I love learning new languages which is great as I also love living in different countries around the world where English is not the first language. However, I’ll be the first to admit I’m utterly hopeless at it. I have a memory like a sieve. And I frequently but unintentionally use five different languages in a seven-word sentence, that’s quite talented albeit pretty useless!
With my schoolgirl French and my basic holiday Spanish, I thought Portuguese would be easyish! That was my first mistake! To my uncultured ears, Portuguese sounded more Eastern European to me or like drunk Russians speaking. Our friends from Eastern Europe and Russia disagree with me! I told you my ears were uncultured.
When Lusa Language School in Lisbon read about my linguistic problems -yes I have shared my frustration with my language skills on social media on more than one occasion- they invited me down to do a one-week intensive European Portuguese course at their school. I was both terrified and excited by the prospect.
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I have been taking Portuguese language classes for a year privately in my local area with a very patient teacher, so I’m not an absolute beginner although if you heard me speak, you might think otherwise. Apart from not immersing myself in the language as much as I should, you know listening to the radio, talking to neighbours etc., whenever I start speaking Portuguese in public, the response is often, ‘Would you prefer if I spoke in English?’ And their English which they would apologise for being awful is almost always perfect.
Or even more disheartening, when I try my best to speak Portuguese, they reply abruptly, ‘I no speak English!’ Really, am I that bad? I was speaking Portuguese!! Or are they just listening in the wrong language? Nah, I probably am that bad, it used to happen when I lived in Thailand and Laos too and tried to speak the local language too.
However I live in Portugal, so I should speak or at least attempt to speak Portuguese. So I said yes to taking Portuguese classes with Lusa Language School. They then invited me down to do a placement test. Terrified, I dragged Jonathan, down for moral support, and if the test went terribly wrong, we could just go sightseeing instead.
The school is located in a great central position, just a few minutes from the Time Out Market and on the edge of Lisbon’s Pink Street on Rua Nova do Carvalho, close to the Cais do Sodré Metro Station. I climbed the stairs to their school which is situated on the first floor, my heart pounding and my palms sweating. ‘I’ve come to do the placement test,’ I squeaked, struggling now to even speak in English, what chance did I have of speaking Portuguese?
The very friendly Lusa staff, Jessica and Rita put me at my ease and handed me the written portion of the test. When I finally remembered to breathe, I discovered the written test wasn’t so bad after all; I could actually answer many of the questions. Each question increased in difficulty; I couldn’t answer them all but enough to give me a much-needed confidence boost.
Rita then joined me for the spoken test. Now to say Rita in Portuguese, it’s not as easy as saying Rita in English. You sort of have to roll the R like the Scottish do, and it sounds a bit like an H, and it gives you a sore throat, well it does me! ‘Olá Hhhhheater,’ I said, smiling and spitting slightly, hoping if she liked me, she wouldn’t notice how bad my speaking skills were.
‘Olá Sarah, qual é a sua idade?‘ I stared back blankly. She repeated the question; I giggled nervously. When in doubt, say yes. ‘Sim,’ I replied. I was asking your age, she laughed. Let’s start again! As I tuned into her voice, and she spoke very slowly and clearly to me, I began to communicate. There was hope!
I was placed in class A2B and was to start my Portuguese lessons two weeks later. Well, I had to sneak a trip to New York in first!
So, two weeks later, I boarded the 7:25 bus from Lourinhã on the Silver Coast and started my commute to Lisbon. I would be studying for five days from Monday to Friday from 09:00 to 13:00.
In my class, there were two other students, and we were to be taught by the lovely Raquel. Yes, it’s those Portuguese R’s again, I’m sure they do that on purpose. One student was from Norway and the other from the Ukraine who also reiterated that Portuguese doesn’t sound anything like Russian!
Now, as a rule, I don’t like studying in group classes, often there are too many students, or the language skills of everyone are so different, that you end up being frustrated that the course is going too slow or too fast. Not this time, those placement tests actually worked. Just three students and we were all of a similar level although I have to admit they were both a lot better at putting a sentence together. I just like throwing out random words and hoping for the best, but I do that in English too!
Our course was taught entirely in Portuguese, well ok 99.5% Portuguese. And the weird thing was, I understood practically everything which really surprised me. There was a little grammar involved, but most of the week were speaking activities, storytelling, and a chance to really practice the language. Oh, a little bit of daily homework too. My confidence soared. I really knew my Portuguese was improving when I found myself listening in to other people’s conversations on the bus back to Lourinhã and understanding them!
But Why Bother Learning Portuguese?
If you live, planning to live, or intending to spend some time in Portugal, knowing the language will help enormously. Portuguese is the sixth most spoken language in the world, spoken by more than 220 million worldwide, so it’s a pretty useful skill to have. It’s not an easy language, but although many Portuguese do speak English, they really appreciate it when you try, even if it’s just a simple ‘Bom dia!’
Would I Recommend Lusa Language School?
Yes, I really enjoyed my one-week intensive class. All the staff at Lusa Language School were great fun and Raquel, our teacher was superb. I can’t believe how quickly the time went and also how much I learned.
The school also runs regular social events for all the students too, so newcomers to Lisbon can experience some of the city’s delights. When I was there, they were planning a dinner at a Bifanas Bar, but sadly my last bus home was at 19:30 so I had to decline.
The school offers many types of Portuguese classes, so you don’t have to do an intensive course like I did. Head over to their site to see what they offer, and go on give it a go. It will make your stay in Portugal so much more enjoyable.
Disclaimer: Although I was a guest of Lusa Language School, all opinions about the school are my own.