Berlitz Portuguese Phrase Book & Audio CD by Emily Bemath

Score:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 (8) 9 10
“Eight outta ten!”
Pros:
covers Brazilian and European usage; lots of phrases; well organized; color-coded and easily searchable; audio CD reads some examples to you

Cons:
Portugal-focused, leaving out info about Brazil and some Brazilian usage; no reference page numbers in the vocabulary/dictionary (needs quick search by word or phrase); learners: this is still just a survival Portuguese phrasebook!


Berlitz Portuguese Phrase Book is a little phrasebook with glossy pages, an attractive layout and clearly defined sections. The edges of each section are marked by different colors, and the section’s topic written in the upper right of each odd page. All this makes the book visually easy to flip through.

For such a small book, the range of phrases covered is commendable. The organization and layout is also useful. For example, English phrases are on the left unless the situation calls for translation from Portuguese, like reading a menu. Portuguese examples are given in red, with Brazilian variants bracketed (like comboios [trens] for “trains”). English translations are in black.

Blue and yellow “Essential” boxes focus your attention on key Portuguese phrases you need to know. “You May See” and “You May Hear” boxes give you an instant idea of other words you’ll encounter. Color photos visually enhance some sections.

A basic pronunciation key helps you speak the phrase aloud, but you can rely on the CD to actually listen to native Portuguese speakers read every phrase in the “Essentials” boxes.

This is clearly intended to be used as a survival travel phrasebook, not a way to learn Portuguese. In that light, it’s best suited to travelers heading to Portugal. Brazilian variants render the book multi-dialectal, but coverage of Brazil and Brazilianisms isn’t watertight by any means. It would be even more convenient to have audio examples for every phrase, but what’s here is enough to start getting by in Portuguese.

Say It Right in Brazilian Portuguese: The Fastest Way to Correct Pronunciation by EPLS

Score:
1 2 3 4 (5) 6 7 8 9 10
“Five outta ten!”
Pros:
short, small travel phrasebook; decent organization; index and table of contents; a couple basic cultural and travel bullet points at each section; English-Portuguese vocabulary list; helpful, if not gimmicky, pronunciation key alongside all words for those readers that “get it”

Cons:
if you don’t get the pronunciation symbols, this book offers nothing new; missing some phrases I’d want to use; I question some of the topics they address and others they don’t for Brazil; just a survival phrasebook; Brazilian only (a negative if you want to learn European Portuguese)


Outside of the quick pronunciation guide and tips at the beginning, Say It Right in Brazilian Portuguese does one thing: it lists Brazilian Portuguese phrases and gives a visual representation of how to say them.

This phrasebook represents Clyde Peters’ attempt to apply his pronunciation key to the Portuguese of Brazil. In this system, vowels are circled, simple consonants are capitalized, syllables are divided by hyphens, and accented syllables take a mark on the vowel. You can see an example right on the book’s cover with the word olá! (“hello!”).

Outside of this pronunciation system, the book is what you’d expect from a Portuguese travel phrasebook. There are sections for health, shopping, getting around, and the like. There are “phrasemaker” pages that help you combine the start of a phrase (“I would like to go…”) with possible options for ending it (“to the bank”, “to the hotel”, and so on). A very short English to Portuguese dictionary (glossary) lists words with the book’s signature pronunciation key. The last page has a quick index of topics, and the inside front and back covers double as a reference guide for pronouncing the symbols in the key.

If you don’t understand its somewhat unique symbolic pronunciation system, Say It Right in Brazilian Portuguese won’t appeal to you. If you do, it’s a decent survival Portuguese phrasebook. Either way, I’d prefer hearing real speakers on audio CDs or in person to decoding imperfect symbols (IPA is more accurate, for example). It’s not “the fastest way to correct pronunciation” as it claims, at least for most of us, but it might do the trick for your most basic phrase needs.

Harrap’s Pocket Portuguese Grammar

Score:
1 2 3 4 5 6 (7) 8 9 10
“Seven outta ten!”
Pros:
covers European and Brazilian Portuguese; solid organization by major grammar topics; color and formatting design clearly sets relevant topics apart for easy look-up

Cons:
too compact to cover some of the more difficult aspects of many topics; explanations focus on formation over real-life usage; index not quite as robust as I’d like for a reference guide


Harrap’s Pocket Portuguese Grammar offers students a colorful and well organized on-the-go grammar reference guide for both Brazilian and European Portuguese.

