Portuguese is right behind Spanish and French as the most popular Romance language. It is also a gateway to samba, beaches, steakhouses, colonial history, and more. As an added bonus, Portuguese is a very easy language to learn, with solid conjugations, easy grammar, and logical vocabulary. So whether you’re looking to put on your dancing shoes and soccer cleats in Brazil, scuba dive in Mozambique, or hike to some epic castles in Portugal, pour yourself a glass of vinho verde and start reviewing notes for your first Portuguese language course abroad.
Spoken across three continents, Portuguese language courses are possible in a variety of locations; the problem will be actually choosing just one place to study Portuguese abroad. Brazil is huge, Angola and Mozambique are difficult to get to, and Portugal is the most expensive. At the same time, all four of these locations are real life paradises, so there are many more factors you should consider before deciding where to enroll in Portuguese language courses.
Brazil. The biggest country in South America and home to excellent steak, lively rhythms, sandy coastlines, and enthusiastic futebol fans, Brazil is one happenin’ place. There are intensive Portuguese language schools in practically every city throughout the country. Typically, the north shows more African influence, while the south is more metropolitan and industrial. The center of Brazil is full of grasslands and rolling hills, while the east has some amazing beaches and dunes. There really isn’t a “wrong” city for Portuguese languages courses in Brazil.
Portugal. Sitting on the western coast of the Iberian peninsula is Portugal, birthplace of the Portuguese language. Home to castles, excellent port wine, and golden beaches, Portuguese language programs in Portugal offer students a unique experience of the language. Ocean breezes singing through its gently-lit cobblestone streets, laid-back Lisbon offers a glimpse into a vibrant past and promising future. Other popular cities for Portuguese language courses around Portugal include Porto, which is the second largest city set along the River Douro, and Faro, with its impressively-preserved ruins despite the 1700’s earthquake. Any Portuguese city offers delightful buildings with tile exteriors, historical monuments, and patê de sardinha to accompany your aperitivo.
Mozambique. Located on the southeastern coast of Africa, Mozambique is a land of coastlines (notice a theme among Portuguese-speaking countries?), palm trees, and adventure. Not incredibly popular for most travelers, Mozambique is a breath of fresh air in terms of getting off the beaten path. With well-preserved coral reefs and a teeming landscapes filled with elephants and lions, this is a great place to not only learn Portuguese, but have an adventure waiting right outside your classroom door.
Portuguese Language Programs
Portuguese language programs tend to follow stereotypical classroom curriculum, with main variations occurring in course length, class sizes, and optional extras. Universities offer traditional classes, while Portuguese language schools and long-term immersion programs have customization options in how students want their classes run; it’s up to your learning style!
University Courses. Intensive Portuguese language programs run by universities offer a number of benefits. The main benefit being accreditation, which means transferable course credits while partaking in the fun and ease of learning Portuguese in a Portuguese-speaking country. The other pro of university-run Portuguese language courses are extracurricular activities, such as cooking lessons, dance classes, and conversation socials. Universities often have a more traditional class setting, which comes with stricter schedules, potential sign-up fees, and bigger class sizes.
Private Language Schools that run independently from higher education institutions give students more customization, especially in terms of time commitment. While most Portuguese language classes will be offered in group settings, a lot of private language schools also offer one-on-one tutoring that can invaluable to those looking to gain Portuguese fluency quickly (they also offer free “language exchange” options frequently, which can amount to the same thing). The challenge with Portuguese language schools is that most don’t offer accommodation, and it can be hard to get courses accredited at a university back home (but don’t forget about placement tests!). Portuguese language schools differ in costs, as rates are calculated by weekly class hours, but most are cheaper than attending a university.
Immersion Programs. These types of Portuguese language programs are typically on-site for six months to a year. This is best type of program for those who are either majoring in Portuguese, want to gain native-level fluency, or just have a lot of time on their hands. Doing a long-term Portuguese program will be the most expensive and time consuming option for learning Portuguese abroad, but since it is an easy language to learn, students will be at near-native speaking level by the time they finish.
Tips for Gaining Portuguese Fluency
Because of its presence around the globe, there are an infinite number of resources for Portuguese language learners to draw on for practice. Whether it’s axé in Brazil, reading a newspaper on a beach in Mozambique, or reading the museum signs in Portugal, it’s easy to immerse yourself in the Portuguese language all around the globe.
One of the biggest, and maybe the most obvious, hacks for learning Portuguese is to listen to music. Brazil is home to some of the most beautiful music in the world: samba, forro, bossa nova, and many more styles. Diving deep into Portuguese music is more fun than educational at times. In general, music in Portuguese is sung at an easy-to-understand pace, so language learners will have an easy time picking out individual words and phrases.
The other big thing that gives Portuguese language learning a kick in the butt is to live with a host family. Breathing and sleeping Portuguese is the best way to learn it quickly, and the only way to truly do that is to live with a family. It’s just a side bonus that most food in the Portuguese-speaking world is amazing, and homestays will offer good conversations over delicious dinners.
The Brazilian film industry has produced some amazing movies over the past five decades. For all the cinephiles out there, this is a built-in way to immerse yourself in Brazilian culture and the Portuguese language. From City of God to Central Station, most Brazilian movies are easy to find online and a great way to study the different accents and slang from around the country.
Benefits & Challenges
Understanding the Portuguese World. Sure, you can get a feel for what Cape Verde or Angola is like by visiting. However, by learning Portuguese abroad, you can understand the ins and outs of what makes these countries tick. For example, there is a term in Brazilian Portuguese (saudades) which, very simply, means to miss something; but, that’s like saying Star Wars is about a farm boy with a laser sword. The connection between linguistics and culture is an interesting investigation into traditions and history.
The Love-Hate Relationship with Spanish. For those with a background in Spanish, the beginning of Portuguese will be very easy, as many of the conjugations and vocabulary are similar. However, knowing Spanish might also get confusing, and it’ll take extra caution to keep the two language separate. Additional words of warning: Brazilians can become offended if a foreigner speaks Spanish to them, assuming the national language of Brazil is Spanish, so don’t make that mistake.
Accents. Brazilian Portuguese is very different (and evolves in its own direction every day) from the Portuguese spoken in Portugal and Africa, which makes choosing where to study Portuguese abroad a bit difficult, as Brazil has the most speakers. However, understanding Portuguese-Portuguese after learning Brazilian Portuguese can be tough. On the other hand, this lets you blame all mispronunciations and funky intonations on linguistic distinctions in other Portuguese countries, so it’s not all bad.
Taking Portuguese language courses abroad will not only immerse you in some of the most fascinating countries in the world, it can also help you accomplish a year’s worth of work in mere months. Furthermore, you’ll be able to talk to 220 million more people, and there’s not a country where Portuguese is natively spoken that isn’t beleza (beauty). What are you waiting for?