I’ve told the story of how I learned Portuguese Fluently hundreds of times – at conferences, in person to thousands of different people – though today, I plan on going into more detail then ever before.
Because the brevity of those conversations usually ended in the other person getting the impression that I learned Portuguese fluently before stepping foot in Brazil, just by watching Brazilian soap operas on TV. In all honesty the soap operas helped a lot, though there was much more to it then meets the eye for me to get …
Flashback to September 2004
I had just returned from a tour de latin America and got a taste of the hispanic culture, it was great and all but I heard that Brazil was amazing…
The language sounded amazing too, so I was determined to learn Portuguese Fluently ASAP to go and spend some time there.
And so I purchased a copy of the Pimsluer Method, a thick grammar book, a vocab book and a whole Portuguese workbook series and then I signed up to take beginner level Portuguese classes at the now bankrupt language academy (say something about the quality?) – would all of these books and methods help me become fluent? It was a shot in the dark as no course guaranteed this…
Night after night, would be spent flipping pages, doing excersizes, attending classes and just trying to figure out how to get started!
The language classes were interesting as the teacher in her best intentions would insist on only going the tempo of the slowest person in the class, you know, the guy who doesn’t really want to be there, provokes the teacher and refuses to do homework. We would spend an entire 1.5 hour class on just a few simple words or grammar rules, ninguem merece!
After little progress and lot’s of wasted money, my patience had been tested enough and it was time to move on…
October 2004: Couch Potato Portuguese
Fast forward to October, picture my dad a satellite salesman who had loads of extra used satellite gear laying around his office, and me an opportunist trying to figure out how to make that old equipment hone in on a Brazilian satellite signal.
since I had been out travelling, my calendar wasn’t that full with commitments, so what did I do? Hang out, watch TV, surf the net – nothing productive. Therefore getting some Brazilian TV up and running would be really cool!
Finally (after getting off my trazeiro), I connected the satellite system up and subscribed to and , this was before the time of online streaming so it was the only way to get access.
The first time watching Brazilian TV was interesting to say the least… I didn’t understand anything and couldn’t believe how many novelas they had (and they repeated them 2 times per day)!
Can’t fight ’em join ’em right?
Even not being able to understand what was being said in the first novelas I watched, it was painfully cheesy… I mean gooey-chedder-melted-extra-cheese-cheesy!
My goal was to fast from English-speaking TV and only watch the Brazilian satellite, and this obviously required sacrifice….
What other man would willingly submit himself to the lows of watching the highest form of a chick-flick possible??
November 2004: A Soap Opera (slight death wish) and a Restaurant
Let me set this straight from the get-go: I’m not a soap opera kind of person (“noveleiro” is what my Brazilian friends would call me) but the year’s new novela had just been released the month before and I started following it – my mind wanted to understand but I didn’t want to!
After holding back the desire to throw things at the TV and heave, I kept at it…
Here’s the exact Novela I followed called “Como uma Onda do Mar” (Like a wave in the ocean):
(Watch on YouTube)
CHEESSSYY but it brings me back!
At the same time, I’m sitting with my stacks of grammar books, my workbook and dying to connect the dots and understand what is being said (for the languages sake of course!)
My mind felt like as if it was having a brain baby after intense hours of labor… It wasn’t working but I couldn’t give up.
It was time to put a spin on things, quite risking the loss of my masculinity and see what else functioned, so I thought “If my goal is to learn Portuguese, I need to make some Brazilian friends”. That would be the obvious logical choice as the reason one learns Portuguese is to use it with Brazilians, right?
Where would I start? There was a local Brazilian restaurant in Seattle, Washington called “O Tempeiro do Brasil” that I decided to visit and at least enjoy some good Brazilian food.
The food was amazing and after asking, I found out that after closing the restaurant on Fridays, that a huge group of Brazilians would gather to hang out.
That’s when things started turning around…
December 2004: An Amazing Friend and Huge Breakthroughs
It’s chilly outside and I’m looking for ways to keep warm and keep motivated to learn Portuguese and one of those ways is to find and meet some Brazilians to begin building friendships.
