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How To Teach Spanish to Children via Videolink

When my daughter asked me to teach the grandchildren Spanish on FaceTime during lockdown, of course I said ‘yes’!  However, was I really up to the job? How could I keep the attention of a lively six and three year old, even for five minutes, on a video call trying to teach them Spanish?

My first failed attempt, in which I tried ‘¡Hola!’ (hello) ¡Me llamo abuela! (my name is grandma) ¿Qué tal? (how are you) ¡Adios! (goodbye) ¡Hasta luego! (see you later) and so on… all fell on deaf ears!

The children voted with their feet – my grandson unceremoniously switched me off (the workings of a computer being no problem for him!).

I had to put a bit more effort into it. Here is what I learnt about how to teach Spanish to children via videolink.  I spread the below ideas over a whole week of lessons.

1. Colours

“Please fetch your coloured felt tipped pens and some plain paper,” I said, “ we are going to learn the colours of the rainbow in Spanish”.  After all, all children are familiar with rainbows at the moment.

I showed them a picture of each colour in turn. They drew them, coloured them, and copied the words.

Spanish Colours

Next, we practised saying the words.  They are lovely words that you can roll around your tongue.  The children love to say them, so it’s a great place to start. Turns out, my grandson’s Spanish accent is much better than mine!  He can roll his ‘r’s like a native. 

I wondered about indigo. After all, what colour is it? Is it a greenish dark blue? I thought it might be confusing but resisted changing it to pink or turquoise. It wasn’t an issue and they were delighted that it is the same word in Spanish. Less work!     

 2. Drawing

Next, I asked them to draw a rainbow. Naturally, they loved doing this, so it was a great way to engage them in the lesson right from the start. I then got them to write the colours in Spanish on the picture, as I had done:

Spanish Colours on Rainbow

A fun way to get them writing the words, as well as saying them. After the drawing exercise, we needed to practise the words – without the lessons becoming too boring. Afterall, I was aware that I could be switched off at any time! 

3.  Singing 

The thought of teaching pronunciation, new words AND a tune struck me as too many things to learn at once. So I decided to use a tune that we already knew about rainbows.  I tried to fit the Spanish words to the song:

Rojo, naranja, amarillo

Verde, azul, índigo

Y violeta,

Los colores

Del arco iris.

Red, orange, yellow

Green, blue, indigo

And violet,

The colours

Of the rainbow.

It’s easy to sing, many people know the tune, and the children liked it.

Now they sing it to me all the time. If they meet anyone Spanish, they sing to them. If I ask them to tell me the colour of something in Spanish, they tell me straight away!  However, ask them for black, white, pink, brown, or turquoise and they are not so good!

Since the rainbow lessons I have had to draw and make up songs about numbers, the days of the week, the parts of the body, the events of their day. But that’s for another time.

Rainbow

Fin


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Basic Spanish Phrases & Vocab for Travel to Cuba

Are you going to Cuba soon but concerned that you don’t know any Spanish? Don’t panic! You don’t have time to become fluent, but you can still prepare yourself with the basics.

Here are a few pointers or skip to the end for a skeleton vocab complete with pronunciation!

Let’s start with a few headings, very basic instructions, then end with a vocab that you can print out on one page (both sides) or have on your phone.

1. Basics

Hola is the Spanish word for hello. This is perfect for saying hello to someone in Cuba, since it’s a fairly informal society. If you want to be more specific, you can impress by using Buenos días (Good morning), Buenas tardes (Good afternoon/evening) and Buenas noches (Good night).

If you want to introduce yourself, say Me llamo… followed by your name. The double “l” in llamo is pronounced as a “y” (“Me Yamo”).

2. Please and thank you

In English we say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ quite a bit – the Spanish less so. But there’s no need to lose your English identity – use them as much as you like! Por favor = Please and Gracias = Thank you. 

Don’t be surprised by the upside-down question mark (¿) you see at the beginning of a question written in Spanish. Similarly, an upside-down exclamation mark (¡) 

This is just the correct way to write down a query or an exclamation in Spanish.

To ask, ‘How are you’, you can say ¿Cómo estás?, or the even easier, more general, ¿Que tal?, meaning ‘How are things?’ 

Don’t forget Lo siento (Sorry) and ¡Perdóname! (Excuse me!). All very English, very useful, and very ‘say-able’!

3. Where is….?!

We recommend learning two key phrases: 

Necesito ir a… means “I need to go to…”. It’s easy for us to say because it’s like saying ‘necessity’ with an ‘o’ on the end. So Necesito ir al baño means “I need to go to the loo”. 

‘Toilets’ can also be called los servicios.  This sounds a bit like ‘services’. Remember: Caballeros (Gentlemen), Señoras (Ladies).

 ¿Dónde está…? Is useful when you are asking where something is. ¿Dónde está el baño? means “Where is the toilet?” 

You can use the same two phrases with anything you need to find: restaurant (el restaurante), bar (el bar), doctor (el médico), supermarket (el supermercado), cash machine (el cajero automático), etc. 

4. Shopping

You can do a lot of shopping without actually needing to ask questions. The two main phrases are: ¿Cuánto cuesta? = “How much does it cost?” and ¿Tiene…? = “Do you have ……?”. Then you might say ¡Es demasiado caro! – “It’s too expensive!

So a conversation might go like this:

¿Tiene un plano de la ciudad? Do you have a map of the town?

Si. “Yes”

¿Cuánto cuesta? “How much does it cost?”

Cinco pesos. “Five pesos”

¡Es demasiado caro! “It’s too expensive!”

Try to learn numbers 1 – 10 and multiples of 10 for shopping and eating out: Skip to the vocabulary at the end for these.

5. Dining

One thing is a must: ‘a table for two’ = una mesa para dos.

Tourist areas of Cuba have menus in English which can be helpful. You could simply say ¿Puedo ver un menú, por favor?, which means “Can I see a menu please?”. Or drop the puedo ver and just say un menu, por favor.

There are too many different foods to list but here are the basics to keep you from starving:

  • Breakfast – Desayuno
  • Lunch – Almuerzo
  • Dinner – Cena
  • Bread – Pan
  • Steak – Bistec or Bistec de Palomillo (Butterflied steak) is a Cuban speciality.
  • Hamburger – Hamburgesa
  • Chicken – Pollo
  • Prawns – Gambas
  • Fish – Pescado
  • Lobster – Langosta or Langosta a la Cubana (Cuban style Lobster) is to die for
  • Vegetables – vegetales – Cubans eat a lot of rice (arroz) and black beans (moros)
  • Cheese – queso
  • Salad – ensalada
  • Chips – patatas fritas
  • Crisps – papas fritas
  • Eggs – huevos
  • Ham – jamón
  • Tomatoes – tomates

Here are some more Cuban specialities – be sure to look out for them!

