Olá! Tudo bem? …NOW what?

Overcoming Conversation Hurdles in European Portuguese

Perhaps you’ve lived in Portugal for some time or spend prolonged periods here for holidays. You’ve acquired some basic vocabulary and want to try to communicate in the language. All well and good, but how do you take the next steps to becoming conversational in Portuguese?

How do you sustain a conversation beyond the cheery

Bom dia paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Good morning and Tudo bem? paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio What's up?, How are you?, Is everything going well?

What tends to follow are a few more smiles, possibly a torrent of words you don’t understand, and after an awkward silence, the conversation ends. Many of us have been there and know the frustration.

Starting a Conversation in European Portuguese

  • 👵 Bom dia! Tudo bem? paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Good morning! Is everything going well?
    • 👨‍🦰 Bom dia! Tudo bem, obrigado. E consigo? paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Good morning! Everything's fine, thank you. And (with) you? or
    • 👩‍🦱 Bom dia! Tudo bem, obrigada. E consigo? paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Good morning! Everything's fine, thank you. And (with) you?

This a great way to greet someone or to begin a basic conversation. (But keep in mind that Portuguese greetings vary depending on the time of day!) Now we just need to expand on this little by little to communicate in a variety of settings.

Be Prepared

A useful approach is to prepare yourself and have some vocabulary and phrases ready. If you go to a café or restaurant and know what you are going to order, write it down and practice beforehand:

Dois cafés com leite e dois pasteis de nata, por favor paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Two coffees and two custard tarts, please

The same goes when you visit the post office or the bank. Look up the vocabulary you need. After you’ve done this a few times you may start to remember what to say, but it’s useful to have your checklist handy.

Have Some Go-to Phrases Ready

How do you deal with the impromptu interactions that you can’t really prepare for beforehand? Instead of getting that deer in the headlights look, you can have a few conversation gambits ready.

After greeting your neighbour, you could comment about the weather, make a positive remark about their house, how nice their garden looks, or perhaps an enquiry about their family if it’s appropriate. And pronto… you will have engaged in conversations!

Here are a few simple comments to get you started:

Isso são excelentes notícias! paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio That's great news! Espero que esteja tudo bem paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I hope everything is fine Há muito tempo que não o via! paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Long time no see! Hoje está calor, não está? paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio It's hot today, isn't it? Parece que vem lá chuva paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Seems like it's going to rain O seu fim de semana foi bom? paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Was your weekend good? Gosto muito do que fez com o seu jardim paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I really like what you did with your garden Já sabe para onde vai de férias? paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Do you know where you're going on holiday yet?

Use Portuguese Filler Words

Filler words like pronto paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio there you go, that's it, so are useful for giving yourself thinking time when you are speaking. It can also be used in the sense of: “all right” or “ready?” If you listen carefully, native Portuguese speakers use fillers like these regularly when they pause or search for words. They add colour and flavour and make speakers sound more authentic.

Pois paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Yeah, indeed, so, well is probably the most useful little filler. In order to acknowledge what someone else is saying, you can interject a pois, or pois é paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio so it is, that's right, to show you are listening and agreeing.

Pois, eu vi logo que isso ia acontecer paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Yeah, I knew right away that was going to happen
Pois, de facto é uma situação complicada paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Yeah, it's a complicated situation

Similar to the use of the word “so” in English, Portuguese people often start their sentences with the adverb  Então paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio So, Well

Então, como é que tens andado? paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio So, how have you been?
Então... O que se passou foi o seguinte: ... paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Well... What happened was: ...

When you are trying to explain something in different ways, you could say:

  • Ora bem paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Let’s see, Right or just Bem paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Well
  • Ou seja paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio In other words
  • Não é? paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Isn't it?, Right?, Yeah? (often used at the end of a sentence)

These fillers don’t carry much meaning, but can be useful for maintaining the flow of the conversation and adding pauses when searching for the right word.

Asking for Clarification

Try to pick out the keywords in the conversation you are hearing and don’t hesitate to ask people to repeat or speak more slowly.

Pode falar mais devagar, por favor? paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Can you speak more slowly, please? Não percebi, desculpe paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I didn't understand, sorry Podia repetir? paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Could you repeat that?

In case you completely missed what someone said to you, you can simply say:

Diga? paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Come again?, Literally - Say?

Don’t worry about making mistakes. The main thing is to try to make oneself understood and gain confidence in the process as you work toward becoming conversational in Portuguese.

Imitate What You Hear

A very good way to improve your speaking is to listen to native speakers, imitate their accent, the rhythm of speech, and tone of voice. Our Shorties are one way to get frequent practice, including transcriptions of the dialogues for extra support. It may be useful to record your own speech as a comparison and keep working on your pronunciation.

Pois… falar a língua local é bom, não é? paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Well... speaking the local language is nice, isn't it?