Chapters are divided up between the major players of Portuguese grammar – articles, pronouns, nouns, verbs, etc. The topic (like VERBS) is always listed at the upper, outer corner of each page to make this reference easy to flip through.

Within each chapter, sections explain and give examples of how to build and use a certain part of speech – compound tenses of verbs, for example. Explanations are short and to the point. Portuguese examples are also short, but relevant and plentiful. They’re also easy to spot: Portuguese phrases are in bold, and the part of the phrase relevant to the topic at hand is in bold blue.

This guide is easy to compare to Prista’s Essential Portuguese Grammar in length, scope and intended audience. Harrap has produced a reference guide focused on formal grammar topics, while the Essential Portuguese Grammar leans a bit more towards function. Harrap’s Pocket Portuguese, for example, introduces the word que in verbal contexts where it’s used, while the other has a short section on que that distinguishes its basic functions in its own right. Honestly, in a reference grammar that I’ll search through on the go, I prefer Harrap’s focus.

This grammar is fairly complete if you’re a beginner or early intermediate student of Portuguese. It even has a handy seven page reference index. If you’re more advanced, you’ll find what’s lacking fairly quickly. The guide only lists certain irregular verbs it considers “common”, for instance.

I can’t argue with the setup, coloring and organization of this guide. Portuguese students trying to keep all the basics of grammar straight would do well the buy this pocket-sized guide and keep it nearby. If you’re a more experienced learner, you might try searching for a more comprehensive grammar, but you may still find enough coverage here to merit your consideration.

Cortina Conversational Brazilian Portuguese: The Easy Method by Williams & Pessoa

Score:
1 2 3 4 (5) 6 7 8 9 10
“Five outta ten!”
Pros:
price, especially if you send away for the free CD/cassette; plenty of conversational back and forth; difficulty increases progressively; each example is highlighted by slightly different variations to practice

Cons:
exercises require repeating and assimilating but without much guidance from the course; some topics are useless or outdated; no explanations of tricky points (hardly any explanations at all); grammar is too terse for anything but quick look-up and reference


Conversational Brazilian Portuguese: The Easy Method in 20 Lessons intends to teach you Portuguese through hordes of back-and-forth conversational phrases. The idea is that these snippets of mock dialogue should illustrate key language points as you progress the course. Conversations become increasingly more difficult as you go on, building on previous points.

The course has two main sections – the larger conversation lessons that make up the bulk of the book, and the shorter Portuguese reference grammar that follows the lessons.

Each lesson starts out with a few dozen basic phrases to practice (the first chapters also include some vocabulary words), with Portuguese on the left hand side of the page and English translations on the right. This is followed by a prolonged “exercises” section, which is actually the heart of the lesson. Each exercise starts with a bold Portuguese sentence, with English written below it. The sentence is always some interchange (like “How are you? – I’m fine”). Below that phrase, there are three to six very similar phrases for you to practice.

“Practice” here means repeating along and attempting to understand. This type of language drill is the basis of the “Cortina Method”. Practice this way for sixteen lessons, and you’ve completed the course.

The grammar section after the lessons is terse, methodical and full of tables, including regular and irregular verbs. It’s a quick way to reference individual grammatical topics, but it’s not a study guide or grammar lesson in itself. I wouldn’t even consider it an introduction to Portuguese grammar, since it’s more of a short collection of basic grammar topics.

A short but decent Portuguese-English vocabulary interspersed with alphabetized language topics, and thus doubling as an index, ends the book. As well as the clumsily integrated index, the course has a detailed enough table of contents to get a good sense of the layout of the course, and to search through the book later on.

If you’ve got a knack for figuring out how languages work from conversation exchanges without any intervening explanations, this is a good introduction to Brazilian Portuguese. Even then, certain topics and expressions will seem dated or hardly useful. If you get the free CD or cassette, you can listen along, repeat and assimilate.

For most students, though, I think it’s better to use these Portuguese lessons with a Brazilian speaker for structured conversations, or maybe as the backbone of a classroom course. In either case, I recommend purchasing or borrowing supplementary materials to help you with grammar, pronunciation and more real-life conversational language.

