Taking My Portuguese To The Next Level


My relationship with the Portuguese language is an odd one. Maybe you agree. It recently clicked for me here in Portugal that the way I speak Portuguese – Brazilian, with a Rio de Janeiro accent – is almost the equivalent to someone studying American English and learning a specific Midwestern, Southern, or Jersey accent. It’s a bit strange, but no, no, no, it’s not just that; you then add on the fact that my entire Portuguese has been learned through casual YouTube videos and from Jo, a Brazilian who’s been out of the country for nearly twenty years, and you’ve got yourself the perfect recipe for a language school student.
My Portuguese is like alphabet soup, or like a jumbled metro system, or a puzzle that could be complete, but that you’ve just been putting off time and time again because it seems fine as it is. I can fully communicate what I want and need, but then you have instances like today where you ask me something so basic like if I want a quiche com cogumelos (mushroom quiche) in a European Portuguese accent and I’m over here like huh? My Portuguese is advanced, and my Portuguese is basic – I needed someone to help me get it to a solid level. Hello Apple Languages.
Jo has partnered with Apple Languages once in Cuba, and twice in Italy and after seeing her progress in both Spanish and Italian, I knew it was my turn to take my skills to the next level and study Portuguese in Lisbon, Portugal. It’d also give me a unique, memorable experience in one of my favorite cities by practicing my vocabulary and grammar and by also meeting a bunch of other students from around the world who are looking for the same experience.
The ornate entrance to my Portuguese language school in LisbonColors of CIAL
So there I was, standing in front of Apple Languages Lisbon school, CIAL Centro de Línguas at 9:30am on a random Tuesday morning. Because I can’t seem to do anything right when I’m abroad, I go to the wrong floor, the floor with CIAL’s offices, where I was greeted by the secretary who spoke in the slowest Portuguese to make sure I understood. Just imagine you’re a bit nervous, you can speak the language but you can’t really speak the language, and you’re greeted by this comforting woman, “You…go…to…the…third…floor. The…classes…are…on…the…third…floor.” Aw.
I signed up for a four-day, two hours per day private class to really work my Portuguese one-on-one. I started out with Philippa, a Portuguese teacher, but after the first 15 minutes, I think we both knew it was best for me to continue on with a Brazilian teacher – not because we wanted to give up just like that, but because it was what would make the most sense for my personal use of the language.
As Philippa explained to me, if you’re getting your apanhars and tomars mixed up, or your comboios and trens confused, it’s not that these are wrong, but it’s just a matter of which Portuguese you’re more interested in learning and not wasting class time on being corrected, so Philippa recommended that I change to a Brazilian teacher. Enter Jana.
My Portuguese teacher awarding me my Completion of Studies certificate
Learning the Portuguese subjunctive tense
Jana and I spent the next three days getting my confused, conflicted B1-B2 Portuguese on the fast track to speaking like the multilingual YouTuber I say I am. Before the class, I had pinpointed exactly what I needed the most help with: the past subjunctive; so we started with that.
The best part about private classes is that you can study complex parts of grammar such as using the subjunctive after conjunctive phrases or just the entire past subjunctive in general. Then, if something comes up in the middle of it all, you can stop what you’re doing and nail down a specific vocabulary word or random real-life scenario. I can’t even count how many times we transitioned from one grammar topic to the next because of my scatterbrained language approach. The course is tailored to what you want, and you can cover a lot of ground by taking these private classes.
You’re also able to use personalized examples, like the photo above that reads, “I’m not going to the party until Jo invites me” I really believe that making a language your own is the best way to harness your language skills. By making the language relevant to your lifestyle, you’ll see it as more realistic and that’s when it starts to click – not that I wouldn’t go to a party until Jo invites me.
My days with Jana started with Oi tudo bem? and finished with beijinhos (cheek kisses). By the second day, I was feeling like I was excelling so much that I was even able to crack a joke when Jana told me her boyfriend is in love with Lady Gaga. Now that is when you know you’re grasping a language.
The view of Saldanha from our classroom window
While my experience inside the classroom was honestly the highlight of those four days, I also enjoyed my little interactions with the rest of the staff. The front desk staff would joke about how I spoke with a Brazilian Portuguese accent, while the Brazilian teachers would come to my defense, teasing that it is the better Portuguese – it was what made the school feel more like a community, which is 100% necessary to make everyone feel like they’re at home, especially those students who stay for months.
Next, you have Miguel, who was like the camp counselor of the school always making the students feel like they belong, and always trying to round up students for the activities, which I did end up going to…even the week after my courses had finished. How could I not when they were offering a Portuguese lesson on famous Porto wine?
Vinho do Porto Tinto e Branco with Portuguese snacks
Sippin' on some Vinho do Porto at CIAL Lisbon
The lesson on Porto wine that was supposed to last 45 minutes ended up lasting 3 hours, because we all just decided to hang out together. Three Porto wine bottles later, some students from France and I agreed we’d meet back up a few days later for the school’s tour of the Gulbenkian Museum, a twenty minute walk from the school. The school’s location in Saldanha was a twenty-five minute walk where where I was staying in Baixa-Chiado, although the student residences were only a five-minute walk down the street. Saldanha was a neighborhood I hadn’t been to before, but now I see the appeal; you have a movie theater, two malls, cool breakfast spots like Choupanna Café, vegetarian restaurants such as Gomo and Oásis, and the beautiful Gulbenkian Gardens.
For real, my experience at CIAL with Philippa, Jana, the school staff, and other students has been nothing but good times, and most of all, I’m excited to have taken my Portuguese to the next level, a solid level where I’m not stumbling every three words like I was before I walked in. It was like a college-level language class, except that the classes were filled with people from around the world, and most importantly, everyone wanted to be there.
My Brazilian Portuguese teacher at CIAL Lisbon
So if you’re someone like me who can say a complicated, hypothetical sentence correctly, but not even know how to pronounce the letter x, maybe CIAL would be the place for you.
To book a course with Apple Languages in any language, anywhere around the world, don’t forget to use our code APPLEGO for a discount!

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