How I’m learning Japanese

For me, Japanese is at its own level in terms of language learning. It took my brain forever to realize that this was actually a language. Somehow I struggled to make out individual words in the beginning. I tried out many resources and always find it hard to answer what was the absolute best. This is like looking for the magic pill that works for everyone and everything. 

Most resources will cater to a particular skill of language learning: listening, speaking, writing, or reading. Others will cater to learners who learn by rote learning, auditory learning, drills, movies etc.… 

I started my whole Japanese journey when living in Japan, which will be different from most learners. The first place I studied at was ‘Kumon’ – a cram school. I learned to write hiragana and katakana there as well as some simple sentences and grammar. I did not have a teacher; rather, I got CDs with audio files and worksheets that I worked through. That was a helpful method for me in the beginning as I like learning through writing and reading/seeing the words and characters in front of my eyes.

Later, I decided to take the help of the endless resources out there. In 2016, there were considerably fewer resources than these days, especially in terms of YouTubers who teach on YouTube – you have such great content these days that I wish I had at the time.

Below are some resources I’ve used over the years. If you’re a complete beginner and want to self-study, your best bet might be Duolingo or textbooks that teach you Kana (hiragana and katakana), as you’ll need this as a base for your Japanese study.

The resources below start just after you learned the very basics.

I’ll start with my preferred way of studying these days: YouTube. I find it the most entertaining way and very good for finding good grammar explanations, which the other resources lack.

My favorite YouTubers:

Japanese Ammo with Misa – the most detailed grammar explanations I’ve ever come across. Long videos, so take your time for them 🙂 You’ll also find videos on vocabulary, conversations to practice your listening to and more.

Miku Real Japanese – very clear grammar videos – teaches a lot through skits that are entertaining to watch! Clear structure of the videos in ‘example’, ‘grammar’ and ‘practice’. Also many conversational videos for listening practice such as interviews with other YouTubers in Japanese

Japanese with Yuka 101 – lots of Live classes that go through topics in detail and also prepare you for Japanese tests

Onomappu – really great channel to learn Japanese onomatopoeia

Learn Japanese From Zero! – channel by an author of Japanese study books. Shorter videos that focus on small nuances and details of a word, Kanji, or grammar point

The following are the apps I mostly use.

I have tried dozens and these are the ones I keep coming back to.

Anki – my favorite flashcard app

This is a more time-intensive way of studying as you have to manually enter the flashcards you want to review (or you can download or purchase sets from different sources). It’s highly effective thanks to its space-repetition system, which will show you words repeatedly until you know them. 

Yomikata Z

This is an app that teaches you how to read vocabulary step by step. You learn the words in the context of a sentence and have different ways of learning it, either by writing out the reading or selecting the meaning….

The words are categorized in JLPT levels and get repeated while you’re studying. 

I found it helpful for learning how to read Kanji in context as well as learning vocabulary.

Japanese dictionary Takoboto

This is my dictionary of choice. You can search by typing in Romaji (Roman alphabet) or Japanese or English. There is also a function to look up the Kanji per radical. It’s very extensive, and you get example sentences, stroke order, and radicals for Kanji. You can bookmark words and export them into an Anki deck.

If you’re using a desktop computer, then Jisho is the place for you!

Kanji Study

If you’re all about learning Kanji after Kanji, this is your app. It beautifully shows you the stroke order, lets you practice drawing the Kanji itself on the app, and quizzes you on pronunciation and meaning. I love that it has a chart that shows you how much you’ve studied, so it helps to keep you accountable for your progress.

Easy Japanese news

This app lets you read Japanese news in an easier version. It highlights vocabulary that a Japanese learner might not know, shows you the translations, and even tells you which JLPT (the Japanese Language Proficiency Test) level belongs. 

Satori Reader

 Another app that helps you learn how to read. Just like the news app, you will get help with reading kanji and the respective translations. There are articles, books, and stories for each level, and you can adjust the amount of Kanji and furigana shown.

If you live in Japan, of course, you should find someone to regularly practice speaking with.

