Portuguese Complete Course: Beginner-Intermediate, by Oliveira & Living Language

Score:
1 2 3 4 5 (6) 7 8 9 10
“Six outta ten!”
Pros:
step-by-step approach to speaking; coverage of grammar and sentence structure; wide range of topics; longer, detailed book; auido CDs that follow the book’s outline; builds up from words to phrases to longer reading and listening exercises

Cons:
listen & repeat approach to learning phrases may tire students; exercises are routine and simplistic; juggling both Brazilian and European in one course can be trouble for some learners; long vocabulary and phrase lists to memorize; organization and pacing is only so-so; audio only reads parts of the book, and all in Brazilian (only a con for learners of European Portuguese)


Living Language’s Portuguese Complete Course offers a book and CD package for beginners. The repetition-heavy lessons stress conversational words and phrases, then ramp up to tougher reading, listening and understanding skills.

The pronunciation guide in lessons 1-4 reads through a series of words. The rest of the lessons focus on introducing more and more vocabulary and phrases in lists. By lesson 30 or so, you begin to read fuller sentences.

The book explains chunks of grammar along the way, and gives more information about how to pronounce Portuguese throughout the lessons. Explanations of grammar and short exercises break up the flow of progressively harder vocabulary in later lessons.

Small practice exercises test your skill allong the way, but are rather simple (often “fill in the blank”). For all the material covered, sections tend to repeat lists of words and phrases or embed them in basic dialogues. The organization of material is haphazard enough to make some sections a real challenge or a real bore. In the end, most students will have a gone through lots of material, but still struggle to understand the big picture, especially when it comes to grammar.

The CD reads straight through in Brazilian Portuguese (even though the book tackles both European and Continental dialects), and at a normal speed. It’s meant to be used alongside the book, allowing you to hear what’s written there. The audio portion doesn’t last long, which means that auditory learners won’t get much repetition or well-paced help.

A couple of extras round out this lesson course. The appendix has a summary of grammar, complete with verb tables and overviews of key points. There are also examples of written letters and e-mail in Portuguese. In addition, the set comes with a separate Portuguese & English vocab dictionary. I have already reviewed that dictionary on this site.

I enjoyed the free-flowing and complementary nature of the audio CD-book that build on each other. I like the progression from reading words to phrases to dialogues and letters in Portuguese. I’m curious to see if such a barrage of exposure to progressively tougher Portuguese could be turned into a more immersive, less cumbersome experience.

As it is, the Portuguese Complete Course is too scattered to give you a really organized understanding of beginning Portuguese, but it does cover a good chunk of material in the written guide, and manages to provide a full introduction to spoken and written Portuguese. Few basic courses cover this much territory. Still, auditory learners will get more from Pimsleur Brazilian Portuguese. (They offer a separate European version, too.) If you want to stick with a Living Language product, I prefer the structure of Ultimate Portuguese.

Dicionário da língua portuguesa by Porto Dicionários Editora

This updated Portuguese language dictionary is a contender for your reference shelf. If you’re an intermediate or advanced student of Portuguese looking for a real Portuguese dictionary, this is one of the more impressive items up for grabs.

It’s published in Portugal by the staff at Dicionários Editora, O Porto. It includes the spelling reform rules, listing before and after examples of impacted words. It’s Portuguese ONLY, meaning that it offers words, parts of speech and definitions, NOT translations between Portuguese and English. It’s the right tool for someone who already knows some Portuguese, not for beginning learners.

Dicionário Inglês-Português & Dicionário Português-Inglês

Score:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 (8) 9 10
“Eight outta ten!”
Pros:
dedicates all its pages to the one thing a dictionary’s supposed to handle: words to look up; impressive coverage of huge number of words; good layout; cues help pick between multiple translations of the same word (assuming you know a good deal of Portuguese); great addition to an intermediate/advanced reference shelf

Cons:
includes Brazilian words but is published in and focused on Portugal; must know Portuguese to get full use; many versions are older (I referenced one from the eighties); price; size (if need to use on the go); some potentially confusing variants still missing keyword cues


As you might have guessed by their names, the Dicionário Inglês-Português and Dicionário Português-Inglês are dictionaries published in O Porto, Portugal for Portuguese speakers. Because of that (and their large size and depth), let’s establish something before moving towards a review: intermediate and advanced learners of European Portuguese are the target audience, and should read on to see why I’ll recommend this dictionary. If you know enough Portuguese, this dictionary “não requer instruções prévias especiais”.

