Interview with our Student Greg Starr – Tips for Portuguese Learners

Greg Starr has been learning Portuguese with Street Smart Brazil for about five months. Greg is in Florida and learns with us via webcam. The picture above was taken during our lesson yesterday. 

Greg started with a few scattered words. Now he is conversational and my best source of novela updates. Greg likes to watch Brazilian novela on TV, and I love his emphatic and detailed accounts of all the drama in each episode :) I was curious to ask Greg about his learning strategies – besides his wonderful teacher, of course ;) I feel other learners will benefit from Greg’s experience. Below is our interview. Obrigada, Greguinho :)

What first attracted you to Brazil and learning Portuguese?

As an undergraduate student at the University of Central Florida (many, many years ago!) I was playing soccer everyday with a group of Brazilians which eventually led to having a Brazilian roommate for two years and learning a few inappropriate phrases in Portuguese. Yes, my mother would be proud. One of the many amazing aspects of the Brazilian culture is once you’ve met one Brazilian, within a month and a few parties, you’ve seemingly met every Brazilian living in your city. Soccer introduced me to Brazilians and the friendships I developed cemented the attraction to Brazil.

You have been learning for only 5 months, started without any Spanish, and are now conversational. What activities do you engage in to improve your Portuguese language skills? How do you study?

I decided in late April of this year to go to Rio de Janeiro on vacation. My trip was scheduled for November giving me six months to learn and absorb as much of the language as possible. Having limited background in Portuguese made finding effective learning tools a challenge. I have literally been to every ‘Learning Brazilian Portuguese’ website on the Internet, twice!

My approach to learning has evolved with a lot of trial and error over the last six months to include various tools and techniques. I found the key to learning Portuguese is to engage in activities you find interesting. One of my favorite learning activities was watching Avenida Brasil, yes that Avenida Brasil, the hit Brazilian novela. At first, I would only catch a word every now and then, so I decided to focus more on understanding the plot and the character relationships. To my surprise, after a few weeks my listening comprehension improved dramatically as did my disdain for Carminha.

Incorporating Street Smart Brasil into my weekly learning routine has paid great dividends as well. There is no experience like a 60 minute one on one session in a language that is not your own. During the first few Skype sessions, I would look at my watch and think to myself, “What on earth am I going to say for the next 55 minutes!?!?” Fortunately, having encouraging and professional instructors helped me build my vocabulary, clean up my pronunciation, tweak my grammar and soon I started experimenting with stringing phrases together always trying to say something witty or funny. Nowadays, my hour sessions fly by and I’m left with devising more clever phrases and of course with my homework for the week.

Do you have a funny story to tell? Have you used the wrong word in the wrong context, for instance?

The funniest thing about learning Brazilian Portuguese is that I mess up all the time! I have been corrected on the difference between ‘longo‘ and ‘longe‘ so often that I’m almost embarrassed to say I still mess them up. I prefer to laugh when I make mistakes and consider them to be a key part of the learning process.

What are you tips for those learning Portuguese?

Be patient with yourself! You will have good and bad days. Learning a language takes time and commitment. My recommendation is to relax, have fun and enjoy the process.

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