I’m writing this on the plane back from a one-week work trip to Lisbon, Portugal. Though I stayed busy with day-to-day business, I wanted to connect more with my Portuguese colleagues, so I spent a couple hours per day learning Portuguese. The first four of my five days I scheduled 90-minute Portuguese lessons with a different teacher each day.
I had a couple of challenges. Before I left I tried to learn some Portuguese, but the sites and podcasts I found in the US were 90% Brazilian, and I was hoping to focus on European Portuguese. Also, it was surprisingly difficult to find Portuguese teachers. I tried unsuccessfully through Facebook and Twitter, and hunted for a long time just by searching on the Internet. Eventually I found some–and here’s how. One of them I found through a Google search, and the other three I found through www.findmyfavoriteteacher.com.
Each lesson was very helpful. The combination of four teachers offered me a great way to meet people and do what I love, as four different personalities shaped the language in their contexts. All four of them asked me about my specific goals to guide their planning, and I told all of them I want to speak and understand. So we focused on conversation. I am grateful to all four of these teachers for taking the time to help me learn.
I would like to give a shout-out to all my teachers. If you find yourself in Lisbon, I recommend that you look up at least a couple of them, according to the styles that fit your personality and needs.
BI+CA at the Lx Factory, home of Language Cafe
Frederico is the head of “Language Cafe” in Lisbon, which is a business that brings together learners of multiple languages into practice groups. For a few Euros, anyone is welcome to join a conversation session. There weren’t any sessions on while I was in Lisbon, unfortunately. Federico found out about the Language Cafe idea when he spent a couple years in Edinburgh, Scotland.
We met where the group meets, at a cool cafe called BI+CA, which is located in the funky Lisbon arts complex, the Lx Factory.
Since I am a beginner with strong preferences for speaking, Frederico let me do much off the talking. He asked me a lot of questions. If I needed help following or if I needed a Portuguese word, we would speak very briefly in English. In the end, I was surprised to find that we spoke 90% in Portuguese at my very first lesson.
Frederico helped me tremendously to jump start my conversation skills. If only I could have participated in Language Cafe, too!
Park of Alameda Dom Afonso Henriques (Wikimedia Commons)
A budding private Portuguese teacher at Portuguese Lessons Lisboa (on Facebook here, and website is here). Carmo is currently studying for her Masters in Cinematography. She got started teaching Portuguese by developing methods to improve her Italian boyfriend’s Portuguese. She normally teaches out of her home office, but we met in a wonderful cafe in the park Jardim da Alameda Dom Afonso Henriques.
Perhaps because she is a visual artist, she employed a more visual approach. She began with explaining Portuguese orthography, as the writing system can be unintuitive because it is not perfectly phonetic. Since I already have experience in French and Spanish, this was really helpful. (One of my Spanish-speaking colleagues photocopied my notes because they explained this tough part of the Portuguese language for him.) After about 30 minutes of orthography, we moved to more conversation. She kept up by writing out the vocabulary on a sheet, and when I realized I forgot to take that paper with me, she kindly typed it up and sent me the word list.
Carmo allowed me to read and pronounce a lot better than I could have without her.
Filipa at the library of the Academy of Fine Arts
I got to meet Filipa on her home turf, in the library at the Academy of Fine Arts in the gorgeous Baixa neighborhood. She is studying for her Doctorate in Fine Arts Education, and she works for the Portuguese Ministry of Education and teaches teacher training. She also works on language education, and can be reached by email at filiparodrigao ‘at’ hotmail.com.
Filipa is very interested in the history and culture of Portugal, and loves to tell wonderful stories. It seems by the third day my conversation skills had improved, because Filipa and I had a fascinating conversation. She recounted in a very clear way about Portuguese history from the medieval period. I hadn’t realized that Portugal had been largely independent from the Arabs and from Spain. Filipa also told me about the history of Jews in Portugal, where many converted to Christianity during the Inquisition. She also introduced me to the 19th century poet, Fernando Pessoa. I look forward to reading himI loved learning more about the country as my language improved.
Filipa told great stories and taught me culture along with language.
On the way to Claudia’s
Meeting with Claudia led me to a more residential neighborhood, off the beaten tourist path. In addition to teaching Portuguese to foreigners through Portuguese4You, she works freelance as a proofreader, and previously as a writer. She has taught people from all over the world who have come to work in Lisbon.
Our conversation got pretty deep. We talked about the effects of the internet on democratization of writing, religion, biblical stories, and the biblical themes in the Nobel Prize-winning author of Portugal, José Saramago. In this lesson we spoke a bit more English than in my other lessons, which helped get through some of the deeper subjects.
During the last 10 minutes, Claudia showed her professional experience as a teacher and an editor by zeroing in precisely on my weaknesses. She said that I understand and make myself understood. I don’t know the verb conjugations well, for example. In addition, my speech is disjointed; one idea comes and then another, but the connection is not always clear. She recommended that I work on some grammar in order to practice forming more complex sentences, for which she suggested the textbook, Gramatica Ativa.
Claudia offered deep conversation about writing and literature, and demonstrated a keen eye for the needs of her students.
Here’s how it ended up by the end of the week. I can understand conversations about general topics at a moderate speed (so I have time to visualize the words). In addition to these lessons, I spent some time reading through a tourist guide to Portuguese a little each day, in addition to the lessons.
Since I speak French fluently, and I speak passable Spanish, Portuguese came pretty easily. By the end of the first lesson, I could carry a conversation in passable Portuguese. I still end up adlibbing the tenses.
Now I can add Portuguese to my list of languages! I’m thankful to all my teachers who got me here. Their patience and kindness and intelligence gave me a great gift. Now I want to read some Saramago…
Have you had experiences with private teachers? What do you find makes a good one?