Learning the Lingo!

Learn the “Lingo” or live life in an “Expat Bubble”!

I am a great advocate of the fact that when you move to a new country you ‘attempt’ to gain, at the very least, a basic understanding of both language and culture. Without this ‘basic’ knowledge so much of everyday life and cultural opportunities are lost, and you effectively live a parallel existence in your new environment; there in body but not quite in mind. You still watch English TV, read English Newspapers and mainly interact with your fellow compatriots or those who speak English.

I accept, everyone is not a natural linguist and I certainly do not fall into that category – far from it! Despite years of studying Portuguese very little has permeated the grey matter and words just float aimlessly in my memory in disjointed sentences. However, on a positive note, I now often read a Portuguese newspaper or poster and grasp at least the gist of what is being said.

Spoken Portuguese, however, is a complete challenge. I can construct a sentence, ask a question but the problem is I can’t understand the reply! Terror strikes. My mind empties; my mouth becomes dry and as I try to speak no words are forthcoming. I just stand there like a frightened rabbit trapped in the car headlights while the person waits expectantly for at least some indication their response has been understood. For those who are also going through the painful process of trying to learn a language I feel sure you understand this feeling of panic?

I just love it, NOT, when hubby pushes me forward and announces “you can speak Portuguese” I feel I want to crawl away and hide under the nearest rock as I turn various shades of piglet pink.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that the best time to actually practice my Portuguese is after consuming several glasses of vinho.  I completely lose my inhibitions and chatter away regardless. I do not even try to: conjugate verbs; worry about the feminine or masculine forms of adjectives and nouns; prepositions; and in what order the sentence should be constructed etc…everything just merges blissfully into a blur. However, you can’t walk around in a permanent state of drunkenness in order to converse with people. Tempting, but just not practical!

My first attempt to learn Portuguese was at an evening class in the UK. I was unaware when I enrolled that there were two versions of Portuguese. Portuguese as spoken in Brazil, and Portuguese as spoken in Portugal. Learning Portuguese, I was soon to discover, was complicated enough without analyzing the differences in both spelling and pronunciation. This was just an unnecessary complication I could well do without. I persevered for eight lessons then I threw in the towel.

I was fortunate to study the language for several years with an extremely patient Portuguese teacher. The only problem being she was an absolute grammar demon and we practiced very little in the way of everyday conversation. This presented a problem in that while I could write things down, I was unable to pronounce the words and make my self understood.

Slight variations in pronunciations can produce some odd replies or actions. For example one day I was in a supermarket and asked an assistant.
“Ondé esta uvos?”
I was immediately taken to the grapes. I stared at her blankly and asked again. Desperate to please she gabbled a reply and looked at me expectantly. Oh dear checkmate, neither of us understood. In desperation, and to her amusement, I started to mime the actions and sounds of a chicken. I was then taken to the meat section and triumphantly shown the fresh chickens (Os Frangos). Pleased at her initiative she looked at me, waiting for my approval. I then performed a charade of a chicken laying an egg. How she did not lay one on the spot as she dissolved into fits of laughter was an absolute miracle.

Sensing failure she immediately roped in her colleague to share in the fun. Her colleague, grasping my meaning and no doubt not wishing to be subjected to further chicken impersonations escorted me to the fresh eggs. She then kindly took me by the arm and taught me how to pronounce ovos (eggs) and uvas (grapes) not relinquishing her grip until I could say both perfectly. We laughed together at both my mistake and chicken impersonations. What lovely kind people they were and so keen to help an obviously deranged English woman! At least I brightened someones day!

My language trials and tribulations continue…

A few useful words that are often barked at you by the cashier in the supermarket are:-

Diga! – Speak! ( What do you want?)

Troca – Change (Do you have any change?)

Saco! – Bag (Do you want a carrier bag?)

To be continued….


9 responses to “Learning the Lingo!

  1. You need to immerse yourself more, watch the news in Portuguese (normally newsreaders are chosen for having clear speech) or a favourite film in Portuguese with subtitles (subtitles are very useful for learning). This is what helped French click for me. First you’ll be able to pick out one or two words, then three or four, then phrases and then you’ll realise one day that you were actually watching the news and understood everything!

    The Portuguese sound quite abit nicer with regards to language woes than the French!

    Good luck!


    • Yes – All the Portuguese I’ve met have been very helpful re the language. They laugh with you not at you!

      You are right re immersion. I should watch the TV more. However, lots of Portuguese TV is Brazilian soaps and I have the attention of a gnat when it comes to watching TV, even in English!

      Still, if I get up early I can watch the News and childrens TV – Bob the builder 123 and the news would be a good start to the day. I must do something otherwise I am not going to progress. :((



  2. Portuguese TV definitely helps, and the best part is that you don’t even have to be paying attention to it, just having the “noise” in the background helps to get the particular “music” of a language into your head, which then makes it easier to understand what people are saying. I’m not a fan of tv, but my husband likes to have it on for “ambience” (???) and I have to admit that it has made a difference to my portuguese.


  3. Hi Kerry,
    Yes, I must motivate myself to switch on the TV or even listen to Portuguese on the PC. Not sure about the ambience factor myself (???) either. Hey ho! I keep saying I must set aside an hour a day…to study the language, but where does the time go? I have found listening to Fado helps a little and repetition of the words to some of the songs helps me remember. 🙂
    Do you like Fado?

    Kind regards



  4. Fado is wonderful, I read your “fado is like marmite” and I agree completely. ( I also love marmite) I enjoy hearing different interpretations of it too, though… I find that too much of Amália gets depressing after a while.
    I’m really loving a Lisbon band called Deolinda, they are becoming quite well known intenationally, have you heard of them? They have a very Portuguese sound with traditional influences but they are contemporary and less “heavy” for lack of a better word. Their lyrics are often also quite tongue-in-cheek, poking a bit of fun at the Portuguese stereotypes. Definitely worth a listen!

    xx Kerry


  5. oops, thats “internationally” sorry for the typo…


  6. Hi Kerry,
    I will check out Deolinda to see if they have anything on Youtube.
    Thanks for the tip off
    kind regards


  7. I really like your post !! I’ve been learning a little bit of ” portuguese do brazil ” with the accent it will sounds something like “portoogueze dou braziou ” 😉 and I can understand than watching Brazilian’s novela are not really helping, because this is not the same accent at all ! And sometimes on the Tv, they are talking to fastly that you can barely understand it 😉
    The best advice that I could give you is to meet lot of peoples and to just talk with them, with a glass of wine or not 😉 !
    Good luck !!


    • Bom Dia! “My English Thoughts” Yes, the Brazlian Potuguese is a little different, and to me almost has a Spanish lilt. I am slightly better at written Portuguese than spoken. Here in the Algarve there is definately a different dialect from that spoken in Lisbon, and one I find very diffcult to understand as they “eat” the end of their words. 😦 I have just started to learn French, currently a word a day. I am trying to learn and remember 🙂 all the words connected with Family as part of my News Years Resolution!


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