How I Got To B1 In Portuguese IN ONE YEAR!!!

Alright, alright. It isn’t the most impressive feat, I will admit. It isn’t fluency but a strong but lower intermediate level. I can hold conversations for long periods of time, though I struggle to get through more complicated subjects. I can read quite a bit of material in Portuguese, which I focused on in the last three months of the year. I will be honest, though. I MADE A LOT OF MISTAKES. Let me explain.

  1. I went from DuoLingo for the basics.
  2. I started a course on iTalki to improve my conversation ability and supplemented my time with LingQ.
  3. And then discovered, at the same time, DuoLingo Stories now accessible from the mobile app.

Duo Is A Harsh Mistress

Have you ever had the nagging sensation that everything could have gone a lot smoother?  I do, nearly everyday. I’ve never been one to stay organized or kept at a single task for long.  A lot of future polyglots are in the same boat: we take a language and put it down when we see something prettier.

I started learning Portuguese last year in very late November, early December with a video series called Polyglot Learns Portuguese.  I did around 20 episodes of varying lengths over the next half year before I switched over to the Steve the Vagabond channel. From the beginning, I was quite enthusiastic of trying to learn Portuguese through DuoLingo.  Boy, was I in for a rough journey later.

I met the love of my life online, a Brazilian woman named Paola, and we were quickly head over heels for each other.  Of course, I would want to see her, travel wherever she was. Brazil was calling my name, and I became determined to answer the call, going through the process to get over there, and, possibly, even moving there if it turned out to be exactly what I dreamed.  I even felt fairly confident in my Portuguese ability.

I had a false sense of hope because people loved complimenting me on it, boosting my small ego.  I did three Minecraft videos entirely in Portuguese, as well. I could definitely speak the language for a good amount of time.  I even vlogged a little in the language to keep my foothold. When November rolled around and I had two months left before the dream vacation, I felt about ready.  I decided to test myself against iTalki to see how well I had learned the language. It fell apart.

So, there is a major flaw with DuoLingo!  It doesn’t teach you to listen to the language.  It isn’t a real interaction no matter how many times you go over a word.

LingQing Up With Texts And Audio

So don’t get me wrong! DuoLingo was great for some of the building blocks of the language. However, it became glaringly obvious that I was unprepared for this trip I am supposed to take, at time of writing, in two weeks. While I can hold conversation for long periods of time with my teacher, I don’t understand very much. DuoLingo didn’t help with that part. The meme of learning a language strictly through DuoLingo just isn’t true.

I went back to a resource I used when I was attempting to learn German the year before: LingQ. It has always been a useful resource for many people, having accessible audio, texts, and flashcards all in one system. I love it! At this moment, I can test on about 1400 words and use them in the system. I won’t try to explain everything it can do, but I have discovered it to be one of the better resources I have found. By combining the texts and audio (reading and listening), I have found my listening comprehension to have improved significantly between the first iTalki lesson and the 10th. While I probably started at understanding 15 percent of conversation, I can now understand about 50 percent, and that is with an incredibly demanding full-time pharmacy job that takes up most of my time and stress. This is within three months as well.

DuoLingo Makes Up For Its Failures

I know… I am a little late in the game when it comes to this unique DuoLingo feature. I only discovered Stories in the late-game! I absolutely love the feature but had no idea it existed, because it was never in the phone apps. I had never gone to the actual DuoLingo website because I am a very mobile person and rarely have the time to go to a computer to learn a lesson.

However, when Stories rolled out for mobile and I discovered them, I found that they were very interesting and useful. Seeing interesting conversations unroll helped with my listening ability, in terms of listening to actual conversations between people.

Of course, it isn’t for everyone. When I first tried it, it was really buggy on my phone for some reason. Then, it started getting better after a couple updates. Also, it isn’t super traditional, either. Where LingQ helps with overall consumption of interesting content, Stories helped with adding new conversation phrases that would be said in real-time by natives.

I Didn’t FAIL… But that doesn’t mean I fully succeeded…

Adorable teenager woman screaming with rage.

Reading this, you can clearly see where I went wrong, not spending nearly enough time actually listening to the language. If I had been dropped off in Brazil halfway through the year, I probably would have been completely lost. It isn’t Duo’s fault that I didn’t add more supplements to my diet.

Here is what I should have done instead:

SKIP DUOLINGO COURSE AND JUST GO STRAIGHT TO STORIES.

Learning dozens of words with automated robot voices does not really help with fluency. While it can certainly teach the basics of a language and is absolutely free, Stories was a far better experience and combines the two ingredients to understanding: audio and visual conversations. Learning in context was the real key to understanding. That is why LingQ is so useful. It is all contextual. You learn everything you need through context.

I WOULD HAVE USED LINGQ FROM THE BEGINNING.

Imagine combining two great resources at the start of your journey rather than using them halfway through. I feel I would have made an insane more amount of progress. While I did use LingQ a little bit for the Polyglot Learns Portuguese videos, I felt it would be funnier to learn a language entirely through DuoLingo (and my audience liked it better when I used it).

STICK TO A COUPLE APPS RATHER THAN USE A MILLION OF THEM

I won’t lie. I love trying new apps, but trying new apps over and over again really doesn’t help with learning. I tried Memrise, Mondly, Drops, Babbel, etc. for Portuguese. While each have their own merits, to keep downloading new apps and then deleting, then redownloading and deleting some more, is the opposite of not wasting time. You need to stay focused to learn a language. I guess you could consider Portuguese my ‘test language,’ a language you learn to figure out how to learn all the other languages.

So What’s Next?

I am still studying Portuguese, obviously, because my trip is soon. The holidays are a rough time as there is so much to do during my full-time job. However, if I can get to this level, I know I can reach a higher level.

I am moving to Brazil next year to live with my girlfriend while she finishes her doctorate. I am excited, of course, because I can finally spend my life with her without a time zone difference.

However, this is the perfect opportunity to reach my goal for 2020: C1 level in Portuguese. I have to overcome a fairly large plateau after I reach B2, but more on that for a different time. I will be doing what language learners have done for centuries: full immersion. I will continue with LingQ, finish the course on Stories, and finish out my iTalki course for speaking. With the constant usage of the language, I hope that I can do a lot more with it.

Also, in the upcoming year, I will be studying Polish so I can learn this beautiful language, and, hopefully, learn from my previous mistakes and learn as much as I can!

Happy New Year! Here is a video of me speaking only Portuguese before the iTalki lessons so then you can see where I was struggling beforehand. I will make a new video soon after I am done fully with the lessons in January.

Be sure to check out our magazine if you wish to support us in our endeavors to produce more language-learning content!

-Michael.

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