Is Language a Barrier to Social Integration in Portugal?

Learning the Lingo

Learning the Lingo

Moving to a country where English is not the first language definitely has its disadvantages if you are not a natural linguist. Some people are fortunate to learn a language purely by osmosis, but not me – I have the retentive memory of a gnat. In the past I’ve spent a small fortune on Portuguese lessons, and hundreds, if not thousands of hours studying, to no avail. So despite learning there are four different ways to say “my”,  two, no three ways to say “you”, popular verbs in the present tense and basic vocabulary which I must also remember if the words are masculine or feminine,  it’s surprising I’m still struggling to string a sentence together! AND, to further test my memory Portuguese sentences are grammatically constructed in a different order to English. For example “The black cat” is “O gato preto”.  Are you still with me?

Fortunately, the Portuguese, unlike the French, are very tolerant if you mispronounce a word or grammatically abuse their language.  They usually laugh with you and not at you, so in this respect I’ve learned not to take myself too seriously if I make a mistake. I am gradually getting to grips with the pronunciation and generally find if I’m unsure how to pronounce a word miming usually helps. A classic example, and the memory of which still makes me smile, is the time I wanted some eggs (ovos) and the shop assistant brought me grapes (uvas). In desperation I made chicken clucking noises as I pretended to lay an egg to get my point across. She looked at me in surprise and then laughed until the tears rolled down her cheeks. Applauding my chicken impersonation skills she then made me pronounce both uvas and ovos over and over until I had perfected the sounds and remembered the difference.

However, I believe you can only live in a country for so long without speaking the language before an element of frustration sets in. For example, simple things like reading the labels on products (particularly medicines) and supermarket magazines announcing special offers; participating (and eavesdropping) in conversations all become a challenge instead of something you take for granted as part of everyday life. You want to become involved in the local community and cultural events, but no matter how hard you try without speaking the language you will only ever be an outsider. It’s almost as if although you are surrounded by people you feel totally alone. There’s no visible barrier, you are there in body, but as for integrating in the indigenous community you might as well be an alien newly arrived from the planet Zog. Yes, I have many English-speaking expat friends, but it’s not the same.

For readers who have never left their homeland to live in a country where English is not the first language I ask you to close your eyes for a moment and imagine you are surrounded by people, yet you feel totally isolated. Almost as if you exist in a parallel world where you want to reach out but the language barrier feels like a glass wall, and you are left on the outside looking in. Everyone is talking at you – you listen attentively hoping you will at least be able to understand something, but one word in ten is like saying two plus two equals five.  Unable to understand and like a little rabbit trapped in the headlights of an on coming car,  you freeze, paralyzed by your own ineptitude, then smile lost in your own insular bubble.

The simplest things on a bad day can drive you absolutely crazy with frustration, yet on a good day, when the fog of confusion clears, you feel incentivized to study once more.

Although my resolve to learn Portuguese has returned with renewed vigor my efforts are thwarted due to financial restrictions. The price of  lessons are now far too expensive  and the local Camara (council) no longer organise free lessons for foreigners.

I’ve tried making polite conversation in Portuguese with some women at our local café, however once we’ve exchanged pleasantries over health and weather I’m left standing there grinning like the village idiot while I trawl the recesses of my memory to retrieve words and phrases in a desperate attempt to keep the conversation going.  Even when they try (no doubt out of sympathy) I look at them blankly as I’m unable to understand their questions, and they eventually give up. I would love to have a more in-depth conversations about recipes and food, gardening, the local area, traditions and even politics. But of course I can’t!

The last straw and the catalyst which ignited the touch-paper of my frustration finally came when we went to the soup festival in Rogil. (I will write about that in another post).  Sadly, although the locals made us, as outsiders and foreigners, very welcome the language was definitely a barrier to integration.

So it is with a renewed effort and enthusiasm I embark on several projects to improve my Portuguese language skills…

How did you learn to speak another language?

Do you think it’s possible to truly integrate in a community unless you share a common language? I think not, but I am interested in reading everyone’s comments especially from my Portuguese followers!

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96 responses to “Is Language a Barrier to Social Integration in Portugal?

  1. I live in the DR where everyone speaks Spanish. When I came here I didn’t speak a word, but now, being married to a Dominican who doesn’t speak English, my everyday language is Spanish. I had no choice but to learn but I had the great advantage of having studied French and German at university, so I knew how to learn a different language, and about grammar. However I was not taught Spanish formally. I first learned the present tense of 8 key verbs – to be, to have, to want, to come, to go, to say, etc. Then each day I learned 10 words of vocabulary and slowly I could hold a conversation in the present tense. I also tried to make friends with Dominicans who loved teaching me. Keep up the work PiP – you will get there in the end!

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    • Hi Linds, I think once you have mastered one latin language I am sure it does make others easier. I just wished I’d have listened more at school!. IT still surprises me that my friends who have Portuguese husbands can’t speak Portuguese!
      I’ve been trying to identify the 20 most used verbs in the Portuguese language, then learn the present past and future, but as yet I can’t find the info I am looking for. 😦 The trouble I find is that a lot of Portuguese does not translate in the literal sense. I will persist with pestering the elderly ladies down at the local café.

