The Portuguese secret for learning languages

The Portuguese language serves 250 million people across Europe, The Americas, Asia and Africa. Take other languages like English and Spanish, widely spread, yet in their country of origin their people hardly have any skills or interest in learning foreign languages.
Portugal, along with some other exceptions in Europe, is one of those countries where you hear all sorts of languages being spoken around you, and not only by foreigners.
Unlike other popular languages and famous cosmopolitan cities around the world, Portuguese people are good at languages and here are some reasons why…

Let first go back to history. The first colonization movement spearheaded with big explorers like Vasco de Gama and Columbus and progressively Portugal acquired places here and there, amounting to a huge territory ranging from Brazil, Madeira, Macau, The Azores, India, Newfoundland, Mozambique, Timor, etc.
Portugal became the world’s major economic, military, and political power from the 15th century until the late 16th century.
The photo below illustrates well by a map on the floor near the discovery monument in Belem, Lisbon.
People fraternized and intermarried and later on, Portugal received a wave of immigration from the ex-colonies, spreading languages and mixing people further more.
TIP FOR THE MODERN WORLD: travel! Mix with the people whose language you are interested in!


When I first went to Portugal I could catch some of the words and make sense of the phrases because of my Spanish.
There are similarities between the two languages in vocabulary and I would say it´s easier for a Portuguese to learn Spanish than vice versa because of the intricacies of its pronunciation. It is said that Portuguese language contains a rich and complex array of sounds. This is also why it’s easier for a Portuguese speaker to learn languages as they already have skills for a large range of sounds. It’s a difficult language to learn, and I am still struggling with Portuñol (Portuguese-Español: a mix between Portuguese and Spanish spoken by Spanish speakers who tend to mix both) and the complexity of its pronunciation. (see the Bloopers video below for a laugh)

Portuguese has spread all over the world and consequently those last few years, climbed to the top of the list of foreign languages to learn.
When I came here to teach languages I was surprised that most of the population could speak at least one foreign language if not two.
This is also the reason why it is difficult for foreigners to learn Portuguese, as the locals are enthusiastic about other languages and will try to speak yours.
You learn your first foreign language in primary school then another one in secondary school and there are plenty of opportunities to practise!
A good example is the video with Frederico, an 8 year-old boy of French and Portuguese parents who will have no problem juggling between 3 or 4 languages later in his life.


So what is their secret? EXPOSURE and INTEREST
Not only they listen and are motivated to speak to you but it seems that the whole nation has plotted to learn languages! 😉
Cable TV and foreign channels are widely accessible, films are not dubbed but subtitled, foreign words and commerce pop up everywhere in the city, institutions and organisations such as museums and the transport system is bilingual, finding literature in other languages is easy, etc.
Tourism is a vital sector and Portugal has realised the importance of communication with tourists.
From shop attendants to restaurants owners, from passers by to bus drivers, they will all be happy to help out.
Lisbon is an attractive destination for Erasmus students: it has a relaxed atmosphere, nice weather near the sea, cheap lifestyle and is lively and multicultural.
-For those not familiar with Erasmus, it is a European exchange scheme between universities- The city welcomes foreigners and its people are open to understanding them.

Since the crisis, sadly many Portuguese had to immigrate to other countries to survive but no worries I bet they will come back even richer and more multicultural and multilingual!




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