How I Learned Portuguese – a testimony

19 Jul

Let me tell you a little about how I learned Portuguese, which has taken a lot of hard work and persistence.

It started after the Atlanta Olympic Games. The organizers had Delta flight vouchers remaining. I was able to buy a voucher to fly anywhere in the world on Delta for just $200 round trip. The farthest Delta destinations at that time were Bombay India and Rio de Janeiro… easy choice.  Before the flight, I used an audiotape for travelers (‘O senhor sabe onde fica o Hotel Rio Grande?’ ‘Tem banheiro aqui?’  ‘Pode me ajudar?’) and did my best to know some basic phrases.

When I arrived in Rio… the most beautiful city I had ever seen… I opened my heart to Brazil.

And then I heard the people talking… on the streets, in restaurants, everywhere I turned… and I LOVED it.

I returned determined to learn much more Portuguese. But how? No courses were offered in the Atlanta at the time. So I set up my own course… with computer programs, a grammar book, and lots of music (beginning with Chico Buarque and Caetano Veloso). I had two dictionaries and challenged myself to find words using the Portuguese-Portuguese dictionary first. I only turned to a Portuguese-English dictionary as a last resort.

I desperately needed to hear the language spoken… so I turned to TV Globo, watching the news, trying to understand the comedy shows (‘Zorra Total,’ ‘Os Normais’) and faithfully following telenovelas.  My friends say I have a great collection of Brazilian films on DVD.  I used them, turning the subtitles on and off, to check my understanding.  I played individual scenes over and over, recording my voice as I imitated the actors… to the point that I realized that I was beginning to sound a lot like Regina Casé.

On Saturdays, I declared Portuguese-only day… no English was read or heard in my house and if I left the house I wore headphones so I wouldn’t hear other people talking.

Luckily, a course was offered at the university where I was working. In it I learned more grammar. But the teacher was from Lisbon and faked a Carioca accent in the classroom. All the Portuguese language students at the university met once per week for Bate-Papo, everyone trying hard to carry on conversations in Portuguese.

I’ve made several trips to Brazil… visiting friends and exploring the history and culture in Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, São Paulo and Brasilia.  My friends have taken me to Ouro Preto and Tiradentes…Santos, Guarajá and Campinas…Pirenópolis… Campos de Jordão and Paraty.  I’ve traveled on my own to Salvador and Curitiba.

A few years ago, I met a young Brazilian woman who needed to practice speaking English. We decided to make an exchange. For two years, we met twice weekly for 1-1/2 hours each time.   During each session, we spoke half the time in English and half in Portuguese. Each of us brought something (news article, driver’s manual, blog post) for the other to read aloud and discuss. We’d talk about idioms, cultural matters, misunderstandings, and questions: Were all those phrases I learned from novelas okay to use in polite society?  What does ‘okeydokey’ mean?  How does ‘inveja’ differ from ‘ciumes?’ We worked on pronunciation and sentence rhythms.  Then we just talked… about anything and everything – films, family matters, travels, plans, whatever…

By the time she returned to Brasília, her English was much better and I was a much more confident Portuguese speaker.

I’ve since met a wider network Brazilians in Atlanta. I’ve asked everyone to help me by correcting errors I make in Portuguese.

Here’s what I’ve discovered along the way: learning a new language as an adult isn’t easy. It takes hard work, persistence, luck, and other people. It’s a lifelong process that can be at times super frustrating but eventually can be super rewarding.


Are you using the correct dictionary?

5 Jul

Make sure you have the right dictionary or use the correct online dictionary for the type variety of English you’re studying.  The wrong dictionary can give misleading information.

Recently I was given a new Portuguese-English dictionary. When I looked up a few words, I became aware that it might cause some difficulties for someone learning Brazilian Portuguese. According to my new dictionary, a bicha is ‘a worm’ or ‘a queue’ in English.

 Two problems:

First, I know that the slang use of this word in Brazil that might cause the unwary learner problems.

Second, a ‘queue’ in BRITISH English is a line of people waiting, either standing or in cars.  In the US, a line of people is very rarely called a queue – it’s usually just  called a line.

Anyone who uses iTunes, Netflix, or similar sources of online entertainment knows that ‘queue’ has recently become a part of American English. It is used to mean the ordered list of music or movies that the user plans to download, listen to, or watch.

