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My Experience Learning European Portuguese: Portuguese Connections School in Lisbon, Portugal

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Last Updated on April 15, 2024 by Leslie Stroud

Given the flood of questions about our relocation to Portugal, I’ve taken the plunge and launched a second blog titled ‘American Family in Portugal’. Join us as we share our journey and insights into expat life in this beautiful country!

Transplanting to a new country requires a lot of grit and stretching your comfort zone.  One of our primary reasons for moving to Portugal revolved around learning a foreign language: Portuguese! After years of traveling the world full-time with our children, I noticed a large gap that came with being an American citizen: the lack of a second language.

Why Learn Portuguese?

The primary reason we chose to learn Portuguese as a second language was our love for the country of Portugal. We view it as the “California of Europe,” but with incredibly kind, wholesome people and much cheaper to live in. Secondly, Chris already speaks fluent Portuguese (although a bit rusty) from being a missionary in Brazil for two years for our church.

It could be argued that English is the most useful language to speak.  Many foreigners put in significant effort to learn English and speak it well.  However, I personally dislike the part of the American culture that writes that off as ”enough.”  Speaking a second language (especially a romantic language) opens the door for more knowledge now and an easier time acquiring a third language in the future.

I’ve often been amazed and in awe of the Europeans who easily speak 3-5 languages.  This concept seems nearly impossible to many of us Americans.  However, I’ve learned in my Portuguese classes that there is much crossover between romantic languages, making it easier to adapt.  The “romantic languages” include French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian, and a few others.

During our travels, I constantly felt inhibited by our lack of language.  We strive to really absorb new cultures through food and experiences, interacting with locals, and making friends wherever we are.  While we will always be “tourists” to some degree, I really desire to experience new places in more depth than just a meal out and a few IG pictures (as lovely as those are!).

When we decided to settle abroad in Portugal, I knew learning the language would be paramount to our experience here.  Prior to moving, we spent hours discussing the best way for all of us to learn. Chris already spoke Brazilian Portuguese, so his learning curve is much lower than for the rest of us.

How Our Children Will Learn Portuguese

For young children, learning a new language will mostly come from socialization with other children.  They have no drive to go to a foreign language school and take that task upon themselves.  The pressure from peers and the desire for friendships will be the catalyst for their learning.

Because of this, we decided to send our kids to a Portuguese school. We felt that combining the Portuguese curriculum with the natural social pressures would be the quickest avenue for learning.

Private vs. Public Schools in Portugal?

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Both public and private schooling options are available in Portugal.  Private school seems to be much more common in European countries than in the US.  They also don’t have to come with a massive price tag.  However, public school has excelled over the last few decades.  Forty years ago, the school was only mandatory until the fourth grade in Portugal!  Now, I would peg the education system in Portugal as far more advanced than the Western US school experiences we have had this far in our parenting journey.

We opted to enroll in a private school at about 300€ each child per month.  
Why?  All five of our children, ages 14-4, can attend the same school together.  We also loved the smaller class sizes, the more controlled environment, and the fantastic staff.  

Since enrolling, we’ve learned the bullying that comes with being a foreigner is less prevalent at a private school than at a public one.  Considering we’ve already dealt with a small amount of teasing and bullying (which rips my heart to shreds), gratitude fills me for our choice to go private.

How I Will Learn Portuguese As The Mom

As a mother and digital nomad working in an American business that we own, the challenge of learning Portuguese is real!  I simply do not have the time or the courage to use the other school moms as my learning ground.  I know the culture demands something different, but my drive to get things done doesn’t allow me to linger around the schoolyard trying to make friends.

We do attend church each week and love our church family.  Many women there would love to practice their English and help me to learn Portuguese.  However, where would I even start?  Only so much friendship can develop when all you can say is, “Hello, how are you?”

Intensive European Portuguese Language Course

With a bit of an analytical and academic personality, attending in-person classes is exciting!  I’m a school learner and always enjoy the opportunity to push myself mentally.

Many different resources teach Portuguese, both online and in-person. When I began doing my research, I learned one very important rule to know when learning Portuguese:

You must decide if you are learning Brazilian Portuguese or European Portuguese.  Yes, they are different!

Because Brazil has more than 20x the population of Portugal, most learning resources teach Brazilian Portuguese!  

I’ve also learned that Brazilian Portuguese is a bit easier to learn.  There are a few grammar rules that make European Portuguese especially tricky!

Of course, living in Portugal means we want to learn European Portuguese.  

Portuguese Connection School In Lisbon

I reached out to a few language schools in Lisbon and ultimately decided to go with Portuguese Connection School.  Why?

