Are you struggling with your pronunciation?
That's because you have yet to learn the Sounds of Portuguese.
Speaking in your target language is arguably the toughest language skill to master. At the same time, it is probably the main reason why you are learning Portuguese.
Language learners often think that the only way to actually start speaking Portuguese is to live in a Portuguese-speaking country for a long period to get enough exposure to the language.
But that’s not necessarily the case!
In fact, drilling your Portuguese speaking skills is more accessible today than ever before and, for the most part, you can even do it at home.
So, how do you go about getting better at speaking Portuguese?
There are multiple resources available online: from local language exchanges and mobile apps connecting you with Portuguese native speakers to one-on-one online sessions with language tutors.
You can even tune into local language exchange groups or do solo practice!
The latter consists of drilling your speaking skills on your own by, for instance, talking aloud to yourself in Portuguese while going through your daily routines.
See, the only limiting factor is your willpower and perseverance.
Below, I am going to walk you through several strategies and tools you can use to work on your Portuguese speaking skills.
Ideally, you will be using several of them simultaneously as they often complement one another. Let us get started.
- No input, no output
- Pronunciation matters
- Daily practice
- Language-exchange partners
- Competent tutors
- Writing practice
- Final thoughts
Input is key to speaking – no input, no output
You can’t start speaking Portuguese from a vacuum. You simply can’t!
Instead, you will need generous amounts of exposure to your target language. The concept is simple: no language input, no language output either.
That’s how we learn our mother tongue in the first place. Input.
While learning a new language as an adult is certainly not the same thing as toddlers learning theirs, many of the basic learning mechanisms still apply – input is a key element in either context.
So, where do you get your input from?
Mostly from reading and listening to Portuguese.
You need exposure to reading and listening materials of all kinds and shapes in order to build a solid lexical ground and idiomatic feel for your target language. Those are the seeds that will prompt your speaking skills.
Now, there is an abundance of materials out there and, as a beginner, it might be difficult to know where to start.
This rings especially true if you are following the European standard (most online resources conform to Brazilian Portuguese).
Explore the links below to get hold of online resources that are European-Portuguese specific.
StoryLift – Let the Power of Stories Lift Your Portuguese
Quality Online Resources for Portuguese Language Learners
10 YouTube Channels for Portuguese Language Learners
16 Podcast Shows to Nurture Your Portuguese Language Skills
Don’t wait to get started …
I am not suggesting a clear-cut 2-step process: you immerse yourself in listening and reading materials first, and only then, at a later stage, should you start practicing to speak Portuguese. No, that’s not the case.
A big part of unlocking your speaking skills is actually getting used to doing it. So start speaking right from the start.
Okay. You might think that I am asking too much, that it sounds unrealistic. But speaking per se does not necessarily imply elaborate conversations conveying complex thoughts and abstract ideas.
As a beginner, your early-stage speaking will certainly be contained within simple, short, and concrete realms. Speaking in short, plain phrases is nonetheless still speaking!
In what follows, I will be suggesting several ways for you to tackle your speaking practice early on in your learning journey. For that matter, learning the basic language sounds of Portuguese is definitely a good place to start. Read on.
Language learners often neglect their pronunciation while assuming that it will automatically improve over time. If anything, that is wishful thinking.
The truth is that, if you want to speak Portuguese with clarity, you’ll need to put some effort into drilling its sounds.
My advice is that you pursue a clear pronunciation right from the start.
The virtues of speaking with clarity
Learning how to clearly pronounce Portuguese words will strongly impact your language learning positively. The sooner you get the hang of the Portuguese sound system, the better.
See, speaking with clarity will make you more confident when interacting with others. That alone creates a positive feedback loop.
By feeling confident when speaking Portuguese, you are more likely to do it more often. Regular speaking practice will in turn expand your overall language skills, which will make you feel even more confident – it’s a virtuous cycle!
Now, I am not suggesting that you’ve got to sound like a native. That would be asking too much.
