Top 10 Portuguese hacks

Described by Miguel de Cervantes as the most sonorous language in the world, Portuguese is spoken by approximately 250 million people , being one of the most spoken languages in the whole planet. 
Well, it takes time, effort and motivation to master a language; more importantly, it's down to how you study and a positive mindset! Here, we have 10 tailored tricks for people who are learning Portuguese or are thinking about starting their Portuguese lessons.

Remember, there's no shortcut to mastering any language. So in addition to these 10 hacks, practice, practice, and practice. The more you practice, the more confident you'll feel about your progress; and the more confident you are, the more invested--and therefore, better--you will be!

Hack #1: Start with Sounds

Now that you've decided to learn Portuguese, it's time to dig into the language learning process. But where should you even begin?

The answer is simple: sounds. Learning how to hear, pronounce and recognize written Portuguese​ sounds is a great place to get started even before you begin memorizing words and their meanings. 

Unlike English, most Portuguese words are pronounced just like they're written. So, it's always a good idea to learn how to pronounce Portuguese sounds before memorizing vocabulary and studying grammar. In order to do that, you're going to need to learn the Portuguese alphabet.

The Portuguese alphabet is not as impossible to learn as you might think. It has many letters that you already know! And in fact, some words you will be able to read and understand without using Google translation!
Have a look at some letters here:
Portuguese letters       Pronounced as in English   

A          a in 'car'
O         o in 'for'
K          k in 'take'
M         m in 'much'
T          t in 'tin'
C          s in 'set'
 Can you recognize these words?

See the whole Portuguese alphabet here. You can also find a pronunciation guide on YouTube, listen to songs or watch movies. All of these are great ways to learn Portuguese sounds and set the foundation for a great Portuguese accent.

Hack #2: Learn on the Go

Let's face it: you probably have a busy life, and it's difficult to set time aside to study Portuguese. Fortunately, however, one of the best ways to take advantage of your free time is to learn Portuguese on the go.

A great way to do this is by taking advantage of American academic and polyglot Alexander Arguelles' Shadowing Technique.
Check out this video for a sample of how this shadowing technique is done with a foreign language (in this case, it's Chinese) :

This language learning technique involves listening to Portuguese with earphones and simultaneously repeating it out loud while walking outdoors. There are three main keys to this exercise:

1. Walk outdoors as quickly as possible.
If you feel shy or embarrassed to do this in public, find a road or path where you can speak Portuguese loudly and proudly without many other people around you.

2. Maintain a perfectly upright posture.
According to Arguelles, maintaining a good posture contributes to this method's efficacy.

3. Articulate well and in a loud, clear voice.
This is very important in order to effectively learn the rhythm, structure and sound of the language.
Say the sounds as soon as you hear them. Don't wait for the entire word. In fact, at first you may only catch a small portion of what's being said and sound like you're speaking nonsense.

This may feel silly at first, but the results will amaze you. By speaking out loud as soon as you hear Portuguese sounds, you're developing a sense of how the language is structured and sounds, even if you don't understand everything that's being said.

Don't worry if you can't catch and repeat everything. As you improve, you'll gradually begin developing the accent and rhythm of Portuguese. You'll also understand more and more words as your studies progress.

Try it with the first interactive Audio lesson from Rocket Portuguese. Click here to find a free download, save it to your phone and you are ready to go!

Some other great tricks for learning Portuguese on the go include taking advantage of your morning subway or bus commute by studying flashcards or listening to Portuguese audio in the car.

Make learning Portuguese a part of your life, and you'll be amazed how much time you have to study when you learn on the go.

Hack #3: Learn the Practical Words First

Learning a new language requires learning a lot of new words. There's no way around it. Many people use their "bad memories" as an excuse for not learning a new language, but we have some comforting news for these people (and even those with great memories): you don't need to know all--or even the majority--of the words in a language to be able to speak it well. In fact, you don't even need to know half! Most people in any language use between 5,000 ~10,000 words. 
The minimum number of words for a Portuguese beginner is 780. In order to achieve Level 1, which is equivalent to the Key English Test, you need to learn about 1 300 words. 

So what does that mean for you as a Portuguese learner?

By learning the practical words first, you can cut your work load by a half. You'll be able to communicate faster and with significantly less effort.

