Learning the language of a new country after you have moved there is both an exciting and sometimes challenging process, as I began to discover with Portuguese when I first moved to Lisbon more than five years ago.
My first job in Portugal happened to be in one of Lisbon’s many call centers, as a German language client service provider. I subsequently enrolled in an international PhD program where I am currently working on my final thesis.
Thus, my day-to-day working life has never required me to speak any Portuguese and my friend circles resulting from these professional occupations happen to consist of more foreigners than Portuguese. And even though doing groceries in Portuguese offers a steep learning curve in the beginning, the language exchange resulting from it, ultimately, is quite limited.
I have also found that “tuning in” to spoken Portuguese is quite hard for the untrained ear, since the Portuguese love swallowing up their vowels.
In urban centers they also love speaking English and they speak it extremely well. As a result, half a decade into living in Portugal and several language courses later, even though I am able to have a conversation in Portuguese, my spoken Portuguese still doesn’t flow as I would want it to.
Thankfully, there are several online resources that are quite helpful and continue to boost my Portuguese.
One of the first (if not the first) online services for European Portuguese is Practice Portuguese. I was extremely happy to find their entertaining podcast on Spotify. A typical episode consists of either reenactments of day-to-day scenes and dialogue, or interesting bits and pieces of Portuguese language, history and culture. They are all spoken in a slow, beginner-friendly Portuguese with many of them including explanations in English.
They also offer a YouTube channel which consists of video clips and longer video vlogs. On their online platform practiceportuguese.com they offer a paid membership that gets you access to their app with exercises and transcripts of videos and podcast episodes.
Portuguese with Leo
Another Instagrammer, Podcaster and Youtuber in the language resource market is Leo, offering “Portuguese with Leo.” I really enjoy his Podcast, which is a good mix of language explanations and short episodes about Portuguese history and culture.
They are all exclusively spoken in slow Portuguese.
His Instagram page is filled with short and informative clips around the language. On his YouTube channel one finds longer videos all with English subtitles.
‘Talk the Streets’
Liz Sharma, an Instagram page and a YouTube channel, “Talk the Streets,” offers very beginner-friendly short clips with a lot of explanations in English. I was particularly excited to find her “Talk the Streets: EU Portuguese Playlist” curated by her on Spotify where she collects all kinds of songs sung in slow European Portuguese.
Of course, few things beat watching a series in a foreign language to fully immerse oneself. Luckily, in the last years there have been two European Portuguese series launched on Netflix which I recommend watching.
• The first is “Glória,” a spy thriller set in the last years of the Portuguese dictatorship which captures the dramatic zeitgeist of a country on the threshold of revolution.
• The second series, “Pôr do Sol,” is a light absurdist comedy, making fun of the classic genre of telenovela and is choc-a-bloc with delicious verbal clichés and everyday idioms that define the sound of contemporary urban Portuguese. These streaming nuggets provide a painless way to blow up your vocabulary without relinquishing the comforts of your couch on a lazy Sunday.
So, regardless of whether you are a highly social person with a keen ear for languages or a laid back one who would prefer to pick up the language at their own pace and in their own time, too busy to devote time regularly to language learning or a driven language learner, there is something for everyone out there. All that remains is for you to pick what works and get to it!
Read more about Portugal here, and Lisbon here in DIspatches’ archives
Miriam Thaler is a PhD student in Culture Studies in Lisbon. Exploring foreign places and getting to know different people, their stories, ways of life and worldviews has always been her passion. After finishing school she lived and worked as a volunteer for one year in the South of Chile.
Her B.A. in Cultural Anthropology brought her to Munich and Paris. Iceland called her during her Masters for an ethnographic research stay and the shooting of a documentary.