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Over the last month I have received a great deal of emails from people who wanted to know the steps to become fluent in Portuguese.
This is a pertinent subject and I'm going to share with you here the answer I discovered based on my personal experience and empirical research.
When you first make the decision to learn how to become fluent in Portuguese or another language, the couple of first things I recommend you to do is find out what your learning style is and meet and learn from people who were already fluent in Portuguese.
With this I don't necessarily mean meeting native speakers, but people who have learnt Portuguese in a special way.
People who had learnt how to express themselves properly.
People who have learnt how to naturally speak Portuguese not as their mother tongue.
Let me explain.
When I wanted to learn a foreign language I didn't want to meet people who were learning a word here and another word there, but people who knew what they were doing.
I started hanging out with them, and watched with my own eyes how these people approached other people and started interacting with each other in front of me.
Sometimes I would ask these "brave boys and girls" questions about how they actually did it. The fact is they'd reply to me with all kinds of different answers. So I decided to start my research.
The truth is that most people who actually know how to naturally learn to speak a new foreign language will think you are a bit weird when you ask them how they do it.
To a "natural linguist" (let's call them so) it's very obvious how to speak a foreign language. If you ask a "natural linguist" how they start speaking a foreign language they would probably say "just go over and start talking to people".
Yeah, right!!! As if it was that easy...
I decided to do the research myself and over and over I watched many linguists - boys and girls - approaching other people. I watched them start talking to strangers and how they did it.
I came to the conclusion that their key was just the confidence they had to do it.
Here's what they did:
They were totally aware of what their learning style was and what they needed to know to recall the words at the moment they needed to use them.
They would show attitude.
They would transform some words from their mother tongue or other languages adapting them to the target language.
They would use cognate words.
They would learn quickly the basic words to make and connect sentences.
They would learn how to express one same sentence in many different tenses (present, past, future).
In short, they were confident enough to play with a language.
So, today I would like to talk to you about this idea of "confidence" and how it relates to you having more success with your Portuguese. Later on I'll explain some interesting grammatical concepts.
So, even if you've never learnt a foreign language before, if you understand what I'm going to tell you here, you'll learn how to become fluent in Portuguese.
The fact that I could see these linguists speak Portuguese, English, German, Italian etc., made me think about how is it possible to learn a language.
I realised that, at the beginning, they had just learnt enough to be able to use language for simple routine activities like ask and answer basic personal questions (for instance name, nationality, age, job, family, friends, follow short directions or buy essential goods). Their ability to ask questions to other people was so good that they would keep their interlocutors interested in the conversation for a long time. So, learn how to ask questions well to start a conversation.
In all these situations they would understand and use simple vocabulary and structures, speaking short sentences slowly but in a way that seemed natural. They would ignore or change the subject when they didn't have control of the conversation. They were basically leaders of the conversation all the time.
But obviously, when you are observing these people talking, if you don't understand a word in Portuguese, for example, these little plays would sound like a conversation between two native speakers - fast and natural - wouldn't they?
Well, little by little, I realised that these linguists were not bothered at all with the mistakes they were making. They would learn from the corrections needed on the spot and carried on as if nothing had happened - CONFIDENCE!
When they mastered these first simple steps they would continue using the language to another level - the level where they could ask and answer the same essential personal questions but in further depth.
This second level was a level where they could describe the essential aspects of work and personal circumstances incorporating adjectives and adverbs in the conversation.
This was a level where they could expand their language to obtain information for survival situations (travel times, directions and arrangements, meetings, and so on). A level where they could exchange basic greetings and make simple and short polite conversation, and where they felt secure enough to switch from past to future or from future to present confidently so they learnt how to use their verbs well.
At this stage... wow! I was amazed! They sounded like native speakers to me!!! And all this in just a question of weeks! My god!
I continued to hang out with these people and guess what? They kept on repeating the same type of conversation but in even further depth.
This time to understand and carry out straightforward tasks in familiar and predictable situations, for instance, exchanging information on social- or work-related matters. They learnt how to describe personal backgrounds and current situations (for instance about themselves, their family, their colleagues, their working conditions, their daily routines and responsibilities), and how to present them to others.
They started expressing preferences talking about their likes, dislikes and wants.