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      • Translating in your head everything you want to say does not work. It actually hinders communication. Have you tried watching TV in Portuguese? Like the BBC, for example. I think they sometimes have subtitles in the same languages. Hours and hours of input helps a lot and it slowly stops you translating 🙂 You’ll start thinking in Portuguese.

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        • Hi Ana, the words I’ve learned here that I did not know in English, for example different types of fish I ahve not even bothered to translate back to English. Aso when I’m in France and I hear a “foreign language” I immediately respond in Portuguee without thinking. things like sorry, excuse me, yes not etc.

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  2. Having made a Portuguese laugh until tears streamed down his face over the word head…I feel your pain. It’s not easy to integrate without some basic knowledge. I would hope, if I were in your shoes, that I would befriend someone who help, but they call me hermit for a reason.

    I hope you fare better with your Portuguese than I have with mine. I make him laugh more often then not when trying to speak it.

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    • Hi flowerfroggygirl and a warm welcome 🙂 or should I say bem vindo?
      I’ve tried on several occasions to befriend a couple of local Portuguese ladies who can speak English, but unfortunately they are not interested in friendship, and just want money although they are not qualified to teach. I on the otherhand would be delighted if someone asked me to help them speak English…
      I am trying to translate some recipes WITHOUT using google translate at the moment.

      So what is the tale behind head…sounds quite straight forward or does you pronounciation have a hidden meaning?

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  3. Angela Wilkinson

    Hi there,
    I’ve just been looking at this site and it is quite helpful. I’m trying to get a head start before we move over to Central Portugal but I’m a dab hand at mime too. I think it generally brightens other folks day if you’re willing to make a bit of a fool of yourself.
    http://www.learningportuguese.co.uk/
    Angela

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    • Hi Angela, and Welcome. thanks for the link… the problem is there is a difference between Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese. For a while I did help a Brazilian college student with her her English pronounciation, but I noticed the way she spoke Portuguese was different along with some of the words.

      Good luck with your move to Portugal!

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  4. Tosta Mista's Posts in Portugal

    I think it really depends on you and your lifestyle whether you have to learn the language. We both wanted to learn it as quickly as possible but my god it is hard! We are lucky to attend a free beginners class at our local school and that is a godsend. We also bought the Michel Thomas Portuguese language course which I loved but Mister Mista did not like at all. I found it invaluable to provide a basis for sentence structure as I just cannot learn parrot fashion from a phrase book. The pedantic in me has to understand why I am using certain words and in what order.

    But your are so right, the isolation you can feel can be overwhelming, something I am struggling with at the moment. We were at our local cafe the other day and the waitress simply asked what would we like, but she said it slightly differently to normal, I totally froze, my mind went blank and even more worryingly I felt tears prick at my eyes at the frustration of not understanding a simple question.

    Initially I loved the peace of being in an environment where I could not understand the conversations around me. It was like floating in water, words were just a dull noise, comforting but incomprehensible. But now I find the exclusion isolating.

    For me learning the language is essential if staying in Portugal is to be a success.

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    • Hi Toasta, I can so relate to your words…see if we were both speaking in Portuguese we would not be able to express ourselves in the same way. Only reduced to three word sentences and no analogies! I find even if I can read something and understand when it is spoken in the strong Algarvian accent. The frustration levels for me now are off the rictar scale especially after attending a soup fair where the Portuguese tried to make us dumbwits so welcome. Like you I don’t want to live in a bubble, I want to live!

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  5. Language is so much a part of culture that it’s essential to have it in order to fit in. The hard part is learning it, particularly common usages vs formal.

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    • Hi Matthew, you are right about formal and common usage. My original teacher hardly spoke to me; everything was written and formally but I quickly discovered this was not how people speak here in the Algarve.

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  6. I think it is essential if you live and want to integrate in a country. English is not my first language and I started learning it a school in Italy (very good grammar basis) but for the spoken language a full immersion is really required and I got it living as an au-pair in the UK. You can learn lots by being around small kids, I have tried learning Croatian doing a course, but I am not very good at it, although when we go to Croatia I pick up many words from neighbours and friends, and all the workers and builders, who speak little English. when I travel I love using my knowledge of Spanish, German, English and Italian. Have you tried watching Portuguese movies with English subtitles? or English movies with Portuguese subtitles? I find that is really useful to pick up many words.

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    • Hi Croatia,
      You are right about immersion but it’s where I immerse. My head buzzes as I hear so many different languages here – it is a real melting pot! Good in in respect but not in others. Unfortunately we no longer receve Portuguese TV, I am looking on the net to see if I can stream, and On You tube. Cookery videos (of course) so I can hear a lot of the vocabular I’m studying spken. Sounds like you ahve had an interesting life traveling 🙂

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  7. Hi,

    Learning a new language can be really difficult.
    Maybe it’s a good idea to use a program like http://ankisrs.net/
    or supermemo (anki is more user friendly and works the same as supermemo). These are spaced repetition programs and help you remember the words you have learnt. Everytime we learn something most of it will be gone from our memory in a couple of days, but with these programs you can stop that.
    read this: http://www.supermemo.eu/supermemo_method
    I use anki and supermemo for learning english….

