Do you want to learn the mother tongue of the old explorers? Listen to the same words they used to call all the new places they discovered? Confuse yourself even more when it comes to differentiating Spanish? Then you should consider language study in Portugal! Portugal is the seat of empire of the sea, a nation of navigators that established colonies all around the world and spread a language still spoken in places as vastly different as Brazil and India. Nearly 250 million people speak Portuguese worldwide, but there's no better place to learn Portuguese than Portugal. Much more than beautiful beaches and bacalhau, there is plenty to discover in Portugal.
Portugal is a very small country with a very long history and one of the best climates in Europe. It’s a popular holiday destination for those who wish to explore its stunning landscapes, musical life, and varied gastronomy. At the same time, it’s home to some of the oldest educational institutions in the world, like the University of Coímbra, founded in 1290. This long-lived tradition of education makes it a perfect backdrop for serious Portuguese language students.
Lisbon is the capital of Portugal and its largest city, built around seven hills. Like Rome, Lisbon was the ancient seat of the empire; to this day people from every continent choose it as their home. Lisbon provides great opportunities for language exchange, especially if you are multilingual or learning multiple languages at the same time. Explore the city’s cafes and bars with your language buddies on your free time and you might even be able to find some live traditional Portuguese music (a great chance to practice!). Lisbon is famous for its varied cultural life and music festivals, like the Rock in Rio, NÓS Alive, or Super Bock Super Rock.
Porto is one of the biggest cities in the country with a great student culture. Students willing to immerse themselves in Portuguese culture should definitely take the opportunity to join the university students when going out at night, concerts, or playing sports. Be sure to visit A Baixa, one of the most popular neighborhoods in Porto. For avid readers, there is one mandatory visit: the Lello e Irmâo bookstore, one of the oldest (and most beautiful) ones in all of Europe.
Faro is located in the south of the country, and home of the University of Algarve. This city is particularly popular thanks to its academic side and its reputation as a summer vacation destination. Perfect for all outdoor lovers, from the less known interior of the Algarve to all the activities on its beaches, Faro is a great destination for students looking to spend a summer learning a new language and getting a sweet tan.
Language Programs in Portugal
If you want to improve your Portuguese and most of all your listening skills, Portugal (especially the south) is the place to be. It’s often said that Brazilians are much easier to understand than the Portuguese, but therein lies the challenge! An inevitable result of interaction with Portuguese locals is that your level will improve a lot more than it would if you were exposed only to the more simple Brazilian accent.
Students can choose between many different types of Portuguese language programs. Language schools in Portugal have more benefits than ordinary language courses in your home country, like small class sizes, which normally mean you’ll be learning alongside no more than ten other students. Language courses in Portugal typically give students the option to opt for a more relaxed language learning process, with less than 20 hours per week of coursework, or a more intensive one, with 25 or more hours of language courses each week.
Some language programs in Portugal even offer the possibility to take one-on-one lessons, during which you’ll have your teacher’s complete attention. In some cases, students can be paired with host families and live and learn among natives. Language homestays not only ensure that students use Portuguese to communicate daily, but with native teachers to guide them during every part of their day, results are nearly guaranteed.
The chances to practice your newly acquired skills while studying in Portugal will be many, since locals tend to be very friendly and Portugal is one of the safest countries in Europe. Lastly, language study in Portugal can last as little or as long as you’d like, from a basic (yet exciting!) two week summer program to a more-immersive, year-long program.
Costs & Affordability
Universities in Portugal often offer scholarships for foreign language students, if you decide to go the university route and take language courses in a traditional setting. However, some private language schools in Portugal also provide scholarships for foreign students that are eager to learn the Portuguese language in a more focused setting.
Lisbon is the most expensive city when it comes to housing, but costs of living are very similar throughout the country. When it comes to transport and food, Portugal is cheaper than other European countries. For instance, depending on the city and vehicle, a single transportation ticket can cost less than 2 Euro. Keep in mind that the cost of goods and services remain similar throughout the country, so where you choose to attend courses shouldn’t change your budget too much.
If you’re studying a foreign language at a university in Portugal, you’ll be able to take advantage of its cantine, or cafeteria, for cheap eats! The menus are usually under 5 Euros, whereas restaurant food will cost upwards of 10 Euros. Street food, fresh food markets, and old traditional meals are a rising trend in Portugal; visit the Mercado da Ribeira in Lisbon or Bolhao in Porto to find cheap and truly authentic food.
Accommodations & Visas
Right next to the paperwork, one of the most important parts of living abroad is finding the perfect base of operations, aka the accommodation that works best for you. Not all language schools in Portugal provide accommodation in course fees, so be sure to check before you go assuming you’ll have housing pre-arranged. If accommodation is not provided in your language program costs, sharing an apartment can be a safe bet, because it will allow you to share the responsibility of housing costs and also bond with other international or local students. Luckily, housing is not expensive in Portugal as a whole, but an apartment in a good condition for a cheap price can be hard to find in most larger cities.
Living with a local family is a very common (and advisable) option for those attending language programs in Portugal, as it will take less effort in maintaining housing and improve your speaking every day. Not to mention, there is nothing like traditional Portuguese cuisine, and a family setting is for sure the best way to try it!
As for visas, be warned that Portuguese bureaucracy can be tedious and difficult to deal with; however, should you need assistance, locals are very helpful and always willing to extend a helping hand (especially your language program provider!). Usually, a visa costs around 100 Euros, but check out GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory for more up-to-date details.
Benefits & Challenges
Living abroad is always challenging, as is learning a new language and being forced to communicate in it. It can be hard for a student to adjust to the Portuguese lifestyle, from the slightly different hours for eating to their heavily-influenced-by-Catholicism behaviors and social mannerisms. The Portuguese social culture can be hard to adjust to for some, as they are extremely polite and somewhat intolerant to swearing and cursing. With time, you’ll surely figure out the best way to communicate and adjust to the Portuguese way of life though.
Saving the best for last, Portugal is famous for its cuisine. The lucky student who chooses this country for their experience will come home not only with a better level of Portuguese, a wonderful tan, and lots of new numbers in their cell phone, but also with delicious savory and sweet recipes (egg tarts, anyone?).
With new language skills comes not only words, but also the spirit of a different culture. Language study abroad in Portugal will make the learning process not only easier, but also more meaningful, and enable you to open your mind and heart to the culture too.