  • Empanadas (empanadillas) and Pastelitos – meat-stuffed, fried or baked turnovers similar to Italian calzones.
  • Arroz con pollo – chicken with rice
  • Boliche – stuffed pot roast
  • Boniato con mojo – sweet potatoes in a garlic citrus sauce
  • Cocido de garbanzos – chickpea stew
  • Congri – red beans and rice
  • Dulce de leche – caramel sauce from sweet milk used to flavour biscuits, cakes and sweets
  • Flan – a pie or tart, often with a custard base, used as both a sweet and savoury dish
  • Huevos habaneros – eggs Havana-style with tomatoes, peppers and cumin
  • Caldosa – chicken soup
  • Maduros – fried sweet plantains
  • Moros y cristianos – black beans and rice
  • Pan con bistec – a steak sandwich on pressed Cuban bread
  • Pan con lechón – a roasted pork sandwich on pressed Cuban bread
  • Pulpeta– Cuban meatloaf
  • Rabo encendido – oxtail stew

6. Drinking

At the bar, you just say Me gustaría un/a… por favor (“I would like a … please). If you want a beer, try Me gustaría una cerveza por favor (“I would like a beer please”). Most alcoholic drinks sound much the same in Spanish, so just ask for what you want (Me gustaría un whisky por favor).

You can even be less formal and simply say the name of the drink you want, followed by por favor (Una cerveza, por favor). And “mojito” is mojito in Spanish and any other language.

Other drinks you may need are:

  • Vino tinto – red wine
  • Vino blanco -white wine
  • Agua sin gas – still water
  • Agua con gas – sparkling water
  •  – tea
  • Café con leche – coffee with milk
  • Ginebra y tónica – gin and tonic
  • Cuba libre – rum and coke

When you want to leave the bar or restaurant don’t forget la cuenta por favor (the bill please) and leave them a tip (10% is a good guide).

7. I need a doctor

Hopefully your Cuban holiday will be free from medical problems. But if you’re unlucky enough to need them, here are two useful phrases: Necesito un médico means “I need a doctor.” You can then say Me duele aquí which means “It hurts here,” then point to the part of your body that has gone wrong.

This will help in the chemist shop (farmacía) and will allow people to understand the nature of your problem while an English speaking person can be found, as is usually the case at hospitals and medical centres.

8. Money

Cuba uses two official currencies: The CUP (Cuban Peso) and the CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso). As a tourist, you’ll use the CUC a lot more frequently.

The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) is the more valuable of the two. It’s value is pinned to the U.S. dollar so that 1 CUC will always equal 1 U.S. dollar.

The CUC is available in bills of 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100. You should always have the lower denomination bills to hand.

The Cuban Peso (CUP) (also locally known as moneda nacional) is used by residents of Cuba. As a tourist, you probably won’t use this one very often, but it may benefit you to carry a small amount of CUP for small expenses like street food, bus fare, flea market finds. For comparison, 1 CUP is only worth about 4 U.S. cents.

The CUP has the same bill denominations that the CUC has, but you can find larger bills of 200, 500 and 1000 pesos. 

Tip: the CUC bills don’t have faces. If you expect to receive CUC in a transaction and see a face on the note, you will be getting CUP instead! Also, look for the words “pesos convertibles” right at the centre of the note.

9. Getting a taxi

The most common taxis are the yellow cabs of Cubataxi. These official cabs charge around CUC$1 as the starting fare, then CUC$0.50 per kilometre. Other taxis might be Ladas, old American cars or modern Toyotas. Always agree a fare before you get in. Say ¿Cuánto cuesta para ir a ….? (“How much does it cost to go to…?”)

10. Saying goodbye

Adiós is the most common way to say goodbye in Spanish. You can also say Hasta luego which means “See you later.” There is also Hasta pronto which is “See you soon,” and this is probably something you will want to say when you are saying goodbye to Cuba.

It can be fun to try a bit of Spanish, but if you’re really unsure, you can just say, ¿Habla inglés? which means “Do you speak English?” If you feel all at sea, just gasp ¡no entiendo! (I don’t understand)!

There will still be plenty of other chances to practise your Spanish on your amazing Cuban holiday.

Basic Spanish vocabulary

Hola (ola) – Hello
Buenas días (boo-wen-as dee-as) – Good morning/Good day
Buenas tardes (boo-wen-as tar-des) – Good afternoon/Good evening
Buenas noches (boo-wen-as notches) – Goodnight
Me llamo… (may yamo) – My name is…
¿Cómo te llamas? (¿como tay yamas?) – What’s your name?

¿Como estás? (como es-tarss) – How are you?
¿Qué tal? (kay tal) – How’s it going?
Por favor (por favor) – Please
Gracias (gras-e-as) – Thank you
 (see) – Yes
No (noh) – No
Lo siento (low see-en-toe) – Sorry
Perdóname (pair-donna-may) – I beg your pardon
Hasta luego (asta loo-eggo) – See you later
Me gusta (may goos-ta) – I like it
Vale (val-ay) – Ok
Adios (A-dee-os) – Goodbye

Necesito ir al baño (Nes-es-eeto eer al banyo) – I need to go to the bathroom
Necesito los servicios (Nes-es-eeto los sair-viss-ee-os) – I need the loo
Necesito ayuda (Nes-es-eeto eye-yooda) – I need help

¿Dónde está el banco? (Donday estar el banco) – Where is the bank?
¿Dónde está la estación? (Donday estar la es-tas-ee-on) – Where is the station?
¿Dónde está el bar? (¿Donday estar el bar?) – Where is the bar?
¿Dónde está la restaurante? (Donday estar la rest-ow-rant-ay) – Where is the restaurant?
¿Dónde está la caja automática? (Donday estar la caha ow-toe-matic-a) – Where is the cash machine?
¿Dónde está la playa? (Donday estar la ply-a) – Where is the beach?

¿Cuánto cuesta? (Kwunto kwesta) – How much does it cost?
¿Hay algo más barato? (Eye algo mas bar-a-to) – Do you have anything cheaper?
¿Tiene pan? (¿Tee-en-ay pan?) – Do you have any bread?
¿Tiene leche fresca? (Tee-en-ay letch-ay fresca) – Do you have fresh milk?
¿Tiene sellos? (Tee-en-ay sel-yos) – Do you have stamps?

