Posts Tagged ‘Portuguese’

StarTalk Portuguese Teacher Training

June 7, 2014

Dear StarTalk Participants,

Celia Bianconi and Susan Griffin asked if I would be willing to share some of the ideas and materials that we have created for the online teaching of Portuguese.  I figured that perhaps one way to do this was to share these ideas here on my language learning blog.  So here we go!

1.  Brazilpod

Here is our homepage of sorts, where we list all of the Portuguese language projects that have been created with the support of the Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning (COERLL) at the University of Texas.  If you get lost, or want a one stop view of our materials, this is the place to go.  BTW, all of the materials at this site are provided for free, with no password restriction.

2.  Portuguese Communication Exercises

Here is a collection of brief video clips where Brazilians discuss a host of topics, all transcribed and translated.  Our logic was to provide a sample of various tasks, divided by level, where native speakers would model the task.  In the end it is a great resource to see real people who talk about real things.  I love how natural the speech is, and it is extremely difficult to find teaching materials where people are speaking naturally, and it is also reate to find all of that transcribed and translated too.

3.  Tá Falado

We created this series of audio podcasts with the idea of helping learners of Portuguese who are already speakers of Spanish.  It may seem like a strange mix to combine English, Spanish, and Portuguese.  However, for those of us who teach Portuguese in the United States, a large portion of our learners are native speakers of English, who have already studied Spanish.   They may not even have the most polished Spanish, but still these learners draw from this knowledge as part of the Portuguese language learning experience. Tá Falado consists of around 25 pronunciation lessons and 25 grammar lessons, which all provide little hints for learners of Portuguese, using their knowledge of Spanish as a point of departure.  Of all of our materials, this is the one that receives the most online traffic.

4.  Conversa Brasileira

I believe that as educators we are still trying to figure out how to use video for pedagogical purposes.  After we created the Portuguese Communication Tasks, and although I really like them, it was clear that those video clips did not show interactions, turn taking, people responding to questions, or any of the other exchanges that happen in natural speech.  As a consequence of this, we created the Conversa Brasileira series, which is comprised of brief video clips that show typical slice of life scenarios.  These video clips are enhanced with optional transcriptions, translations, commentary, analysis, pdf files, and discussion blogs.  Of all the materials that we have created, in my estimation, this one is the most creative.  Conversa Brasileira also helps advance the way that we can use video in language learning situations.

5:  Língua da Gente:

Our newest project, and one that hasn’t even been officially launched yet, is a new audio podcast series called Língua da Gente.  At some point we hope to literally have hundreds of lessons, subdivided into beginning, elementary, and intermediate levels of difficulty.  The lessons all contain short dialogs, accompanied with explanations and analysis in the audio podcast.  The materials are available for free.  However, as a new twist, we also will offer a subscription for a premium service.  The premium service includes a mobile device app, available through, which offers a gigantic array of new options for practice, including: line by line audio, individualized flash cards, recording features, popup translations, etc.  Over time, I believe that this resource is going to be our largest online contribution to the learning of Portuguese.

In addition to these five materials, I should mention that my UT colleague, Vivian Flanzer, has also created a site called Clica Brazil, which is also available on our BrazilPod site

6.  ClicaBrazil:

Online materials for intermediate-level learners that includes exercises, videos, classroom activities, and a grammar bank.

And finally, although not part of the online materials, you may be interested in seeing the Portuguese course blog that I maintain as part of the my classes at UT

7.  É isso aí

Class notes, study projects, and course assignments that are used in many of my intermediate-level courses in Portuguese.

There you have it.  7 online resources that we provide for the teaching of Portuguese.  Perhaps this is a good moment to thank all those who have gone to our sites, used them, and given us feedback on things.  Indeed, it is a pleasure to do so, and we hope to provide even more materials in the near future.

Conversa Brasileira available at

August 29, 2013

brazilpod_logoHere at the University of Texas I associate a lot with everyone at COERLL, which stands for the Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning. The center’s mission is to develop and share open educational resources (OERs) in language learning materials.  I really admire their vision and approach to education and foreign language learning.  For me personally, all of my online Portuguese and Spanish materials are available on their site and it’s an honor to be associated with them.

This week we released a hard copy version of our Conversa Brasileira video series.  The hard copy is available for sale at, and sells for the crazy low price of $25.  Here’s the direct URL:

I mention it here in this blog because this represents and interesting new twist in language learning.  It used to be that language textbooks were only available through publishing companies, and usually for extremely high prices.  Now, especially with Open Education Resources, there are thousands of online materials for the study of foreign languages.  Still, students and learners often like to have a hard copy that brings everything together in a book format.  Clearly the online materials are spread all over the place, and sometimes it is just comfortable to put it all together. is just one of the many providers of self-published books, but for the folks at COERLL, it has become a very convenient and cost effective way of providing users with a hard copy of the online materials.

So, check it out.  Our hard copy version of Conversa Brasileira doesn’t contain anything that is not online, but it does give you a 350-page compilation of everything in one place.  The $25 bucks is a great deal, anyone can order it from anywhere, and it ships in about 3-5 days.


Starting a Program in Portuguese

June 6, 2012

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.

Conversa Brasileira like no other!

March 7, 2012

Since 2009 I have been working with a fantastic group of colleagues on an online video project that we have called “Conversa Brasileira“.  Conversa Brasileira is designed to help intermediate and advanced-level students of Portuguese to study and analyze the speech of Brazilians, to see how they really talk in everyday situations.

We received an International Research and Studies Grant from the Department of Education to help pay for the expenses involved.  If I do say so myself, the materials are pretty cool.  We got exactly what I had hoped to see, lots of brief video clips that show Brazilians talking in various natural situations.  The materials are enhanced with translations, transcriptions, commentary, notes, blog posts, and analysis, all to help the serious student who wants to dig a little deeper.  I love how no matter what level of Portuguese you are at, a learner can get something out of these video lessons.