So think about what you like, what you don't like and what you want and prepare sentences that you can use with others.
I found it very interesting, because at this point they could communicate reasonably effectively with a limited range of language. How amazing was that?
At this stage I realised that these linguists had begun to use strategies to help ensure they understood others and were understood by others (for instance by asking for repetition or clarification in such a way that sounded completely natural).
Native speakers would reply to these linguists as if they were Portuguese, or English, or French. Softly and naturally.
But it didn't stop here. These linguists carried on. Wonder why? Because they wanted to become fluent speakers... They were confident!
So, what I discovered after this level was that they could talk with ease about any personal circumstances, interests, work and general subjects to others.
They had repeated those situations so many times before, and in so may different ways that they had become able to introduce and describe experiences, hopes, opinions, plans and ambitions in their conversations with others.
Here I would say they begun a third level in their language learning process.
They would also made sure they provided reasons and explanations for everything they were saying.... What for? To speak their target language as much as possible.
At these stage they were using strategies to compensate the language limitations they still had, which included repetition and rephrase in order to ensure that they were understood and in control of the conversation all the time. They would explain one idea in two or three different ways to make sure they were tuned with the people they were talking to.
By the way, did you know that you can say whatever you want in a minimum of five different ways in your mother tongue?
Amazing! Isn't it?
So this is what you have to aim when you learn Portuguese.
And you know what? At this stage they were just half way from becoming fluent speakers...
By continuing hanging out with these "brave linguists" (and I call them "brave" because of the confidence and drive they've always shown), I realised that they suddenly jumped into another new stage - a stage where they could already understand most of what native speakers were saying to them, although sometimes asking for repetition and clarification - A stage four.
At this stage they used vocabulary that allowed them to express subtleness of meaning. They learnt how to ask for and understand detailed information always ensuring it was understood, repeating and summarising the information exchanged in a conversation.
They checked and confirmed others’ understanding all the time. At this stage they were using strategies for initiating and steering the course of a conversation.
Can you see how confident these people were?
They continued to have the confidence to keep control of the conversation all the time.
Up to this stage, conversations were quite serious. But all of a sudden something happened. The stage five begun.
The colloquial language was introduced, and with that, an awareness of the cultural aspect of communication. What I mean by colloquial is the use of idioms and typical expressions that only native speakers use.
At this late stage of fluency they managed to articulate their language in a diplomatic and persuasive way to expresses humour and different shades of meaning easily.
At these stage these brave boys and girls managed to handle issues that required sensitivity and tact.
They could understand normal speed conversations between native speakers, and native speakers needed to make no concessions to them as a non-native speakers any more.
And why not?
Because in the meantime they had reached the sixth stage. They had already become complete fluent Portuguese speakers.
So this is, or may be the process you face when you learn Portuguese. If you are not one of these linguists yet, you can become one very soon!
For some people it may take a few months, for others a bit more. It all depends on how hard you want it, and the tools and strategies you use. Above all, it all depends on how confident you want to be.
Nevertheless, remember that confidence is the key, focus is the mean, drive is the way, fluency is the aim.
Seeing and experiencing the world from another perspective is the result.
If you rather want to have lessons with me to get help taking you through this process and achieve fluency, please book some lessons here now.
I'm still working hard creating a way to make you reach your fluency in Portuguese easily and more effectively, without having you to spend a lot of time on your learning. What I am creating is revolutionary, and it's based on the progress any linguist makes when they learn a new foreign language.
I can't wait for the day I'll be able to show it to you. But no worries, for sure you'll be the first to know. :-)
Now it's time for some specific learning and today we'll learn the meaning of the words "SE" in Portuguese.
As usual, I'll share with you a couple of several emails I received last month. I hope they help you to improve your Portuguese in this particular area and if you want to email me with any question, please contact me by clicking here.
I notice that when I'm reading Portuguese, I see the use of "se" a lot. For example. "Ela não a ouviu; virou-se e dirigiu-se para fora da casa." In this example, what does the "-se" mean?
Thank you for your message. I've been receiving lots of emails and this one is a pertinent one. Thank you! :-)
Actually your query is tremendously interesting as I think this "se" issue may confuse many people many times.