In my case, I registered with our local city hall to get matched with a volunteer ‘teacher,’ a person who had no teaching experience but who was willing to help a foreigner for free. I’d write a diary in Japanese and get it corrected every week. This would also serve as a base for our conversation. On top of that, I’d take note of issues related to the language that I came across in daily life. I’d ask my teacher about those points in the lesson, and we’d go through example sentences of a certain word or grammar structure. I want to stress that if you’re practicing a language with someone who isn’t a teacher, don’t expect them to know ‘WHY’ something is said the way it is (e.g. ‘Why do you say ‘x’ in this case?). Native speakers are used to their language and don’t necessarily think about its grammatical structure the way a language learner or teacher does. Therefore, it’s more useful to get example sentences from a native conversation partner, than grammar rules.

You always have the opportunity to find a teacher/tutor on italki or through apps like Hello Talk and Tandem (see my previous post on how to find someone to practice speaking with)

I hope this can give you an idea where to start or continue your Japanese practice.


The origin of my endless motivation for language learning

When people hear how many languages I speak, they always ask me how I’ve been studying. The thing is, I learned each language differently. Some I was taught at school, others I learned by living in the country, others just because I was curious (and later solidified my curiosity by spending some time in the respective country). Take modern technology and all the fantastic resources one can find for free or very little money, and you can drown in an ocean of ways to learn.

But what is at the bottom of this? What lies beneath the hundreds of resources I’ve tried, the thousands of hours I’ve poured my heart and soul in and studied diligently.

Last night I had a thought. I was clicking onto a random YouTube video because I couldn’t figure from the title whether it was in Spanish or Portuguese – the latter which I’m still focusing on these days. And it turned out to be in Spanish. Even though it was not what I was expecting, I suddenly got this feeling of excitement. It was a feeling of familiarity. Hearing the sound made me genuinely happy. Truth be told, I didn’t understand most of it (it was a philosophical analysis of a song, in case you’re wondering), but I still felt connected to the sound and the person who spoke it.

Later that evening, I found some old Japanese notes. Whenever I look back at those, I usually feel all the pain and struggle I went through learning this language (it was the most’ painful process’ in language learning I had been through). I also remembered how I had friends with whom I could connect by speaking solely Japanese and how much I enjoyed it. It wasn’t only that I was proud to communicate in that language but also that I simply felt happy hearing and producing those sounds.

They sounded familiar.

And that’s the thought I had this morning again. The reason why I have endless motivation to work on a language is because of the emotions these languages bring up in me. When I hear them, they make me feel at home. And precisely because I feel “comfortable’ speaking and especially hearing these languages, I end up immersing myself more and more in them. That means that when I’m not in the respective country, I will find podcasts to listen to and YouTube videos and Netflix shows to watch. Often, this is only to hear that language again, to feel some sort of connection to it, even if I don’t understand what is said entirely.

My point is, I think if you genuinely want to learn a language, the sound of that language needs to start sounding familiar, as if it belongs into your life. When I first started learning Japanese, I struggled immensely, as to my ears, the sounds did not sound like a language, rather just some sort of ‘noise’. It was the first time I studied an Asian language, which was remarkably different from the Roman or Germanic languages and sounds I knew.

Once I had been in Japan for a while, it became normal for me to hear the language. I got excited once I was able to make out my first few words in the ocean of sounds that I seemed to be swimming through. One or two words per sentence were often enough for me to get the gist of the conversation and gave me the necessary push to keep going.

So how do you get there?

What do you do, especially now that traveling is either impossible or greatly limited?

Well back to the vast ocean of resources on the internet. There is no shortage these days regarding videos in any language. Podcasts are another great way to dive into the foreign sounds of another language.
And of course, music! Nothing gets me more excited about learning more Portuguese by putting on some good old Bossa Nova dancing through my apartment.

I have found that podcasts or videos made by native speakers, FOR native speakers, tend to create this feeling of excitement for the language and culture in me.

Podcasts or videos for language learners don’t convey the same feeling to me as they tackle my intellectual and logical side of my brain and not necessarily the one who just wants to indulge in the language. (That doesn’t mean that I don’t use them – just that they don’t trigger those good feelings for me as much.)

So if you’re learning a language and notice how you’re losing motivation, surround yourself with the language’s sound so much until you feel like it sounds so typical to you that you have no choice but figure out how to understand it. Once you return to your language learning practice, you will feel more energetic working on it, which will speed up your progress.