You’ll most likely keep a foreign accent and that’s totally fine (and often charming).
All I mean is that your pronunciation should be accurate enough not to impair your speaking self-confidence or your ability to clearly make yourself understood.
That said, let’s now see how you can actually work on it.
How to improve your pronunciation
Learn well the basic sounds of Portuguese
First things first: learn the basic sounds of Portuguese by listening attentively to them, and then by practicing to reproduce them.
Here’s an in-depth online course to help you nail European Portuguese’s phonology:
! Keep in mind that language sounds are fundamentally a physical phenomenon produced by your vocal apparatus. Your lungs, vocal cords, glottis, tongue, lips, jaw, teeth, and facial muscles, all play their part in producing a specific language sound. In order to come closer to “tricky” language sounds, you need to tap into certain muscles and areas of your vocal apparatus that you wouldn’t use otherwise. This means that you’ve got to be explorative and play around with it.
Self-recording leads to self-awareness of how you actually sound and helps you to systematically improve your pronunciation.
Record yourself saying a couple of Portuguese words or sentences after having heard them from a native speaker (just use your smartphone). Listen back to it and compare it with the original.
Which are those sounds you are pronouncing less well? Move your focus onto those. Do this frequently and track your progress.
Shadowing consists of mimicking language sounds as you hear them.
You can shadow whenever you listening to, say, a Portuguese podcast. You are then practicing your listening skills and pronunciation simultaneously.
You can also do plain shadowing and focus only on your pronunciation skills. All you need to do is to put all your focus to sound and not on semantics.
Plain shadowing is a great tool for beginners who still have limited listening comprehension skills and want nonetheless to work on their pronunciation.
For instance, they can switch on a Portuguese radio station and solely work on their pronunciation skills.
Daily speaking practice
You don’t actually need anyone else to start practicing speaking Portuguese with. You can do solo practice by speaking out your thoughts as you go through, say, your daily routines at home.
Does this sound a bit weird to you?
Maybe you picture yourself going around your house and talking alone like someone going mad. Give it a try no matter how weird it sounds. You will see that it is fun and, most important of all, fruitful.
I am not suggesting that you start speaking your mind in Portuguese, however complex your thoughts are. That wouldn’t be reasonable to ask especially if you are a beginner. But you can do it over simple, concrete everyday actions.
Say that you wake up in the morning and the first thing you do is take a shower. So say it out loud in Portuguese: Vou tomar um duche.
After that comes the breakfast: Vou comer o pequeno-almoço. And it tastes delicious: Está delicioso. You get the idea.
In so doing, you are actively working on different fronts. For one thing, you are solidifying your Portuguese vocabulary and storing it in your long-term memory.
For the other, you are practicing your pronunciation while articulating all those Portuguese language sounds.
Above all, you are getting used to speaking in Portuguese. That’s huge!
See, often, what holds people back from speaking their target language isn’t insufficient vocabulary. It is rather the sheer lack of comfort and confidence in doing it.
Choose a few concrete activities out of your daily routines and commit to voicing them in Portuguese as you go through them. Do it every day, even if only for a short while.
Reading tips! Further explore language learning strategies: Mindsets and strategies to learn Portuguese the Best.
Find Portuguese native speakers to practice with
Practicing speaking Portuguese with native speakers will do wonders for your speaking skills. And here’s the thing! You don’t even need to travel to a Portuguese-speaking country to get hold of them.
Local language exchanges
Maybe you live in a university city? If so, chances are that you’ll find exchange students that speak Portuguese.
And also, chances are that they will be interested in doing language exchange – international students are normally keen on learning the local language.
Alternatively, you can look up language exchange meetups close to where you live. For instance, language cafes are a popular phenomenon these days, so, keep an eye out for them.
You can also search for similar events on social media platforms. There is this platform called Meetup whose mission is, as its name suggests, prompting people to meet each other in real life. Language exchanges are amongst the most popular events.
