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The best technique is to include the definite article when you learn vocabulary, because the definite article will reflect whether a noun is feminine or masculine.
Here are some resources that explain:
Pay attention to the article in front of it. "A água" is feminine, shown by the feminine article "a". "O livro" is masculine, shown by the masculine article "o". Similarly, "um livro" is masculine, and "uma menina" is feminine, shown by the masculine and feminine articles "um" and "uma".
In my opinion, if you don't contextualize a sentence then there is no way to know if you are referring to a specific water or not. Since this sentence is in no particular context then one must assume (as when an example is given in the classroom) that the water in question is just a generalization. Hence, in my opinion, it should be 'water is good' since there exists no previous reference to any water whatsoever, which would make the construction 'the water I good' sound unnatural in English.
I disagree. In English, we do distinguish between "Water is good" meaning the general case and "The water is good" to refer to a specific quantity (the glass of water you're drinking, the spot of water you're swimming in, etc.). If Portuguese is anything like its sister language Italian (which makes the same distinction only the other way around), then greater context is irrelevant because the presence or absence of the definite article is all you need to know which you mean.
In this case, we're talking about a specific water (notice that it can be replaced easily with "this water's fine"). When speaking generally, however, it's not correct to use the noun: "Water is necessary for survival." "The water is necessary for survival" is only correct if we're, for example, pointing at a glass of water. So both "Water is good" (generally speaking, that is, all water) is just as fine of a translation as "The water is good" (specifically speaking, some particular body of water or a glass/bottle of water).
in Spanish, this same sentence "El agua es buena" also carries the definite article "El" in front of the sentence and the translation is not "The water is good" as this course states... in English when we talk about something generic, like the fact that water in general is good, YOU DO NOT put THE in front and the answer would be as correct saying "Water is good" unless you are talking about a specific water (like, for example, the one in the glass you are holding)
As you say, including or omitting the definite article changes the meaning of the sentence.
Both ways are perfectly grammatical. One is the general case and one is a specific instance.
Since it looks like Portuguese uses the definite article the same way English does in sentences like this, then saying "Water is good" would not be an accurate translation.