I’m writing the post today because we just finished our final lesson 35 “pop-up” analysis recording session.  We still have work to do to release the final lessons, but the recording session clearly had a sense of “saudades” knowing that it was our final recording session.  I don’t know where to begin when it comes to thanking people.  There are tons of people at the University of Texas who have contributed with their expertise to create the site, record the videos, and digitize the clips.  The “actors” have all been fantastic, and have come across as super performers in the videos.  Students and users have added amazing insights.  And my online partners have become lifelong friends.

As to language learning, I am more convinced that ever that language learners love to compare, contrast, analyze, and associate.  It’s all part of becoming proficient and it’s a gigantic part of Conversa Brasileira.  The materials teach students how to look for details and notice things that would otherwise fly by unnoticed. So, consider this post an invitation to jump in and participate in our Conversa Brasileira.


In the photo from left to right:  Orlando Kelm, Joao Valentino, Jacob Weiss, Denise Palmiere.

Living with limited foreign language skills

August 14, 2009

DSCN5474Imagine yourself in Salvador, Bahia (where I took this picture recently).  You are watching a beautiful sunset.  You are feeling super inspired by how gorgeous the scene is.  What you want to say is “This sunset makes me feel like singing bolsa nova while hugging my beautiful wife and sipping on tropical fruit juices.”  The problem is that if your Portuguese is limited, you end up saying, “Sunset good.”

My experience is that it just kills some people to not be able to say something in a foreign language without the same intensity, passion, and flowering language as in their native language.  If they can’t say it like they would in their own language, they end up not saying anything at all.  Other people are OK with their more limited, simple, and brief non-native version.  Basically, if you are not willing to go with the simplified version, you’ll have more difficulties in speaking the foreign language.  With time and practice your simple version will develop, but not if you aren’t willing to start with whatever you can pull out of your brain in the initial phases.

So my advice:  Next time you are part of that beautiful sunset, turn to the person next to you and tell him/her what is in your heart, even if the actual words are just “sunset good.”

Você é paulista?

July 8, 2009

As I write this entry I have been in Salvador, Bahia for over the past 7 weeks.  Our students have been here as part of the UT summer program and I am the faculty lead.  Recently I spent a few nights with friends celebrating São João, which is actually a pretty big deal here in Bahia.  Language wise, at one point I was in a row boat with a guy who was showing me the various houses and property along the lake.  He asked if I was from São Paulo.  Oh course, as a non native speaker, the greatest compliment that you can receive is to have someone think that you are a native speaker.  The illusion only lasts temporarily I am sure, but it’s fun while it lasts.  Later that day another person said something to the effect that what I had said was totally “paulista” and that here in Bahia people don’t say things that way.  Then it happened again, after talking to a guy who was selling things on the street, he asked if I was from São Paulo.

All of this got me thinking about what sticks with us when learning foreign languages.  I certainly don’t make any conscious effort to speak like a Paulista, but obviously something about my experience of learning Portuguese in São Paulo (over 30 years ago) has remained with me.  And it isn’t just the Paulista issue.  We have joked for years that I speak Spanish with a Portuguese accent.  Go figure, a Canadian born American who speaks Spanish with Brazilian accent!

Somehow learning that isn’t conscious sticks with us more.  Over the years I have also noted this among my students.  Two brief examples.  Students who learn Portuguese at school use “nós” for “we”.  Students who learn Portuguese in Brazil use “a gente”.  It’s just more common among native speakers.  We teach this to students a school, but it doesn’t stick until they spend time in Brazil.  Second, students who learn Portuguese via textbooks learn “pôr” to express “to put”.  Students who learn Portuguese in Brazil avoid “pôr” (highly irregular) and end up using “botar” (totally regular).

Bottom line:  I hope that my students are having a great time here in Salvador, but even more than that, I expect that they will subconsciously learn tons of Portuguese.

Will this seriously hinder my communication?

October 2, 2008

There was an interesting post in my Tá Falado this week that I wanted to share.  Bob wrote:

I am a former teacher of German and French, and I speak Spanish fairly well. I have just started to learn Portuguese (in preparation for a trip to Brazil).  The problem is that I am 65 years old and don’t have the patience for this sort of project I once had. In short, I simply want to apply my Spanish pronunciation rules, i.e. tres and not tresh, ele and not eli, and so on. Will this seriously hinder my communication?

I think what I loved so much about this comment was the practicality of it. I assume that Bob is a native speaker of English and he already speaks German, French, and Spanish.  He is 65 years old and he just wants to be able to get by with his Portuguese while he spends time in Brazil.  There is a “perfectionist” in him that feels bad about not striving to learn perfect Portuguese, but then at 65 he recognizes that maybe that is OK.

I immediately envisioned a 65 year old man going to Rio for the first time, trying out the foods, seeing the sites, buying a few gifts, enjoying sunrises and sunsets, listening to samba, bossa nova, and having that satisfying feeling of experiencing a new place for the first time.

So, to answer Bob’s question, no, there will be no problem when you try to speak some Portuguese with a bit of a Spanish accent.  The Brazilians will appreciate your effort and they will love talking to you.  To be sure, your ability to converse would be enhanced by your understanding of Brazilian Portuguese.  But the bottom line will be some delightful hours while sitting with new friends, munching on pão de queijo and drinking a cold one (Chopp for you, fruit juice for me).  And for anyone else out there, Bob’s example is wonderful, don’t let the need for perfection in a foreign language get in the way of your enjoyment of the experience along the way.  Boa viagem Bob!