The English-Portuguese and Portuguese-English translations are split between two volumes. Each book is well over 1,000 pages, and almost every one of those 1,000+ pages is devoted to doing what a language dictionary should: they offer you translated words to look up.

Entries are in bold type, and set apart from the rest of the text by a reverse-indent. IPA phonetic spelling is listed to the right of each entry. Parts of speech are given as well, in abbreviated form (vt for transitive verb, s for sustantivo (noun), etc.).

Each word is covered by a robust number of translations, including variants. Where unclear, variants are accompanied by key terms in parentheses. For example, the use of dub includes the translation “dobrar (um filme)”, specific to dubbing a movie.

The top of each page includes page numbers and the first three letters of the first and last words on the page. Pages are divided into two columns, and the font is small enough to bother weaker eyes, but standard for a dictionary.

The sheer number of terms covered is unmatched by foreigner-targeted Portuguese dicitonaries, at least any that I’ve seen. The drawbacks I noticed in the copy I reviewed included its awkward size, its older date (1980s) and its lower relevance if you’re dealing with Brazil. If you need a serious European Portuguese and English language dictionary, these dicionários are my best recommendation so far.

Living Language Portuguese Learner’s Dictionary

Score:
1 2 3 (4) 5 6 7 8 9 10
“Four outta ten!”
Pros:
Portuguese-English section good enough for certain look-ups; sample sentences beneath some entries; actually decent if looked at as an extensive vocabulary list rathern than a comprehensive dictionary; a nice extra when packed with Living Language’s Portuguese lesson book & CD

Cons:
price for the number of words (and lack of extras); nothing added, such as helpful verb tables; meager, especially the English-Portuguese section; some mistakes; doesn’t offer cues to clarify difference between word choices (catastrophic in English-Portuguese section)

Living Language offers the Portuguese Learner’s Dictionary as part of the Portuguese Complete Course. Those 250+ pages of lessons offer vocabulary & phrase lists, grammar instruction and exercises. (Be careful to note whether you’re purchasing the hardcover book, paperback book, audio CD or the full book & CD set!)

Since I have found this dictionary sold separately at some bookstores for around $7-$8 US, I’m choosing to review it as a stand-alone resource.

This dictionary is split into two sections: a Portuguese-English and English-Portuguese. The longer Portuguese-English section prints entries in bold. Adjectives are indicated by adj., noun genders as m. and f. Some Portuguese entries are written in all-caps, presumably more basic or important words.

The information given isn’t always accurate. For instance, ACASO is listed as an adjective, not as the adverb it really is.

This dictionary’s strongest feature is the inclusion of short Portuguese phrases and sentences below some entries. Unfortunately, the translations and examples aren’t always specific enough to clarify the varied uses of tougher words. What’s more, these sample phrases seem to be substituted for something better – relevant key terms used when words have multiple (and potentially confusing) translations.

The English-Portuguese section shares all the same properties, except that it doesn’t regularly indicate parts of speech and it’s much shorter. Even worse, the lack of differentiation between words with multiple meanings in Portuguese makes looking up tough words a disaster – you can only guess that you’re using the right one. A concise list of proper names is found after both sections.

If you’re using the Portuguese Learner’s Dictionary alongside Living Language’s Brazilian Portuguese course (see first paragraph), you will profit from it as long as you think of it as an extended vocabulary list. If you’re looking for a dictionary, my recommendation is that you spend a bit more for a better one.

Portuguese: A Language Map by Kristine Kershul

Score:
1 2 3 4 (5) 6 7 8 9 10
“Five outta ten!”
Pros:
artistic and visual; good choice of survival phrases; clear division into topics; fold-out may attract some on-the-go travelers and language learners; stays basic and doesn’t go off on any tangents like travel tips or cultural notes (phrases only!)

Cons:
despite its visual appeal, visual learners would have benefited from images that correspond to the phrases; Brazilian only (a con for European Portuguese learners); fold-out format cumbersome for some travelers (do you like laminated maps?); coverage and variety of phrases is less than traditional phrasebook for the price


Portuguese: A Language Map is not a book, but an eight page laminated fold-out. It fits as many Portuguese phrases as possible onto the space of two sides of a placemat, with the exception of spots dedicated to attractive watercolor drawings.

The phrases cover 14 different traveler-friendly topics from meeting people (Como vai?) to hotels and room service (Fiz uma reserva) to shopping (Aceita cartões de crédito?). Each section contains one or two dozen must-know phrases, which seem well chosen and fit the topic. The top and bottom borders also count to one thousand in Portuguese for easy access.

