Despite using Portuguese every day, the fact is, it’s just that, everyday Portuguese. There’s nothing inherently special about the words I usually use since I use it with my girlfriend at home and on the street when I buy something. It’s not like I discuss the essence of Taoism or theoretical physics, so that means I fall into the trap of limiting my vocabulary.
One good way to avoid this is obviously to read, and lately that’s just what I’ve started to do again, after a long hiatus.
So, what does one do when coming across those (hopefully rare) uncommon words?
Is it better to try to get the gist of them by relying on context? Is it best to underline or highlight the words for later look-up? The seemingly best answer for me is to jot them down in a notebook, next to their respective meanings, for later perusal. Then again, how many times will you pick back up that notebook? How many times will you remember to write down new words?
A while ago I found a digital solution, one that is inevitably housed in a small device that sits most of the time in my pocket. It’s a free Portuguese-English dictionary app from iThinkdiff that I use on my phone.
What makes it special (I hope, although I’m not an expert in dictionary apps and what they offer) is the Bookmark List. Find a Portuguese word in the chapter you just started? Look it up and hit the plus sign to add it to the bookmarked words list. At any moment, feel free to look over that list and recall all the new words you’ve come across recently. With just a click, its meaning is revealed.
Being that I used to be that person who wrote new words down in a notebook, I’d rarely if ever look at them again, so the app I found has led me to increase my vocabulary even more. One caveat, though. From 10, or so, words I’ve recently added to the list, not all of them were commonly known to some Brazilians I informally surveyed. When learning new words in another language, it’s not always easy to know when you’ve reached that line between more complex common words and those words which are often too complex and therefore not known or used.
Don’t worry too much, though, because this is more of an issue if you’ve already reached fluency. To everyone else, I hope my little discovery can give you a leg up!
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