With well over 200 million speakers, Portuguese is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. The language spans four continents and is spoken by an array of diverse countries and cultures.
It's no wonder that Portuguese is growing in popularity as a foreign language. As a result of Portuguese's global significance and popularity, beginning Portuguese learners now have more learning programs and resources to choose from than ever before!
In this article we aim to help you narrow the field and find the program that is right for you. But before we get into our list, we should probably start off with a quick discussion about what exactly makes a Portuguese course "good".
What makes a good Portuguese program?
It teaches Portuguese grammar well
Portuguese may not be as difficult to learn for native English speakers as more notorious languages like Japanese or Arabic, but even so the language does pose its own unique challenges.
Its verb conjugations, grammatical genders, and a complex system of verb tenses will all seem very new and perhaps intimidating to a new language learner.
A closer look as some of the more minor differences between Portuguese and English
A good Portuguese program should make a concerted effort to help you understand and use the nuances of Portuguese grammar. Using a course that only focuses on words and phrases may seem effective in the short term, but if that course skimps on explaining grammar you will likely be kicking yourself once you reach the intermediate level.
It teaches Portuguese in a holistic way
Here at Live Fluent we always stress the importance of learning all parts of a foreign language: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. A lot of courses will emphasis one to two aspects over the others (ie a course that focuses on reading and writing but not speaking or listening).
As a language learner you have a lot to gain by learning Portuguese holistically. Many don't realize how much each part of the language plays into the other three parts. What you read and write in Portuguese will help you remember what you speak and listen to (and vice versa).
Also, if your goal is to become fluent in the language, then eventually you will need to use all fours aspects. A good course should engage you with writing, speaking, reading, and listening as soon as possible.
It is practical
Grammar and vocabulary are essential to reaching proficiency in a foreign language, but if they aren't taught in a way that is practical your language program might be shooting you in the foot.
You're probably aware of the run of the mill language course which starts off teaching sentences like "The ball is yellow" or "The boy is wearing a red shirt". The problem with this sort of approach is that you're not likely to ever have to use these types of sentences in the real world.
A program worth its salt should teach Portuguese in the context of vocabulary that you actually can use outside of a textbook or classroom. We always emphasize that the best way to practice a foreign language is to start speaking with real life native speakers. That's kind of hard to do when you don't know any useful vocabulary.
Thus programs which focus on the conversational Portuguese are going to much more helpful than ones which don't.
Our picks for top 5 Portuguese courses
1) Rocket Portuguese
20+ minutes a day
Rocket Portuguese does a great job of teaching you conversational Portuguese while at the same time helping you unravel and understand grammar.
This is possible because there are two distinct types of lessons throughout the course: audio lessons and language and culture lessons. These lessons include activities and exercises that get you reading, writing, speaking, and listening in Portuguese.
The audio lessons are where you find practical words and phrases taught in the context of a recorded Portuguese dialogue. This helps you learn vocabulary through stock phrases which you can easily mix and match during real live interactions with native speakers.
This approach also introduces new words in the context of a conversation which helps you better remember and understand the word's meaning.
The language and culture lessons (the second lesson type) dive deeply into grammar. These lessons give you a sort of behind the scenes look at what grammar rules are at play in a specific phrase or conversation.
This two lesson type of approach strikes a wonderful balance between teaching you the words you need to start speaking, while also helping you understand the mechanics of what you're saying.
From $4+ per month
15+ minutes a day
Portuguesepod101 features audio lessons in a podcast format. Lessons are great for grammar and vocabulary. Each lesson is designed around a Portuguese conversation between native speakers, and the teachers do a great job of keeping things engaging.
The lessons feature scenarios which are common to everyday life such as shopping in the store, connecting with old friends in a cafe, or talking to a loved one over the phone. As result the grammar and vocabulary you learn is highly practical.
While it's not as structured as Rocket Portuguese Portuguesepod101 still a learning program to be reckoned with (it's also much cheaper than Rocket Portuguese). The site features transcripts, an in-site flashcard system, and many other useful features.
5+ minutes a day
Duolingo is usually one of the first courses we recommend for learning a foreign language. It's free, effective, and fun to use.
The app is built around a game-like format and largely teaches grammar via example sentences and definitions. Users are required to listen, speak, read, and write while using the app.
The only qualm we have in Duolingo is that sometimes the grammar explanations aren't as in depth as we'd like.
Duolingo is easily one of the most popular language learning apps out there. It's success and popularity pretty much speak for itself. As we said before the app is free to use, so if you haven't already, go and check it out!
4) Pimsleur Portuguese
30 minutes a day
Pimsleur is probably the second most popular language course behind Rosetta Stone. Pimsleur is entirely audio based and is specifically designed to develop your conversational skills.
The program uses a unique and effective question/recall/respond technique to get you speaking in a way that is much more natural than other courses.
This unique method helps you start to think in Portuguese, much like you would if you were talking to real people (no other audio course achieves this in quite the same way).
With Pimsleur You'll learn a limited but functional vocabulary and have a good sense of pronunciation. However the course doesn't focus much, if at all, on reading or writing.
5) Babbel Portuguese
From $6.95+ per month
15+ minutes a day
Babbel features lessons in a quiz based format. Lessons are separated by course categories which include things like difficulty level and specific aspects of grammar.
This course does do a good job of picking apart the grammar of a language. However some of the vocabulary it presents could be more practical.
Babbel works well as a supplement for your daily Portuguese learning, and it's good for learning the foundations of the language.
Learning Portuguese, or any language for that matter, is nothing short of a grand adventure. It's not an easy road to travel, but if you stick to it you will be richly rewarded.
Hopefully this article helped you narrow the field on Portuguese programs. Learning needs and preferences are unique to every learner, so there's no one size fits all when to comes to courses.
If you're on the fence about a particular learning resource it's best to try it out for yourself and see if it's right for you!