Starting a Program in Portuguese

I recently got an email from a colleague who would like to start a new program in Portuguese.  He asked what my suggestions were, so I thought I would put them down here as a blog post.

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,, whatever it takes, get real people talking to real people.

6.  Brazilpod at UT.  OK, it’s a shameless personal plug, but at UT we do have tons of free, open access, online materials for Portuguese.  Check us out:  Brazilpod and like us on Facebook: utbrazilpod.



5 Responses to “Starting a Program in Portuguese”

  1. Tamara Says:

    It’s not shameless to make a personal plug…that is what blogs are all about! I’ll make a plug for you… I highly recommend Ta Falado!

  2. sketchpadculture Says:

    Hey Orlando, (It is Rachel, the intern for the BC at UT this past semester. Daniel Heron told me about your blog) Man, this blog is amazing. I wish I had you for a professor at UT.

    I teach languages at Berlitz and I agree with the comment about flexibility. All of my student have different motives for and uses of the target language, so a flexible lesson plan is a must. I would also like to add one to your list. ENTHUSIASM! An enthusiastic teacher, one which loves their subject, helps students fall in love with the subject even more.

  3. Luciana Lage Says:

    Great article. I love that you mention how enthusiastic Portuguese students are. It’s contagious.

    A related point that I feel is important: Most of the students who want to learn Portuguese are not coming from the Linguistics, Language, or Teaching programs. They want to learn Portuguese that is correct and practical. To focus predominantly on grammar is to ignore that it is speaking and using the language in real-life situations that we become comfortable with a new language.

  4. Orlando Says:

    Hey Luciana, I totally relate to what you are saying. I remember once having a student who wanted to learn Portuguese because she bought semi-precious stones and was learning to cut and polish them. Her motivation was way, way specific. And almost all of our students are like that!
    Rachel, indeed, I get positive vibes from my students enthusiasm for Portuguese all the time. No doubt, I’ve got to keep my enthusiasm up to their level too.
    Obrigado Tamara, você é muito querida.

  5. robmartinsen Says:

    Hey Orlando,
    I love your thoughts. I think that carving out a portion of a course for students to explore learning language for exactly what they want, even in Spanish classes, is really powerful. I’ve created a project in my Spanish 106 classes called “Spanish for You.” I’m actually writing an article about it right now. Gotta get tenure ya’ know 🙂

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