Uno dos tres cuatro cinco seis siete ocho nueve diez (Oono, dos, tres, kwutro, sinko, sais, see-et-ay, otcho, noo-wev-ay, diez) – 12345678910
Una mesa para dos (Oona maysa para dos) – A table for two
¿Puedo ver un menú? (¿Poo-ed-o ver un menoo) – May I see a menu?
¿Se puede comer? (Say poo-ed-ay comair) – Can we eat?
¿Tiene desayuno? (Tee-en-ay des-eye-oo-no) – Are you serving breakfast?
Café con leche (café con letch-ay) – Coffee with milk
Pan tostado (pan tost-addo) – Toast
Huevos revueltos/fritos (oo-wev-os revoo-el-tas/freetos) – Scrambled/fried eggs
Mantequilla (man-te-kee-la) – Butter
Zumo de naranja (sumo day naran-ha) – Orange Juice
Quería una cerveza (Ker-ee-a oona sair-vay-sa) – I would like a beer
íDame una botella de vino blanco/tinto! (Dar-me oona bot-elya day veeno blanco/tinto) – Give me a bottle of white/red wine!
Sin hielo por favor (sin yelo por favor) – Without ice please
Agua con gas (ag-wa con gas) – Sparkling water
Agua sin gas (ag-wa sin gas) – Still water
Agua del grifo (ag-wa del greefo) – Tap water
Una cerveza (oona sair-vay-sa) – A beer
Una caña (oona canya) – A small draught beer
Un quinto (oon kin-to) – A bottle of beer
Una jarra (oona harra) – A pint of beer (half litre jug)

Necesito un médico (nes-es-ito oon medico)-  I need a doctor
Me duele aquí (May doo-el-ay akee) – It hurts here
¿Donde está la clínica? (Don-day estar la cli-ni-ca) – Where is the hospital?
Tengo mal al estómago (tengo mal a la est-om-ago) – I have a tummy ache
Me marea (May mar-ay-a) – I feel sick
Una medusa me picó (oona med-oo-sa may pee-ko) – I’ve been stung by a jellyfish
Tengo una resaca (Tengo oona res-ack-a) – I have a hangover

Queríamos ir a…. (Ker-ee-am-os eer a…) – We want to go to….
¿Cuánto cuesta para ir a? (Kwunto koo-es-ta para eer a…) – How much to go to…
Una propina (Oona prop-ee-na) – A tip
¿Vive usted en Havana? (Vee-vay oos-ted en Havana) – Do you live in Havana?
Me gusta su coche (May goos-ta soo cotch-ay) – I like your car
¿Puedo abrir la ventana? (poo-ed-o abrir la vent-ana) – May I open a window?
Una habitación con baño (Oona abi-tas-eon con banyo) – A room with a bathroom
Esta noche (Esta notch-ay) – Tonight
Para cuatro noches (Para kwatro notches) – For four nights
Con ducha (Con doo-cha) – With a shower
Dos camas sencillas (Dos camas sen-sil-yas) – Two single beds
Una habitación doble (Oon abi-tas-eon doblay) – A double room
Cama de matrimonio (Cama day matri-moni-o) – Double bed

Un billete sencillo a Habana (Oon bil-yet-ay sen-sil-yo a Havana) – A single ticket to Havana
Un billete de ida y vuelta (Oon bil-yet-ay day eeda ee voo-el-ta) – A return ticket
Habla inglés? (Abla ingles) – Do you speak English?
No hablo español (Abla es-pan-yol) – I don’t speak Spanish
Hablo un poco español (Ablo oon pocko es-pan-yol) – I speak a Little Spanish
No entiendo (No en-tee-end-o) – I don’t understand


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Personal Language Tutor vs. Language Learning App

What’s the best way to learn a language? In this post, we compare the merits of readily available language learning apps, versus the human touch of a personal language tutor.

There are pros and cons to both – as we know, engaging a personal tutor is a commitment of both time and money, while apps are largely free. 

On the other hand, an app is a solitary pursuit while a face-to-face teacher provides encouragement, genuine one-to-one social interaction – and feedback. 

Look no further for 10 positive advantages of both options!

The Language Learning App

My own favourites are Duolingo, and Memrise, and for something a bit quirky – Lirica to learn Spanish using the power of music.

1. Many language apps are free.

This has to be the biggest advantage – if it doesn’t work, you are not out of pocket!

2. Learn where and when you like.

At home, in bed at night, on the train, at the bus stop, before breakfast, in your tea break, in the car park!

3. Five minutes a day if you like.

Learn at your own pace – a regular 5 minutes a day should get you somewhere.

4. Easy to fit in with your busy life.

Too busy to take lessons? You can learn in bed before you go to sleep – a good way to remember things!

5. Instant access! No big decision or effort required.

Just download the app onto your phone/tablet/computer and give it a try.

6. You can stop and start another language.

Can’t get on with Spanish? Try German instead! Try them all until you find the language for you.

7. No travelling required.

This is a big plus for people who live out in the sticks. You can’t get to a tutor, and a tutor can’t get to you – but your phone is right there!

8. No homework needed – set your own.

You never suffer that ‘Oh no I haven’t done my homework and it’s my lesson in ten minutes!’ feeling.

9. Easy to handle – it’s all there on your phone.

You don’t need paper, textbooks, exercise books, problems when you or your tutor are ill or held up. Just log in to that interactive world on your chosen device.

10. No one watching when you make mistakes.

Your phone won’t ridicule you if you get it wrong! You are your own teacher and critic – totally self-reliant.

Personal Language Tutor

Londoners can find one at Talk Languages 

1. Confidence building.

For me this is the number one benefit of having a real live tutor – even with simple conversation you can see that what you say WORKS in real life. It’s a great confidence booster.

2. Can become a firm friend.

Your tutor will get to know you and your lessons will be a shared experience, which could lead to a lifetime friendship.

3. Can explain specific problems i.e. grammar points.

If you don’t understand something, you can ask, and your tutor will find a way to explain. An app can’t do that!.

4. Lessons tailored to your goals.

Your tutor will be able to customise the lessons to include things that really interest you, directing your learning towards your own individual language goals. 

5. Practise the correct accent.

This is how you learn how to say the words correctly, and a private tutor will correct you properly when you get it wrong. Listen and learn, then try it in turn!

6. Advice on progress such as exams.

Have you heard of Continuous Personal Development (CPD)? When you progress from the beginner stage you may want to start working towards something, a GCSE for example. A personal tutor can help you on this journey.

7. Can teach online when distance a problem.

Computers aren’t for apps alone – if your tutor can’t come to you or vice versa, then these days you can learn a language online using Skype, FaceTime, Zoom or similar.

8. Less lonely – part of your social life.

This is the overwhelming advantage of having a personal tutor – regular lessons can become part of the very fabric of your life. Human contact is what keeps us sane and happy, and you don’t want to be looking at a tiny screen all the time.

9. Active encouragement.

This is what teachers do – they keep you motivated, whether by emphasising what you do well, setting homework and going through it afterwards or giving feedback, to help you on your way to fluency.

10. You can go out and visit places together.

When all’s said and done, what better way to learn a language than going out seeing places and enjoying yourself with a native or fluent speaker of your chosen language?

Conclusion

The conclusion which can be drawn is this: The serious language learner will benefit from using both options.  

An app is a fantastic tool which allows you to practise and learn vocabulary anytime, anywhere. Plus, it’s generally free. 

Finding a private tutor is an expense but it is also a firm commitment.  

An app cannot provide the direction, the encouragement, the advice, the companionship and the feedback that you need to progress.

