Brazilian Portuguese I: Learn to Speak and Understand Portuguese with Pimsleur

Score:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 (8) 9 10
“Eight outta ten!”
Pros:
immediate and consistent exposure to the spoken language; no drawn-out explanations; variety of phrases and conversational topics; justifies its price, particularly for auditory learners
Cons:
listen & repeat/assimilate may challenge some but delight others; higher price tag; audio-only may discourage bookish students; no explanation of grammar and structure means that finer tricky points may go unnoticed


The Pimsleur language learning program is widely considered one of the most approachable introductions to a foreign language. Brazilian Portuguese consists of three courses with multiple discs full of audio conversations and phrases in each course. The experience is entirely audio-driven, since Pimsleur courses treat reading as supplementary to speaking.

The level I course introduces the basic conversational skills you’ll need to survive in Brazil (or Portugal, if you opt for the European version). Each of the thirty audio lessons builds upon the last, with the express goal of bringing you up to a basic conversational level by the end of the course.

If you listen to all the recordings, you will have been exposed to a decent range of Portuguese conversation and speech, and, if you’ve been repeating along, you’ll likely be able to get by in a variety of situations. This falls short of the ideal – interacting with native speakers – and lacks the anchor of grammar that some students prefer, but it works well for a great many learners who use this course to conquer the basics. You will have a controlled listening comprehension experience throughout the course, and a consistent exposure to the spoken language, from individual words on up to the bigger chunks of Portuguese.

Pimsleur offers three products to beginning and intermediate learners: Comprehensive (most expensive, featured above), Conversational (seen below) and Basic. Conversational Portuguese gives you the first sixteen lessons of the Comprehensive course. Basic Portuguese is stripped down to the first ten lessons of the Comprehensive course. If you’re going to commit, I recommend the Comprehensive or at least the Conversational package. The first lessons, especially, are rudimentary, and only cover some of the survival basics.

Especially if you’re an auditory learner like me, the higher price tag of this product does pay off. Don’t expect to come out with a thorough knowledge of the ins and outs of grammar and syntax, but do expect to have an ear for the language and a quicker conversational tongue than you would through reading grammar books or playing software vocabulary match-up games. If you already have some command of the language, I recommend jumping to the second series (Brazilian Portuguese II).

Portuguese: An Essential Grammar by Janet Lloyd

Score:
1 2 3 4 5 (6) 7 8 9 10
“Six outta ten!”
Pros:
abundant examples; great organization; covers all basic topics of beginning & intermediate Portuguese grammar
Cons:
European Portuguese dialect only; no exercises; short, terse explanations leave some to fend for themselves; better as a reference work


Portuguese: An Essential Grammar offers a more traditional approach to Portuguese grammar, complete with all the lists of noun and verb forms I’ve come to expect from such a resource. That said, it’s fairly light for such a grammatical approach – explanations are short and straightforward, and examples are ubiquitous and easily recognized by the bold text used to highlight Portuguese words.

This grammar reference handles European Portuguese grammar exclusively, so explanations will provide a smaller amount of help to Brazilian Portuguese learners not destined for Lisbon or Coimbra anytime soon.

The bulk of the chapters deal with the common categories of grammar, starting with a short intro to pronunciation, a chapter on nouns, one on articles, another on adjectives, then pronouns, a short chapter on numbers (“numerals”), a hefty verbs chapter, followed by adverbs, conjunctions and prepositions. The second part of the book details what it calls “language functions”, including many useful social and conversational words, expressions, phrases and how a Portuguese speaker uses them. A bibliography and index cap the book.

The approach works for a reference guide, and takes the language learner through the complexities of intermediate Portuguese grammar. Some learners, myself included, would like a bit more than one-line explanations of trickier grammatical features, but the ambient examples counterbalance that shortcoming.

Intermediate European Portuguese learners looking for an on-hand grammar reference will have something to gain from this text – if that describes you, this book may be worth it. Brazilian learners can still get a lot from this reference, but should remain cautious. No exercises and no learner-directed material will make this a no-sale for most casual students.

Essential Portuguese Grammar by Alexander da R. Prista

Score:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 (8) 9 10
“Eight outta ten!”
Pros:
price; straightforward explanations; abundant examples; great coverage of basic grammar; handy index and table of contents
Cons:
doesn’t venture beyond intermediate level; cuts out some trickier points; supplementary to a conversation course


Prista’s Essential Portuguese Grammar (not to be confused with the more in-depth Portuguese: An Essential Grammar) is a small, thin book in the Essential Grammar series. This series has two signatures: (#1) quick but thorough coverage of the basics and (#2) the low price.