    Good luck with it
    Dennis

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  8. Hi, if you live in Japan, you need to speak simple Japanese because most of us can speak only Japanese However, most of us are kind to teach our language and you’ll learn it soon 🙂

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  9. I think it’s possible, but challenging. When I lived in Japan, several of the foreigners made no effort to learn Japanese beyond the basic needs for ordering food and such. They missed out. At the same time, learning to read Japanese is harder than learning to speak it, so it adds a barrier that is really difficult to overome. I learned by speaking in Japanese whenever I could, even when I made mistakes, and spying on people in bars. That was when I was in my 20s though, I’m not sure what I would do now.

    Sometimes, though, I feel like I speak a completely foreign tongue even among English speakers, so maybe my social barriers have less to do with language and more to do with me.

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  10. When you decide on a seachange you are entering at least somewhat different cultural manners and mores anyway in a new country: of course language becomes paramount in importance. We are all different, but I study best on my own – in languages love to have book in hand and tape going to hear the sounds and simply go back and forth until I feel I have mastered a section. Admittedly when you are born in as small a country as Estonia you are taught from the time you can walk that you have to internalize at least 3-4 languages to get by even in your own land! I spoke German at home, Estonian in the outside community, French as my father was a strong Francophile with many French friends and bits and pieces of Finnish, Russian etc. I had had three years of school English when I arrived In Australia – well Oz is ‘different’ to ‘English’ 🙂 ! It took almost a year to become really proficient and having to learn Shakespeare, Chaucer etc in that timeframe was not precisely easy 😀 !!! Good luck and don’t give up!!!!!

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    • WOW Eh! How lucky you were to have the opportunity at such a young age to be exposed to so many languages. The young mind is like a sponge. Englan is too parochial and we were not really encouraged to learn langages at school. We had language lesson but they were a thing to be endured rather than enjoyed. How I wih I could turn back the clock!

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      • ‘Yesterday is a cancelled cheque, tomorrow a promissory note, it is only today which counts!’ – I live by that! When I was born in NE Europe one only learned English if one wanted to go into business!!!!!!! French, German and Italian were the ones to internalize! How the world has changed!! I absolutely believe you had no encouragement to learn other languages, ’cause everyone learned yours 🙂 ! It is all a matter of mindset [and a wee bit of grey matter!] ; I actually met Estonia’s first President post-wars! A linguist! But a fluency in 36 languages in a very humble man absolutely floored me! YES, you CAN get fluent in Portuguese 🙂 !

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  11. Hi! I’m Portuguese, and I’ve always lived in Portugal. I’ve learned English in school, but what really helped was intense immersion: movies, music, books. Immersion, immersion, immersion. Now I even catch myself thinking in English, or trying to find a word in Portuguese for the word in English that just popped in my mind. But I’m still learning, of course. So this is the advice I can give you: try to open yourself as much as you can to the language, every day. Once I read about an American guy who was living in Spain but couldn’t learn the language. One day he decided to make an experiment: he could only speak Spanish from that day on. In the beginning it was very awkward and slow, but he learned quickly!
    If you ever need ‘online help’ with Portuguese, I’ll be happy to help 🙂

    (My contact: mopsaaspom(at)gmail(dot)com)

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    • Hi Mopsa and welcome!
      I’d love to try the experiment in that everytime I went out to shops and bars I oly spoke Portuguese! I went shopping this morning and managed to order all my meat in Portuguese, even got the chicken chopped in half
      The butcher did revert to English but I made him persist in Portuguese and he was pleased by my enthusiasm and praised my attempts. I think I am going to try learning my vocab in themes, like food, cooking, gardening, family etc etc so I can fully grasp that vocab and build on it. I will keep you email safe as I do have some questions pehaps you can help me with 🙂

      thanks one again for stopping by, its really appreciated
      Obigadinha!

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  12. Not being able to communicate fully is a barrier to friendship. Good luck, PiP.

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  13. Oh that parallel world… I know it well. It is like having an out of body experience. We’re lucky that most people here (Phuket,Thailand) have at least some English as it’s a popular tourist destination. We do feel that learning the language will go a long way towards being welcomed as part of the community rather than being viewed as temporary visitors.

    Good luck with the lessons!
    Anne

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  14. Rumour is you need to sleep with a dictionary if you need to learn a new language once you are an adult.

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    • Hi dzynr2 and welcme. Not sure re. sleeping with the Portuguese and pillow talk would improve my vocab LOL. My friends who have married Portuguese can’t speak it! They understand more due to osmosis, but if I ask them something they don’t know.

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  15. All part of being an expat and laughable language errors go with the territory (pun intended)! Bon courage, PiP!

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    • Thanks Kim, the thought of learning Portuguese terrifies me less than learning French. Once, in Lyon, I desperately tried to mime where are the toilets after I’d asked ou e la toillete? And was met with the “Errr” I asked in English, again an errr…and then I turned to Mr Piglet and said why are the French always so unhelpful? I was then reluctantly given the directions to the toilet in French. I mean, why did the woman not just give me the directions in the first place. It’s obvious from the mime when you are saying pe pe and xchee xchee you ae desperate. The list of these expereinces in FRance are endless and I admire any Brit who goes to live there 🙂

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      • Usually, just making the effort to speak French gets you the help you are asking for – sometimes, as in your example, it doesn’t unfortunately for both sides, as it leaves you with an unpleasant memory and gives the French a negative reputation. In general, it is more tourist-friendly now (or let’s hope so!)

