First Immersion Experience in Brazil: A Reality Check

I just got back to the States this week after spending nearly a month in Brazil. I demonstrated some proficiency and I learned a lot, but I'm generally disappointed by my performance in real-life exchanges. I've studied Portuguese for six years, so I could tell stories, express preferences, describe myself, question my conversational partner, refer to past events, and talk about fairly detailed hypotheticals. I managed to go on a couple dates, avoid a swindle, and learn dominoes and Brazilian-style billiards. Even so, I usually found myself less equipped for high-level communication than my years of study had led me to expect.

The two areas that require the most improvement are clearly my listening skills and my pronunciation. My accent was frankly poor, perhaps because I hadn't kept up my listening practice, and my ability to follow people who were speaking fast, speaking in a noisy environment or speaking with an unfamiliar accent was limited—often profoundly so. Watching the World Cup in São Paulo, for example, I caught only the odd word or phrase from the fast-talking commentators, to say nothing of the play-by-play offered by chattering fans around me.

The moments of firm understanding and successful communication mostly came while I was stationary in a quiet place—eating at the dinner table with a friend and her relatives, riding with a garrulous cabdriver, consulting a doctor, getting my hair cut, standing at the bar on a quiet weekday night. On a walking tour of Curitiba and a bus tour of Fortaleza, I followed my guides' spiels closely and was able to follow up on interesting points they raised. But on a bus tour of Morretz and Antonina, I was basically lost. The latter example aside, I tended to struggle more with speakers from the northeast and more thoroughly understand speakers from the south and southeast.

My trip left me with a far better sense of the kind of practice I still need. I've resolved to devote a minimum of 15 minutes daily to pure listening practice, 15 to written practice, 15 to reading, and 15 to conversation. I know an hour of daily practice might not sound like a lot, but I'm aiming for something that I can consistently achieve in spite of work, other people's availability, and other commitments. I've followed this regimen ever since I got back, but I'm beginning to wonder if I should aim for a certain number of exercises in the written component (it's a little easy to "run out the clock" when an exercise is hard) or expand the listening component.

Here's an overview of what I've done so far:


I'm not proud of this, but I've resorted to PT-BR dubbed children's shows because the speech comes at a pace I can always follow and there's very little cross-talk.


Because my patience always deserts me when I read long Portuguese texts, I'm favoring short stories, brief newspaper articles, and comic books. It's hard for me to get interested in Brazilian authors, so I'm mostly reading Brazilian translations of authors I'm already familiar with. (I wish I'd gotten more PT-translated issues of the X-Men to read stateside!) I'm also finishing the last three sets of Stories in Duolingo Labs. So far they've all been easy.


I'm doing at least one exercise a day in the Routledge Modern Brazilian Portuguese Grammar Workbook, a companion to the second edition of John Whitlam's outstanding reference work. When I get more than one or two answers wrong, I redo the exercise, sometimes twice.

On Duolingo, I'm testing out of as many units on the updated Portuguese tree as I can. I just want to see if there's anything there that I didn't get the first or second time around. Thus far, all I'm seeing is more content having to do with contractions and a much-needed unit on the future subjunctive. I hope there's more.

I also have a blog that I intend to keep posting on for at least the next few months.


I call at least one friend on WhatsApp every day. Call quality is usually spotty. I'd like to meet with Brazilians, but there are few where I live.

If anybody wants to tell me what immersion taught them, or how they revamped their practice regimen, please don't hesitate to comment. As always, I'd appreciate any suggestions or personal stories you might have.

July 20, 2018


Menino do céu, não desanime, pois você está indo muito bem! (: Sei que é frustrante quando notamos que nossas quatro competências em uma língua (audição, fala, escrita e leitura) não estão tão homogêneas quanto gostaríamos, mas a linguagem é viva, tanto nas interações que fazemos, quanto dentro de nós. Então todos os dias podemos reativar memórias e voltar a trabalhar "músculos linguísticos" que estavam meio adormecidos. E, olha, ver desenhos ajuda à beça (à beça: expressão que significa "muito", "em grande quantidade")! Também gosto de fazer isso.