When I checked more carefully, I realized that my new dictionary was for Continental Portuguese and British English.

So, check your dictionary. If the item of clothing in this picture is called a ‘jumper,’ you are definitely not using a dictionary of AMERICAN English.


American men don’t wear jumpers. Jumpers are worn by girls and women in the US.  This is an example.

Here’s a short test of your knowledge of British and American terms for items of clothing.

Match these items of clothing:

British                                     American

1. vest                                        a. sweater vest

2. waistcoat                             b. sweater

3. tank top                               c. undershirt

4. jumper                                 d. vest

(answers: 1-c, 2-d, 3-a, 4-b)

Interested in learning more about American English and Americanisms?     Contact me.

What did she say?

19 Jun

Inglês tem muitos ditados e um monte de gíria. Aqui estão alguns exemplos.

Você sabe  o que significa cada um destes?

167. Give me a quick and dirty report for the meeting.

59. I can’t go this weekend. I have to hit the books.

163. I want to pick your brain.

177. Same here!

140. She said she was sorry but her hands were tied.

170. She made a big mistake and he was really giving her the business about it.


These expressions and many more are explained in the lessons. Contact me.

Those phrases that cause trouble

19 Jun

Every language has them, those phrases that everyone knows but foreign language learners can’t understand.  Have pity on the poor student of Portuguese. She goes shopping in Rio and the clerk says “Pois não?”  How confusing!  Even if she  knows each of the words, what is the meaning of the combination?


In English there are many two- and three-word verbs that are confusing for the same reason. For example:

stand up to someone means to oppose or confront that person


stand up for someone means to support him

Do you know these other combinations with the verb stand?

stand down

stand in

stand for

To stand for something is to tolerate [suportar] it.  “I won’t stand for any more noise in this classroom.”


 To stand for something is to respresent [simbolizar] it.   “In this movie the white hats stand for heroes.”

stand with

stand around

stand by

Do you know multi-word verbs with take?

take up

take out

take (someone) in

    To take someone in means to fool or trick [enganar] them.  “She tried to take me in with the story about needing money for her sick cat.”

take for

take down

take over

take to

You may have had problems with some of these phrases already.

They cause problems for all English learners because the meanings can’t be guessed.

In the English lessons, you’ll get to explore and practice these phrases that may have tripped you up in the past.  Contact me for more information.

Recorded conversation: John and Jennifer

15 Jun

Foreign language learners aren’t the only ones who may have problems speaking in front of others. In this conversation recorded by WABE Radio, John talks about his efforts to deal with a speech impediment. What do you think of the methods John has learned to employ?

Using Recorded Conversations

13 Jun

Some English learners complain that when Americans talk they speak too fast, they use contractions, or they run their sentences together. It doesn’t sound like the English in the school books. Even someone who has studied hard and gotten perfect grades in English classes might be confused if his listening skills are poor.

One part of building listening skills is just simply practicing, training the ear to catch the rhythms and habits of English speakers.

I’ll be posting links to recordings from various sources.  These offer opportunities to hear a wide variety of American voices, accents, and topics of interest.

Recorded Conversation: Gnimbin

13 Jun

Gnimbin’s name causes problems

Gnimbin, a graduate student from Ivory Coast, has unexpected legal problems because of confusion about his name. Listen to his recording from StoryCorps recorded by WABE Radio.

Recorded Conversation: Christy and Dan

12 Jun

StoryCorps – Christy and Dan

In this StoryCorps conversation, Christy and Dan talk about the long distance relationship they developed when he was in the Army in Afghanistan.  Source: WABE Radio.  Click the link to listen.

Recorded conversation: Brianna and Abby

12 Jun

Brianna and Abby discuss braces

In this conversation recorded in Atlanta for WABE Radio StoryCorps, Brianna and Abby talk about the embarrassment of being a college student with braces. Click the link to hear two young women in discussion.

9 Jun

Do you…

Want to improve your English pronunciation?  Think you understand spoken English but have difficulty expressing yourself?  Find yourself confused by expressions you hear in movies or in conversations with American friends?  Lack opportunities to practice English? Think you need to work on accent reduction?

What can be done?

Here’s one possibility:

Let’s talk over the internet.  Individualized lessons can help you become a more confident English speaker.