Barron’s FSI Mastering Portuguese by Jack Lee Ulsh

Score:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 (8) 9 10
“Eight outta ten!”
Pros:
like one long pronunciation and conversation drill in Portuguese; rather good pacing; plenty of example phrases to repeat along with; many variations of a single phrase make for solid and diverse practice; good audio breaks down phrases and tricky pronunciation points; covers grammar in conversational context

Cons:
European Portuguese only; the barrage of pronunciation and conversation drills have no setting or context; exercises and explanations always point back to repetition drills; two-way conversation drills suggest this course is designed for partner or classroom use


Barron’s FSI Mastering Portuguese wraps the Foreign Service Institute’s language training program into a book and tape course for beginners. Over the course of 25 lessons (units), students will read, hear and repeat countless variations of words and phrases until learning to speak basic Portuguese.

Each unit begins by asking you to repeat along with the audio as it reads aloud words and parts of words. The text in the book focuses on troublesome sounds. For instance, one section asks you to practice a variety of words ending in -om, taking care not to pronounce the “final m” the way you would in English.

Then, you’ll charge ahead through conversation dialogues. These start out as simple, two or three line exchanges. Later, the exchanges become more intense. The book includes many of them, with many variations on a single theme to make sure you’ve nailed down a specific facet of Portuguese conversation.

Units spend some time introducing and explaining grammar topics, but you’ll always sense they play second fiddle to the ever-present conversation drills. Practice exercises are here, too, but they often involve repeating lists of Portuguese sentences, or creating slightly different versions of a single phrase. Additionally, some sections improve your Portuguese vocabulary building skills, encouraging you to recognize words related to English, avoid “false friends” (cognates with different meanings in English and Portuguese), and so on.

These lessons have a decent table of contents, listing units and section names and numbers, but no index. You’ll also find a Portuguese-English vocabulary glossary at the end of the book.

As a language learning course, Mastering Portuguese is either a repetitious and routine or exacting and practical coverage of conversational Portuguese for beginners. You’ll skip some important grammar points and miss out on more creative approaches by taking on this lesson program. Yet you’ll have plenty of practice with a wide range of Portuguese words and phrases, with nuanced variations of each. Dedicated students looking to gain some real conversational abilities in European Portuguese will appreciate this course. You certainly won’t be afraid to hear or read Portuguese anymore, and you may be a good deal more prepared to speak it.

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