Here are some of the most common Portuguese words to get you started... (Note that we recommend the Chrome browser for full voice recognition functionality).

Hack #4: Take advantage of what you already know 

Believe it or not, you already knew some Portuguese words before you even started studying the Portuguese language! Many words were borrowed from English, Dutch, German, French and other languages over a period of time. These words, known as cognates, make learning Portuguese easier. 
The words "Emotion" and "Restaurant", for example, have the exact same meaning in Portuguese as their English equivalents. They're just pronounced a little differently and are spelled with the Portuguese alphabet, of course. These cognates can make your language learning much easier and faster. Take advantage of them!

Here's a handy list of Portuguese words that you already know:

Hack #5: Hooked on Mnemonics

As many who have learned a foreign language already know, repeating vocabulary often just isn't enough. Sometimes our brains need a little extra jump start to remember tricky words.

That's where mnemonics come in. Basically, mnemonics involves telling yourself a fun, goofy or memorable story, song or rhyme that you associate with a particular word. 

For example, let's say you want to memorise the colour word rosa (hosa) which means "pink". You can imagine a rose flower.   

Or,  let's say you'd like to memorise the word amanhã (a mann yan) which means "tomorrow". Think of a man named Yan, who will meet you tomorrow.

This fun technique isn't limited to vocabulary: you can also use it to memorise grammatical rules, pronunciation rules, and even phrases and idioms. 
And remember, if you have trouble memorising a word, phrase, or grammatical rule, you can always invent your own mnemonic device. 

Hack#6: Keep a Portuguese Vocabulary Notebook and Flashcards

Keep a journal, document, or book with all of the Portuguese vocabulary you learn in one place.

Not only does keeping a vocabulary journal help you to organize all of your new words and phrases, but the very process of writing down a word and its translation, notes, image or mnemonic device helps you to memorize it

Learners who keep vocabulary notebooks tend to recall vocabulary much faster and progress more quickly in their learning.

This notebook can also be transformed into study-friendly flashcards by using flashcard generating programs like Anki for your phone or computer. You can use your Anki flashcards on your phone to learn on the go when you're on the bus, walking to work or simply waiting in line at the grocery store.

Your Portuguese notebook and flashcards are a fantastic future reference for studying. They can be used anywhere and anytime you have a few free minutes.

Hack #7: Find the patterns

The Portuguese language is an inflected language, like Latin or Greek, while English is not. That means that Portuguese words are comprised of relatively stable roots and inflections. The latter can vary depending on a word's function in a sentence or its intended meaning. But don't despair when you come across a word that looks familiar but has got some extra letters at the front or end!
These high number of inflections can be used to your advantage!  
Initially, when you start learning a Portuguese word you might not realise that it could have lots of "relatives", i.e. related words which all have the same root. And, different inflections will create different meanings. By recognising these inflections you'll be able to understand new Portuguese words, even those you haven't seen before. This quickly boosts your vocabulary. 
Let's have a look at some families of words:

 o frio  (noun - the cold) 
frio (adjective - cold )
refrigerador (noun - fridge - "device that makes cold")
esfriar (verb - to grow cold)
esfriando ( It's got colder.) 

vocábulo (noun - a word)
vocabulário (noun- a dictionary)

dor (noun - pain)
doente (adj. - sick)
hospital (noun - a hospital)
hospitalizado (verb - to be ill) 

escrito (noun - a letter)
escrevendo (adj. - writing/ written)
escrita (noun - written language)
escrever (verb - to write)
escritor (noun - a writer)

As you can see the roots of words tend to connect words within a specific concept. Learning one root  from each family will make it easier to acquire the rest.  You will soon be able to see the patterns and distinguish verbs from nouns and adjectives.  

Hack #8: The Scriptorium Technique

Linguist and polyglot Alexander Arguelles developed another excellent technique for improving your writing and speaking skills simultaneously. It's designed to help you to really focus on the individual components of Portuguese.

The Arguelles' Scriptorium Technique involves three basic exercises:

  1. Read a sentence out loud.
  2. Say each word aloud again as you write it.
  3. Read the sentence aloud as you have written it.