Each phrase is accompanied by an English-friendly pronunciation reading, which is less than optimal if you can listen to a native speaker instead (or, at least, read Portuguese sounds written in IPA). Still, this guide gives you a rough idea of how to pronounce words as you speak Portuguese (por-too-gaysh).

The layout of words and phrases follows Portuguese in 10 Minutes a Day. According to the back of the product, this map is offered bundled together with that book as a companion phrase chart.

I don’t think the coverage offered by Portuguese: A Language Map can compare with other Portuguese phrase books available online or at your local bookstore. However, if you like the layout and style, and you plan to travel to Brazil, it’s worth it for the ability to reference vocabulary quickly. On the other hand, I’m used to the book format, and find this foldout stylish but unwieldy.

Teach Yourself Portuguese Grammar by Sue Tyson-Ward

Score:
1 2 3 4 5 (6) 7 8 9 10
“Six outta ten!”
Pros:
covers a great deal of grammar up to the later intermediate level; explanations and examples of Portuguese sentences; lots of exercises with variety and relevance to topics; decent balance of both Brazilian and European Portuguese (but not perfect, so proceed cautiously); verb tables and remarks about spelling and pronunciation; will really help later beginners and early intermediate students with Portuguese writing skills

Cons:
sense of progress marred by ambiguous presnetation of material; explanations get dense or problematic at times; too tough for beginners, but many sections just review for intermediate learners; questionable organization of material; a bad course for fresh beginners and students who can’t find their own way without extra guidance


The author of Teach Yourself Brazilian Portuguese flexes her grammatical muscles in this attempt to present Portuguese grammar to self-taught learners pursuing a “complete understanding” of the language.

Teach Yourself Portuguese Grammar begins with a glossary of grammar terms (noun, verb, etc… all in English with English examples). Then, there are some notes about Portuguese spelling, punctuation, accent marks and stress.

Beyond that point, the book is taken up with a thorough presentation of all the basic and intermediate points of Portuguese grammar and sentence structure. It even manages to cover some advanced topics. As a learner, I know your next question without you asking: but how well does the book teach Portuguese grammar?

Over the course of 45 lessons (46 total minus the spelling unit mentioned above), you will read and reread sections that explain a range of grammar topics. Some topics deal with specific words (like por and para), while others focus on general patterns (like the inflected infinitive of verbs).

Within each chapter, topics are explained in the “grammar in focus” section. These explanations can be dry, dense and textbook-like. What’s more, they may leave out crucial material that beginners. Despite the book’s coverage of both Brazilian and European Portuguese, examples of the two aren’t always distinguished carefully, and some of the information (especially about those ever-tricky Portuguese verbs!) should be checked for accuracy against native speakers of each dialect.

Fortunately, the explanations are supported by well-placed Portuguese examples. Every “grammar in focus” topic has plenty of these sample sentences to digest with a Portuguese-English translation of each one. Exercises that follow offer variety and stay focused on the topics just presented. Some chapters offer a “grammar in context” activity after the exercises, which includes real-life Portuguese examples to test your understanding.

The book ends with a short list of Brazilian and European vocabulary differences, a table of regular verb endings, a table of irregular verbs (the same one found in Manuela Cook’s Teach Yourself Portuguese, and answers to the practice exercises. The book has no index, but the table of contents is thorough enough for later look-ups.

The order and choice of Portuguese grammar topics presented in each chapter is the toughest feature to accept. Related topics (such as definite articles, indefinite articles and nouns) are often grouped together, but the progression between chapters is ambiguous. It’s best if you make a separate learning plan for the grammar topics you need to learn or enhance, and refer to those sections in the book.

If you’re a later beginner looking to tighten your knowledge of Portuguese grammar, especially your abilities in the written language, I think you can learn a lot from this book. Its balance between explanations, examples and exercises, its coverage and variety are all commendable, even if the author’s way of organizing and explaining the material fails to impress.

Portuguese Made Nice & Easy by REA

Score:
1 2 (3) 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
“Three outta ten!”
Pros:
sixty pages of Portuguesee phrases; decent attempt at conceptualizing “fill-in” phrases (to help you build a variety of Portuguese sentences); price

Cons:
attempts to be Portugal-centric (European only), but includes some Brazilian without indicating the difference; does not TEACH you Portuguese like the name suggests, only lists phrases; the intro is a distraction; imperfect selection and layout of phrase topics; missing a good way to look up specific phrases


The Research and Education Association (or REA) publishes Portuguese Made Nice & Easy with the intend of giving you “just enough of the language to get around and be understood.”