A private teacher is a human being with whom you can have a proper conversation and who will help you believe that your language skills will work in the real world. 

Sign up for a 10 week course of FREE online language lessons: Tempting Tasters – Choose from Spanish, French, Portuguese or Italian.


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How To Brush Up Your French

It’s never too late to build on your old school French.

When I was at school, I had a French correspondent who lived in Calais.

We visited each other during the summer holidays, sometimes at Easter, and I had the time of my life over there. I loved France, Calais, the boys and girls, even the adults!

My schoolgirl French, once a ‘C’ grade, became so good that I took French for A Level and passed it. Then life took over.

Many, many, many years later, when I was in Boulogne trying to buy a postcard, the shopkeeper roared with laughter saying, ‘Why don’t you just give up? ‘

I knew I’d hit rock bottom when I tried to speak to a French lady on the train and found I had forgotten the word for ‘car’, even though I work in the motor industry.

I remembered nostalgically how my schoolteacher used to praise my French, and how I could talk to anyone about anything in the language at the tender age of 17. 

I decided that I would find myself a personal tutor, but before taking the plunge, decided to rekindle my interest.

Here is how I did it….

1. Singing in French

I memorised a poem that I learned at primary school. it had a tune to it. It went like this:

J’e me lève, je me lave, 
Je me brosse les dents
Je m’habille, et je mange 
un petit croissant.
Je sors, et je dis
au revoir Maman.
Au revoir Maman.

I sang it to myself. I sang it to my children. I I made up verses with other things that I do during the day.  All very simple. I started to use the phrases to anyone who would listen. My husband, my friends, my work colleagues. Some of them responded in French. So I come to my next ploy….

2. French nights

I found an English friend who also wanted to use her old, forgotten French knowledge. We decided to meet for a drink or a coffee once a week and spend an hour speaking French ONLY. It was hilarious! I never thought it would be so much fun! 

At first, we struggled to last five minutes, let alone the allotted hour. But after a while we stretched to fifteen minutes, even five and twenty minutes! Sometimes we manage an hour but by then it has often degenerated into Franglais. Soon we were also texting in French. Plenty of scope there.

In no time, we graduated from just speaking to doing French cultural outings, such as the theatre or the cinema…

3. French cinema

I decided to engage with French cinema. First, I watched French films with English subtitles. I understood a fair amount, but I found that I was mainly reading the subtitles and forgetting to engage with the French. So, I looked around for easy-to understand French films to watch without subtitles. For example, Le rayon vert (the Green Ray), which doesn’t have much speaking it! 

I found a blog with a list of easy to understand French films. They are all on Netflix, and mostly on YouTube too:

1 – Gemma Bovery (2014)
2 – Kirikou et la Sorcière (1998)
3 –M. Ibrahim et les Fleurs du Coran (2002)
4 – La Marche de l’Empereur (2004)
5 – Potiche (2010)
6 – Rosalie Blum (2015)
7 –Alceste a Bicyclette (2013)
8 –Il y a Longtemps que Je t’Aime (2008)

You can watch these with any interested party but watching French films in French can be a solitary affair. So, seek out your family or friends, parents or grandchildren and play…

4. French games

I love a game of Scrabble. It’s my game of choice and I will play it on a board, online, with adults, with small children, and it wasn’t long before I hit on the idea of playing in French. I already have a Spanish Scrabble set that my Dad bought me when I was doing my GCSEs. So, I brought it out, dusted it off and played French Scrabble on it. 

This was fun, but not everyone likes Scrabble. There are many other games you can play in French, including Monopoly. We have a nice old game at home called ‘Mille Bornes’ (1000 miles) and I have gleaned much of my motoring vocab from this.  And speaking of motoring….

5. French waterways

Another of my hobbies is chugging down the river on a riverboat. Motoring slowly along the canals over several Summer weeks in Brittany is a great way to improve your French!

For a start, you have to speak to lock keepers (les guardiens) and they don’t normally speak English. Your boating vocabulary will blossom.  As will your general social vocabulary, because you may need to buy provisions. In the small villages en route, most shopkeepers, innkeepers and other locals will expect you to speak French to them. 

It doesn’t have to be by boat – any trip to France, city or countryside, will result in you needing to speak some French. And if you live in England you don’t even need to fly. 

You can get there by ferry or Eurostar without increasing your carbon footprint. 

When you return, why not write about your experiences in French…

6. Read French blogs then start your own!

You don’t need to be an expert in French grammar to write a French blog. Choose a topic you like and write about it in French. (Maybe I should translate this post into French!)

You could use a blog to keep track of your French prowess! Or, you could just blog about whatever you normally would, but in French. Just try it – you don’t have to publish if you don’t want to.

This constant thinking about French, writing in French and looking things up in French will definitely bear fruit. Occasionally translating English into French won’t hurt either.

So if your own French has taken a similar downward spiral, or you’ve just never quite got off the ground with it in the first place, or you would like to unlock all that sleeping vocabulary and verb knowledge lying unused in your brain, try one of the above. You may be pleasantly surprised! 

Of course, once you are starting to improve, and beginning to remember some of those old grammar rules and the vast vocab that you learned at school, sign up with a personal private French tutor or learn online.

A qualified teacher can improve your confidence no end, and help you regain your skill, or foster a new one. A tutor can help convince you that you really can speak French and could even turn into a real friend. 

Bonne chance!


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Why learn Italian? 5 Reasons & Ways

If English is your native language, then you may have learnt some Spanish, French or German while at secondary school. You may have considered Italian somewhere down the line. What’s stopping you now? Let me focus your mind on five compelling Italian topics that could enhance your learning experience.

Italian food

In Italy, food is “twice blessed because it is the product of two arts, the art of cooking and the art of eating.” As written by famed cookbook author Marcella Hazan in “The Classic Italian Cookbook.” Italian food is something to be savoured, revered, studied and examined, at a leisurely pace and with gusto.

Learning a new language doesn’t just have to be about reciting greetings, the Italian alphabet and doing countless listening comprehension and Italian grammar exercises – consider Italian cuisine!

If you think about it, you already have an extensive vocabulary: pizza, pasta, spaghetti, risotto, panini, panettone, tiramisu, tagliatelle, fusilli, Americano, cappuccino… and I’ll lay bets that you can also pronounce them correctly, more or less.

Learning the names for food on an Italian menu is a terrific advantage too. They can be long and difficult for the English reader to guess – and rarely translated into English for our benefit. You could be several jumps ahead of your English friends, interpreting the menu and finding bargains in the markets.

Italian style

Fashion is an exciting and ever-evolving world. Italy is a major fashion powerhouse, starting new trends that spread across the world and produce huge profits year after year. The revenue of the Italian fashion industry in 2017 was set to grow by 2.5% on a yearly basis, reaching €64.8 billion. Even though it expects to stall in the present climate, it also expects to rebound in 2020!