In fact, the clause "se" can have many meanings.
In the case you present here, it means "herself" - "virou-se" means she turned herself, and "dirigiu-se" means she made her way (herself) to the outside of the house.
"Se" here is a reflexive pronoun that must accompany the reflexive verb. A reflexive pronoun reinforces and throws the action at the person who is doing it.
However "se" can also mean "one", like "One can eat well here" - Come-se bem aqui.
In this case "se" is a passive clause that hides who the subject is (the person who does the action).
If you go to Portugal or Brazil you may see posters on the windows of some apartments saying "Vende-se". This means "For sale", but it literally says "One sells (this apartment)".
Do you get me?
We mustn't also forget that "se" means "if", which can be easily identified because the word "if" presents a condition and uses the rules of the condition, e.g. "Se fores ao supermercado, compra leite - If you go to the supermarket buy some milk, (please).
Many times in a sentence we may find two "SE" together, where one means "IF" and the other is a reflexive pronoun. Example: "O António levanta-se normalmente às 9.00 horas. Se se levantar às 8.00 horas dorme uma hora menos." - Normally Antonio wakes (himself) up at 9 o'clock. If he wakes (himself) up at 8 o'oclock he will sleep one hour less.
Here in the second sentence, the first "se" means "if" and the second "se" is the reflexive pronoun of the verb "Levantar-se" - to wake (oneself) up.
Just one last explanation: The word "se" can change the meaning of certain verbs.
Say, for instance you have the verb "encontrar". "Encontrar" means "to find", but if you turn this verb in to a reflexive verb with the word "se" - "encontrar-se" - the meaning becomes "to meet up with".
Eu encontrei o João na cidade - I found João in the city.
Mais tarde o João quis encontrar-se comigo no café. - later on João wanted to meet up with me in the café.
Do you get me?.
Your site is a really useful resource, and I found your comparison of the personal infinitive/future subjunctive very interesting – I happened upon it precisely when I was struggling to grasp the concept, thinking I may be the only one with this problem!
I was however left with a specific doubt, and would be really grateful if you could help me clear this up or otherwise address this on your site.
I hope it is not too presumptuous of me to ask you a direct grammatical question, but here goes: I recently came across this sentence:
"Não vou começar até eles chegarem".
My question is, is this usage of personal infinitive, or future subjunctive?
Or, to put it another way, which of the following would be correct?
"Não vou começar até eles estarem lá" or "Não vou começar até eles estiverem lá"
Maybe the second example will reveal the answer to the first!
Anyway, many thanks for a great site,
Thank you for your email and pertinent question. Your question can be useful to many people. You are definitely not the only one, my friend.
I'm glad my site is helping you to achieve your goals learning Portuguese.
Indeed the Personal Infinitive is exactly the same of the Future Subjunctive for regular verbs. In the examples you give it will be easy to identify because what you have before is a preposition (até).
So, after a preposition, what you normally find is the Personal Infinitive, and never the Future Subjunctive.
When you read a text, I believe that it's easier to identify whether it's one or the other, however when you are building the sentences yourself, it might become a bit harder to get it right.
But, if you bear in mind that after a preposition (in this case "até") you use the Personal Infinitive, you won't be going against the odds.
So, the sentence "Não vou começar até eles estarem lá" is the correct one.
The Personal Infinitive exists to identify different subjects in a sentence (in this case "eu" and "eles"), whereas the Future Subjunctive is used to identify doubt or probability, etc..
In a similar sentence you would use the Future Subjunctive in this case: "Não vou começar SE eles estiverem lá", (I'm not going to start IF they are there.) but here, as you can see, we are saying something completely different.
Do you get me? I hope this helps!
Any further questions, please let me know.
Deste novo amigo e com um abraço,
Well. I think I'm going to call it a day now! Think about this email whilst you enjoy your learning, and think about how you can boast your confidence. You will hear from me again soon, with more news!
Um abraço forte e até breve.
PS 1: Questions about any topic? Success stories? Please let me know.
PS 2: Also, if you were going to tell your friends ONE PIECE OF ADVICE you learned from me which has helped you to speak Portuguese... What would that be? Let me know in your email!
I look forward to receiving your email :-)
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