Language exchanges online
You can find language exchange partners even within the confines of your home. How convenient is that? There are a few apps out there connecting language learners from all over the world – Tandem is one of them.
By using these apps, you are likely to bump into Portuguese native speakers who are learning your mother tongue. You can then start a language exchange with any of them.
Tips! Even if you can’t find a Portuguese native speaker learning your native tongue (that can be the case if the latter is too small and less known) you might speak English, Chinese, Arabic, or any other “big” language well enough to “trade” it for Portuguese.
Hire a competent tutor
Finding someone who actually knows how to talk to language learners is priceless, more so if you are a beginner.
If it’s economically viable for you, you should seriously consider finding a competent Portuguese language tutor.
See, a well-seasoned language tutor will know where you are at in your language learning curve and act accordingly.
For instance, if you are a beginner, they will talk to you at a slightly slower tempo while clearly pronouncing the words. They will also talk in short sentences and streamlined grammatical structures.
But look! Most importantly, competent tutors focus on the conversational flow and do their best to keep it going, as opposed to focusing on petty mistakes and interrupting you all the time with corrections.
Instead, they will give you constructive feedback (pronunciation, choice of words, syntactic formulations, etc) during a pause or at the end of the session.
All in all, by focusing on the conversational flow and empathically tuning into your topic preferences, competent tutors make speaking practice sessions way more engaging and productive. They will keep you fired up and eager to talk!
Tips! There are a couple of 1-on-1 tutoring platforms online where you can easily find capable tutors to practice with – I recommend Italki.
I also offer conversational coaching for intermediate students and upwards: 1-on-1 conversational flow.
Don’t ever underestimate your writing practice
It might sound counterintuitive, but writing can be very beneficial to your speaking skills.
The fact is that all language skills – listening, speaking, writing, and reading – are inextricably interwoven. Thus, progress on one front also implies progress on the other.
The process of writing helps you to absorb the grammatical structures of the language.
As a beginner, and by producing small texts, you are helping your brain to “digest” the language’s syntax, which will make speaking more automated and easier for you.
The same case can be made for reading, of course. But there is something more profound happening in your brain when you are writing.
For instance, when you read a book, everything is already there to be “consumed”. When you write, on the other hand, you are the one creating the content. This creative process makes your brain engage on a deeper level, thus soaking more of the language structures into the sublayers of your intellect.
Do you see what I am getting at? You don’t actually need to read grammar to get it right. You can learn it indirectly or, as I like to put it, organically.
Crucially, in order for the writing practice to work as intended, you should have someone qualified go through your writings and give you feedback. So, if you ever hire a tutor to practice speaking, I suggest that you also ask them to go through your writings.
! Writing Challenges. I am currently offering Tutored Writing Practice through Writing Challenges.
Further reading! Learn more about the virtues of writing practice: This Is Why Writing Practice Improves Your Overall (Portuguese) Language Skills
We all are unique learners with our own learning styles. What works best for you might not work that well for other people.
Try out different speaking practice strategies and stick to those that best resonate with you. There is no right or wrong, there’s only your way.
One thing, however, is for sure: daily practice gets the best results.
This might sound trite, but it is often neglected. Make sure you speak daily, even if only for ten minutes each day. Better to practice ten minutes a day than two hours a week.
Also, don’t let grammar get in the way. Be mindful that worrying too much about grammar correctness potentially disrupts the flow of your speech.
While studying grammar can help you make sense of language structures, it can also make you too self-conscious when speaking. Don’t obsess with it. Nobody will care if you say the wrong preposition.
And this ties into the most important thing of all: dare to speak!
Never shy away when a conversational opportunity arises. You might often think that you’re not ready yet to speak? Well, yes you are. It probably won’t be perfect, but you know what? Better imperfect practice than no practice. There’s no learning without doing. Amen.
Pssst! If you liked this read, you are also likely to enjoy this one: Here’s How to Push Through and Improve Your Portuguese Speaking Skills.
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