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  16. Such a heartfelt post PiP, I could feel your frustration and sense of alienation. I empathize because I can get around in Dutch but if someone speaks rapid-fire at me it all dissolves in a heartbeat. If they’re willing to slow down – and accept that I’d rather not speak English – we muddle through. There are lots of great suggestions in the comments (tv, movies, radio, overhearing conversations, trying to make sense of the newspaper).

    What has helped me? The best phrase I’ve learned is ‘What is the word for x?’ in Dutch (although it helps that many Dutchies speak English). Definitely chatting occasionally with a child (7-10 is best) if possible. Their vocabulary and sentence structure is simpler. Pick up a couple children’s books at the library (same concept) or at a used book sale and then work your way through with a dictionary. One day on the tram I noticed people speak to each other slower and more casually when sitting together but in a public place; I understand more of the conversations I discreetly listen to there. And finally, don’t worry about becoming fluent or even proficient or how far you have to go. Look back and celebrate how far you’ve come, and just keep plugging along.

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    • Hi Linda,
      I’ve heard Dutch is one of the hardest languages to learn so I applaud your attempts. I’ve bought some children books and before we lost Portuguese TV I used to get up at 7.00 every morning and watch childrens TV, especially Bob the Builder which my children grew up with in the UK.
      You are right I should “Look back and celebrate how far I’ve come, and just keep plugging along.” Rather than how far I still ahve to go. Sometimes we can get in a rut and look at the negatives and then feel sorry for ourselves.
      Thanks for reminding me 😉

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  17. I find learning Portuguese songs very useful. I have two small children and the ‘Musica do Carochinha’ on YOUTUBE is great. The songs seem to stick, and then you find out the meaning of the words later. It really helps with training the accent, too
    . We’ve had our fair share of problems over the years though. We’ ve been here for nearly 9 years and only found out from our young son last year, what the word for ‘willy’ is. My husband was horrified, as it’s very similar to the word ‘straw’. Turns out, he’s asked almost every barman or waiter if they have a willy, and later, when my daughter came along, he’d been asking if they have two. We always wondered why he got such strange reactions.

    Oh, and then there was the time last year when I caused much hilarity in Pingo Doce by asking for a tin of poo milk, when I wanted coconut milk. It really is all in the accent, don’t you know!

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    • Hi Michaella, and welcome! 🙂

      checked oout the songs on You Tube, they are great! thanks. Good suggestion and it gives the words as well.

      Love the willy and poo story…by the way what is the Portuguese for willy and straw? PErhaps it’s something I ought to know! Haveing small children must be a great help in integrating in to the community.

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  18. its a sweet life

    Know that the other person, the native speaker is also really wanting to communicate with you. Maybe you can relax into that idea.

    What I am getting from your post is a sense of the personal distress on an emotional level, and I hope I am not speaking out of turn to suggest you could benefit from taking your attention there first and acknowledging your feelings, and giving your self some compassionate positive feedback for how well you are doing taking on such a life change.

    Find some tools to support yourself emotionally, some kind of loving kindness meditation or affirmations, and on practical level put out for an ex-pat support circle?

    Well done and keep going!

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    • You are right on the button. I feel depressed at not being able to speak the language. I have plenty of expat friends but I want to broaden my circle of friends. Non of my friends can speak Portuguese any better than I can. Some have had loads of lessons like me and others not. My husband often pushes me forward and says you can speak Portuguese and I die of embarrassment because after all the effort I’ve put in I can’t. Still I’ve now sorted out all my lesson notes and decided not to wast money on more lessons just foucs learning and remembering everything I’ve been taught. I understand the structure of grammar now…it’s just remembering it!

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  19. I wish you all the luck with the language, darling! We are looking into moving in Central Portugal next year, and I’ve started learning the language. I really like it so far but the main problem is that people speak fast (unless they are foreigners) and it’s really hard to separate one word from another. I’m just hoping I’ll be able to immerse myself into language from day one. Another surprising thing is that most of the listening videos are with Brazilian Portuguese which is no good to me. Still it’s better than when we were living in Thailand and I felt totally useless not being able to learn Thai. It’s a tonal language, and I am tone deaf, so it was a disaster from the very start. :))) Good luck with everything, I really enjoy reading your blog!

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    • Hi Kara, you are certainly right about separting the words! When foreigners speak Portuguese to me as a common language I understand, but not Portuguese. Good luck with your move to central Portugal next year!

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  20. Sounds tough. I went to spain armed with a phrase book. I just waltzed into shops, cabs and bars and read out a relevant sentence. By the end of 2 weeks I was able to ask a cab driver to pick me up at a prearranged spot near some caves in the middle of nowhere. It worked. Persevere and make them talk to you!

