How To Learn A Language
Learning a language, much like writing a new song from starting with an empty page, or a painting from a blank canvas can be daunting. The routes are endless and it can be demotivating figuring out where to start. The best plan is the one you follow and so above all, it's important you experiment to find what works best for you, and importantly: what you enjoy doing most. When language learning becomes a bore, it'll be that much harder to progress.
If you are a starting a new language without any prior experience, I'd definitely recommend a course. Preferably a course lead by a teacher in your local area, but failing that, a purchased course featuring audio and textbooks that cover a variety of aspects including grammar, vocabulary and scenarios that demonstrate the language in context. That said, our minds aren't linear and so I recommend you adopt a wide variety of methods to not only keep things interesting but to also utilise different senses to assist in memory and learning:
Thanks to the internet, you have a world of reading material to hand and the sooner you expose yourself, the sooner you can familiarise yourself and get closer to understand. Whether it's news sites, reference or personal blogs, start a list of sites you come across that you'd like to be able to understanding. As you progress, make more of an effort to read articles and try to get the gist of what's being said - using a Portuguese-English dictionary for certain terms, using google translate to decode given sentences and reading the English equivalent of the text, if available, to bridge the gap.
Want reading material? Try the Portuguese Wikipedia - with the English version of the page for comparison. It won't be direct translation by any means but see how many facts and what you can learn before switching the English.
Keep your ears open
Movies, music, radio, news, soap operas and chat shows. Find them and listen. In the early stages you'll feel like you're wasting your time and wonder if it's even Portuguese you're listening too - but stick with it. These are sounds you won't be familiar with, but I've found the brain has a funny way of making sense of things. That's not to say you'll go from feeling lost at the start of a movie to perfectly understanding the final scene, but in time you'll grasp more.
Recommendation: City of God – Not one for children. A provocative film set in the favelas of Brazil, depicting the drama of the drug trade. Based on a true story.
A primary purpose of language is communication and so there are few better ways to learn than getting out there and talking to others. Even if it's emailing or texting frequently, make an effort to frequently communicate in Portuguese with others – the fun factor alone will help you push past the barrier when things get difficult and only by putting your new found knowledge to use will it eventually become second nature.
There's only so far a basic set of vocabulary will take you before you need to step inside the world of grammar and understand the rules of the language. Understanding the technicalities, the rules of how phrases are put together, you'll quickly be able to form sentences and see composition as more of a puzzle than a game of memorisation. Interestingly, you'll quickly learn a lot about the English language too – as only when drawing comparisons between the two will the significance of grammar concepts become concrete.
You'll likely find yourself struggling here, especially if this is your only time learning a second language, but embrace the challenge. You're pushing yourself and the rewards will be worthwhile – it'll all start to click soon enough.
Importantly, remember that languages are simply a tool for communication, they were created to make communication easier (ever tried ordering a pizza through contemporary dance?), and were not designed to be difficult. There's millions who can speak a second language, go join the club!