Preparing for the Move to Portugal

Portuguese: Learning the Language


Learning the language, any language, is a lot easier when you are younger. Once a child is 8 years old, learning a language and sounding like a native becomes a lot harder.

I Learned Spanish as a Teenager

I took three years of Spanish lessons in high school. Since I was a good student in general, I did everything I was supposed to do to learn how to read, speak, and comprehend the language. I learned enough to get by if I was in a Spanish-speaking country.

As the years went on, I slowly lost my Spanish-speaking skills. I had no one to talk with and no reason that I had to use it. I can now pick out a few common words, but I’d be hard-pressed to understand anything beyond a simple phrase.

Learning a Language at 54 vs. at 16

Learning a new language is much harder at age 54 than it was at age 16 and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because my brain is just old and stuck in its ways.

Regardless, I have been plugging along with learning. At first, when we were expecting to move to Italy, I spent 270 days straight on the Duolingo app learning Italian. Now that we are moving to Portugal instead, I’ve switched my focus to learning Portuguese. 

I am up to almost 400 days straight of learning Portuguese on Duolingo, for a total of 665 days straight of learning a language. There is one problem with learning how to speak Portuguese on Duolingo if planning to move to Portugal. 

Brazilian vs. European Portuguese

The problem is that there are a couple of versions of Portuguese. The one on Duolingo is Brazilian Portuguese, not European Portuguese. Since Brazil used to be a colony of Portugal, Portuguese is their official language. However, the dialect is a bit different in Brazil than it is in Portugal. I believe that this is so because of the influence of the surrounding native Brazilian people back when Brazil was colonized by Portugal. 

Regardless, I’ve committed to learning Portuguese with Duolingo. Having 665 days straight is nothing to sneeze at, and I want to keep my streak going. According to my friend, Manuel, I will be understood and can understand European Portuguese and shouldn’t have a big problem with the language. 

Once we move to Portugal in twelve months (!) Switching to European Portuguese should be easy enough. I will not have had a lifetime of learning the language and be set in my ways so the change should be easy. I hope so, anyway. To make it easier, I’ll add another language app, probably Memrise which teaches European Portuguese.

So far, I’m finding it a lot easier to read and write the language than it is to speak or comprehend when others speak. Native speakers speak too fast for me to pick up the words that I know. If they can just slow down a bit, it’s a lot easier for me. If I don’t know or can’t remember a word in a sentence, I can usually grasp the meaning from the other words in the sentence.

Still Have Tons to Learn

I still have tons to learn, but I’m getting there with learning the language. Once we get to Portugal, the government offers free language lessons at a school for foreigners. Dan, Angie, and Kellie will be in an absolute beginners class since they haven’t started learning any of the language yet. I’ll be in a more advanced class since I’ll know a bunch of words and phrases by then. 

My main issue will be the spoken word, both listening and speaking. As it is now, even in English, I speak carefully and get my phrases right in my head before I speak them. 

It’s going to be so much harder to do that in Portuguese. Not only will I have to think of my English phrasing, but then I’ll have to think of rearranging my phrasing to match how the sentence is spoken in Portuguese. Then I’ll have to translate my words in the correct order. 

I hope that being around native speakers and listening to conversations will eventually make it easier for me to speak in Portuguese. Until then, I’m going to feel awkward with my clumsy attempts at speaking.

Luckily, most people under the age of 40 or 45 know English because it’s been taught in school starting in the 1st grade since the overthrow of the dictatorship and the start of the Republic. In larger cities like Coimbra, we shouldn’t have any problems if we spoke English. But I want to embrace my new country and blend in, so I will do my best to learn the language as well as the culture.


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