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  21. Pingback: REBLOG: Is Language a Barrier to Social Integration in Portugal? | Piglet in France

  22. English is my only language.
    I feel for you and agree with you. I admire that you & Mr P have moved to a country where you have to learn everything from language to laws, common customs and everything in between. It’s a brave thing that you do.
    I believe with your renewed gusto to learn, it’s possible that you’ll become more fluent faster this time than in the times past. Keep up the great work.
    🙂

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    • Hi E.C sometimes I feel a crushing sense of panic wash over me especially when I’m ill and I can’t read the dosage on medicines or sometimes even identify which does what! The sheer volume of vocab I have to learn tobecome fluent overwhelms me.

      I’m sitting here now trying to revise some of the verbs etc…

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      • Oh my goodness, I hadn’t even thought about the medicine dosages. That’s a scary thought. I hope you can get a handle on the learning and be comfortable with the language soon. I know you can do it. I wish you the best. 🙂

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  23. That old phrase learning to crawl before you walk springs to mind! Children’s books and magazines and tv programmes could be a great start to build on?

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    • Hi Jo, we don’t have Portuguese TV anymore, but I’ve now found a few progs on YouTube for children suggested by Michaella above
      ‘Musica do Carochinha’ on YOUTUBE which I’m going to play over and over 🙂 I’m not a great one for the radio as they just talk so fast it becomes white noise!

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  24. Hi PiP (over from PiF)
    You mention the age issue which I think is important. It’s much easier to learn stuff when you’re young.

    I was 25 when I came to France to be with my French boyfriend. He insisted that we speak all the time in French so that I could get the hang of the language. I also read the French language papers and easy books like Agatha Christie to increase my vocab. It took about six months, but it worked. That was then, though, and I think it would be much more difficult now.

    For lessons, do you know of a way to do a swapsie of English conversation for Portuguese? I belong to an organisation called Internations which is a huge all-nationalities expat organisation. They have groups in many large centres and meet up once a month. I belong to the Montpellier one and we have people regularly coming asking for language exchanges to the point where we have set up a regular language exchange evening – 1 hr in English, 1 hr in French.

    There are 3 groups in Portugal – Cascais, Lisbon, Porto. Maybe one of them is near you?

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    • Hi Sarah, and welcome 🙂
      I like the idea of internations, but unfortunately we are over 3hrs from Lisbon and 5 to Porto 😦 I think I may advertise in our local shops for language exchange swapsie 🙂 I’ll ask someone to help me write out the notice in Portugues. I’ve just been going through all my lesson folders and I have LOADS…if I remember a 1/4 of what’s stored in them I will be and 1/8 of the way there 🙂 Looking at all the grammar I’ve studied in the past, I’ve realised this weekend more lessons won’t help me, it’s conversation I need with someone who is VERY patient!

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  25. I’d highly recommend the total immersion method. Learning a language is learning some rules + learning a lot from hearing, reading, writing and speaking. However, it should be said that in Portuguese there is a big difference between what you write and what you speak: we tend to be very formal in writing and less formal in speaking (depending also on context, obviously). And then there’s the accent question…
    However, if you have a small dictionary perhaps you can try having it with you if you come across a word you really can’t understand but try to go without it. Music usually works great for me (and I speak 5 languages besides Portuguese) because it gets both brain hemispheres to work – like in the alphabet song! Some people also like to spread post-its around the house with the names of the objects in the language they’re learning (helps a bit with some vocabulary). And yes, children’s books are good, too.
    Imagine that, instead of English, you speak a language nobody here would understand and so you really have to make an effort to make your point across: many people living in Portugal who come from Eastern Europe had a relatively easy time adapting to and learning Portuguese because nobody spoke Russian but they needed to know Portuguese for their everyday routine! The Chinese are very different, because they usually live in less open communities, most work in shops and they have a different support from their embassy, so they don’t have such a big need to understand Portuguese and their vocabulary is, therefore and generally speaking, more restricted.
    About the total immersion method: Some years ago I spent 3 days in Germany (work stuff) and was staying at a place where people only spoke German, surrounded by Germans all day long, listening to German and speaking in German. On the plane back to Portugal I realised I was starting to think in German!

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    • Hi Lisbon, FIVE languages – I’m impressed!

      “There is a big difference between what you write and what you speak” I’ve discovered this is so true! when you say about thinking in a language, the words I’ve learned here that have no literal English translation or words for foods and fish for example that I had no association with in the UK, I only relate to and think of these words in Portuguese.Also sometimes Portuguese phrases and words arrive in my mouth without connecting to my brain and translation process. I am happy when this happens. I’m going to advertise for someone to help me with conversation. Not a teacher but someone who perhaps may even want to speak English so we can help each other 🙂 We will see how this works. I also need to try and sort out Portuguese TV…although I never even watch English TV…so maybe I need to stream through my PC and listen to music.

      the thing I need to do is have a plan rather thatn run raound like a headless Galinha

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  26. LOL! Cluck…er…cluck..
    As you know, I have family in Poraland, and my BIL grew up here, so there’s no problem with language as he his bilingual. And most of my wife’s cousins falam Inglês .
    I am more by-lingual, as in, I get by with, ‘cerveja gelada, por favor.’
    Never let me down yet. 😉

    Advice? You have to THINK in Portuguese. Odd, I realise, but to continually translate from English to Portuguese in your head you’ll be doing bloody chicken impressions ’til you DO lay an egg.
    As the pavement violinist replied to the tourist on how to get to Carnegie Hall:
    ‘Practice, man. Practice!’