The purpose of this exercise is to force yourself to slow down, pay attention to detail and look up anything you don't know. It's important to be thorough and meticulous. Find good source material and then copy it carefully, saying each word out loud as you go. Make sure to take the time to check any vocabulary or grammar that you're not sure about as you come across it.

The Scriptorium Technique is a fantastic way to refine and polish your Portuguese language knowledge, especially at intermediate and advanced levels.

The key to mastering this technique is to take your time, be as detailed and thorough as possible, and remember...practice makes perfect.

Hack #9: Read, Watch, Listen

Movies, music, television series, the radio, books, newspapers, magazines...Anything you can read, watch, or listen to are unbelievably useful for learning.

You've probably already heard cases of people teaching themselves a language by watching movies or playing video games. While these things don't directly teach grammar, they do help learning significantly.

Reading, watching and listening has a remarkable effect on your brain. Simply by being exposed to the language, your brain is put to work. It starts trying to understand new words by making connections to previously learned words and seeks to make sense of any new structures. Basically, you're learning without knowing that you're learning. After a while, you'll find yourself using words and constructions that you didn't even study! This is all thanks to your brain's ability to soak up vocabulary and grammar while reading a book, listening to the radio, or watching a series.

If you're extra motivated to learn and practice, use the Shadowing Technique and learn on the go while listening to and repeating your favorite Portuguese radio station, podcast, TV series or movie. This is a great way to pick up the rhythm, structure, sound and rules of the Portuguese language without needing to hit the books. If you want to take integrated Portuguese learning to the next step, go to Karaoke! By singing to the subtitles, your reading and speaking skills will be challenged in the most fun way!

Hack #10: Interact...Without Needing to Travel

Try to interact in Portuguese on a daily basis. Speaking as much as possible is one of the best tricks to learn a language fast. Here are some great ways to practice speaking (and writing, its slower version) as much as possible:

  • Speak with a friend, family member or neighbor in person
  • Write a letter or email to a friend, family member, co-worker, or yourself
  • Visit a local store or neighborhood where Portuguese is spoken and interact with the locals
  • Join a weekly or monthly Portuguese conversation group...or start your own group!
  • Speak online with a friend, family member, co-worker, or fellow language learner (Skype is great for this)
  • Contribute to a blog or forum in your target language
  • Sing along with music in your target language
  • Watch a movie, series, documentary or video and repeat the character's lines
  • Read a passage from a book, newspaper, or magazine out loud
  • Talk to yourself in your target language (this really works!)

The key is to interact, speak, and think in Portuguese as much as possible. This can be done anywhere and everywhere. Take advantage of all of the excellent Portuguese learning resources, and make Portuguese a part of your daily life!

By following these ten language learning hacks, you'll learn Portuguese faster, better, and enjoy doing so.

Tereza Pereira

Tereza Pereira
Rocket Portuguese


Test yourself with the Rocket Portuguese testing tools! Improve your knowledge of Portuguese!

Note that the tests below are listed from easiest to hardest.

Hear It Say It!

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Improve your understanding of spoken Portuguese. With Hear it Say it! you can tune your ear to Portuguese, increase your vocabulary and improve your pronunciation at the same time! Ready?

  • Click the Get Started button below
  • LISTEN to the audio (and touch up your pronunciation with Rocket Record if you like; Chrome/Firefox/Edge desktop browsers only)
  • Click REVEAL to see the word/phrase and see the translation
  • Just click your RATING to continue

See how many words you've rated at each level below. Just click on the number below each rating to review your words and phrases.

Write It!

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Write it! helps you to improve your written Portuguese and your understanding of sentence structures. Just listen to the audio and type in what you hear!

  • Click the Get Started button below
  • LISTEN to the audio
  • WRITE down, in Portuguese, what you hear
  • Click REVEAL to see the word/phrase and see the translation
  • Your answer will be automatically RATED, just click the rating to continue


Click the keyboard icon for a Portuguese keyboard

Know It!

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Know it! tests you on your ability to translate English to Portuguese! Ready?

  • Click the Get Started button below
  • READ the word/phrase
  • RECORD yourself saying it in Portuguese (Chrome/Firefox/Edge desktop browsers only)
  • Click REVEAL to see the word/phrase in Portuguese and listen to the Portuguese audio

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