No courses are scheduled for the time being. Fill up the form below and I will let you know when new dates are released.
Learning Portuguese doesn’t need to be tedious. If you don’t resonate with learning languages with textbooks or sitting in a classroom, you should know that there are other ways to go about it.
Today, I want to talk about the advantages of learning Portuguese through reading stories. In addition, I will suggest a few best practices so that you can make the most out of them. Read on.
The perils of too much grammar
I find that most students that overdo grammar don’t do especially well when they try to speak Portuguese in real life.
There’s something insidious about studying grammar. It may give us an illusory sense of progress and control as we analyze our target language and make sense of the rules that govern it.
Yet, learning habits that rely too heavily on grammar may do more harm than good.*
See, too much emphasis on grammar makes us overly self-conscious and worried about grammar correctness.
We easily end up caught up in our minds grammar-checking everything as we try to string words together into sentences. This leads to an overworked brain that will prevent us from speaking more fluently.
Becoming a proficient speaker of a second language certainly entails more than just learning and mastering a set of abstract rules.
We need to allow the language to sink deeper in us (without us needing to constantly analyze and deconstruct it). That’s where “organic”, in-context learning materials such as stories come into play.
* This is not suggesting that studying grammar is wrong. Grammar surely has its place in language learning (for adults). The question here, however, is if you should let it dominate your language-learning strategy. I think you shouldn’t.
Speaking of language strategy, here’s a read on this topic: Mindsets and Strategies to Learn Portuguese the Best (or any other language)
Learn Portuguese through stories
We learn a second language best when we practice with compelling materials that we can easily make sense of and relate to.
When our learning materials are captivating, we “consume” them effortlessly and with pleasure. As we find ourselves craving for more, we end up getting generous amounts of input in our target language.
Now, this is not just any kind of input. It’s organic. It reflects casual, everyday language usage that nurtures your idiomatic feel for Portuguese.
But there’s more to it.
Believe it or not, when we read stories we are also learning grammar! Not in a conventional way though.
By reading and listening to stories, we are naturally assimilating syntactic structures that govern our target language (just like when children learn their mother tongues). The more we do it, the deeper these structures will sink in us.
It is perfectly possible to learn Portuguese grammar simply by being exposed to in-context materials like stories (as opposed to learning it by studying abstract rules).
Arguably, learning grammar this way is not only possible but also desirable since you will now be able to speak correctly without ever needing to worry about grammar rules.
By knowing the grammar intuitively, you can free your mind from being overloaded with processing all those grammar checks. This greatly improves the flow of your speech.
Last but not least, it is a well-established fact that word retention rates are significantly higher when we learn new words in context.
When we associate words with characters, emotions, situations, or places, we increase the likelihood of recalling those words later on.
Simply put, our long-term memory retention performs better the richer the contextual associations are.
Stories designed for language learners
As pointed out before, enticing and in-context practice materials make your learning more productive and idiomatically rich.
Now, you may not find it very enticing if you jump straight into José Saramago or Clarice Lispector. What you want is to get hold of stuff especially designed for language learners.
Crucially, these materials are normally CEFR-graded according to the different levels of language proficiency.
As a beginner, you need to find books that cater to the A1-A2 levels. These will typically be text divided into short chapters made of paragraphs and simple sentences.
If you find yourself in the low-intermediate tier, you may want to raise the game a notch or two by finding something within the A2-B1 range, and so on.
Here’s the bottom line. Your reads should be challenging enough to expand your language skills, but not overwhelmingly difficult to the point that all your reading joy is stripped away and you give up.
If it is too easy, you’ll be adding little to nothing to your language skills – time for you to tune into something more advanced.
If it is too hard – for instance if you need to look up every other word in the dictionary – that will make your brain burn too many calories and you’ll end up putting the book away. Find something simpler.
In short, a good read (from a language learning perspective) is a balancing act between being ambitious and, nonetheless, pleasurable.
The fact that reads designed for language learners are graded according to the CEFR scale, will help you find something adequate for your current needs.
Best practices – maximize your learning outcome
Here are four simple steps to help you make the most out of your reading practice.
This method presupposes that you have access to both script and voice-over (three of the steps will require audio).
I strongly encourage you to find materials that include the audio since it will allow you to also work on your listening comprehension and pronunciation skills.
You don’t have to follow the exact sequence suggested below. Play around with it and find what works best for you.
Tips! Visit our StoryLift page to find stories designed for language learners (script+audio) available in both European and Brazilian Portuguese.
1. Listen only (focus on listening comprehension)
Forget about the transcript for now. Listen to the audio in one go 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. Besides, listening will always be tougher than reading.
Do it again and see if you can fill in any of the blanks.
2. Play copycat (focus on pronunciation)
Play it again, but now put all your focus on pronunciation.
Take a first round where you simply shadow what you hear – mimic the sounds as you hear them. Do it in one go.
Pay special attention to any sounds that you are not familiar with yet. Notice also any melodic or rhythmic patterns that feel alien to you.
Play it a second time and pause the recording at your convenience to mimic sounds and drill your pronunciation skills. Spend as much time as you need with it.
Depending on what catches your attention, you will be mimicking either single sounds, words, or even entire sentences.
Notice your lips, jaw, and tongue while you’re reproducing the sounds. The more you become aware of pronunciation’s physical dimension, the better you will perform.
Tips! If you want to go deeper into the sounds of Portuguese, consider enrolling in this Crash Course on Portuguese Phonology.
3. Read (focus on reading comprehension)
Read the text in one go and see how intelligible it is for you.
You should, at least, be able to get the gist of it (provided that the material is adequate for your level of proficiency).
Read it once again. This time around, spend as much time as you need with it to fill in the gaps without obsessing with understanding every single word or expression (you can always revisit the material later on).
Don’t rush to look up unknown words or expressions in the dictionary. Instead, try to figure them out from the context*.
*Learning new words from the context results in higher rates of long-term vocabulary retention. Besides, by avoiding translation, you are wiring your brain to your target language more effectively.
4. Listen one final time (focus on celebration)
Take a short break before this final step.
Play and listen to the audio one last time (with or without the transcript). Everything should sound clearer to you now.
Don’t forget to celebrate the progress you’ve just made. Well done!
Often, stories designed for language learners include an English translation. This is especially useful when you are practicing with more advanced materials (compared to your current level of proficiency) as you can read it in advance to get the gist of it.
You can also read it afterward to validate your reading comprehension (especially concerning idioms and idiomatic expressions).
Either way, avoid back-and-forth comparisons/translations between Portuguese and English. As pointed out before, a translation-free practice is more effective for word retention and in wiring your brain to your target language.
Stay tuned for upcoming courses, reads, and other novelties.