Anyone looking at taking up a new foreign language might be asking themselves what the best way to begin learning a language is.
When you think about it, this is a really important question to ask. Learning a foreign language involves a variety of different steps, including learning the grammar of the language, its various tenses and moods, as well as learning that language’s vocabulary, inclusive of all its adjectives, nouns, pronouns, and conjunctions.
It’s quite an intimidating list of things to learn!
Thankfully, the good news is that no-one is expected to learn a foreign language in one day. Gaining fluency or near-fluency in a language takes time, patience, and above all practice, so it’s best to keep yourself motivated by selecting small aspects of the language to master first and building on your knowledge from there.
As a result, one of the first and best things you can do on your language learning journey, particularly if you’d like to study a language such as Portuguese, is to learn the Portuguese alphabet. This is because:
- You’ll need to know the alphabet if you want to be able to read and write in Portuguese;
- Mastering the alphabet can really help improve your Portuguese pronunciation; and
- It’s important to know how certain words are spelt differently in Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese.
With that in mind, this article outlines some of the key aspects of the Portuguese alphabet that you should be aware of and also provides you with some tips and tricks to help you memorise the Portuguese alphabet as quickly as possible.
After all, once you have the Portuguese alphabet under your belt, you’ll be able to focus on learning other aspects of Portuguese and improving your fluency.
The Portuguese Alphabet – The Basics
First things first, if you’d like to master the Portuguese alphabet, then it’s important to know just how many letters you’ll have to learn!
In Portuguese, historically there were 23 letters in the alphabet. These were as follows:
A / B / C / D / E / F / G / H / I / J / L / M / N / O / P / Q / R / S / T / U / V / X / Z
So essentially, when comparing Portuguese to English, the Portuguese alphabet had almost the exact same letters as in English, except that the letters W, K, and Y were missing, although these letters may well have featured in words imported from another language (such as the word whiskey).
However, times have changed. As a result, while in Portuguese the letters W, K, Y previously would have been regarded as foreign, since 2009 these three letters are officially included as part of the Portuguese alphabet.
This is due to an orthographic agreement between Portugal and Brazil, which took over a decade to come into force.
So the good news is that, if you’re an English speaker, you’ll already be very familiar with the letters of the Portuguese alphabet!
However, what’s important to bear in mind is that Portuguese is not a phonetic language. This means that Portuguese words are not pronounced exactly as they are spelt.
As a result, Portuguese language learners should bear the following things in mind when learning the Portuguese alphabet:
- It’s best to also learn how each letter is pronounced as well as how it is spelt;
- It can really help to learn how to pronounce common combinations of letters, such as CH or NH; and
- It’s just as important to hear how a word is spoken as it is to learn how to spell the word.
Search for a Brazilian Portuguese online course here.
Remembering Portuguese Letters
While it’s great to know how many letters there are in the Portuguese alphabet and how these letters sound – whether in isolation or in combination with other letters – learning a foreign language like Portuguese is most effective when you can memorise basics such as the alphabet.
To do this, you’ll need to spend some time working on consolidation exercises so that your knowledge of the Portuguese alphabet and each letter’s pronunciation becomes second nature.
There are a variety of different techniques that you can employ to achieve this. Some are highlighted below.
Learn The Alphabet By Splitting Letters Into Groups
Some people may find it difficult to easily memorise the entire alphabet of a foreign language just by reciting it front to back. If you find that this is the case for you, then try to make things easier by learning the letters in set blocks.
For instance, try learning the Portuguese vowels separately to the consonants. The vowels in Portuguese are:
A / E / I / O / U
Again, as an English speaker these vowels should be extremely familiar to you, and so hopefully shouldn’t be too difficult to learn.
Equally, when it comes to learning the consonants, you could try splitting them up into three separate sets and try to memorise them that way.
Flashcards are really helpful as learning tools. This is because they’re small, compact, and can be easily carried around. This means that you can write out the Portuguese alphabet (including how to pronounce each letter) onto a few flashcards and then you can test yourself on your knowledge of the Portuguese alphabet when you’re on the move or at home.
Make Friends With The Dictionary
When learning the alphabet, it’s best to try and also expand your Portuguese vocabulary at the same time, rather than just focussing on memorising each letter. This is because having a larger vocabulary at your disposal will make things easier when it comes to:
- Reading and understanding books, internet articles, or other written media in Portuguese;
- Speaking or writing in Portuguese (after all, sentences consist of a string of words!); and
- Listening to other Portuguese speakers, as learning how words should sound will make them easier to recognise when someone says them.
One of the best ways to improve your knowledge of vocabulary is to use a Portuguese dictionary. There are a variety of different dictionaries you can buy or borrow these days, from compact dictionaries that are great when travelling to huge tombs that are best kept at home.
If you’re a beginner when it comes to learning Portuguese, don’t feel obliged to buy an expensive Portuguese-English dictionary, as you’ll likely only be looking up common or basic words.
Instead, try to get a dictionary that includes a pronunciation guide for each word, and perhaps also consider buying a joint Portuguese-English and English-Portuguese dictionary, as that way it’s just as easy to translate a Portuguese word into English as it is to look up an English word and see what its Portuguese equivalent is.
The Benefits Of Daily Practice
One of the key things to bear in mind when learning Portuguese is that, with enough practice, the basics of the language – such as its alphabet and basic pronunciation – should become second nature to you.
As a result, once you’re comfortable with the alphabet and are content that you’ve memorised the letters so that you can recall them with very little to no difficulty, you can turn your attention to other areas of learning Portuguese, whether that’s the Portuguese numerical system, basic verb conjugation, or learning common expressions and phrases.
There’s More To Portuguese Than Just Learning The Alphabet
Although Portuguese can be difficult to master, particularly as the pronunciation of some words can be difficult for native English speakers to navigate, learning Portuguese can be hugely rewarding, not least because:
- Knowing a foreign language can look good on your CV;
- Portuguese is spoken by over 200 million people across the world as a native language; and
- You’ll have a much easier time travelling around Brazil or Portugal if you speak Portuguese.
If you think you’d like to learn Portuguese but you’re not sure where to start, or you’re an intermediate or advanced Portuguese speaker who would like to keep on top of their language skills, then you could also look into hiring a Portuguese tutor to help you learn Portuguese.
Having a Portuguese tutor to hand can be very beneficial, as they can provide you with tailored exercises to help you increase your proficiency in Portuguese, whether you'd like to focus on improving your understanding of Portuguese grammar or would like to expand your knowledge of Portuguese vocabulary and common phrases and expressions.
Whether you would like to learn Portuguese or Brazilian Portuguese, Superprof has a range of Portuguese tutors available that are able to provide you with support and motivation when it comes to improving your Portuguese reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. Equally, Superprof tutors can cater to a wide range of tuition formats, including one to one tuition and group tuition and workshops.