In its meager seventy pages, this introduction to the Portuguese language dedicates the bulk of its text to a phrasebook-style list of Portuguese vocabulary and sentences. The short foreword presents a missable history of Portugal and an overview of Portuguese pronunciation (actually more of an introduction to their English-friendly way of transliterating spoken Portuguese).

After this, you’ll find sixty pages of phrases, interspersed with b&w photos of buildings and statuary in Portugal. Each line of this phrase book uses the following layout: English phrase praw-nun-see-AY-shan (Portuguese phrase). For instance, you’ll see Where is AWN-djee AH (Onde há).

If you don’t understand the pronunciation system, you’ll find little guidance. Even if you do, it fails to distinguish between dialects and, in extreme cases, leaves you with a pronunciation that will sound flat-out wrong to most Portuguese speakers. Despite the book’s focus on Portugal, some words are given only in Brazilian without any indication, such as twenty VEEN-chee (vinte).

The phrase book goes beyond a list of words and phrases by dealing with a good range of “fill-in” sentences. You’re told how to say “I want___” / “I like ___” and given a list of things to fill in the blank. While the technique is ubiquitous in phrase books, it’s approached somewhat methodically and consistently here. Still, the phrases leave something to be desired, particularly in how they fail to lead learners toward more complex (but necessary!) constructions like verb+noun+adjective.

The book has no index, but the table of contents offers a very rough overview of topics. The range of those topics alone leaves room for improvement and expansion. An alphabetized word list with selected vocabulary ends the book, but it’s unclear what’s been selected here and why, especially with no page numbers to cross-reference.

Overall, it’s a sub-par phrase book for students and travelers to Portugal or even Brazil (it insists on using você, never tu, for example). Specifically, I can’t condone the pronunciation key or coverage of topics. This is nothing more than a quick, cheap, lackluster way to get a feel for Portuguese phrases. I don’t imagine a better one should cost you much more.

Hugo Language: Portuguese in Three Months by Maria Fernanda Allen

Score:
1 2 3 4 5 6 (7) 8 9 10
“Seven outta ten!”

Pros:
covers a lot of grammar; exposure to wide array of written Portuguese in ten lessons; good extra material; will have you reading large amount of Portuguese by the end; can be completed in three months if dedicated; lots of practice with the written language, including translation; audio cassettes help with pronunciation (Continental/European Portuguese dialect)

Cons:
expects a lot from beginning language students; tries to present Brazilian and European variants, but always favors European Portuguese; offers little learner-oriented guidance; long vocabulary lists to memorize; exercises are mainly translation drills without much variety; focus on grammar and vocabulary out of context is more rigid than a conversation-driven method


Hugo Language Courses’ Portuguese in Three Months promises that you’ll end up with a working knowledge of how to write and speak Portuguese after ninety days of hard work.

And the work is hard for beginners, unless you were fortunate enough to study another Romance language in the past. After the letter-by-letter guide to their “imitated pronunciation” system and a page of basic phrases to memorize, you’ll launch into ten lessons covering nearly every aspect of foundational Portuguese grammar. You will also be expected to keep up with numerous vocabulary lists (few too long, but quite a few without any context). You are expected to finish with the ability to read a story, a news article, an excerpt about Brazil and Portugal, and two letters.

Lessons are divided into numbered topics, most shorter than a page. Topics tend to revolve around grammar and language functions (like “the imperfect tense” or ” ‘if’ clauses”). Verb, pronoun, noun and article tables with bold endings and a handful of usage examples dominate these sections. Usage examples are Portuguese sentences demonstrating a particular grammar topic, accompanied by English translations.

Dialogues and readings stress repetition and exposure, while exercises emphasize translation. Apart from certain fill-in-the-blanks and questions to be answered in Portuguese, the exercises involve translating a list of sentences from English to Portuguese.

The book ends with reading selections, lists of Portuguese idioms and expressions, a good verb appendix with irregular verbs, answers to exercises, an English-Portuguese vocab glossary, and a very short index of language topics.

Portuguese in Three Months takes on a chunk of what meatier, more traditional grammar courses cover over a longer period of time. It builds up a language learning system of static exposure, memorization and practice, with only terse explanations to assist you. If you’re commited to working with this course, you certainly can master a good amount of Portuguese in a short time. But its rigidity will prove troublesome for less determined students (or those searching for more guidance). That’s especially true if you prefer a more contextualized conversational approach to learning Portuguese.