  1. I love the location.  The school is located right downtown in a touristy, fun location.  I loved going to class each day and experiencing the city! There are plenty of cafes to visit during breaks, and the beautiful park across the street often has street vendors or art stalls to visit.
  2. They do weekly walking tours around the city.  We are still struggling to be tourists in our own homes, and these weekly adventures helped get me out to see more of Lisbon while practicing conversation.
  3. The teachers are excellent!  The staff at Portuguese Connection School has always been super friendly from my first email, and I’ve loved everyone I’ve interacted with.

Classes at Portuguese Connections

Once you contact the school, you’ll be sent a placement test.  You must answer this series of questions to determine how much grammar and vocabulary you know.  Most students in the course come from other European countries with various languages.  Knowing French or Italian, for example, gives someone a huge leg up compared to an English-only speaker.

I was placed in the beginning course, and Chris, who lived two years in Brazil, was placed at a B1.1 level.  

Daily Intense Classes

Each day, the class is held from 9 am – 1 pm.  The school has several classrooms, and each day you may be switching around rooms but will stay with the same class and teacher for the week.

During these classes, you’ll receive books and learning materials.  The classes are taught strictly in Portuguese from Day 1!  I had a Spanish background and had lightly studied Portuguese using Duolingo and other small efforts for the past year. However, I was challenged right away!  

On the first day, we learned how to introduce ourselves and got to know each other a bit.  This added much value to the class, as you may stay with your classmates for several weeks.

I also chose to add a 1-hour private lesson each afternoon following class.  I think this added a ton of value to my experience, and I plan to continue on with this program.  Each afternoon, I was forced to use the concepts learned that day in conversation.  It has helped my Português develop at a rapid pace.

Other Class Options with Portuguese Connection School

There are many other options for classes within Portuguese Connection School, including private lessons, night classes, and other options to fit your needs.

My husband and I work US hours, so the daytime classes here work perfectly.  It does make for very long days, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the challenge.  Most other students in my class are retired, students, or in between jobs, so their main focus is on the course.  I’ve connected with various ages, personalities, and nationalities in my four weeks here.  I’ve been the only American in my classes so far!

What Are Classes Like Each Day At Portuguese Connection?

We usually start class with about 20 minutes of conversation.  We will talk about our previous lessons, learn more about each other, etc.  Then we jump into sections of our grammar and vocab books.  Generally, 2-3 topics are covered each day intensely.  

We may do some bookwork for each topic, listen to audio challenges, interact as a group, and talk A LOT in Portuguese.  By the end of the week, I’ve listened to over 24 hours of Portuguese, and my comprehension soars each week that I attend.

There is also homework assigned each day.  While you aren’t kicked out of class for not doing your homework, you lose the opportunity to progress.  Each day we review the homework as a class.  So far, the longest I’ve spent on homework was 45 minutes. However, I do know it gets more intense as levels progress.

How Do Levels Progress in Portuguese?

“Levels” of Portuguese at the school are broken into the following segments:

  • A1.1
  • A1.2
  • B1.1
  • B1.2
  • C Levels

On average, each level takes 4-6 weeks to complete, but the teachers won’t let you progress before you are ready.  Each day is an assessment, and they constantly adapt and mold the curriculum to the class’s needs.  Some weeks progress faster than others, depending on the different levels within a class.

Portuguese Connection only teaches up to C-Level. At that point, you should be very fluent and have decent writing skills.  If you wish to continue your language progression, you’ll need to seek out university-level classes.  Continuing would make sense for professional reasons or simply because you want to become more fluent. However, for the average person, C-Level knowledge will be sufficient.

As the levels progress, you will be doing more and more speaking.  In the first couple of levels, you are doing a lot of listening and comprehension learning, but I’ve been told this changes as you progress.  B-Level classes are primarily conversational, with additional grammar and “tense” learnings.

How Has My Experience Been With Portuguese Connection?

Honestly, I’ve loved every day I’ve gone to class.  I was anxious on my first day and unsure of what to expect.  Now, I crave going back and continuing my progression in Portuguese.

While most Portuguese people speak English, I feel a lot of insecurity and self-doubt when I cannot correctly communicate in my native tongue.  It makes me shy, nervous, and fearful.  

Going to class and building my skills in Portuguese has helped build my confidence.  I no longer dread going to the checkout counter at the store, and I embrace every opportunity to practice a little bit of conversation.

Classes are fun and move quickly.  Taking these classes while working full-time is a real challenge for my family and me. But each day, I find the energy and truly enjoy it.  I’ve made some new local friends as well, which fuels me!

So far, I’ve completed A1.1 and am working on learning some new tenses, like past tense.  I can’t wait to unlock this part of my skills.  I already have about 60-80% comprehension in most of my conversations with locals, can understand almost all signs and directions, and have no trouble with basic exchanges. I am thrilled with my learning so far!