It doesn’t help if you have negative feelings towards a language because that won’t help you learn it. Try to find anything positive to associate with the language and go from there. Google the most popular songs in your favorite genre. Ask people to give you their recommendations (online and offline). Find a language tandem partner. Find a local group that speaks the language you’re learning. Be with the language and let it become a regular part of life to you.

I’ll soon post resources in each of the respective languages that I speak so that you can hopefully find something that motivates you along your journey! Keep going!

I don’t have anyone to practice speaking with!

I don’t have anyone to practice speaking with!

Yes, you study your vocab, you crammed in the grammar, but let’s be honest ‘that doesn’t mean you know how to speak it.‘ Conversing and practicing how to speak a language is one of the most crucial parts of language learning. If you’ve ever been to a language school, you might have heard your teacher only use your target language. The reason behind that is that you are supposed to ‘pick up the language as a child would do.’ Children learn without even understanding the concept of grammar. They don’t realize that they are fed new words and are fearlessly soaking in one word after the other. Once we are over that phase, once we grasp that there are ‘words and expressions our brain should remember,’ we stop simply absorbing those words. Once we become aware of ‘making mistakes,’ we put an end to throwing around with funny words that aren’t quite correct. We obediently study vocab from the books and try to get the grammar right.

What we often realize too late is that we aren’t actively using our vocabulary by speaking the foreign language. This goes so far that we go on vacation, only to stand in front of a barista, trying to get these words out, these sentences that we ‘should know’ and ‘learned at some point.’ That is the moment when most of us wish they had practiced speaking with someone. But ‘I don’t have anyone to practice with!!!’.

This is the easy way out of this dilemma. It is what it is, right?

Well, if you want to stay where you’re at with your skills, yes.  On the other hand, there are so many ways to find native or anyone who knows the language a little (I’ll explain why this makes sense later on).

Anyway, I don’t want you to get stuck at this point of ‘not having anyone to practice with.’ 

Globalization and technology have made it so much easier to find a so-called language exchange partner and I’d like to show you how.

First, you should think of whether you’d like to pay for finding a tutor, class, or teacher. I’m assuming that’s not why you’re reading this, even though they can be great ways to practice your speaking and I use them regularly!

What is another way?

How about finding a tandem partner or a language exchange partner? What does that mean anyway? Basically, those are people who want to learn and practice a language themselves. You could offer your native language (or a language you’re highly skilled at speaking) in exchange for practicing with that person in their mother tongue.

I have had such exchange partners and you can meet them in person and offline.

The idea behind this would be that when you meet in person at a café to practice, you speak in each respective language for the same amount of time, e.g. 30 minutes in English and 30 min in Portuguese. That way, both parties benefit from practicing a language and help someone out at the same time by offering your own skills.

Where would you find a person to meet in person?

I would search for them in Facebook groups. Those could be student groups or maybe your city even has a tandem or language exchange group. You could also google ‘French speakers in Barcelona’ or something like that, then join that group and post about wanting to find a language partner.

Another option would be people on Couchsurfing. As I’ve said repeatedly, there are so many more ways to use the site than just staying at someone’s place or hosting a traveler. I have made many friends through the website. Many people on there speak several languages and you could try and find someone who’s either staying in your hometown or passing through to meet up and practice language exchange.

The easiest would be if you are studying or working in an international circle, so you could simply ask one of your fellow students or coworkers. Those are your options for meeting people face-to-face.

Another way to find language exchange partners is through apps or websites that specifically cater to that (seriously, isn’t there an app for everything these days?). This means you don’t have to meet up in person to carry out a language exchange but can connect with someone from the comfort of your home. 

One of the apps that works with this concept is HelloTalk. You will create a profile, stating the languages you speak and can then chose which ones you would like to practice. The app will then show you possible ‘matches,’ and you can contact the people. Don’t hesitate to start texting in a foreign language. The app comes with translation and transcription features of the chat messages so that you will be able to communicate smoothly. You will be able to correct each other’s’ chat messages so that you get feedback right away (and the correction you wish people would give you when you actually do speak to a native speaker). 