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    • Some things I do already think in Portugese. These are things like food etc which I was not familiar with in the UK. I’ve learned the Portuguese word, but not bothered to learn the English. Some words I’m now hearing and I don’t translate, well I do butnot through process, I just know what they mean naturally.

      but you are right I have to think and not translate

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  27. I should add there actually IS an alternative; a tried and trusted method used by the English since even before Manchester United supporters began going over to Torremolinos. Speak slowly, loudly and enunciate your vowels in a precise and forthright manner. If the bloody don’t get it after that, sing God Save the Queen, shout Bobby Charlton & bugger the lot of ’em, right?

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  28. Kudos for being determined, PiP. I think being able to communicate, at least at a basic level, is essential for integration into a different society.

    How did you learn to speak English? Seriously……by listening and repeating, right? My advice would be to find (or start) a language exchange group. I’d bet that there are some Portuguese women there who would love to learn and practice English. Also, you could do what I do. Find a good Portuguese teacher and pay for private lessons. I am still “taking lessons,” which involves my Spanish teacher coming to my apartment twice a week and doing nothing except conversing with me and gently correcting me. This gives me three hours a week of uninterrupted Spanish in a cozy, no-pressure situation. I think it has helped me more than anything because the thing that always seems to be missing from regular classes is the practice.

    Good luck!

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    • Hi SAlly, yep I have decided to advertise to see if any Portuguese ladies/children would like help with English in return for help with Portuguese. I do need conversation. I have a piles of lesson notes and grammar from years of private lessons. I need to sit down and revise all this stuff and then practice the sounds of the words. You are doing well in your Spanish – how much longer before you are writing your blog in Spanish?

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  29. I`m using language translator if I don`t understand the word , so easy to understand the world 🙂

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  30. I was going to suggest advertising for exchange lessons – I’m sure someone would love to improve or learn English and in exchange they could converse with you in Portuguese. When we lived in Germany, the first year I couldn’t speak German and the Germans weren’t too fond of “foreigners” who didn’t try and speak German. First I did a 3 month intensive course, then I had the TV on the whole day and eventually I started learning more and more… I didn’t bother much with grammar, and no thinking in your mother language and translating into the other language either! Just talk, say whatever words you know and even if you mix a few English words in between, it is better than nothing! You are lucky the Portuguese are quite patient and keen to teach, so take it easy and don’t stress Carole.

    I too have 2 English speaking friends married to Portuguese who lived in Portugal for half a dozen years and never bothered to learn Portuguese, but then their husbands never bothered teaching them either, and they lived in an English world, kids going to English school, English speaking friends, etc. so they didn’t bother, but I agree with you that you lose out on a lot.
    You can always count on me for any help Carole.

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    • Thanks Sami, several people have now suggested the exhcnge idea so I am going to advertise and make little slips to hand out to women down the local cafe. I am going to write it in Portuguese so I will ask for your help to check what I’ve written. IV unfortunately we dont have Portuguese TV anymore since they changed from Analogue. But having said that I never watch English TV. I am however, going to find some childrens videos on YouTube and watch some cooking vdeos as well as I’m learning to cook using Portuguese recipes. Fun because I thought farinha was some sort of flour rather than a sausage!

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  31. I can only imagine your frustration. I haven’t tried that yet. But kudos to you for doing such a hard thing. Learning and speaking a language seem to be 2 different things. When I took Spanish, I could read it, but then when the teacher would speak (or even non when a Spanish worker is nearby and I eavesdrop) it sounds like gibberish. If I could see the words they are speaking, I might get it faster…that’s just me though.

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    • Hi char, I am with you on this. I can write very simple sentences in Portuguese without even thinking about it…if someone spoke the same sentences back to me in Rapid Fire, I would not have a clue. 🙂 Still after this post I’ve been given some great ideas and feel more positive as I move forward

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    • Hi Char, I understand exactly what you are saying. I’m a visiual person first. I visualise words as they are written to remember them. Eventualy when I speak I don’t even think about them…but it’s the accents of differnet people that get me all the time. Algarvian apparently is not easy.

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      • Accents are hard even in English. My husband thought the Belfast people were speaking a foreign language when he first went there.

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        • LOL, I can imagine. I joke with my Scottish neighbour sometimes as she is Glaswegian, and my other friend is from up north. Both accents are strong, There is certainly a strong regional accent here in the ALgarve!

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  32. I guess I’m lucky as I tend to pick up other languages quite quickly but it is frustrating, especially at the start, not being able to communicate fluidly and int he same way as you would in your native tongue. Stick with it!

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  33. Hi PiP,

    Have you considered inviting some portuguese over for dinner? I will be noisy and confusing and, if they speak english, there’s the risk the language changes, but maybe do it as a language exchange. One dinner just portuguese, one dinner just english.

