Learning Portuguese in Rio de Janeiro

Before I moved to Rio de Janeiro, I asked fellow travelers about the art of learning (Brazilian) Portuguese. To my surprise, they all pretty much responded the same way…

“If you know Spanish, you’ll be fine.”

I understood that Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and French (among others) are rooted in Latin and are often referred to as the Romance or Romanic languages, but I just wasn’t clear as to how closely related they were.

Excited at the idea that my Spanish would carry me, I queued up all the Portuguese movies I could find on Netflix and set out to distinguish the difference.

From the moment the opening credits rolled on the first movie I selected, I thought…

These people are all full of shit.

I didn’t understand anything. Even with the Portuguese subtitles I was lost.

Granted, the first movie I selected was City of God, and to learn Portuguese from that is like giving a foreigner New Jack City to learn English. But still, from what I was told, I thought I would at least understand the conversations if not every word.

It wasn’t the case.

Fast forward to my arrival in Rio and I find myself in a similarly unsettling position.

While I do understand many of the words spoken and even more so in writing, I’m having a hell of a time understanding the pronunciation and other nuances that go along with speaking Portuguese.

I won’t get into all the technical differences between Spanish and Portuguese; I’ll leave that to friends like Benny and Josh who know a lot more than me, but I’ll just say, they are definitely not the same.

Over the first few weeks I watched Learning Portuguese YouTube tutorials and used a great app called Duolingo (thanks to Simon and Erin’s apps for travelers), but I just wasn’t progressing fast enough.

From Spanish, I learned that I need discipline and structure (at first) to organize the grammatical rules and format.

While that is the thoughtful reason behind starting classes, the real reason is because of a girl…

Last week, I was sitting at a café in my neighborhood and a very attractive young woman came and sat at the table right next to me. We exchanged glances a few times and as I got up to leave awhile later, she got my attention and began speaking to me in Portuguese.

She asked how I was doing and I absolutely froze. While I understood what she said, I barely managed to mumble “bem” (well) before I paused, turned around, and walked out the door. Very smooth.

As soon as I walked out the door I knew something had to be done. My confidence was at 0%. 

Enter Carioca Languages and a one-week Spanish to Portuguese intensive course as seen in the video above.

Half way through the week and I’m already seeing results. I had the chance to speak with Carioca Language director, Professor Viviane Moraes (MA, PhD), today and I can see why she is so passionate about the development of the course material and education of her staff. They take the language learning very serious here and it pays off. 

I will probably continue with the next level for an additional four weeks with a break half way through for Carnival.

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Learning Portuguese in Rio de Janeiro Brazil with Carioca Languages

Learning Portuguese in Rio de Janeiro Brazil with Carioca Languages


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One Response to Learning Portuguese in Rio de Janeiro

  1. Ha. I also love Duolingo but I think you need to either attend some language classes or do your own course work religiously to be able to progress. Good luck with learning Portuguese! I’m also busy learning German and attending classes and talking to people definitely helped alot.
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