Another app that works that way is called Tandem. It works in a similar way as HelloTalk and is rated just as high. I always think you should check for yourself to see whether you like the design of the app and of course, whether you can find a language partner, so I cannot tell you which one is ‘better’.

Both apps have pretty large communities, so you should be able to find a language partner.

Lastly, I can give you one other piece of advice: When I was in high school, my best friend was really gifted with languages. We’d often chat in whichever language we felt like speaking/practicing. It can really lower your fear of making mistakes as the other person isn’t necessarily a native speaker either, so both of you are practicing/learning. You will still learn and it’s especially helpful to start using specific phrases that you are currently studying and by noticing each other’s mistakes. You might be able to get a lot corrected between the levels of the two of you!

Again, I also did that when I was traveling, especially in Australia. I was determined to become fully fluent in English, so whenever I met another German, I told them that I was only going to speak English to them. Many of them went with it and we spoke English 100% of the time. I wouldn’t mix the languages as that would be weird. With some of these friends, I speak English to this day as I’m so used to hearing them speak English and when they speak German, they seem like a different person.

And when all else fails – you can always talk to your cat or dog or even your favorite plant! (yes, I’m serious!!!). They won’t respond back to you, but you will feel at ease talking to them.  (They might even learn to respond to your commands – I once had an American student who started speaking German to his cat!)

You can also think in the language that you want to practice. It is an option that I have used a lot. Having said that, I still believe that speaking words out loud works a lot better than leaving them traveling through your brain in silence😊 It can help you to get more used to having the language around you and in your life and you are actually producing it. 

There are a ton more apps and websites to help you find your language exchange partner. From personal experience, I believe no one will fit all and you’d have to do a little Google research to find the app/website that fits your needs.

I did not want to give you a complete list or your digital options but rather showcase that you can indeed find people to practice a foreign language with. Don’t let that point stand in your way!

Happy language learning 😊

Duolingo hacking – how to get the most out of the app

I’m sure you’ve heard of Duolingo. It’s probably the first self-study app you’d hear from anyone you’d ask ‘How should I start learning X language?’

I’ve always been doubtful about the quality of the app. It seemed repetitively trying to cram vocabulary into my brain with seemingly useless sentences like ‘O travesseiro não fala’ – ‘The pillow doesn’t speak.’ one of the first sentences I learned in Portuguese. Most people I’ve talked to told me that despite having used Duolingo for months they still couldn’t string a simple sentence together. ‘You don’t learn how to speak with Duolingo.’

Myself, I started several languages on the app… and also felt as if I didn’t really learn much. I had installed the app, deleted it, installed it again, tried another language only to trash the app again.

One belief I hold to this day is that Duolingo is an app best for anyone who hasn’t studied much of the new language. If you’re trying to ‘refresh’ your skills you might have a hard time as you won’t be able to study exactly the topic you want as Duolingo forces its curriculum onto you, i.e. you have to start in the beginning, going through category by category. Yes, there is also the option to ‘test out’ to pass some of the categories but I still never thought that the level and what I was taught was helpful.

This was until I seriously started Portuguese, a language I had no previous knowledge of. And Duolingo was the first resource I could think of. At first, I was just playing around with the app and the sentence mentioned above regarding the non-sleeping pillow didn’t help to convince me for the better.

Overtime (and because my ‘daily routine‘ made me stick to it) I changed my mind though. I finally found value in the app for myself.


I learned that it’s not all about the content and Duolingo’s structure.
It’s about how you make use of it.

Just in case you don’t know how the app works, here’s a little recap: You open a lesson, get a sentence to translate and then diligently drag and drop the words into the correct order. Or you get 4 pictures and have to match the correct one to the word shown and spoken. Eventually (if you make it that far), around levels 3 and 4 you then have to write down the actual words without seeing them just juggled up. I hardly made it there in any language except for Portuguese.

As I’m writing this there is now a function to avoid the drag-and-drop system and use the keyboard to write out the answer

What do you learn through this? Your ability to ‘guess’ the right word and word order? Some passive understanding so that you can recognize some words when they’re written down. When will you have the chance to use that in the real world?!