    Also, from experience living in the UK, it is only natural that we tend to gather with our own. Loads of my friends here are portuguese, however I truly make an effort to meet non-portuguese people, not so much for the language but for the social and cultural integration.

    Lastly, as someone suggested, try watching portuguese tv with subtitles. I believe if you go to teletext and type 888 it gives you the subtitles.

    And if you want, I can comment in portuguese here 😉

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    • Hi Zebra, I like the idea of inviting some Portuguese over for dinner, not sure what they will make of my cooking especially if I cook toad in the hole which is a traditionally English dish I remember from my childhood. 🙂 It’s natural for you to be attracted to other Portuguese expats in the UK sometimes we need the comfort of our culture and interests. I’ll have to nag Mr. P about getting a digibox so we can pick up Portuguees TV again. We ahve the areal etc. and good tip re 888 to get subtitles.

      Please comment in Portuguese 🙂 I’m going to write some very simple Portuguese posts as well and encourage my Portuguese followers to comment in Portuguese and correct my Portuguese

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  34. One of the main reasons I wanted to move to Portugal was the fact that the people are so warm and friendly toward helping folk who try to help themselves by using the language.

    I had endless fun pointing at objects and asking whoever was willing to inform me what the word was… in a month there I learned quite a bit, mostly though I learned to listen more carefully! Hopefully one day I can again put to practice what I learned years ago… after a refresher or two! 😉 I dream on!

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  35. Hi, love your blog and completely understand the frustration of learning a new language as an adult.
    Tangential story: My father is Japanese and my mother is American. Today they are both Japanese language teachers and I speak Japanese like a chromosomally-challenged 5 year-old. Funny part: Japanese was my first language. I could even read all of the hiragana as a small child. But when we moved to the States I attended a preschool for children who weren’t fluent English speakers—though I knew English I often spoke a garbled mixture of the two… (Tangential supplement to tangential story: My parents wanted to raise me bilingual, but studies have shown that the best way to do this is for one parent to speak only one language so the child can learn to associate the difference b/w languages) From what I remember of this school, students were reprimanded for using their native languages. Consequentially, I “graduated” speaking perfect English and my Japanese vocab was severely limited. This was back in the 80s and I really hope such educational policies have changed…
    Anyway, in college I spent some time studying anthropological linguistics and learned that typically the best way to learn a language is through total immersion (so you’ve already got that going 😉 )and repetition. A brilliant professor recommended the book Simplified Swahili which was part of the Peace Corps’ language acquisition training program—mainly filled with language drills. I excelled in my Swahili classes and when the professor had to leave the country halfway through the semester I was asked to take over teaching the 101 classes and all of my students passed!
    I hope this helps!
    Best of luck and keep up the good work!

    Like

    • Hi and welcome – You certainly had an adventure with language. My granddaughter is half French and while she understands English, my biggest fear is, will be able to speak it? At the moment she speaks a mixture and Franglish. I’ve taken everyones comments and encouragement and have resumed my studies. a little everyday.

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  36. I cannot imagine living permanently in a country and being unable to speak the language. I would miss so much. Portuguese is a difficult language but keep at it and you will get better. I intend to retire to Portugal in a few years so started learning the language about 4 years ago when I bought a holiday home. I’ts not easy to become proficient with sessions of 1 hr per week but my Portuguese is quite good now. It is still tricky understanding european portuguese as the portuguese tend to speak very quickly and not pronounce the word endings (it’s easier to understand Brazilian portuguese). However I just ask them to speak a bit more slowly and that makes all the difference. I can have conversations with the residents in the small village where I have my house and I know that they do appreciate my stumbling and halting Portuguese.
    While in the UK, I keep up with what’s happening in Portugal by reading portuguese news online.
    Do keep at it, you will be surprised how much difference it makes.

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    • Hi Miriam and welcome 🙂 You do miss so much when you don’t speak the language 😦 The problem I have we live in more of an international community where listening to conversation at our local cafe, German was more prevelent than Portuguese LOL :).

      I’ve been digging out all my old lesson folders and it’s amazing if I could remember all the info within, I would be all but fluent. Yes, I did lose my way for awhile as I became downhearted by my lack of progress and apart from one of my Englishs friends, who also, like me, could not grasp Portuguese non of my immediate friends were interested in getting together to study. I am going to ask one of my Portugese blogging buddies to write an advert to advertise for someone to help me with pronounciation and go through some of my old lessons so I can at least get the pronounciation correct.

      I’m going back to basics at the moment.

      You are lucky to live (or going to live in a small village). I personally do not have enough interaction with Portuguese ladies to move forward. I did go to some lessons in the UK but most people dropped out by Chirstmas and when we came back in Jan I was the only one who turned up for the lesson.

      Hey ho, glad you’ve found my blog. Pelase stop by and keep in touch. Are you based in the Algarve or Central Portugal?

      Carole

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  37. Piglet, my heart goes out to you. I lived in francophone Switzerland and France near Geneva for 5 years. It was a struggle — I’ve written several posts on my attempts at learning french. I can get by. I can order in a restaurant. I can speak in pigeon French. But I will never be confused with someone who can actually speak it.