Total Portuguese (Michel Thomas Method)

Score:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 (8) 9 10
“Eight outta ten!”
Pros:
lively and engaging audio; focus on Portuguese grammar and word-building skills; strong attempt to introduce Portuguese words into your everyday use from the very beginning; no expectation that you’ll memorize vocabulary lists; audio activities integrated into the conversation of each lesson; the instructor gradually uses more and more Portuguese to discuss Portuguese

Cons:
sometimes uneven pacing; European (Portugal) Portuguese only; quick answer pauses might annoy students who need more time to think; students who have difficulty getting in to the instructor’s and native Portuguese speakers’ banter will struggle; no experience in writing the language means some students will have trouble visualizing word formation techniques


The late Michel Thomas presents us with his method tailored to Portuguese with the Michel Thomas Method: Speak Portuguese. The goal of this course is simply to get you to understand as much European Portuguese as possible as fast as possible.

This language learning method pinpoints word building techniques as the key to your linguistic success. If you’re able to understand how to build Portuguese words, phrases and sentences out of component parts, you can read any basic material in Portuguese, even with a very limited vocabulary.

The course contains 8 CDs of all-audio lessons. So, is it of the same ilk as audio-only methods like Pimsleur? Well, in its use of audio-only and the way it structures audio exercises, it’s fair to say that it is. But the Michel Thomas approach is quite different from Pimsleur.

In Michel Thomas’ Portuguese lessons, a teacher and native speakers engage each other in what sounds almost like a radio program. Throughout the course, the instructors address their audience (you) rather casually, with British accents, a touch of humor, and both helpful and fanciful linguistic musings. In many ways, this is the closest you’ll get to working with lively instructors rather than just listening to native speakers drill you with phrases and dialogues.

The course attempts to engage you directly. Along the way, you’re expected to follow along in Portuguese word building exercises. You’re even expected to do a bit of linguistic problem solving. The focus of this problem solving is to get you to understand patterns. Because of this technique, you’ll conquer what seems like complicated material early on.

I mentioned linguistic pattern-forming (what we in the biz call “analogy”). For example, you might learn that the Portuguese ending -ção is like -tion in English, so Portuguese words like situação and conversação are translated “situation” and “conversation”. You’ll be asked to form new words with that ending (how might you say “station”?).

During the audio exercises, the CD track will ask you to say something in Portuguese, beep, pause for an instant, and then give you the correct response in Portuguese. This is, I suppose, the best option for an audio learning environment. Still, the short pause isn’t enough for students confused by the exercise or those who take a bit longer to answer.

Unfortunately for Brazilian learners, this course is geared towards the European dialect. Still, if you like the method, the dialects are generally similar enough that you’ll be off to a good start, even if you’re headed to Brazil instead. If you enjoy audio courses, but aren’t looking to learn European Portuguese, try Pimsleur’s Brazilian courses instead.

I have an overall positive impression of the course after using it. I think that the instructive back-and-forth audio will definitely win over some students, and will even work for most. It’s great for auditory learners, especially if you’re looking for an experience obviously led by a teacher. I noted a few of the reasons I hesitate to consider the course perfect (see my “cons”), but I don’t see why it couldn’t be the best choice for some beginning learners.

goPortuguese: Speak and Read AudioBook CD (Pimsleur)

Score:
1 2 3 4 5 6 (7) 8 9 10
“Seven outta ten!”
Pros:
good way to sample the Pimsleur method; decent booklet accompanies the course; strong Portuguese audio lessons; coverage of the basics; MP3s and standard audio CDs for diverse ways of using the program

Cons:
Brazilian Portuguese only (a “con” for European Portuguese learners); these first eight lessons are especially basic; auditory learners should skip this and move up to the more complete Pimsleur courses


Pimsleur’s goPortuguese contains the first 8 lessons of the Pimsleur Comprehensive program for a lower price. These lessons lead you into the “full” version of the course. This short, very basic course is a good way to sample the Pimsleur method to see if it works for you. However, if you think Pimsleur does work for you, I recommend that you skip to the more robust Conversational Portuguese or Comprehensive Portuguese versions instead.

goPortuguese contains 4 CDs with the eight lessons, but also gives you the MP3s in case you find that more convenient. It also comes with a 160 page “audio-book” that covers some of the basics of Portuguese grammar, but this booklet doesn’t stand out in itself. The all audio lessons are the star here.

I’ve done an in-depth review of the Pimsleur method for the Basic course, which contains the first ten lessons, and that applies perfectly to this course.

