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Are you looking for reads like short stories to help you develop your Portuguese skills?
Sure. It is more fun (and often more effective) to learn a language by reading compelling fiction than plowing through traditional, boring textbooks.
But there’s nonetheless a catch. These fictional reads need to be thought out and written with the language learner in mind. Otherwise, chances are that it will be too difficult and that’d throw you off.
In what follows, I will show you important aspects you should consider when picking fictional reads and suggest a few tips for you to make the most out of it. Read on.
Short is king
When it comes to reads and their suitability for language learners, “short” is king, “plain” is queen – short sentences, short paragraphs, short chapters, plain syntax, and plain structure. The more beginner you are, the truer this is.
If you get hold of materials that follow the short-and-plain principle, you will be able to follow the threads more easily and thus develop your overall Portuguese skills while enjoying it. This in turn will keep you motivated and asking for more. It’s a virtuous circle that you should want to get into.
Another advantage of short-and-plain reads is that you can have a shot at more advanced materials – compared to your current level – thus pushing ahead harder without feeling overwhelmed by the gap. Put differently, since you are taking it in smaller doses, you’ll still be able to digest it even if the content is denser than what you’d feel comfortable with otherwise.
Any reputable publisher or author specializing in stories for language learners will grade their books according to a proficiency scale. A well-established standard in this domain is the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) whose language proficiency grading spans from A1 (Beginner) through C2 (Advanced).
This is of utmost importance because it allows you to gauge what’s right for you according to your current proficiency level. For example, if you are a beginner, you want to choose reads graded A1/A2 (according to CEFR). If you are an Absolute beginner and want to take it easy, choose A1. But if you want to push ahead harder, go for A2, and so on.
Another thing worth considering is whether the read is accompanied by audio/voice-over. When you have access to that, you can also work on your listening comprehension and pronunciation skills, which is a huge plus.
Provided that you have both text and audio, here are a few suggestions for you to make the most out of it (you don’t need to follow the same order):
Listen only (Focus on listening comprehension)
Listen to the audio all at once and see how much of it you can grasp. It’s perfectly fine if you miss some words or even full sentences. It’s supposed to be challenging. Do it several times.
Play copycat (Focus on pronunciation)
Listen again and focus on pronunciation (forget about semantics for a moment). Mimic the sounds as you hear them (this is known as Shadowing).
Pay special attention to any sounds that you are not familiar with yet. Pause the recording at your convenience to drill those “thorny” sounds and words. Spend as much time as you need with it.
Keep in mind that pronunciation is a physical phenomenon. Pay close attention to what your lips, jaw, and tongue are doing while you’re making the sounds.
Read (Focus on reading comprehension)
Read the text in one go and see if you could get the gist of it (you should be able to do that provided that the material is adequate for your current level).
Read it once again. This time around, spend some time with it to fill in the gaps. Having said that, never obsess about understanding every single word or expression.
Last but not least, don’t rush to look up words in the dictionary. Instead, try to figure them out from the context as this leads to more effective word retention.
Listen one last time (Celebrate your progress)
Take a short break before this final step. Play and listen to the audio one last time. Everything should sound clearer to you now. Celebrate your progress. Well done!
Take it even further
Here are a few suggestions if you want to squeeze it out.
Then there’s the question, should it come with a translation? (To English or your mother tongue.)
I don’t see it as essential but as a plus.
While I’d discourage my students from doing back-and-forth comparisons between the Portuguese text and the translation, I think having access to a translated version of the original text (hopefully not a literal translation but one that accurately captures the spirit of the original) is advantageous.
For instance, it allows you to approach more advanced materials (compared to your current skills) thus accelerating your progress. Accordingly, you can read the translation in one go to get the gist of it, and then tackle the Portuguese text.
Casual register and idiomatic highlights
Reads for language learners should be written in a day-to-day language like the one you hear in the streets. This casual register is usually laden with idiomatic expressions, that is, expressions you won’t understand by analyzing words on their own. You just have to learn them! And guess what? That’s vital for you to progress.
It follows that any decent read for language learners should be idiomatically rich and if possible highlight and explain idiomatic expressions.
Narrative vs. Dialog
I suggest you be aware of two genres, namely narrative and dialog. Consider giving priority to dialog at those very first stages of your learning journey. Why? Because dialogs are effective in helping you develop basic skills to interact with people in day-to-day life (that’s what you do then – you dialog with people).
Stories and narratives, on the other hand, become very helpful by the time you start grappling with the Portuguese Past tense and its nuances, namely Perfeito vs. Imperfeito, which is usually an issue for most learners.
Having said that, if you can get hold of both styles do it and read as much as you can. These are only guidelines to help you make informed picks. Boa leitura.
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