What I’ve Learned From Doing Intensive Language Courses

  • It’s very helpful to learn a new language in a way that breaks down the components of that language and makes them digestible.  When we learn our “mother tongue,” as the Portuguese say, we don’t understand why we use the language the way we do.  We know what sounds right and what sounds wrong.  When learning a new language, I often inquire, “why does it work that way?”  The teachers have made these lessons digestible and understandable.  We learn rules, like regular and irregular verbs, that make learning easier overall.
  • It helps to be in an environment with other people like you.  Stumbling over a new language can be a humbling experience.  I find comfort in watching others learn and make mistakes alongside me.
  • Learning the language of a new country is worth the effort.  I’ve spoken to a few classmates who have lived internationally and never learned a foreign language.  It’s easy to skimp by using English and not putting in the effort.  However, you can’t fully assimilate into a new place without knowing the language.  You are doing yourself a disservice by choosing to bypass this.
  • Learning a second language can help you to understand your language in new ways.  You’ll also find translations to be incredibly cool.  For example, in Portuguese, “to give birth” is literally “to give a light,” like giving light to a new life.  That one made me cry when I heard it!
  • Conversation is key.  The teachers in class speak very clearly and slowly, making you feel like a rockstar!  However, a real-life conversation is quite different.  Feeling deflated when you get out into the real world and feel like you can’t understand anyone is normal, but this practice is critical.  Thankfully, we have a couple of people who help us at home that speak Portuguese, so I can practice a bit each day.
  • Keep in mind that even in your native language, people have different accents and ways of speaking.  You’ll find this is true of your new language as well.  Sometimes even native Portuguese speakers can’t understand each other!
  • You will sound like a toddler for a while.  The more I’ve thought about this process, the more I relate it to my 4-year-old daughter.  Sometimes, she will say things in English that make me giggle, such as the incorrect gender of a person or a simple mispronunciation.  I make similar mistakes in Portuguese, but I’m not a cute toddler!  Haha.  Thankfully, everyone here is really patient with those of us still learning.  When others correct you, recognize that it is actually an excellent service to you!  Welcome it.
  • Learning a new language is good for your brain!  Stretch yourself.  Get uncomfortable.  It’s all worth it in the long run.

Beginner Tips For Learning European Portuguese

In addition to taking formal classes, here are a few tips from me!

  • If you haven’t learned a romantic language before, it’s very important to recognize that words in other languages have gender. All nouns have a gender. For example, the car is masculine, the suitcase is feminine, etc. These are simply learned through memorization. This is a bizarre concept for English speakers and can take some time to adjust. Just embrace all the rules and regulations with it; you’ll catch on before long.
  • Start your learning with pronunciation. I did this in my first week with Portuguese Connection and it has helped a TON. Even if I don’t know what a word means, I can say it decently so others can understand.
  • Watch TV. I’m typically a big advocate for a screen-free life. Really! I spend more than enough time in front of a computer each day for work. However, I’ve asked dozens of Portuguese people why their English is so good, and the answer is almost always the same: “I watched a lot of TV in English.” Music can also help.
    RTP Play is a TV service created by the Portuguese government, which offers a lot of shows you can listen to. Even if you don’t understand a thing, your brain will start picking up on speech patterns. My biggest challenge is finding the time to do this, but I have my kids watch Portuguese cartoons most days. I also enjoy having Portuguese subtitles on if I’m watching something to relax.
  • Try to learn just a few words a day. The entire process of learning a language can overwhelm the best of us. However, we set a goal to just learn 5-10 words, or a few sentences, each night at dinner. Small goals like this add up quickly and prevent total overwhelm.
  • It’s best to speak Portuguese in your home, but I’ll be honest… we don’t. We throw a few words in, but my kids are exhausted after their 10-hour school days in Portuguese and have no desire to continue. I’ve just embraced this and figure I’ll help keep up their English skills for now.

Overall, I give my hearty and honest recommendation for learning Portuguese and using Portuguese Connections School to do so!  I’ve been so appreciative of their efforts to work around my ever-changing schedule, their fun personalities, and making this difficult experience enjoyable.

If you are interested in learning this language, visit Portuguese Connection School’s website to learn more!

Boa Sorte,

Leslie

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Additional Reading

MOVING YOUR FAMILY TO PORTUGAL FROM THE UNITED STATES: WHAT TO KNOW

WHY WE ARE UPROOTING OUR FAMILY AND MOVING TO PORTUGAL

HOW TO OBTAIN A PORTUGUESE D7 VISA FOR YOUR FAMILY: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW

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