In a world where the gap between the rich and the poor is widening in every country, the luxury industry has never been so successful. The good news for the other side is that Italian high-street fashion is also booming. The tailor-made looks of the high-end runway make their way into our fashion outlets.

Armani, Fendi, Prada, Gucci, Versace, Valentino… the list of famous Italian fashion brands is impressive. Home to one of the major four fashion hubs, Milan is a powerhouse of luxury goods. It produces some of the world’s best known brands, with a speciality in leather. It makes sense that Italian men and women are considered some of the best dressed in the world.

Italians love tailoring, a statement coat, a logo bag and a splash of colour. They aren’t afraid to stand out and experiment. A quick walk around most Italian cities confirms it – the streets are packed with Prada and Gucci-clad locals.

So why not take Italian lessons and become a part of the fashion scene? The Italian language is known around the world for its beauty, and when it comes to the fashion industry, Italian is the language of choice. For this reason, many people who are aiming to enter this profession want to learn the language that goes with it.

Italian opera

Many opera singers and opera aficionados choose to learn Italian. During the Renaissance, Italy was the birthplace of opera.

Italian is a lilting language that lends itself well to musicality. Many of the most well-known operatic works were composed in Italian.

Opera lovers are sure to recognise many Italian names, such as Puccini, Verdi, Rossini and Bellini. Even Mozart, who was Austrian, wrote many of his operas in Italian.

If you’re a singer, learning Italian will help you get your pronunciation just right when you perform Nessun Dorma or O Mio Bambino Caro!

If you’re more comfortable in the audience, you can listen to the music and understand at least a few of the words without needing to rely on subtitles.

I’m not saying that if you learn start learning Italian you will soon be able to understand La Traviata from beginning to end. That sounds like hard work! However, you can begin to understand a little, and that brings you closer to the operatic world, and intensifies your enjoyment of opera from the beginning.

Italian film

Italy is the birthplace of Art Cinema and it is not surprising that the stylistic aspect of film has been the most important factor in the history of Italian movies.

From epic films with complex set designs, lavish costumes and big budgets, to the Spaghetti Western genre. Italian film has brought generations of notable directors and actors. With the Italian language under your belt, you’ll be able to enjoy a special understanding of some of their best films.

If you’re a bit of a film buff, then watching Italian films can be a highly effective way of improving your Italian language skills. Plus, it won’t feel like studying!

Italian art

Italian is the best language for art-lovers to learn. It’s invaluable in the modern art world and can also help you to study art history. 

Imagine being able to read Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks without the help of a translator.

If you learn Italian, you can understand the titles of great paintings like Boticelli’s Primavera (Springtime) as you make your way through museums, without pausing to consult a guide.

You can communicate more easily when you visit the Uffizi Gallery in Florence or the Borghese Gallery in Rome.

Italy is one of the world’s top art destinations – as you might expect from a country that gave the world some of its greatest art movements. 

The Roman Empire produced some of Europe’s most iconic architecture, while the Renaissance set a benchmark for what artists could achieve using paint and stone that has never been exceeded. Italy hosts some of the most stunning architecture ever built, from the Colosseum to Brunelleschi’s Duomo to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The roll call of Italian artists is studded with luminaries: Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Botticelli, Donatello, Raphael, Titian, Leonardo da Vinci. 

Works by these great masters are displayed in museums, galleries, and public and religious buildings across the country. Indeed, some of Italy’s greatest masterpieces were painted directly onto the ceilings and walls of the churches and palaces that commissioned them. For example, Michelangelo’s frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City in Rome rank among the most famous artworks in existence. 

Has one of the above piqued your interest? Then start straight away! If you would like some advice ten contact our friendly team on 0207 1010 750 or learn@talklanguages.co.uk. Whether you want online language tuition or face-to-face sessions, we can set you on the right path with helpful advice. How to start learning Italian by focusing on your favourite subject!


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Why everyone should learn a language

If English is your native language, then you may have learnt some Spanish, French or German while at secondary school. You probably never took these languages any further, but what is stopping you now? Grab a basic phrasebook or download an app, and you will be on your way. But why should you learn a language? These are just some of the many reasons how learning a language can benefit you! 

Improves your learning

Studies show that your analytical and cognitive learning is far better after learning a language. It stimulates your brain due to your memory needing to improve with having to store a plethora of new words, phrases and maybe even letters! Dual-language speakers are also known to have longer attention spans and better long-term cognitive abilities as you age. It is a win-win situation!

Helps you understand cultural differences

One way to get involved in a country’s culture is through learning the native language. If you dedicate some of your spare time into learning a language, then you can immerse yourself and understand the culture far easier. From things as simple as being able to say “please” and “thank you”, you will feel much more involved within the lifestyle of others abroad. It could even help you understand your own culture more as you invest time into learning about another! 

Travel with ease

From grabbing the best deals to being able to tell your taxi driver where your accommodation is, being able to speak the local language will make travelling to international countries far easier. 

It will also help you to establish new relationships much more easily. If you are travelling alone, maybe due to university or because of work, naturally you will want to meet new people. Learning the language of where you are travelling to will make your life so much easier when doing this. You will be able to join in on conversations, make plans and just generally chat with the local people without any hassle. Just imagine being in your local pub and someone comes up to you and your friends saying “¡Hola!” –  you wouldn’t know where to start if you didn’t speak Spanish.

Job opportunities 

The world is ever-changing, and as we are becoming increasingly interconnected, languages are needed more and more as companies are becoming globalised. Hence, speaking another language offers enhanced opportunities in a range of sectors. 

If you are looking for a career in medicine, law, business or technology, then being able to communicate in another language is bound to help your career prospects. It demonstrates your ability and dedication to commit to learning something new, as well as your cognitive abilities, both of which stand out massively to employers. So, make sure to include your linguistic skills in your CV!

Not only is it a great topic opener in an interview, but it also shows that you have other interests that your recruiter may like. Demonstrating that you can learn a new language sets yourself apart from others, showing you immerse yourself into challenges. It may be the spark that gets you your dream job!

If you learnt a language due to moving abroad, then this is also a topic to bring up during an interview as you can elaborate on your time overseas. The recruiter will be looking for you to explain the areas that have helped you develop professionally, and for stories that tested you in the new surroundings. 

Hopefully, these reasons will give you the push to start learning a new language, so the next time you hop on a plane you will be able to speak the local language with ease! Good luck! 

Written by Rebecca Hart, an Online Marketer at StudentJob UK. If you are looking for a job but not sure where to start then check out StudentJob. Our application tips will help you create an effective CV, cover letter and help you smash interviews!


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Reasons to Learn German

‘Life’s too short to learn German!’ 

We’ve all heard that saying, attributed to 18th Century classicist Richard Polson. Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde both said a similar thing.  Why does German have that reputation? I can think of three reasons.

  • There are three genders, feminine, masculine and neuter (die, der and das).
  • The language has an intimidating list of noun cases (nominative, accusative, dative and genitive).
  • German is full of extra-long compound words like Nahrungsmittelunverträglichkeit and Fingerspitzengefühl.