–written by Lena Strang, adapted from her article in Tomorrow Magazine


Practice Portuguese – Top Member Resources for Becoming Conversational in Portuguese

Continue working on your European Portuguese conversation skills with a Practice Portuguese membership (or click here to read more about the program)

Comments

  • This is great. I have trips planned to Lisbon and Madeira later this year and would like to speak as much Portuguese as I can, hence my need to practice as much as possible. Keep sending us motivational material like this!

  • I can’t say enough good things about your method of teaching Portuguese, Rui and Joel. Other language instructors should copy your method. I love the slow and regular features for learning pronunciation. Today’s lesson on “starting a conversation/filler words” was “ótimo”. I thank Julie Dawn Fox for telling me about you.

  • So pleased to have found this course., I find it excellent. I especially like that it is interactive and finding it a very enjoyable way of learning. Thank you

  • Thanks, guys so much. These are great. The problem I have, living in a rural village, is that when I ask an elderly neighbour how she is in Portuguese, she fires back a response and most times I have no clue as to what she is saying. This particular lady is wonderful and desperately tries to communicate and teach us but we get totally lost. Can you put together a similar type article with possible answers that Portuguese people might give to ‘how are you’; the weather is good?; where do you live? how long have you lived here, etc?

    Thank you.

    • Sure, I’ll add that idea to the list! In the meantime, you might like this unit: Talking With Neighbours 🙂

      In addition, as you’re practicing with the Shorty dialogues, keep an eye and ear out for how people respond to different types of questions like these.

      Of course there are an infinite number of possible responses, but over time you will start to get familiar with some common words and phrasing.

      Another idea would be to focus on particular topics that you think your neighbours may want to talk about and see if we have Units or Shorties on those topics here: Site Index.

      If we don’t, let us know and we’ll work on adding more!

  • Very good! I’ve been living in Portugal for 7 years and I still hadn’t got round to understanding what ‘pois’ really meant in conversation, until now.

  • I am slowly working my way through the lessons and only wish I had attempted to learn Portuguese when much younger. My son is marrying his Portuguese Fiancee in October in Portugal, Covid permitting! I have been to Portugal before and her parents have no English and it would be wonderful if I could at least manage some Portuguese as I know they would be delighted. Once I had gone through the Grammar sections I wasn’t quite sure how best to navigate the site in order to find the lessons which would benefit me so its been a bit hit and miss. I tend to try and grasp the correct pronounciations of the difficult words so go over and over each one again. It is a hard task but I’m determined to get there! Thank you.

    • So nice to hear that you’re working on your Portuguese to prepare for the upcoming wedding! We’re actually working on an audio episode about that exact topic, so keep an eye out. 🙂

      I would recommend browsing through this page if you want to find resources on topics that are most relevant to you: Site Index
      and you can see the full list of Units here: Units. When in doubt, you can go back to that Units page and keep going through them in order.

      Reach out at [email protected] if there’s anything we can help you find! 🙂

  • Love it… this is excellent and very helpful to me. It’s casual and authentic at the same time! Thank you
    Stella

  • I love Practice Portuguese! I’m a language teacher (formerly French and Spanish, now ESL) and I really like everything about the site. It is just the right combination of information, practice, and conversation. I’m so glad that I found it. I hope that it helps me move to Portugal more quickly. If you ever need another employee… 🙂

  • Like the others, I have to say, I like the approach too. This page will push me to explore some parts of the site just in function of what I’m interested in. I try to spend about 30m a day on it, but pronunciation is hard, and for a french speaking there are many things to unlearn.
    Hint: the only part I’m a bit missing – maybe because I’m not 20 any more (58) – is the more formal approach: some grammar, some pronunciation rules. Accentuation, for example, is still a bit of a mystery.
    I also miss a connection or wire that brings content of the whole site straight into my brain…

    • Olá! We are working on a placement test, but it’s not quite ready yet. In the meantime, this article might be helpful for guiding you: Where Do I Start? Let me know if you have any questions at all! You can reach out at [email protected] — if you have more specific goals we can give you more detailed information about which resources to focus on. 🙂

  • I love your site! It´s actually so useful. I started to live with my portuguese boyfriend last year and I won´t lie, sometimes I am having hard times here, since almost no one talks english! So just to be able to understand those couple last months, thanks to you guys, feels so good! I hope soon I will be able to have some conversation aswell!

  • Thank you for the advice Molly, that’s very helpful. I love that I can contact someone if I need help. I’ll look out for the wedding lesson.

  • Bom dia, Rui e Joel!
    Obrigada pelos seus podcasts de quais eu realmente gosto, principalmente do auto-ironia neles 🙂 (nao estou certa se esta palavra existe em português / self-irony in English)
    O meu objetivo seguinte seria perceber sem subtítulos o que voês dizem…
    Sou húngara, estou aprendido português há quase 2,5 anos. É uma língua muito especial, adoro-a.
    Saudações desde Budapeste!

  • Olá Alexandra, thanks so much for the kind words! We may certainly need some help in the future with support, translation, testing etc., so I’ve saved your name for if/when that day comes 🙂 Thanks again for your support and keep in touch.

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