1. Recognize that students who want to learn Portuguese are highly motivated. Almost nobody enrolls in Portuguese because they have to. Instead, all seem to have excellent personal motivations: love the music, want to do business in Brazil, is a geologist, studies flowers of the amazon, loves soccer, has a Brazilian girlfriend, etc. This implies two things. First, don’t force everyone to learn exactly the same thing. The more flexibility you give to the program, the more the students can develop their language skills in their area of interest. I believe this even applies to the elementary classes. Second, you don’t have to coerce them into studying, they will try hard on their own.
2. Take advantage of the fact that many, many learners of Portuguese have already studied Spanish. It is extremely difficult to teach students when half know absolutely nothing about ser vs estar, por vs para, subjunctive vs indicative, preterite vs imperfect, etc. and the other half have already been exposed to all of this by learning Spanish. Create two tracks, one for the Spanish speakers and one for the non-spanish speakers. Our Tá Falado was created precisely for those students.
3. American students prefer American-style textbooks. Many of the textbooks in Portuguese, especially those written in Brazil, are designed to teach students from all over the world, at the same time. That means that they don’t have translations or explanations in English. American students simply feel more comfortable with explanations and translations that help them move on to the practice phase. I recommend “Ponto de Encontro” as the best example of an American-style textbook for Portuguese.
4. Create travel, study abroad, internship, or service-learning options for students. From day one, enrollment in Portuguese language courses should imply that we are getting ready to go to Brazil/Portugal. Don’t be limited by traditional study abroad, but be open to the fact that your highly personally motivated students are going to look for ways to get to Brazil.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice. Give students tons of opportunities to interact and talk to real people about real things. Skype, Livemocha, video conferences, Busuu.com, whatever it takes, get real people talking to real people.