However other than these, German has so many aspects that make it easy for the English learner: 

  • Phonetic spelling: It’s easy to learn the sounds, and easy for English speakers to pronounce them.
  • All nouns start with a capital letter so that you can tell they are nouns.
  • The present tense is always the same. None of this I sing/I am singing nonsense! And the present tense is also used for the future – just add ‘tomorrow’ or ‘this evening’ and so on. That’s three in one!
  • There’s just one past tense for conversational German – what a relief! There’s another for written narrative but that’s another story.

A Germanic language

English and German developed from the very same language roots (both Germanic Languages). They share the same alphabet and have many words in common. Like Haus house, trinken to drink, Sommer summer, Mutter mother, Garten garden, hundert hundred, Apfel apple and braun brown… there are many, many more.

Just listing them makes me want to reach for my teach-yourself-German book!  

My delight in the German language began at school when our teacher, Frau Turley, taught us to memorise a simple German fairy tale by the brothers Grimm, ‘Die Sieben Raben’ (the Seven Ravens). Ever since I have used the vocabulary, sentence structure and grammar from this fairy tale to try to impress teachers and German speakers! Not to mention to shine in German oral exams. 

The fact that both languages are Germanic means that there is a basic similarity to the sentence structure in both languages. And the verb in German is always in the second position like English. It makes it easier to think on your feet, or translate directly:

Arriving in a German city to visit a friend with no map and no German (pre internet!), I looked up every word separately in a dictionary. ‘I…want…a…street…map…of…Kassell…please’. (Ich…möchte…eine…Strasse…Karte…von…Kassell…bitte.). The shopkeeper listened gravely, and instead of bursting into English or looking puzzled or impatient, or even correcting my grammar, he just smiled politely and sold me a street map. Success! I thought to myself. I’m a linguist! 

Sound and pronunciation

So just think of the fun you can have speaking German. The sounds are so easy to copy, and so satisfying to produce. We can wrap our tongues neatly around the sounds which have such a punch to them. 

Learn the rules of pronunciation and you will always be able to speak it out loud. That is such a refreshing change from English, which must be a nightmare for foreigners to read out.  

Now you are beginning to come around to the fact that German could be fun to learn, find out how it could help your career. It is one of the most sought after languages by businesses in the UK.


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Why learn Spanish? ¿Por qué aprender español?

Why should we British learn Spanish? Well, there are plenty of obvious reasons:

  • Spain’s beauty
  • Its resorts
  • The sunshine
  • The ebullient people
  • The tapas
  • The wine
  • The paella
  • The flamenco
  • The football
  • The fiestas
  • The accessibility of the country
  • The ease and economy of travel
  • The abundance of Spanish language courses on and off line…

… Now I’ve started, I find it difficult to stop! Spanish is everywhere in Britain, and long may it be so.

Aside from the above, there are other excellent, less hedonistic, serious reasons to learn Spanish. Here are six:

1. It’s a global language  

Spanish is the official language in 21 countries!  Andorra, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela and Spain of course.

It is also an official language of Puerto Rico. Over 20 per cent of all first language Spanish speakers live in Mexico! In the USA, there are 30–40 million native speakers of Spanish.

Apart from the US and Spain, very few people in the above-mentioned countries speak English. So Spanish is essential if you want to get along there.

You may be aware that Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world (400 million native speakers) but did you realise that Spanish is the third biggest language on the internet? It makes up eight percent of all usage. Also, along with Africa and the Middle East, Latin America is one of the fastest growing regions in terms of internet use. And considering how crucial the internet is to our society today, that is a major significance.

2. Wonderful art, literature, film, music and culture

Studying and speaking Spanish will open the door to a rich, dazzling and historically important culture.  Who doesn’t want to learn more about the country of Picasso and Cervantes? Not to mention all those Latin American countries.

So many of the most popular artworks of the modern age have been created by artists of Spanish origin. They include Goya, Velazquez, Picasso, Miró, Dalí, Kahlo and Rivera. Plus, many of us have wondered at Antoní Gaudi’s ‘Sagrada Familia’ cathedral and other architectural gems. 

You can watch, in Spanish, the famous films by Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar (All About My Mother, Volver, Pain and Glory) or the Mexican Guillermo del Toro (Pans Labyrinth, The Shape of Water) and start to notice things that English speakers cannot.

Become a convert to Spanish music: Spanish flamenco, Cuban jazz, Mexican rock, Puerto Rican salsa, Argentinian tango… 

…or explore the Spanish language through literature. From Miguel de Cervantes, the first modern novelist, to post civil war novelist Carmen Laforet (Nada), first of a generation of women novelists. Appreciate celebrated poets, such as Antonio Machado (Campos de Castilla), Federico García Lorca (Yerma) and Pablo Neruda (Poem XV11).  Enjoy magical realists Gabriel García Márquez (100 Years of Solitude) and Jorge Luis Borges (Universal History of Infamy). Or immerse yourself in more contemporary novelists, such as Isabel Allende (the House of the spirits), Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Shadow of the Wind), Eduardo Mendoza (An Englishman Abroad) and Laura Esquivel (Like Water for Chocolate).

3. Spanish is a Romance language so it helps with other languages

Once you know Spanish it has a ‘rubbing-off’ effect when looking at any other Romance language like Portuguese, Catalan, Italian, French, or Romanian. Knowledge of one makes it much easier to pick up the others. This is because they all evolved from Latin and still share grammar, syntax and have lots of similar vocabulary. It helps with those Latin sayings too!

You’ll also notice that your English will improve at the same time as learning Spanish. While you’re taking your Spanish lessons, you will quickly notice how learning Spanish will help you boost your vocabulary by familiarising you with Latin roots. 

For example, the Spanish word mal means ‘bad’. This small root has a negative connotation in English. You can see it in words such as ‘malevolent’, ‘malicious’, ‘malfunction’, and ‘malignant’. In French they say mal; in Portuguese, mau; in Italian male and so on.

In another example, the Spanish word ‘bien’ means good. The Portuguese is bem, the French bien, the Italian ‘bene’. In English you can see the Latin root ‘ben’ in words denoting goodness, such as benefit, benevolent, benediction, and beneficence.

Start learning Spanish and see how many similarities you start noticing from the beginning!

4. Spanish is easy to learn for an English speaker

Spanish is considered one of the easiest languages for a native English speaker to learn.  They told you so at school and the evidence is there. The grammar and pronunciation are different from English, but simpler and more consistent. 

Many of the words are similar to English because of the Latin roots, as we have seen. The pronunciation, even if you can’t roll your ‘r’s, is easy to learn and does not chop and change like English. 

Spanish is all about the vowel sounds. They pronounce each vowel in turn and do not swallow them as we sometimes do in English. Once you have learnt the pronunciation alphabet you will be able to pronounce anything you see in Spanish. Enunciate syllable by syllable and you will soon master the knack. 