In about 100 pages, the book runs through all the basics of grammar – articles, nouns, prepositions, verbs, etc. It does learners a good service by keeping sentence formation in view throughout, which is an essential skill for any decent Portuguese conversation. A thorough table of contents and index help you find what you’re looking for at a glance.

The overview is great for beginners, and covers grammar as completely as could be asked of a cheap, slender introduction. Explanations just give a beginning or intermediate overview of each topic (although sometimes covering things coursebooks often miss), which means that you’ll need to make further investments to move beyond the basics. Portuguese verb use and sentence structure are particularly difficult grammar points for learners, and will require more understanding and practice than what’s offered in the Essential Portuguese Grammar.

Listening comprehension and conversation skills will, of course, fall in the domain of an actual lesson series. If you’re a beginning learner, and as long as you treat this as a grammar reference and not a primary conversational course, you’ll likely be very satisfied with this supplement.

Speak Portuguese with Confidence by Sue Tyson-Ward

Score:
1 2 3 4 (5) 6 7 8 9 10
“Five outta ten!”
Pros:
price (relative to other CD/audio conversation courses); full dialogs; fairly realistic usage
Cons:
limited amount and scope of material; little to guide you along at your own pace; focus on larger chunks of language; no real exercise; little attention to grammar or structure


This audio CD-based program contains three discs, two of which focus on Brazilian or European Portuguese conversational skills. The third CD presents a listening comprehension and phrases selection.

A small booklet accompanies the course, and includes a transcription of the dialogues, a list of listening skills survival phrases, and a very brief Portuguese to English and English to Portuguese word list, along with an index.

The phrases and conversations covered seem relevant and realistic, but were shorter and less in-depth than other audio methods available. Also, I enjoy buying courses that take a bit more time breaking down troublesome phrases rather than repeating along with whole dialogs, but this course has little room for bite-sized learning. Unless you like to press stop, rewind and play repeatedly.

A complete lack of grammar coverage may turn some students off, but this tack is situation normal when learning a language through an audio-heavy program. On the other hand, very little here even eases the student into an understanding of the language’s structure.

If you like audio methods, such as Pimsleur’s, but don’t want a large price tag on your purchase, this skim overview of Portuguese conversation will help get your pronunciation and listening skills up to par, provided you are willing to listen to the same dialogues over and again.

Langenscheidt Pocket Portuguese Dictionary, by Langenscheidt’s Pocket Dictionaries

Score:
1 2 3 (4) 5 6 7 8 9 10
“Four outta ten!”
Pros:
IPA pronunciation given (in Brazilian only) for every word; rather complete list of basic entries; Portuguese-English & English-Portuguese
Cons:
hardly any usage examples; no way to differentiate multiple entries translating to one term in English; chart of English irregular verbs but no Portuguese verb tables; focus on Brazilian (only a “con” for European Portuguese learners); higher price than other pocket dictionaries


As you recall, I wasn’t a fan of NTC’s Compact Portuguese and English Dictionary. If my eyes don’t deceive me, fellow Portuguese learners, this dictionary has the EXACT same lexical entries with the EXACT same problems!

NTC’s Compact Portuguese and English Dictionary by NTC Publishing Group

Score:
1 2 3 (4) 5 6 7 8 9 10
“Four outta ten!”
Pros:
IPA pronunciation given (in Brazilian only) for every word; rather complete list of basic entries; Portuguese-English & English-Portuguese
Cons:
very few usage examples; no ways to differentiate multiple entries translating to one term in English; chart of English irregular verbs but no Portuguese verb tables; focus on Brazilian (only a “con” for European Portuguese learners); fairly high price if bought new


NTC publishes the ever-abundant Teach Yourself educational series, which means they have no shortage of experience in language learning materials. NTC’s Compact Portuguese to English & English to Portuguese Dictionary is a basic “compact” dictionary. The book is noticeably larger than other compact dictionaries on the market that I tend to prefer – search for our Oxford and Larousse reviews for physically smaller books that merit the title “compact”.

The vocabulary entries display a wide variety of pertinent, learner-aware choices, with everything from slang to Brazilian food and cultural items. The dictionary disappoints only students learning the European dialect of Portuguese, since the choice of vocabulary includes a bare minimum of European usage, and virtually no alternate European spellings.

The structure of the dictionary’s individual entries, however, lack helpful examples and indicators that benefit the very learners who tend to buy this kind of reference. For instance, a search for “guy” turns up a list of five Portuguese nouns that might match, with no further information. I would already have to know Portuguese to pick the right translation! Further, the dictionary lists noun genders and irregular noun plurals, but fails to indicate irregular verbs. Beginner dictionaries aimed at beginners label their entries more clearly.