Portuguese Phrases For Dummies by Karen Keller

Score:
1 2 3 4 5 (6) 7 8 9 10
“Six outta ten!”
Pros:
decent coversage of phrases; lots of explanations about language and phrase use in Brazil; pronunciation guide; introduction to grammar; strong vocab index with page numbers; engaging text and formating; Portuguese phrases given in useful spurts rather than long lists

Cons:
Brazilian only (explicitly treats language usage in Brazil, so look elsewhere, European Portuguese learners!); some topics less useful, other helpful ones missing; more of a lesson course on Portuguese phrases than an actual phrase book; pronunciation cues are rough and inexact – need to hear a native speaker and/or use IPA; some info simplified or even misleading


The compact Portuguese Phrases for Dummies attempts to offer a beefed-up phrasebook for students and travelers. Let’s take a look at this smaller-than-average (for a Dummies book), chatty book and find out exactly what it delivers to language learners.

You’ll cover a range of topics from “Shop Till You Drop” to “A Place to Lay Your Weary Head”. Each chapter covers one such topic, all in the expected Dummies format. Along the way, the author gives loads of insight, tips and musings about Brazil, Brazilians and the Portuguese language as it relates to each topic.

Portuguese phrases are listed between explanatory paragraphs a handful at a time, and are marked by checkmark bullet points. You’ll also find “words to know” (key words) on blackboard backgrounds as well as tables of more “functional” phrases scattered throughout the chapters.

Pronunciation is given in sounds-like-English syllables. For example, the word namorar is transliterated “nah-mo-dah“. Pronunciation reflects Brazilian speech, since this book sets its sights exclusively on Brazil.

The book takes the time to include a few extras. These include an easy but predictable Portuguese pronunciation guide, a chapter introducing grammar, and fun sections on phrases that make you sound more like a local native. The book ends with an index of vocab words with page number references.

Personally, I enjoyed my read through Portuguese Phrases for Dummies. But I quickly recognized that this hybrid phrase/lesson book doesn’t meet the ideal of a phrasebook or of a lesson book. It’s not a language tool for travel or business. It’s a book about Portuguese phrases. If you can accept that, you may get something out of it. If you’re learning Brazilian, it might be worth it for the book’s extra info about language use in Brazil less often shared with beginners.

A word of caution for the learner. If your ideal phrasebook is a list of survival phrases in translation broken down by topic, this book misses the mark. If you need a European or even a Brazilian Portuguese phrasebook, look elsewhere. If you want a book that talks you through Brazilian Portuguese phrase usage, you’ll find some satisfaction and amusement here.

Portuguese Memory Book by Harrison and Welker

Score:
1 (2) 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
“Two outta ten!”
Pros:
many of the memory jingles are clever; does a decent job of highlighting English words and word-parts that simulate pronunciation of Rio Carioca dialect

Cons:
pronunciation is Brazilian only; long list of vocabulary; no context for vocabulary; awkward technique for memorizing 500+ Portuguese words; no pacing for getting through the list (just a long alphabetized word list); attempts to justify technique but not guide student through it; very little in the way of actual language skills to help you learn Portuguese


The Portuguese Memory Book is all about vocabulary. The book presents a list of Brazilian Portuguese words along with a rhyming two-line jingle to jog your memory of each word.

The introduction explains the book’s goal: to help you remember over 500 Portuguese words through a two-line memory device. How, exactly? And what device? You’re presented with a word like negar ‘to deny’. Then, there’s a couplet: “Nay, gardening is not enough, though few deny it keeps you tough.” The first bold letters remind you of the pronunciation, the second of the meaning. All 500+ entries work the same way.

After more than seventy pages of Portuguese vocabulary and jingles, you’re given a final examination full of the authors’ rhymes. Here, you’re given the English translation of a Portuguese word in bold, and you must find the word hidden in the English phrase. Unfortunately, this gimmick tests your understanind of their system more than your knowledge of Portuguese vocabulary and pronunciation.

At the end of the book, you’ll find a pronunciation guide with Portuguese letters beside English sound-alikes. A glossary lists all vocabulary words in the book, with a Portuguese to English translation of each.

If you already find yourself devising mnemonic jingles to remember your Portuguese vocab, Portuguese Memory Book has done 500 words worth of work for you. I can’t extend my recommendation any further, though. Once the novelty wears off, you’ll be better served practicing your Portuguese reading, writing and conversation with a good dictionary by your side. In the same amount of time, you’ll cover more vocabulary and ask less of your memory.