Do you rehearse your Portuguese? You should. Rehearsal is a powerful language learning strategy to improve foreign language skills. In this article, you will learn how to use rehearsal to improve language learning and speak better Portuguese.
Learning a language can sometimes feel like a roller coaster, right?
You learn a certain grammatical structure – the present subjunctive, for instance – and then you realize you do not use it in conversations.
You can talk about world issues in Portuguese but when you go on that first date, and you need to ask for a fork, you realize you forgot the word for fork.
You wonder why you are getting stuck when you speak Portuguese in everyday situations.
Did you know that, without rehearsal (or repetition), you start to forget new words in your foreign language two seconds after you hear or read them?
When any of the situations above happens, we feel disappointed in ourselves. We doubt our competence in the language and feel discouraged about our learning and our skills.
Let me tell you that these are incorrect perceptions. The situations above are a part of language learning. They happen to all of us.
That being said, you can – and should – rehearse your Portuguese to improve your speaking skills. Studies show that rehearsal improves foreign language speaking performance (here’s a study and here is another study).
The power of rehearsal to improve your speaking
Some 15 years ago I met this American girl who spoke perfect Portuguese. I will call her Pauline. Her Portuguese was flawless. She even had a paulista accent. I was impressed, and I said, “How wonderful to be this talented with language.” I will never forget her reply. She said that calling it talent dismisses her efforts as a language learner. She said that for years she would lie in bed at night repeating sentences in Portuguese over and over again until she felt she was connecting the words correctly with good pronunciation and rhythm.
She was rehearsing.
She was committing sound bites (strings of words, sentences) to her long-term memory. She was putting those sentences and expressions in her long-term memory and on autopilot. She was practicing pronunciation. She was fine tuning her ears to how certain strings of words sound together.
You too should be rehearsing your Portuguese.
What is foreign language rehearsal
The word rehearse was first recorded in the 1300s when it meant “to give an account of, report, tell, narrate (a story); speak or write words”.
In the 14th century it became synonymous with “repeat, reiterate” from Anglo-French rehearser, Old French rehercier “to go over again, repeat”.
Psychologists define rehearsal as the repetition of words and other verbal material for the purpose of remembering. Studies show that information that is not actively rehearsed is forgotten. On the other hand, the more an item is rehearsed, the more you are likely to retain it.
Rehearsing a foreign language, therefore, means using the language repeatedly. When you learn a new word and repeat it, you are rehearsing. When you run a conversation in your head in anticipation of a real-life situation, you are rehearsing. When you go over an interaction you had with someone yesterday and reimagine it, you are rehearsing.
Rehearsing your Portuguese will help you retain new vocabulary, practice grammar, and develop your speaking skills. A study has shown that orally rehearsing a foreign language “promotes retention and that in hearing and repeating the words and phrases, learners inferred and acquired knowledge about the language above and beyond the particular utterances they were repeating”.
Simple ideas to rehearse your Portuguese
There are many different ways in which you can rehearse your foreign language. I offer a few simple ideas here.
Imagine you are going out for dinner in Brazil. What will you possibly need to say? What will you likely need to understand when people talk to you? Put your imagination to work and create dialogues that commonly take place in a restaurant or during dinner at a friend’s place.
You can create a script in preparation for dinner. Here are some things that could be in your dinner script:
- Uma mesa pra dois, por favor.
- Aquela mesa do canto tá disponível?
- Você tem mesa disponível no pátio, ao ar livre?
- Quanto tempo de espera?
- Poderia trazer outro garfo, por favor?
Besides eating out, what other situations can you rehearse for? Shopping just popped into my mind. How do you ask if they accept credit cards? How will the salesperson tell you that they don’t have change, which is a common situation in Brazil?
Your script doesn’t have to be a dialogue. And, yes, rehearsal also happens without a script.
You can rehearse talking about:
- your work
- a childhood memory
- the city where you live or where you grew up
- a favorite book, movie or TV show
- a trip you took
The goal is to use words and structures that you want to remember and master.
Mental rehearsal or Oral rehearsal?
While there are studies showing the mental rehearsal – the kind that happens silently in your head – can be highly beneficial, I strongly recommend that you rehearse your Portuguese out loud.
How many times have you heard a foreign language speaker say that they can understand much more than they can speak?
And how many times you only realized you did not know how to pronounce a certain word in Portuguese when you had to say it aloud?
This is not surprising. You don’t learn to drive without driving. You may observe people driving, you may watch videos about driving or you may read a whole driving manual, but to actually learn how to drive you need to drive that car.
You don’t learn to cook without cooking.
You will not learn to speak a new language without speaking it.
Can you imagine an actor not rehearsing his or her lines out loud? Or a politician not rehearsing their speech aloud? Can a child learn to speak in silence?
Practicing out loud is important for memory, pronunciation, and listening.
Record yourself rehearsing Portuguese
Recording yourself is a great way to improve your foreign language speaking skills. When you listen to yourself, you pick up on things that you can improve on.
It happens to me all the time when I record my Portuguese lessons. When I listen to the recording while editing the video, I notice mistakes I have made in English, words I did not pronounce correctly or sentences that sounded awkward.
Great sources of rehearsal content for your Portuguese
You can create your rehearsal script on your own or with the help of a friend, family member or your Portuguese tutor.
And you can take this practice further using good resources to add words, colloquial expressions, and grammatical structures that do not yet come naturally to you.
If you have a textbook such as Colloquial Portuguese of Brazil or a short stories book to learn Portuguese, include sentences and dialogues from the book in your script. If you have the audio companion for the book, even better.
You can find useful content for your script in any text you read, video you watch or interactions you have.
For intermediate and advanced learners, audiobooks and podcasts are wonderful sources of rehearsal content as you can pay close attention to pronunciation and rhythm. Observe how words are linked together when they are spoken. Repeat sentences out loud trying to imitate what you hear.
Agora me diz! Are you going to add rehearsing to your Portuguese practice?