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The online home for Lisa McSherry, author and priestess

Language Learning as An Adult

I knew when I moved to Portugal that I would need to learn Portuguese. I even started (using Memrise) before we left, but since it lacked context the lessons were boring and nothing stuck. especially since I wasn’t learning vocabulary that was useful in day to day life for the most part. Ate logo (minus accents, see you later) was the only line I might imagine using. That’s not fair, I must admit, because I am discounting sim, nao, um, por favor, and obrigada/o (yes, no, one, please, and thank you[gendered]). Otherwise, the first 50 words (link here) are those that will be useful, but not when I’m standing in the line at the post office to mail a letter to the States, or need to ask for that cut of pork.

Our not even a back-up plan but necessity had been to take one of a number of language courses. (Here’s one for you: free course that gives you an A2 certificate if you pass all three semesters, sponsored by the city to increase language skills among immigrants. The A2 is what is needed for eventual citizenship. Or the 60 hour course at the University held during the day and is based on immersion. Fee is 100eu) Many of our new-found friends are taking these courses and it was interesting to hear their stories.

I know myself pretty well, and failure is a problem. What I heard is that if you have no language base, you’ll flounder. People took the class over, some dropped and found private tutors . . . and these were basic classes. I knew that if I couldn’t even start, I’d have a serious problem.

What I do know is that adults learn more efficiently and even faster than babies, going against the “accepted wisdom” of baby brains soaking up language. Apparently its an unfair comparison as a 5 year will have something like 15,000 hours of language immersion, and most adults get 50-200 over a four to six year period (such as for college). I find that wonderfully heartening.

My plan at this point, a year into being here, is to follow a program outlined by the founder of Fluent Forever. (An app, btw, that I would totally invest in, but they don’t do European Portuguese.) The idea is to get a basic grasp of the language using 625 words common across most languages. You use a combination of writing the words, learn the correct pronunciation, and flashcards that provide images and memories or funny stories of each word. So its not just no = nao, but

The priest shook his head, “Des sculpa, nao.” in answer to my request to see the bones.

Ok, not funny. But a clear image, right?

I’ll review the words daily and try to work them into every conversation instead of the English ones. I’ll sound weird, but who cares? As well, I plan to write as many stories using the words as I can, with a goal of adding more Portuguese as I learn it.

I began this language assimilation in early March, with a goal of learning 20 new words by mid March and 50 by the end of the month. (SMART goals is also a way of helping maintain accountability.) If all goes well, I’ll have all 625 — not just memorized but in use in conversations — in a year.

May and Sep/Oct will be difficult as I travel to English-speaking places and see no one who has Portuguese. I’ll have to plan for that beforehand.

Have you learned a new language as an adult? What did you do? Are you keeping up with it?

Language Learning as An Adult

3 thoughts on “Language Learning as An Adult

  1. As daft as it may sound, I’m using Duolingo. I learned German many many years ago, so figured I’d do a ‘tune-up’. So far, it’s going well. Plus, Aaron speaks fluent German, and I get ‘at home’ practice.

  2. I’m a bit early for an update, but it turned out I knew a lot more words than 20. So I shift my goal to have 15 “every day” sentences in my repertoire by mid March. They are:
    You make me laugh
    Please, drive me to . . .
    Happy Birthday!
    I love you
    Thank you; you do a great job
    I’d like to make an appointment.
    Can I have . . .
    Please, speak more slowly.
    Excuse me.
    I’m sorry.
    Very well/ I’m well
    How are you?
    My name is . . .
    I would like . . .
    bonus: I am learning Portuguese, but slowly.

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