How to Remember Portuguese Words

Mind Over Matter: How to Remember Words in Portuguese

Page 50 of the October 2020 edition of Tomorrow Magazine

By Lena Strang

“When trying to speak Portuguese my mind goes blank mid-sentence and I just cannot remember words.” This is probably a familiar situation for many language learners. The amount of unfamiliar vocabulary you are faced with might seem daunting. How do you learn new words, especially when at first they don’t seem to make much sense?

There are various methods for learning and retaining vocabulary. Everyone learns differently, so it’s a question of experimenting to find out what works best for you. It’s worth noting though that English speakers already have a vast vocabulary in Portuguese under their belt – perhaps without realising!  These are called cognates, words with the same roots that can easily be transformed from English to Portuguese. For example:

  • comunicaçãocommunication
  • confusãoconfusion
  • identidadeidentity
  • frágilfragile
  • necessárionecessary

You can use cognates to convert literally thousands of words you already know to Portuguese. (Video: 5000 Words You Already Know)

Get Creative

What works best for me is making up funny or silly associations for new words that I need. I’m doing a lot of gardening at the moment and want to learn the right terms.

  • AnsinhoRake now sticks in my mind as I imagine my niece Ann raking away little sins in her garden. (Ann + sin (+ diminutive -nho at the end).
  • AbacateAvocado for me is the Swedish band Abba and their green cat. Eventually the word becomes second nature, and you no longer need the association.

Break it Down

Breaking down longer words into smaller parts can help make more sense, and sometimes you can even end up with several bonus words.

  • PassatempoLeisure time consists of passar go through, spend + tempo time
  • The word descarrilamentotrain derailment might seem intimidating at first. Break it down and you get des-carrila(r)-mento, made up of descarrilarderail and carrilrailway track. Taking it a step further, you could imagine yourself eating a caril curry on the carril!

Look Around You

When you go shopping, try to write the list in Portuguese. Pick up promotion leaflets in supermarkets and scan their special offers. I frequently find myself in DIY stores. While my friend is looking for items, I go around reading labels. I can now conduct a sensible conversation about gutters, taps and electric drills!  There are many free vocabulary exercises all around you if you make the effort to look for them.

Some words will obviously be hard to remember, and you’ll need repeated attempts to recall them. A small notebook or mobile note taking app where you can jot down words for later reference is a handy back-up.

Using methods that work for you will help your conversations flow more easily. Boa sorte!Good luck!

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