A sidenote. NTC publishes the TY series, and I find it odd that their initial Portuguese course by Manuela Cook (also reviewed on this site) aims at European Portuguese, while their dictionary aims at Brazilian Portuguese learners, with IPA for the São Paulo dialect. Of course, they’ve since specialized with a course specific to Brazilian Portuguese, also reviewed on this site.

This dictionary has a scant few nice extras, like the pronunciation given in IPA for each and every entry in Portuguese (which assumes that you can read the International Phonetic Alphabet). You don’t get much in the way of an index – a table of weights and measures, a short introduction, and English irregular verbs (but no Portuguese irregulars!).

If you’re in the market for a Portuguese dictionary, I would spend less money on a more user-friendly volume. Additionally, if you dislike what you read in this review, I also recommend avoiding Langenscheidt’s Pocket Portuguese Dictionary. The two dictionaries are nearly identical, as far as these eyes can see.

Barron’s 501 Portuguese Verbs (Paperback) by John J. Nitti & Michael J. Ferreira

Score:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 (8) 9 10
“Eight outta ten!”
Pros:
does exactly what it sets out to; great reference book; easy to flip through & search; examples of each verb in use; affordable price; good introduction
Cons:
limited in scope; most verbs highly regular & arguably not “necessary”; some of this information is available in other books and online


Barron’s 501 Verbs books are certainly abundant and popular. They cover every conceivable verb a beginning language student might need to conjugate in any form (in Portuguese, this means all tenses and moods for all persons and numbers). Each page in the body of the book focuses on a single verb, with all forms listed in easy-to-read columns. Each tense-mood is easy to pick out at a glance (e.g. Present Indicative or Imperfect Subjunctive). At the bottom of a page, a handful of examples illustrate some of the most common and distinct uses of that particular verb.

The Portuguese entry in this series doesn’t disappoint. The introduction spotlights some of the trickier issues for learners tackling Portuguese verbs, including reflexive verbs, pronouns with verbs, the passive voice, compound verbs and verbs with irregular and multiple past participles. An English to Portuguese and Portuguese to English index lists all 501 verbs covered in the book.

The authors decided to put verb forms with open “e” and “o” in italics. While not part of the Portuguese spelling system, this decision helps students pronounce the tricky feature of open or closed stressed “e” and “o” consistently. The book explains this in more depth.

Learning Portuguese grammar requires mastering the verb above all else, and having this guide at hand will bring you quite a few steps closer. You’ll have some solid linguistic backup for your verbal woes. Still, don’t expect anything like language lessons from this book. You will need a fuller course to really master Portuguese, so this should stand by your side as a reference guide.

Teach Yourself Portuguese Complete Course with Audio CDs, by Manuela Cook

Score:
1 2 3 4 5 6 (7) 8 9 10
“Seven outta ten!”
Pros:
price; exercises throughout; good coverage of grammar, pronunciation & conversation topics
Cons:
a bit formulaic; learning requires repeating along with dialogs and vocabulary; heavy reliance on English


This course contains ten units that teach both European and Brazilian Portuguese, with a bit of an emphasis on the European variety. Notes about Brazilian differences are given throughout.

Each unit starts off with a dialogue, followed by a vocabulary list, then a commentary introducing finer points of the language. A grammatical section presents grammar traditionally, but also uses practical situations and lots of interlaced exercises to illustrate points. Each unit ends in a reading selection (called “comprehension test” in Portuguese) with comprehension questions in English.

The pronunciation guide at the beginning is extremely thorough and leaves nothing up to inference, using IPA (the International Phonetic Alphabet) to highlight the various ways each letter is pronounced in context. This reliance on linguistic knowledge of phonetics leaves some beginners out in the cold.

Sections at the end of the book include answers to the exercises, a chart of regular verb endings (very handy for learning Portuguese, with its rich verb system), notes about verbs that change spelling or pronunciation in various forms, and a detailed list of all common irregular verbs. This is followed by a short Portuguese-to-English vocabulary list and two very short indexes – one about grammar, one for conversation topics.

The cassettes or CDS are helpful, since they include voice enactments of dialogues and of the reading comprehension sections, as well as a read-through of all of the examples in the pronunciation guide.

Teach Yourself Portuguese isn’t exceptional in most respects, but it is thorough. The topics presented are comprehensive enough to warrant a glance. It’s also one of the cheapest courses of its kind.