Vou deixar alguns links que podem ser úteis para você e, se quiser trocar mais material (tenho umas HQs salvas no meu pc aqui) e trocar ideias, só mandar um e-mail para mim ( ). Um abração e bons estudos!

Dicas gerais ( He doesn't like using subitles but I think that if you use them in a smart way they might be helpful ):

Listening: The Easy Portuguese Series: What makes you happy? | Easy Brazilian Portuguese 2:

Carnival | Easy Brazilian Portuguese 11:

An Anticast episode (it's a podcast), with the transcription of the whole thing! (:

Rapadura News - Especial "Qual é a Trilha?"

The website Cinema com Rapadura has a lot of collaborators who have the northeast accent, so I think their podcasts might be very helpful for your listening exercises. By the way, the name of the website has a lot to do with the identity of its creator (Jurandir Filho) who is from the northeast himself. Rapadura is a traditional sweet in northeast Brasil but it represents more than that. You can read more about it here:

We also use the rapadura as a metaphor for life saying, "rapadura é doce, mas não é mole, não!", because, as the rapadura, life can be sweet and tough at the same time.

Rapadura Cast - Cantando na Chuva:

Porta dos Fundos ( I don't follow their channel anymore but the interesting thing is that their videos have portuguese and english subtitles):

Speaking: Hello Talk:


Lingbe (this one is quite peculiar):

Saying ão in Brazilian Portuguese:

Writing: Lyrics training (listening & writing): The concept of this website is really interesting and simple: study with music but in a more dynamic way. My musical taste is all over the place and, since I know nothing about yours, I'm sending you a song that is wildly popular in Brazil. Pop, rap, heavy metal... No matter what is your favorite music genre: if you're brazilian you know this song and you propably will sing the whole lyrics with the crowd. By the way, it is a great song to study the "presente do indicativo".

I really mean it:

Contexto Reverso:

Reverso Dicionário:

Reverso Conjugation:



Dicionário de sinônimos:


Carlos Drummond de Andrade (one of my favorite brazilian writers):

Fernando Sabino (another great writer): Espinha de Peixe:

O Homem Nu:

Ocasiões de Ficar Calado:

August 3, 2018

Só estou lendo esta resposta enorme agora. Meu email é se estiver com vontade de corresponder comigo. Vou te mandar uma mensagem no futuro para conversar sobre os recursos que você salientou. Muito obrigado!

August 17, 2018

Have you tried Hellotalk? I found some great language partners on the app whom I still talk to everyday via text, voice text, or call. You will for sure find a lot of Brazilians on there from all over the country. I was able to get exposure from accents from Northeastern Brazil all the way to the south. You will learn colloquials and various slang used in each part of the country.

if you are struggling with accent, sing a long to music. It's a great way to improve your listening and pronunciation. I personally listen to sertanejo because I find it easy to listen and sing a long to. However, choose what ever works for you. Here is a video of various accents of Portuguese: **You might find it interesting.

Tchau Tchau!

July 22, 2018

Hey! I'm brazilian myself and I'm astonished with your eager to learn! I've never met someone so devoted to this language. Are you moving to Brazil or something? Anyway, northeast accent is really tricky, don't mind understanding it just yet is my advice. Yesterday I was playing a game with some [brazilian] friends and we tried to immitate their accent. We couldn't, even though all of us are familiar with it. Keep working on the standard southeast from Rio/São Paulo, maybe some other time you can focus at other regional accents. As to conversations you didn't understand, that's all fluency. You'll get there if you maintain that commitment. Good luck!

July 22, 2018

bem, eu sou do brasil e siceramente voce consegue se adaptar com a lingua daqui pelo visto voce tem se esforçado muito, se praticar poderá falar fluentementen nao desista

July 22, 2018

Obrigado, é sempre bom ter o encorajamento de um falante nativo. Minha viagem me inspirou para redobrar os meus esforços para ficar completamente fluente.

