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3 Techniques to Increase European Portuguese Vocabulary

Now that you’ve learned how to structure your European Portuguese vocabulary notebook, it’s time to fill the thing up with useful words. Making that a continuous and successful task is the aim of this article. Let’s increase that European Portuguese vocabulary repertoire.

I’ll divide this into 3 possible ways in which to come across new European Portuguese vocabulary.

Read Lots!

It’s kind of obvious but this is by far the best way of building your reservoir of known words of the Portuguese spoken in Portugal.

It’s no surprise that the people with the biggest vocabulary are also the ones who tend to be avid readers.

It is also known that it takes 12 exposures to a given word in order to fully grasp its meaning to the point where you are ready to muster it in conversation. This is referred to as the dimmer-switch phenomenon by linguists. The first few exposures to a word will give you just a faint idea of what it means or how to use it. The more times you come across it, the brighter the light of understanding gets, so to speak.  So, exposure, exposure, exposure!

Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced student, reserving a little time every day to read is a must. Find something that suits your level of understanding but also, and perhaps crucially here, something on a subject you enjoy. It’s also important to vary the type of written language. Consider prose, narration, dialogue, expose, etc.

Where to get material?

  • Books – Amazon is a great resource for books in Portuguese, but Bertrand is a great bookstore in Portugal that ships abroad. Some of their books are also available in ebook format. These are especially helpful as some eReaders have built-in dictionaries (.mobi, the Kindle format, is a good example).
  • News Portals – TSF and RTP (both the app and the website) are great sources of well-written European Portuguese. Others are: Correio da Manhã, Expresso and Público.

Listen to European Portuguese!

Radio and TV are great.

For Radio, I enjoy listening to TSF since it is mostly spoken radio. A particularly good program is the “Forum”, where people call in to give their opinion on a variety of subjects. This is ideal for you will be exposed to the vernacular European Portuguese and plenty of idiomatic expressions. It runs every weekday from 10 am ish until noon.

Just a caveat here: I would only recommend this option to more advanced or intermediate students. Portuguese people speak fast. 🙂

For TV, look for RTP. They have both an app and website that allow you to watch unlimited television. RTP actually has transcripts on some programs, and although they’re not always very accurate, they are extremely helpful for European Portuguese learners.

A list of programs with subtitles is available here. Notice that all the episodes with transcripts are marked with a three-horizontal-line symbol. Once you start playing the video, activate transcription (Legendagem) on the top right corner.

A couple of other good resources for spoken European Portuguese accompanied by transcripts are our Podcast and corresponding quizlet flashcards (which can also be accessed via their app) and the Jehovah’s Witnesses website. You might think that’s strange, but they actually have a few publications available in European Portuguese in both audio and text format. Here’s an example.

Now once you find a new word, it might be best to just highlight it (or note it down) for later consideration, otherwise, continuous pausing will make the reading/listening/watching experience pretty exhausting and unpleasant.

In the end, check those words in a dictionary and, perhaps even more importantly, see it in various contexts. A couple of good resources for that are: lexico.pt and linguee.com

Only then, add them to your vocabulary notebook with any appropriate quadrants you might deem useful.

Enrich your English Vocabulary

Wait what? “I want to improve my Portuguese, not English vocabulary!” you might be saying.

Let me show you why improving your English will end up enhancing your Portuguese. How many of the following words/verbs do you recognize?

  • bifurcation
  • to cede
  • to err
  • to divagate
  • fuscous
  • to previse
  • habile
  • to castigate
  • cicatrix
  • ephemeral
  • ingénue
  • insipid
  • delineate
  • banal

So, how many? 3? 5?

As a European Portuguese native speaker, most, if not all of the preceding words come easily to me. Why? Because their European Portuguese cognates (words with the same etymological origin) or counterparts are very commonly used. They are:

  • bifurcacão
  • ceder
  • errar
  • divagar
  • fusco
  • prever
  • hábil
  • castigar
  • cicatriz
  • efémore
  • ingénuo
  • insípido
  • delinear
  • banal

English is 70% Latin and Greek. Hence, since Portuguese is mostly a Latin and Greek-based language, logic follows that the more you increase your collection of English words (Or French, Italian, Spanish, and Romanian. All romance languages), the more cognates you’ll find. Once you find one, make sure to write it down in your notebook.

So there you have it, three avenues of increasing the number of European Portuguese words at your disposal.

And remember, exposure is the key!

For more effective and powerful tips and tricks to help you on your European Portuguese learning curve, make sure to subscribe to our podcast.

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