highly doubt you’ll forget any of the words you end up having stickers for. getting the sticker to stay on your cat is another story (yes, there really is one).
one of the things you should probably know about learning from books is that almost everything you buy is going to be focused on portuguese from Portugal. this isn’t highly problematic, but when you’re starting out, it can be confusing. consonants in traditional portuguese are very hard and usually stop dead, while brazilian ones usually are mushed together. as an example, the common word ending -de:
port: deh (more or less)
you’re probably thinking, ‘whaa??‘, but trust me, you’ll get used to it. for now, just try and relax your mouth away from those hard endings, and remember that you’ll inevitably be a little embarrassed. the faster you make your first thousand mistakes, the faster you’ll be able to correct them. try to act like a woman, rather than a man, in a (straight) dance club: the men make barely any movement or just lean against the wall to ensure what they believe to be maximum coolness, and the chicks end up making out with each other on the dance floor after dancing the night away. only one of them ends up learning how to dance, and it’s not hard to see who ends up having more fun. good luck!