There are some irregular verbs to learn, but once you know those, then everything else is straightforward with very few ‘exceptions that prove the rule’!

It is an excellent language to learn for the start-up linguist!

5. Now the British like Spanish more than French

The British Council’s Languages of the Future report puts foreign languages for British citizens to learn in order of importance, based on cultural, economic and diplomatic factors. 

Spanish tops the list, followed by Arabic, French, Mandarin and German. If Great Britain, the home territory of the English language, which doesn’t have that many Spanish-speaking immigrants, and is next door to France – has decided that Spanish is the best second language, then who are we to argue?

Spanish is also now the second most popular language at A-level after French, having overtaken German in 2005.  It is the only major language to buck the trend of year on year decline.

Spanish is offered at degree level by more than 70 universities across the whole of the UK and has seen fewer departmental closures than other languages.

6. Business benefits

The usefulness of Spanish in the world of business is probably the biggest advantage of all. Spain is the UK’s eighth largest goods export market. It is the UK’s tenth largest source of goods imports. With a combined population of over 221 million people, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Mexico are all upcoming economies and our trade relations with them are underdeveloped. Apparently, the Mexican economy could overtake that of the UK by 2030.

There are great opportunities here for British firms, particularly if they can operate in Spanish. The UK’s lack of interest in foreign languages is increasingly regarded as a drawback in the global marketplace, so although many Latin Americans speak English, an exporter who can speak Spanish will find it much easier to develop contacts and secure business. 

The British Academy publication, Lost for Words, reports that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is creating additional posts for speakers of particular languages in a number of regions. This includes Latin America to reflect the rise of emerging powers and their economies. The FCO plans to increase the number of British diplomats speaking Spanish (Latin American) and Portuguese by 20 per cent.  Mexico has been identified as a key target market for incoming international students.

Spain is still the most popular destination for people from the UK with more than 11 million visitors. Tourists from Spain to the UK are the fourth largest non-English speaking group after visitors from France, Germany and the Netherlands. 

Spanish is an official language of the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, the World Trade Organisation,  the International Labour Organisation, the International Telecommunications Union, the Latin Union, the African Union, the Central American Common Market, the European Union, Mercosur, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Organisation of American States and the Union of South American Nations. 

Start learning Spanish today!

Only about four per cent of the UK’s adult population report that they speak Spanish well enough to hold a conversation. 

However, there’s nothing stopping you if you have been inspired by this article. Make a start by signing up to our free Spanish ‘Tempting Tasters’ online lessons – you will receive 10 weekly lessons by email. 

Take a look at our blog posts ‘The Best Way to Learn a Language’ and ‘The Five Stages of Learning a Language’ for some tips about how to go about learning Spanish. 

Once you are determined to add this string to your bow, let us arrange some lessons for you with one of our wonderful Spanish teachers. We are very proud of our team of qualified and experienced teachers, many of which have been with us for several years. They are all committed professionals, and thanks to them our reputation keeps on growing. 


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The Five Stages of Learning a Language

Learning a language is like gaining a superpower.

According to the experts at ALL ESL, there are five recognisable stages of learning a language.

To help you on the way to the ultimate goal of fluency in another language, here we share some tips to help you master the different stages of learning a language. We’ll take you from absolute beginner to super speaker!

Stage 1: Absolute Beginner (Preproduction)

Everyone has to start somewhere, and that usually means being completely lost. You know nothing! You understand a few words here and there and you can say ‘hello’, but the rest is gobbledegook.

This is perfectly normal, an unavoidable part of being exposed to a new language. This stage leaves you feeling like an alien who has arrived on another planet. It’s actually a nice stage to be in – full of promise and possibilities.

Tips to help with this stage: 

  • Take a language learning course. Give yourself a solid base – even a weeklong course would be helpful. Buy the textbook to go with it to look up grammar when you need it.
  • Listen to native speakers. Do this as much as you can and ask them what words mean. 
  • Focus on phrases, especially those you need for daily life.  Think of useful phrases, find out what they are in your new language, then write them down.
  • Write it down, learn it and try using it even if it makes you feel silly – who is going to care or criticise you if you get it wrong?

Stage 2: Getting by with Baby Talk (Early production)

How to book a table in a restaurant: “Good morning. Table four people? Tonight 7.30? Table outside please? Thank you, goodbye!”

This is the “baby talk” stage of language learning. You are piecing together the words you know using the most basic grammatical structures. You sound babyish but people understand you.

This stage is a lot of fun because you’re in a sweet spot: the locals are delighted that you’re trying, and you’re freed from the pressure to speak perfectly because no one expects you to say things correctly. Enjoy it!

Tips to help with this stage:

  • Babble. This is what babies do. Shamelessly speak to people in baby talk in your new language whenever you can in day-to-day life.
  • Act. So, you are not an extrovert who can talk to any stranger you meet. Make the effort to change your personality and act sometimes. Don’t worry about looking silly. No-one will mind.
  • Use what you know. Try to use new things that you learn – purposely put yourself in situations where you can use them.
  • Keep a notebook. Keep track of what you want to know. Keep track of the words you’re missing to get your point across. Then take time to go over your questions with a native speaker and jot down what they tell you. It’s worth it.

Stage 3: Comfortably Conversational (Speech emergence)

Congratulations, you’ve reached the stage where you can have a sensible conversation. You can speak about how work is going, what your hometown is like, and what you did last night. You can order food and hang around with locals.

You make a lot of mistakes and have a (very) noticeable accent. You are starting to understand conversation. Locals may be tempted to switch back into English with you if they sense you are struggling but persevere and let them know you’re enjoying the practice!

Tips to help with this stage:

  • Find a language partner. This is the perfect point in time to start a serious language partnership, which will give you the opportunity to practice with a native speaker on a regular basis.  A private tutor would be a good idea if you do not know anyone suitable, or a local club or language group. 
  • Watch TV and movies. Many people in other countries learn English just by watching TV. Spend a few hours per week watching your favourite show. You can learn a lot about the culture as well as the language by tuning in to local media.
  • Read newspapers and books. Make sure you’re reading in the language, too. Find online newspapers in your chosen language, or struggle through a translation of Harry Potter in French. You’ll get through anything with patience and a dictionary.
  • Take a proficiency exam. There’s nothing like sitting for an exam to motivate you to learn grammar and expand your vocabulary even more. How about a GCSE?

Stage 4: Finally Fluent (Intermediate fluency) 

When are you finally a “fluent” speaker of another language? Perhaps when you feel a degree of physical comfort speaking the language, when you can enjoy watching a film in that language, then consider yourself finally fluent. 

It’s a challenging stage because people notice your mistakes more, simply because there are fewer of them, but they still give away your status as a non-native speaker. (You have studied Mandarin for 5 years and learned 15,000 characters in a tonal language, and natives will still poke fun at you for mispronouncing the tone of one single word!)