Ok, I’m sure if you’ve tried the app you know what I mean (and in case you haven’t, you’re probably not even thinking about trying it out right now). Let me suggest some other ways to get a bit more out of your experience.

First of all, this is the advice even Duolingo gives you repeatedly. You have to speak the words and sentences out loud.

You might be thinking ‘duh’ but notice how often you actually do it?!

And how?!

I often heard students speaking in a somewhat monotone voice, dragging themselves through the exercise – which is exactly what it then resembles. An exercise. Something you ‘have to do’ because a teacher, or in this case an ‘app’ tells you to do it.

One of the most important study strategies that I’ve adopted over the years is, that I feel into the language. I pretend to be a native speaker and keep a certain posture imagining how I’d produce a sentence naturally and effortlessly.

But I don’t know how to say anything yet you might say!’

That’s where those sentences come in that Duolingo teaches you and where you have to change the way you think about studying a little. Every time you hear a sentence (and make sure that you allow for listening exercises and audio) you should repeat the sentences as if you were in a situation in which it would be applied. ‘The pillow doesn’t speak’. As idiotic as that sentence might sound, you could imagine being in a room, hearing a strange noise and confusedly exclaiming ‘The pillow doesn’t speak!’ (so then what was that noise)?

Also make sure to say the sentence at least twice at different speeds, voices, attitudes. That makes it easier for your brain to remember it (instead of speaking with a somewhat ‘lifeless’ or diligently studious voice – no wonder your brain wants to forget about that!)

Imagine you’re in the country, surrounded by other native speakers and that the language you’re trying to speak is not something that takes a lot of effort and that you truly enjoy. If you struggle to pronounce some sounds, repeat them over and over again at different speeds until you feel more comfortable. You don’t have to be perfect to pretend to be a native speaker. You can always iron out some creases later!

One prerequisite for this to work is that you have to have a certain image of the country, a feeling for its culture and the sound of the language. That shouldn’t pose a problem in the age of YouTube, Spotify, etc.  You can listen to the audio of the new language you want to learn, even if you don’t understand a single word. The goal is to become familiar with the sound of the language, it’s rhythm, speed, etc. so that it’s easier for you to imitate a native speaker and to learn to enjoy speaking the language instead of seeing it as a task! Have fun with it!!!

And, yes, you can see how the beloved role-play that we teachers like to pester students with in-class can come in handy. And at least with Duolingo, you don’t have to perform in front of anyone 😉

One little extra tip: When doing the listening exercises, you will encounter the speaker sign and the turtle sign. The turtle sign will slow down the sentence. I suggest to only use this if you tried the regular audio at least twice! The slowed-down version of the sentence sounds a little robotic at times and won’t help you get that feeling for the language (plus remember that people in real life will never speak like that)

Next, let’s talk about typing. That was a gamechanger for me as well. You have two options. The lazy one or the one that will help you master writing (your choice). You can either set the keyboard into the language you’re learning or you leave it in your mother tongue. By changing it into the language you’re learning you’ll automatically get the right spelling suggested as well as likely follow-up words, just as if you were typing in your own language. The more often you write one sentence, the more the keyboard will remember it and suggest you the correct words the next time you attempt this exact sentence. You can guess for yourself how much you’re learning from that. 

English words won’t help me guess the right Portuguese one here

Now onto the challenge. Say you’re learning Portuguese and use the English keyboard. Like this, it won’t remember the Portuguese and you will not get any suggestions on ‘autocorrecting’ what you’re writing. Yes, it takes more effort. But that effort will also redeem itself. I personally learn more when I write down foreign words letter by letter than when I just let them autofill themselves. Handwriting would technically still be better but let’s stay realistic and keep it to what you can – and will – actually do.

Another ‘study method’ I discovered for myself has to do with the order in which I work on different categories and levels. Yes, Duolingo sets that up for you but who says you can’t ‘personalize’ that and adapt it to your needs.

Personally, I like to start with an intermediate lesson to get started, followed by an advanced one and then an easy one. I’m referring to the levels here (0-5). If you have certain lessons at a higher level, you’ll know what I’m talking about. At level 4, the motivation to get through a lesson will probably be a little lower as it takes a lot longer and more effort from your side than at level 1 which you can almost do eyes closed.