July 24, 2018

Excellent post! I'm impressed with your willingness to double down in your study of Portuguese in the face of some obvious disappointment with your previous progress. I'm reminded a bit of my own experience of living and working in German many years ago. Achieving fluency and being able to communicate in noisy environments, especially when speaking with people with unfamiliar accents takes lots of time and patience. I'm currently going through the same process in Spanish.

Portuguese is still in my future. My wife and I just returned from a two-week vacation in the Azores, our second trip to the islands. We've both been working hard to learn Spanish for some time. Early on during this most recent visit to the Azores, I was interested to hear someone from the mainland say that Portuguese speakers can understand a fair amount of spoken Spanish, but that it usually doesn't work so well in reverse. My own experience over the past two weeks was that most Portuguese speakers I met were more comfortable in English than they were with Spanish. I was also delighted with the amount of written Portuguese I could understand, based on my knowledge of Spanish.

In any case, for those who haven't yet been to the Azores, I highly recommend this area. We've so far visited three of the nine islands: Faial, Pico and São Miguel. Flores is at the very top of our list for our next visit.

July 23, 2018

I recently went to Portugal for two weeks to practice my immersion as well. One significant thing it taught me is that the people don't care if you mess up. Native Portuguese speakers taught me correct ways to say things and helped my pronunciations, which I couldn't be more grateful for. They appreciate that you're trying to speak in their native language. I'm much more confident in my Portuguese speaking than before the trip, but I have a lot more to practice. Thank you for sharing your experiences, they really encouraged me!

July 21, 2018

Duolingo has always been weak on speaking and listening exercises. I know that when I finally get to go to Brazil I'll be turning on the microphone and audio as soon as I can.

July 21, 2018

I spend many years in South Portugal and I must admit I have still sometimes problems to understand people, specially with strong different accents (depending where they come from); express myself correctly and think Portuguese...; In the south of Portugal the main language seems often to be English and the many residential foreigners tend to just develop a basic Portuguese, to get along, but without further refinement ;) Of course the best way to improve your skills is talk, talk, talk with Brazilian / Portuguese, all dry studies do then nicely back up the real thing; so it is good if you telephone with friends, because on the phone it is even more advanced to communicate and the other thing to really improve your skills is watching movies, news, videos, music etc, all you can get; even if you do not understand everything right away, it is great to get used to the sound, pronunciation etc.; take for example a movie you know well and then watch it 1,2,3 times in Portuguese, check videos on the net... aaand be really happy and proud that you come already so far to communicate in another language quite nicely; é muito legal; Viva:)

July 21, 2018

While it is important to build on content appropriate for your comprehension level, I would add that it's important to challenge yourself and try to reach above it too. Continue watching children's shows, but watch the news too, for example.

Also try actively incorporating your learning into your daily life, not just during dedicated study periods. I listen to Brazilian radio at work--I don't understand most of it, but it's made a huge impact on my listening comprehension. I talk to myself in BR instead of English, write shopping lists in BR, etc. It's all reinforcement and keeps my brain in Portuguese mode for as long as possible during the day. I even started journaling in BR even though it's very difficult for me to write spontaneously, as I just don't have enough words to express what I want to say. It forces me to continually look up and use new words.

Just keep at it, you'll get there eventually.

July 23, 2018

I also make shopping lists in PT-BR, keep a Portuguese journal, and occasionally talk to myself in Portuguese. I even count my breaths in Portuguese when I meditate. I do use dictionaries, but I try not to rely on them; the standard advice from language teachers is that you shouldn't lean very hard on them when you write.

I didn't mention this in the original post, but I also meet Brazilian friends in my city to talk with them.

July 24, 2018

Watching brazilian telenovelas and movies on youtube has helped me a lot. Bons estudos ;)

July 29, 2018

Hi all,

another recent interesting thread: "I’ve been studying Portugues for 4 years and I can’t converse":

August 20, 2018

Thank you very much for sharing your experiences, and your blog. Much of what you've written feels quite familiar to me. I look forward to reading about your continued efforts, and both what does and doesn't work for you. Bons estudos!

July 23, 2018
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