Project Portuguese: Stuttering And Spluttering

I haven’t written a language-themed post for a while because… well…my butt’s slipped off the wobbly cart. Just a bit. It’s all those cakes, you see. What triggered this post was Friday’s encounter with a real live Brazilian guy, duly dispatched to me on a mercy mission by my old language school. He endured my staccato regurgitations and mutilated phrases like a real trooper. Oh my, they could hear me scraping that barrel all the way to São Paolo.

A few days ago, I subscribed to Duolingo (it’s free), after coming across another language blogger’s recommendation. It’s a learning programme in the style of a computer game, featuring the requisite you’ve-scored/you-totally-suck sound track. You level up by gaining points and conserving your ‘hearts’. It’s strangely addictive, although I find myself translating  sentences of dubious utility like “I eat apple bread”. Or maybe this is some fabled Brazilian delicacy that I’ve not yet had the pleasure of sampling…?

What really drags Duolingo down, however, is a crappy computer generated voice that sounds like a castrated chipmunk suffering a terminal bout of the hiccups. Hitting the re-play button sixty times does NOT help. On the pronunciation front, Duolingo is about as instructive as consulting the back of cereal box on how to bake a four-tiered wedding cake. I’m still going to work my way through the programme, though, as it’s good for vocab building.

To acquire an intelligible accent, I’m employing bigger guns: I’ve downloaded a Pimsleur audio course from iTunes. As any seasoned language learner knows, opinions on Pimsleur are sharply divided. I’ve had some experience with this method in the past, and, despite its many limitations, I believe that it’s one of the best things out there for getting your tongue around difficult-to-pronounce languages. I count Portuguese among those. (Spanish, not so much.)

Before opting for Pimsleur, I tested out a chapter of Michel Thomas. And although I can see that it has its merits, I found the teacher’s voice unbelievably irritating. She’s got one of those prissy British librarian voices, and you’re only just waiting for her to tell you to sit up straight and keep your knees together.

Adding to this mammoth of a bee in my bonnet, the recording features two token students, one of whom keeps making the same mistakes over and over. About 15 minutes in, I just wanted to wring her neck, rather than concentrating on what was being taught.  Not that I’d do any better in a classroom situation than this hapless student, mind, but I don’t find her repetitive mess-ups very helpful as a lesson component.

Purple flowersAs far as I can gauge from my recent (but sporadic) interactions with my frightfully busy friend Sofia, our planned three-month jaunt to Salvador in Brazil in November is still on. She’s working all the hours God sends right now to save up enough money, which explains why I hardly ever see her! I can’t wait for us to go, but I don’t want to arrive there with my Portuguese in this pitiful state. Friday’s meeting with the aforementioned Brazilian was a bit of a wake-up call. I can’t even get the basics out, dammit! And time’s ticking…

32 thoughts on “Project Portuguese: Stuttering And Spluttering

  1. Leonor

    Both actually! I understand quite well Portuguese but never started an actual class because of…laziness. I will look Duolingo up. And I keep working on my German, maybe Pimsleur will help me with that? I love anyway tips on languages, always useful.


    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      We are so lucky these days with all those online resources… there was none of that 25 years ago.
      Maybe Michel Thomas is less annoying in German… 😉
      Well, keep us updated on your exploits!


  2. bevchen

    I’m on Duolingo (but for Spanish and German). I am actually planning a post on it at some point, because some of the sentences it gives me to translate are HILARIOUS! “Sie ersetzt das Baby mit einem schwarzen Hund”… errr, what?!!?


      1. ladyofthecakes Post author

        I’ve never tried that. Let me know what you think of that when you get round to it. Looked at Babbel yesterday, and once I’m done with Duolingo, I might give that a go. It’s not free, though.


  3. pollyheath

    Live Mocha is pretty great (I’ve actually met up with some people I talked online with), but the chat system was terrible — so many random guys trying out their newly learned pick-up lines.


  4. יונתן קסר

    I have to admit that I have the same torn feeling about Duolingo (I’m on there doing Spanish and had dabbled in French until my lack of understanding of the voice drove me batty). There’s times where I just feel very frustrated when I have to hit the ‘slow’ audio button.

    I’ve tried Michael Thomas as well… and I find that they’re somewhat hit or miss. Some languages are great, some are just okay….

    For vocabulary, though, I really like Memrise. Between it and Duolingo – since quite a few of the Memrise sets have audio recorded by native speakers – you get a good mix.



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