Top Seven Mistakes to Avoid When Learning Portuguese (or any language)

Learning Portuguese can be hard, and it can be even harder if you don’t go about it in the right way.

Here are the top 7 mistakes people make when learning Portuguese and how to avoid them. You should be aware of them if you are trying to improve your Portuguese.

 

1 – BEING WORRIED ABOUT MAKING MISTAKES

I remember the first time I had to speak French with a native speaker. It was November 2002, my first month in Geneva, Switzerland.

I was in a thrift store and I got so afraid of making mistakes and looking silly, that I asked a friend that was beside me to ask a simple question: “Do you sell gloves here”? To my surprise, he said “No! If you want to learn speak French, you must lose the fear of speaking it!”

So, I did it, and you know what? I stuttered, I got nervous but I expressed myself. I felt so proud of me! And from that day on, I began taking all the chances I had to practice my French, with or without mistake.

Man, we make mistakes in our own language, so, why should we worry about being perfect in another language? Relax, making mistakes is part of the learning process.

We become more resilient as we replace the aspiration for perfection with a humble desire to learn and grow from our mistakes.

As Lori Wilde said:  “Accept your losses and forgive your mistakes, then you can embrace a happy future”.

 

 

 

2 – UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING

Language learning is composed of 4 skills: speaking, writing, reading and listening.

Listening is the most important part of the process. Why? Because first we listen, speaking comes after. We all learn by copying, and the only way you can copy a language is by listening to someone speak it.

That’s why listening is the skill you need to focus the most when you are learning a language, why?

Because “It is a complex, active process in which the listener must discriminate between sounds, understand vocabulary and grammatical structures, interpret stress and intonation, retain what was gathered in all of the above, and interpret it within the immediate as well as the larger sociocultural context of utterance. Co-ordinating all of this involves a great deal of mental activity on the part of the listener. (VANDERGRIFT)”.

For all its importance, students and even teachers often fail to give listening the attention it needs. And when it comes to Brazilian Portuguese, things can be even more challenging… Brazil has several accents, watch the video below and be surprised:

And if you want to speak correctly, you must listen correctly, or rather, you must listen to the correct resources. Run away from language textbooks with artificial sounding and pre-fabricated conversations that bear little resemblance to how actual native speakers talk in real life.

I give practical tips for you to improve your listening skills  in this article.

 

3 – LEARNING RANDOM VOCABULARY

When learning new words, it’s very important that you don’t learn them in isolation, out of context.

Memorizing lists of loose words like names of colors, animals, fruits etc, is not productive at all, because you won’t learn how these words are used as a whole with other words and will soon forget them.

Context is king when learning new words and their multiple meanings and usages. There is no better shortcut than getting a lot of exposure to a variety of content and contexts. The more you expose yourself to the language, the more likely you will stumble upon a given word used in different ways, having different functions, meanings or fitting within certain expressions.

By learning new words this way, you increase your vocabulary and your familiarity with the language, knowing the meaning of words and how they are used in the language.

If you use this approach, your brain will naturally pick up, diversify and integrate all this with time, exposure, and practice.

 

 

4 – LACK OF CONSISTENCY AND COMMITMENT

Have you really committed to learning the language you want to be fluent in? Have you made a promise to yourself? Most people want to learn a language but with no commitment. If you also act this way, you’re more likely to procrastinate, put off your learning sessions and make slower progress.

A good hint is learning in short bursts every day (learn more here) because besides creating the habit, it keeps the language fresh in your mind. When you start skipping days, you’re more likely to make excuses and skip even more.

Learning a foreign language has to be a constant process. It shouldn’t have too many ups and downs, where you study one day, and you don’t for two days, or you study one day a week… But it must be an everyday commitment, or at least 5 days a week.

Learning a language should become a daily habit, a part of your routine, a part of your day that you don’t want to miss. Taking breaks or days off is okay, because maybe you are busy, because you go on holiday, because you just need time off… But these off days should be the exception, not the rule.

 

 

5 – OBSESSION FOR MEANINGS

Most language learners feel like they have to know every single word they come across in a text, dialog etc. This creates a blockage and makes their life miserable, mainly if they are taking their first steps in the language.

So, what you should do is to remain flexible and open to uncertainty. Get into the habit of guessing the meaning of new words from context. Don’t worry, you’ll eventually learn them through repeated exposure, in different contexts and circumstances.

There is a statistical principle about that: if a word is important within a speech, it will appear more often and soon we’ll be able to understand its meaning.

 

 

6 – FOCUS ON GRAMMAR

You don’t need grammar to speak a language. Grammar is useful for making a language sound correct, but not for actually getting started.

Sometimes it helps to clarify some points, but you shouldn’t make it a priority. Skip it and come back to it later, after you have already gained the confidence with the essential structures and gotten a feeling for the language in a real context.

That’s how children learn grammar, by listening and repeating the sound patterns they hear other people say, beginning with 1 word or utterance and gradually moving up to small sentences.

You didn’t become a fluent speaker of your own language by studying its grammar. Natives don’t tend to learn grammar of their own languages until much later in life, and that’s only really an issue in formal contexts like writing.

We only begin studying grammar (the age of 6, in school), after being already a fluent speaker of our native language. We knew how to use verbs in different tenses before you even knew what a verb was.

So, if children can learn a language and its grammar in this way, what’s stopping adults from doing something similar?

 

 

7 – NOT BEING ACTIVE

Studies suggest that around 60% of learners are ‘passive’ learners, only 10% are ‘active’ learners, and the remaining 30% are ‘blocked’.

If you are really serious about becoming fluent in Portuguese, then you have to prioritize active learning activities as much as you can.

Active learning occurs when you sit down with the express intention of learning, such as:

  • Reading and actively looking up words and phrases you don’t know;
  • Listening to podcasts and doing things like transcribing and shadowing;
  • Writing a diary in Portuguese;
  • Chatting on WhatsApp or Facebook groups with natives;
  • Creating your own vocabulary flashcards;
  • Speaking with natives and trying to use all of your new expressions;
  • Listening to native speakers in conversations and listening very carefully to exactly how they use certain verbs, words, expressions…

Have you ever made any of these mistakes? No problem, the good news is that now you know how to correct them. By doing this, you will learn correctly and faster.

I hope it helped! 😃