Desculpe, eu falo  um pouco de português…

Desculpe, eu falo um pouco de português…

or…. Why Learning the Lingo is a good idea

After two years of having a house in Portugal, ‘Her Outdoors’ (my lovely wife Angela) wrote a blog on our different approaches to ‘Learning the Lingo’. A further two years on, I thought I’d update you on our progress. Or lack of it on my behalf. However, to use a gardening analogy, there are green shoots of hope, thanks to a new online course I have started. More of this later.

Why do you need to learn Portuguese when everyone in the Algarve speaks English, you may ask? The short answer is you don’t, but they don’t. Sadly, the majority of “estrangeiros/expats” don’t bother to learn the language. Not surprising, as some expats only have to enter a shop and they get a cheery “Hello Mr/Mrs English person.” It could be the shorts in winter, or the socks with sandals, or maybe it’s the look of panic on our faces as we silently practice our opening sentence?

From my experience, it seems that some Portuguese can speak English, but choose not to. This is something I’ve encountered in bars/restaurants, in the Camara (Town Hall) in the IMT (Instituto da Mobilidade e dos Transportes – (equivalent to DVLA in UK) the Centro de Saude (Health Centre) and even the GNR (Police). The reason I was with the GNR? See my previous blog on Unwelcome Visitors.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.
If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

(Nelson Mandela – spoke two languages)

It has been in these ‘official’ situations that I have been rather embarrassed that I haven’t made much progress in learning Portuguese. After all, we are living in Portugal… and what do some Brits say about foreigners in UK…? What I have learned, is that starting with a few words of apology for my limited Portuguese such as “Desculpe, eu falo um pouco de português…” seems to unlock their English vocabularly. If that doesn’t work I resort to making a fool of myself by trying Eurospeak … “Quelle heure ist es mi querido amigo”. No wonder they don’t give me the time of day!

Unlocking the vocab of beaurocrats, officials and professionals is one benefit from learning the local language, avoiding embarrassment another. But there are other benefits, although I forget what they are…

Donald Trump only speaks one language… too late to learn another?

Oh yes, I remember – to stave off alzheimers! Research suggests that part of maintaining a good memory and healthy brain should include challenging and expanding the mind. One of the most beneficial and successful ways to do this is by learning a new language. Another way of challenging and expanding the mind is by integrating into the local community to fully experience a different culture.

Boris is multi lingual – so be careful of learning too many languages…

So, where were we two years ago… Oh yes, Angela and I were having private lessons with a young bi-lingual lady. Unfortunately she had to stop due to health reasons and my Portuguese effort lapsed. Angela persevered and embarked on an online course, with impressive progress. She seemed to be enjoying the classes and spoke highly of the teacher, the methods and materials used. Not to be outdone, I recently decided to have another go and enrolled on the level 2 course.

I have to confess to being a lazy learner. There, I’ve said it! Like most people, I do need to feel that I am progressing when trying to learn something new. In previous classes I didn’t get that feeling, so motivating myself was hard work. Fortunately, thanks to this new online class with I can see progress already.

Emma, the tutor, is great. Well prepared, calm when faced with students’ technical/organisational problems, very committed and uses constructive criticism to improve pronunciation and sentence structure. The echo of unhelpful comments from a previous tutor such as … ”Alan, you are getting as bad as ??? (name omitted to save embarrassment)” is a thing of the past.

So what makes the courses effective? They are well planned and incorporate different materials. It’s a very interactive course – there’s no hiding at the back of the class (my usual tactic) as, following a plenary session, students are paired up to work on class activities in ‘breakout rooms’ – an unfortunate term as there’s no escape! At first this was daunting, perhaps more so for me as I started on the level 2 course due to the suggestion from ‘Her Outdoors’ that I would be bored on a basic level 1 course. Her other suggestion that I suffer from ADHD is said ‘tongue in cheek’, (I think…) but, ” You have a low boredom threshold” is not too far off the mark.

I’ll never be a highly committed language student like ‘Her Outdoors’ (she listens to language stuff while gardening) but I’m hoping that I can sustain my enthusiasm to learn Portuguese and that the alzheimer’s research is right about the benefits. The question is, can I continue to remember to turn up for the class…?


  • Vocab: *Quizlet, Memrise, Duolingo, Drops (there are free versions but upgrades are available)
  • On-line Dictionary/Reference: Linguee (best for EPin context: uses the word in example sentences) 
  • Conjuga-me (verb conjugation/quizzes) 
  • Reverso (gives pronunciation) 
  • Google translate (for longer passages – use at your peril!)

*Quizlet I find is particularly useful for learning new vocabulary and improving pronunciation.

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