I show up at the (strictly) Brazilian get-together at the Brazilian restuarant on Friday and am IMMEDIATLY captivated and sold on becoming fluent – even faster then before.
My desire was to be part of those warm, smiling and loving conversations and fortunately, making friends was easier then I thought it would be so next thing you know, I made friends with a Brazilian lady by the name of Maurina.
Keeping true to amazing Brazilian hospitality, she was set on helping me learn Portuguese – without forcing me to watch novelas!
The best thing about her, was that her English was absolutely terrible and my Portuguese was too, so it meant that I would have to muster every Portuguese word up possible and use it.
After each conversation, meeting or hanging out with their (now my) group of friends, I would walk away with a list of Portuguese areas needing help.
And since the way people spoke on Brazilian TV was pretty similar to real life, TV was starting to noticably help too.
January 2005: A New Year and Stronger Grasp
None of the (expensive) Portuguese courses were working and that was frustrating as I could sense that there were a lot of misunderstandings and holes in my Portuguese.
The grammar wasn’t making a lot of sense but my vocabulary was being built fast. So, despite speaking pretty incorrectly and not knowing how or why, my vocabulary was increasing like crazy.
The tons of frustrating hours in front of the TV and in the middle of Brazilian conversations was forcing my mind and body to adapt to its surroundings.
This led to me to being able to have a stronger working grasp of Portuguese, you know, to be able to talk about basic thing in the present: what I liked, didn’t like, questions about things in Brazil and other things that I was passionate about.
Hmmm… was I on to something here, could my passion be intertwined with learning Portuguese fluently? It looked to be the root cause of my vocabulary being built up, could this be the key for my and other’s fluency?
February 2005: Passion Leading to Portuguese Freedom
In February 2005, if you asked me what I was passionate about in Portuguese, you would likely get a highly worded response – though with mistakes and without the use of the word “novela”.
“Eu adoro viajar, conheçer outras culturas e servir pessoas!” (I love to travel, know new cultures and serve people).
These last 5 months had led me on a long and narrow path, it was frustrating at times but it looked like the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel was shining through…
About 95% of the other students in my earlier Portuguese class had dropped out and those who were left, weren’t making any breakthroughs with the exception of 1 other passionate person.
The 1 thing that was spurring my fluency on was passion: my attitude had gone from being reactive to pro-active based on what my heart desired. I mean, it didn’t matter if I had to sit through a novela, chat with someone over Skype or whatever, I just had to be a part of the conversation.
This was the key that was finally fitting and I could feel that it wasn’t just my mind trying to put a Portuguese framework into place, it was my heart desiring to connect with Brazilian people channeled through this passion.
March 2005: Finally Fluent in Portuguese! (though not perfect)
I remember the feeling of accomplishment as if it was yesterday, it was wonderful to finally be able to converse with Brazilians without any huge issues and understand what was being said.
My Portuguese wasn’t perfect by any means and the mistakes plus confusion in the beginning would come to bite me in the rear in the future, though I could finally understand most everything being said in the soap opera and the season finale was amazing. Not amazing because of the story-line or acting, amazing because of the feeling of fulfillment and accomplishment… though watching Nina finally win Daniel from the cletches of his pregnant Portuguese ex-girlfriend who followed him to Brazil, was a nice bonus.
Finally, my image had been transformed from the “gringo who thinks it’s cool to hang out with us for a while” to “esse noveleiro Americano que ama Brasilieiros!” (This soap opera fanatic who loves Brazilians).
And just 3 months later, I would step foot in Brazil for the first time being fluent in Portuguese, which allowed me to adapt and assimilate the culture insanely fast.
Nothing to Lose but an Opportunity
Thank you so much for sharing your time with me today and I hope that my story can in some way inspire you to bold and take action.
The takeaway is that if you allow your passion to consume you, it will not only transform who you are but how you are. If I can help you along this path in any way, I’m nothing but a virtual stone cast away.
Look forward to the followup post to this on Wednesday titled “Learning Portuguese Again, What I’d Do Differently”.
To your success and passion!
P.S. I made a Portuguese crash course for you, just click on the image below this 🙂