    Some of it is the fact that it is back-asswards. The grammar is illogical (no easy way to say anything).

    But it sounds lovely.

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    • Hi Elyse, and welcome. Imy heart goes out to you. French is Sooo difficult. Sometimes I confuse the two languages so I’ve given up on French. Are you stil inSwitzerland or have you moved on?

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      • We left Switzerland 10 years ago, after being there for 5. My French still sucks. My husband could read it and write a bit. I could speak well enough to get by. Between the two of us we somehow managed. Our son, who was in elementary school, learned to speak it pretty well but has forgotten it completely.

        Pointing and grunting got me through! But is not knowing the language a barrier to social integration? Absolutely.

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  38. Pingback: Is Portuguese ready to steal the limelight? | My Five Romances

  39. Pingback: Feira da Sopa in Rogil | Piglet in Portugal

  40. Hi Piglet, I loveyour blog! it’s always guaranteed to make me smile. We moved to Portugal in November last year and immediately embarked on a course do language lessons at the Casa de Povo at Messines. They’ve been really useful and there are classes for beginners, intermediate and advanced learners. We’re finding it exceptionally difficult but worthwhile as we are learning a lot. Our main problem is that almost all the Portuguese people we encounter speak good English so we’re,just not getting any practice with native speakers. Our lovely Portuguese neighbour keeps bringing us gifts of ovos but it’s so difficult to communicate with her. She visited earlier this week and I used Google translate so we could have a basic polite conversation, which was helpful but not ideal. If Messines is reasonably local for you I’d recommend the lessons which are cheap at 4.50 euros per session for 1.5 hours and they only speak Portuguese in the intermediate and advanced lessons, so you would get practice and meet other people who are at about the same level as you, linguistically speaking.
    Thanks for the blog, it’s great to be able to read about your experiences.

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  41. Morfes e Comezainas

    Portuguese is a very difficult language for a native English speaker. The verbs are all different, the order of words is different, one word can have 20 different meanings. It can be painful.
    I speak several languages, English, French, Dutch, German, Norwegian, it gets easier after the third one.
    I learned English at The British Council, I was 8 at the time, so it was rather easy. Did the same with French at the Alliance Francaise.
    To learn German, I went to study at the Goethe Institute. I was older at the time and it was harder.
    I learned Dutch when I was living in the Netherlands, the local council paid Dutch lessons to qualified foreigners working in the country. It was easier because I already spoke German. Finding similar words helps to build up vocabulary: As the locals how to say a word. I used to just say English words in the middle of a sentence whenever I couldn’t remember or didn’t know a Dutch word. Usually, they would correct me. I made it a point to learn a new word everyday.
    I found out after some months there that they used subtitles at the movies, so I went to the movies every week, you can learn a lot by “connecting the dots”.
    When reading labels in the supermarket, take note of the words you don’t understand. Check them later on Google Translator.
    Talk to yourself in Portuguese, Came up with the strangest dialogs you can imagine. That will help you in constructing sentences and gaining vocanulary.
    If you know other languages, think of words that are similar. When I first went to Norway, I started reading the signs in the airport because it looked like I was reading Dutch or German. Even learning Dutch became much easier because many things are similar to German.
    You said it yourself, we don’t take it seriously if you mispronounce a word or if you give a “pintapé na gramética”, so just ask people what you want to know.
    And a few tricks, many words that end in “ion” in english end in “ção” in Portuguese. Information/Informação, Solicitation/Solicitação, Complication/Complicação, etc. There are exceptions, like Constipation/Constipação, constipação is a common cold.
    Many words that end with “ity” end with “dade” in Portuguese, like solidarity/solidariedade, informality/informalidade, capacity/capacidade, city/cidade.
    Hope That helps
    Rui from LIsbon

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  42. Hi, let me begin by saying that I am really happy to have found your blog. I am planning a winter trip to Portugal, and I am sure I will find lots here to help me in my planning.

    I live in Korea, and my Korean skills are not great. I can read, but speaking is another matter. Sadly, even if I could speak the language, I will always be an outsider here. Koreans seldom allow foreigners into their “inner circles”.

    I am going to try and learn some Portuguese before I arrive this winter. I have found this online language learning site. It looks good and affordable…http://www.babbel.com/

    I will be back to read more!

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  43. Hi first of all how are you getting on with the Portuguese language and the swap languages group you were hoping to start. We have been in central Portugal for just over a year and very slowly I’m getting some of the words I no most fruit and veg and when we go shopping I’m fine and I’m slowly putting words together, we have a big black board on the kitchen table with all my new words and a few sentences written on it so every time I go in there (which is a lot as I love my coffee) I look at the new words and say them out loud which seems to help me also if someone up in the cafe says something to us I try to get them to write it down so I can learn it and learn how to reply, but boy is it a hard language to learn and not being a spring chicken any more it seems so much harder to learn, but my other half is finding it really really hard. Mind you funny story we had friends over from Canada and our friend wanted fizzy water and at the time I didn’t no what the Portuguese called so I told the girl Agua pop pop pop with hand gestures as well lol I still don’t no who laughed more us our friends or the waitress lol but we did get the fizzy water.

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