It’s a stage that makes your ego feel amazing one moment, and utterly crushed in another when you realize you’ll never quite sound exactly like “them.”

Tips to help with this stage:

  • Seek full immersion experiences. You need to be thrown into a circumstance where you only speak this language every day all day long for 90 days or more. It’s really the only way you’re going to get significantly better.
  • Find a private tutor. It could also be a worthwhile investment of time and money to simply hire a tutor and spend a few hours per week one-on-one with someone who will mercilessly call out every mistake you make. 
  • Focus on improving your accent. At this point, you can speak perfectly well, but you still sound foreign. Listening to and speaking with native speakers as often as humanly possible will naturally bring your pronunciation closer to theirs over time.
  • Keep a journal. Writing in the language is a technique you can use as soon as you have enough vocabulary to start doing it. Testing the limits of your ability to express ideas and emotions is a good way to continue advancing your command of the language.

Stage 5: Super Speaker! Speak Like a Native (Advanced Fluency)

Now people think that you are a native. Your accent is so perfect that people don’t bother to correct you, they take it for granted that you are native so excuse mistakes as, well, just everyday mistakes that we all make with our own language. 

Tips to help with this stage:

You hardly need any, but of course, native fluency should include the four aspects of language learning: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. If you spend time interacting with the language in each of these linguistic domains on a regular basis, you will gradually build mastery.

And most importantly, never rest on your laurels. Success is a journey, and as long as you’re learning, you’re succeeding. You have your superpower, now use it or lose it! 


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Should I Learn European or Brazilian Portuguese?

Portuguese is the sixth most widely spoken language in the world after Chinese, Spanish, English, Hindi, and Arabic. 

There are two types of Portuguese: Brazilian (spoken in Brazil) and European (spoken in Portugal and other European, African, and Asian countries). 

While they have many similarities, there are some differences in intonation, pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary.

Generally, those who speak either language can understand the other.

How many people speak Portuguese and where is it spoken?

The number of native Portuguese speakers is estimated to be around 220 million people. Portuguese is spoken as the official language in the following:

  • Portugal
  • Brazil
  • Mozambique
  • Angola
  • Guinea Bissau
  • East Timor
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Macau
  • Cape Verde
  • Sao Tome and Principe

To learn Portuguese online, you will find that most websites and information pages relate to Brazilian Portuguese rather than European. (Click here for a European option!) Although Portuguese has its origins in Europe, there are many more Portuguese speakers in Brazil than anywhere else. 

Rio de Janeiro alone has 12 million citizens whilst the whole of Portugal has only 10 million! So obviously, most of the 220 million native Portuguese speakers are actually Brazilian.

History

Just as the European Spanish is different from Latin American Spanish, the Portuguese spoken in Europe is different to that in Brazil. Why? 

Portuguese is a romance language that evolved from Latin after the Romans invaded the Iberian Peninsula two thousand years ago, just like ItalianSpanish, and French

Portugal gained its independence in 1143, but it was only in 1290 that Portuguese was recognised as its official language. 

From then on, similarities to Spanish faded as the languages evolved differently even though there remain many similarities. 

Portuguese conquistadors in the 15th and 16th centuries brought their language to many parts of the world and that is the reason why the language is spoken in Europe, South America, Africa and Asia. 

The Portuguese discovered Brazil in 1500 but it took two and a half centuries before Portuguese was recognised as the official language! By that time, it was mixed with that of the indigenous people already living there before the Portuguese arrived.

Strangely, the African countries that belong to the CPLP (“Comunidade de Países de Língua Portuguesa” or “Community of Countries with Portuguese Language” in English) speak Portuguese more like the European type.  This happened mainly because Brazil gained its independence from Portugal many years before the African countries. 

Brazil was an independent country by 1822, and Angola, for example, only became independent from Portugal in 1975, similar to most African countries. All those additional years of direct contact with the Portuguese makes the African accent more similar to the Portuguese accent. 

Differences in pronunciation

Pronunciation is one of the main differences. Brazilians speak vowels longer and wider, while European Portuguese is more clipped, spoken with a more closed mouth, and sometimes they swallow their vowels completely.

The pronunciation of some consonants is also different, particularly the ‘s’ at the end of a word. In Brazilian Portuguese, an ‘s’ at the end of a word is pronounced as ‘ss’; in European Portuguese it is pronounced as ‘sh’.

Differences in grammar and spelling

Some words are spelled differently. For example, ‘reception’ in European Portuguese is ‘receção”’ but in Brazilian Portuguese there is an audible p to the spelling of ‘recepção’. In other words, the letter ‘p’ is audible in Brazilian Portuguese and silent in European Portuguese.

Brazilians are free and easy with their use of Portuguese, converting some nouns into verbs. ‘To congratulate’ uses the Portuguese phrase ‘dar os parabéns’, but Brazilians like to condense the expression into one verb – ‘parabenizar’.

Brazilian Portuguese sometimes takes words from American English, ignoring its Latin roots. European Portuguese often adopts words from Latin roots, keeping the original spelling. Overall, European Portuguese is far more resistant to change and assimilation of foreign words. 

Formal and informal speech

As you would imagine, European Portuguese is the more formal of the two versions. In Brazilian Portuguese, the word ‘você’ is used for ‘you’ in informal settings; in European Portuguese, ‘tu’ is utilised in the same context. ‘Tu’ takes a verb in the second person singular, whereas ‘você’ takes a verb in the third person singular – confusing for the grammar student!

When describing actions, Brazilians use ‘estou fazendo’ to mean ‘I am doing’, and the European Portuguese use the infinitive form, ‘estou a fazer’. You will find, however, that each understands the other in these small differences. 

Should you learn Brazilian or European Portuguese?

Well there is the question. It depends on your own focus, be it travel, business, family or friends. The magic that sparked your interest in the language will impact your choice. For example, if you love classic literature, European Portuguese might be the best way to go. If you love carnivals and samba, Brazilian Portuguese is for you. 

Also, what are your long-term plans? If you would like to work for the United Nations someday, you should learn European Portuguese because its operations are based in Europe. If you want a job in a North or South American enterprise, Brazilian Portuguese will be best because that country has a bigger economic and trading base.

You may want to study European Portuguese if you:

  • Want to travel, live in or work in Portugal
  • Want to access a wider spectrum of Portuguese-speaking countries (most of them are more aligned with the European accent)
  • Want to learn a more formal and traditional version of the language
  • Are drawn to the European experience, from its ancient history to its Mediterranean lifestyle

Consider learning Brazilian Portuguese if you:

  • Wish to travel, live in or work in Brazil
  • Want a more informal version of the language to learn
  • Want to apply your linguistic skills to break into a bigger economic market
  • Love South American cultures and traditions

My advice is this – concentrate on whichever you like but choose a textbook or tutor that can explain the major differences as you go. That way you could be the master of both.