Previous Lecture Complete and continue  

  Learning from scratch


I went to Brazil some years ago and I started learning Portuguese there. The hardest time was probably the first three or four months because I was learning from scratch. I didn’t know any Portuguese before. When I went out with other people, everyone was speaking Portuguese, so I couldn’t join in the conversation, which I found really difficult because I like meeting people, I like talking to people, so I found that whole period really frustrating. And then after a while I started to pick up a few phrases, I started to understand a little bit more. Every day I studied with a grammar book and then I went out and spoke to people. I was very motivated obviously because I was living there.

Everywhere I went I had a little dictionary, so I took that with me…so if I was trying to say something to someone, I used to flick through the dictionary to find the word I wanted. This is not a great way to have a conversation, so it made talking to people very slow and difficult. I also started noting down useful phrases in a notebook and I kept the notebook in my back pocket. Every time I learned a new word I wrote it down in the book and when I had a spare few minutes I took out the book and tried to learn these new words and phrases, so I found that pretty useful. I found I was able to build up my vocabulary quite quickly this way.

I think the hardest thing in the first few months was trying to keep up with a conversation, because all the local people seemed to speak so quickly. They speak at their normal speed and they don’t slow down for you, so that was very difficult.

I think the best thing living in another country when you’re learning the language is that you’re surrounded by the language, so you pick up a lot of words and phrases just by listening to people. Listening to the radio, watching TV, so I found that helped me a lot as well. After about three or four months I could get by fairly well. I could speak to people in shops, I could talk to taxi drivers. I could have basic conversations. After six months or more I found I could get my message across much better. So it’s frustrating at first but if you stick with it, it’s really rewarding in the end.


learn from scratch– start learning from absolute beginner level, from zero
go out– socialise with other people
join in– take part in, participate
frustrating– a situation that makes you annoyed because you can’t do what you want
pick up– learn casually, informally, through conversation
motivated– a feeling that encourages you to do something
flick through– look at the pages of a book very quickly
note down– write notes in a book
a spare few minutes– a bit of extra, free time when you’re not busy
build up– increase, develop
keep up with– maintain the same speed or level as others
slow down– reduce speed
surrounded by– something is all around you
get by– manage, survive, cope
get my message across– communicate what you want to say to other people
stick with something– continue to do something without giving up, even though it may be hard
rewarding– something that makes you feel positive at the end of a difficult task