Conversational Portuguese in 7 Days by Fleming and Rainbow

Score:
1 2 3 4 (5) 6 7 8 9 10
“Five outta ten!”
Pros:
covers a good mix of phrases and vocabulary; some audio to get an ear for Portuguese; decent price; explains some basic grammar in context
Cons:
some “days” will take you longer than a day to process; skims over some major points so fast you might not assimilate them; short, limited exercises; for beginners and near-beginners; Portugal-focused, but with Brazilian variants


The 90 glossy, illustrated, color pages of Conversational Portuguese present seven days worth of phrases, explanations and grammatical building blocks to get you started in Portuguese.

The phrasebook lays out phrases and side-notes for seven days (Monday through Sunday), with three parts to each day (for morning, afternoon and evening). As you can see, actually following this plan requires seven days of dedication. Each section tries to balance dialogues, vocabulary words and phrases and notes and explanations in a way that maximizes your exposure to and assimilation of the basics. The language used in the course is European Portuguese, but Brazilian variants are mentioned.

Short exercises help you grasp some of those words and phrases in context. They’re always quick and nearly always relevant. Accompanying color drawings and travel-book-like photos stimulate visual relations, too, but only to a limited extent.

The audio CDs offer some extra practice, allowing you to listen to the phrases, but they don’t present a complete conversational course approach like more expensive conversational audio packages. Unfortunately, I am currently unable to find the CD on Amazon, so I can only provide a link to the book.

A short Portuguese to English vocabulary glossary ends the book, but there are no page numbers here, and the book is missing an index, so yo can’t easily go back and find important phrases or topics you learned.

As a once-through survival introduction to Portuguese with some audio (if you manage to track down the CD or cassettes), this course is a good start. Skim exercises, no reusability or reference use (like as a tourist phrasebook), and odd day-to-day pacing keep this course from being anything more.

Portuguese Verbs and Essentials of Grammar by Sue Tyson-Ward

Score:
1 2 3 (4) 5 6 7 8 9 10
“Four outta ten!”
Pros:
short explanations and good examples; overall decent organization; good coverage of beginner-intermediate Portuguese grammar topics; low price
Cons:
no exercises; unclear relation between some sections and chapters; missing a crucially needed look-up system for reference use


Sue Tyson-Ward’s Portuguese Verbs and Essentials of Grammar promises an in-depth look at the basics of verbs and other points of grammar to beginning and intermediate students.

The book is divided into two halves. One half covers “verbs”, while the other takes on the “essentials of grammar”. Chapters in each half touch on some grammatical topic, like “Perfect (Compound) Tenses” or “Adjectives and Adverbs”, for example. The sections within each chapter then divvy up specific points, like “The Future Perfect” or “Comparison of Adjectives”. There, you’ll find short, one-to-four sentence explanations of the point in consideration, followed by a number of Portuguese examples with English translations.

A few comments about this way of structuring a grammar course. The relation between the sections and chapters isn’t always clear, which it must be for learners. “Perfect (Compound) Tenses”, for instance, begins by teaching how past participles are formed, but doesn’t clearly teach, step by step, how past participles play into constructions with the verb ter to create perfects. The author only offers a quick line telling you this is so.

Another point where I take issue with the course: lack of practical application exercises. No exercises means you can’t hone your grammar skills with this book. You just get to read about grammar, not practice it.

All that leads me to think of the book as an at-hand reference guide rather than a lesson book. In that case, you’ll pull the book out when you need to refer to some Portuguese grammar topic. Well, we come to another problem. To use this as a reference guide, you’ll need a sturdy way to search for and find topics. But the table of contents is too skimpy and the index far too short to make this a powerful grammar reference. The “Verb Index” doesn’t even give page, section or even chapter numbers.

The main contents of this book do provide a decent overview of the major points of Portuguese grammar, particularly verbs. And for such a decent overview with abundant & clear examples, the price is right. Still, it’s lacking things that other reference guides I’ve reviewed here have in spades, such as Barron’s 501 Portuguese Verbs.

Speak in a Week Brazilian Portuguese, Week 1, with Audio CD

Score:
1 2 3 4 5 (6) 7 8 9 10
“Six outta ten!”
Pros:
engaging, easy to use phrasebook approach; good pacing; audio complements booklet; attractive, lightweight package
Cons:
hard to search for specific information (words and phrases); for beginners only; makes no attempt to approach to conversation or grammar; Brazilian only (which is only negative if you’re traveling to Portugal)


Speak in a Week Brazilian Portuguese: Week 1 is a small, attractive, fold-out, glossy cardboard case housing an audio CD and a spiral-bound calendar-like phrasebook.

The program offers you eight color-coordinated language lessons spanning 176 short and sweet, colorful calendar pages.

Each lesson outlines basic conversational language foals for you to achieve by the end of the lesson. A sample goal is “to talk about what other people have, want and need.” Each of the fold-up pages gives you a simple Portuguese phrase or a short explanation that aims at that goal, like “você gosta de” with a picture of “livro” and “museio”. The back of the same page gives the English translation: “you like”, “book”, “museum”.

The last fifty or so pages of the calendar-phrasebook have a basic introduction to the alphabet, a pronunciation guide, grammar basics and a vocabulary organized into sections. There are no page numbers to reference, and no detailed index or table of contents, which means you can’t use this course for quick look-ups. Unfortunately, this makes it less useful in a travel situation in Brazil, which disappointed me, considering that tourist learners are one of this course’s best markets.

The audio CD covers nearly the whole course, and even throws in extra “mastery sets” for practice. This makes for a good listen, learn & repeat scenario for beginner auditory learners.

Beginning students, travelers and curious Portuguese learners can get a good phrasebook experience from this light, cartoony package. Speak in a Week Brazilian Portuguese is no substitute for a more dedicated course, but it’s better than most phrasebooks available for purchase.

Despite its flaws, Speak in a Week seems like a smooth lead-in to a more full-fledged Brazilian Portuguese conversation course. Check out my other reviews for suggestions on transitioning to fuller courses.

Ultimate Portuguese Beginner-Intermediate (CD/Book) by Living Language

Score:
1 2 3 4 5 6 (7) 8 9 10
“Seven outta ten!”
Pros:
lots of Portuguese conversation topics; good exposure to grammar; complementary audio; solid grammar review at end of book; price
Cons:
presentation of grammar sometimes inadequate; longer vocabulary lists to memorize without context; basic and less effective exercises; cultural notes are mostly distractions


Ultimate Portuguese Beginner-Intermediate covers most imaginable daily conversation topics and nearly every aspect of basic Portuguese grammar in its 40 book lessons and eight hours of audio on CD.

Living Language imposes a standard format on its Ultimate series, so the layout of this course is similar to other Ultimate language courses: a dialogue, grammar, vocabulary list, exercises, cultural note, answers to exercises.

The dialogues fit the chapter topics – each one covers a snippet of mock real-life conversation, using progressively more difficult grammar, vocabulary and phrases as the units go on. The grammar notes that follow treat big-picture grammar topics (like how to use the verb “ter”) and conversation-driven ones (like sending letters, faxes and telegrams). Grammar, though, is presented in a one-off fashion, through individual words. You’ll learn all the imperfect forms of “pagar”, then all the forms of “gostar”, without being told that you’re learning the same endings for both. The sample usage sentences almost make up for this extra mental work.

Vocabulary lists mainly deal with terms introduced in the dialogue and related to the topic at hand. They can become long and cumbersome for your memory, though. These are followed by multiple-choice, matching or fill-in-the-blank exercises that mostly serve to tease your learning skills. The “Notas Culturais” (Cultural Notes) that end each lesson read similar to asides in travel books, and distract you from the course’s goals. Besides, how much do you care that “Barcelos, Portugal is famous for its pottery”?

The end of the book houses a short reference overview of Portuguese grammar, with thorough tables of pronouns, adjectives, regular verbs and conjugations of common irregular verbs. This is followed by sample written letters (ranging from business to friendly), short Portuguese-English and English-Portuguese vocabulary lists and an index.

The eight audio CDs contain two parts. The first one reads through the dialogues and the vocabulary lists, and is intended for side-by-side use with the book. The second part is a stand-alone audio series that covers all forty lessons in the course, including grammar sections, with English explanations and Portuguese examples. This last addition makes the course suitable for “on the go” learning.

All in all, I enjoyed Ultimate Portuguese‘s conversational approach. Some of the drawbacks I pinpointed may seem like nitpicking to some, but others may be dissuaded from buying the course. The audio component and the overall lesson structure, combined with the useful grammar selections, make this a worthy recommendation in my opinion.