So, if I have some level 2, 3 and 4 lessons, I’ll start with a level 3 exercise, then one (or several) in level 4 and then one (or more) in level 2 to wind down and feel the fun of the language. Again, this depends on how your brain, motivation, and energy work best. Just try different versions and then stick to your preferred one. That will help to make your Duolingo study seem a little more ‘structured’ than just randomly clicking on a lesson.

I also chose categories that seem to go well together or maybe not at all. Sometimes I might study two different tenses in a row, just to make my brain work a little more and really challenge it. Or I take one ‘grammar’ lesson, then one vocabulary one (personally, I prefer the grammar ones, but that’s my geeky language brain).

Talking about lessons in general. When you work on a single category you might notice that the sentences repeat themselves a lot. Working through the Portuguese Duolingo I figured out that usually, two lessons will contain different sentences after which they start repeating themselves. That means to avoid getting bored, do a maximum of 2 lessons per level. Let’s say you have 15 lessons in total to do for level 3 in the category ‘animals’. You can do lesson 1 and 2 in level 3 and then move to another category. Come back to the category animals a few days later.

Again, I use a strategy regarding different categories and levels. When I start a level or a category, I’ll repeat it more often, say every day and once I did a few lessons, I’ll only work on the same category a few days later. This is how all the language apps work where you can study flashcards using the ‘spaced repetition system‘. First, you repeat the words a lot, later they show up only a week later, then a month later, etc.… You can create that for yourself in Duolingo. I hope you can see that I try to spread out which categories I’m working on instead of pressing through all lessons and levels in one category. That won’t make you remember the words in the long-term.

Ok, this was a long post.

Let me give you a little summary in case you couldn’t hold your attention span for that long….

How to get the most out of your Duolingo study:

  1. Read every word and sentence out loud
  2. Imagine and pretend to be a native speaker and ‘role play’ the sentences
  3. Try and mainly listen to the audio at the real speed. Only use the turtle (slower audio) when you cannot follow after listening several times
  4. Adjust your keyboard so that you don’t automatically get word suggestions or your own writing autocorrected
  5. Find your personal structure regarding in which levels you’re working. The one I recommend is to start with a medium-level exercise, then an advanced one and finally an easy one.
  6. Also, think about the different categories. Create your own ‘spaced-repetition’ system, so that you create a long-lasting language memory.

Last but not least let me tell you a little trick:

If, for whatever reason you want to jump over a level, i.e. because the sentences are too repetitive or not useful, there is a way to do it faster.

You might have seen the ‘key’ sign where you pay 5 lingots and then test out of that level to get to the next one. You still have to do that. However, in order to not make too many mistakes, do two lessons of that level and then try to ‘test out’ and skip the rest of the lessons. Usually, your ‘test’ will include the sentences and words you practiced in those two lessons, helping you to pass. Again, use your own judgment whether that’s what you want to do 😉

I hope that helped! Let me know whether you’re getting more out of Duolingo now or if you have further suggestions.

And don’t forget that Duolingo isn’t the only way to study. It’s one of the most convenient one and a good way to start out. However, I’d also pair it with other apps, online-courses, actual language classes, books, watching movies/vlogs, etc.…

PS: In case you’re wondering, there is some use in learning meaningless sentences such as ‘The pillow doesn’t speak’.  It’s actually a teaching strategy that I learned when I was in Japan. To break a sometimes beautiful, yet artificial lesson as you only talk about words and sentences that fit well together, you throw in some words that throw off the students. They’ll be surprised, confused but they’ll also pay more attention again. I can only guess that Duolingo tries to do the same. And hey, I’ll never ever forget the words of ‘O travesseiro não fala’ 😉

How I am learning Portuguese

This post is specifically about how I am currently learning (Brazilian) Portuguese without being in the country. Note that I have been to the country and am planning on returning but I’d say that the majority of what I learned was not by being surrounded by Brazilians (although that could be the preferred way of studying for many) but through self-study.
All the products are non-sponsored, I simply love sharing what I found useful after a lot of trial and error 😉
Also, extra point: As I know Spanish and French, Brazilian Portuguese already seemed very familiar to me. I do believe that the below-mentioned resources are suitable for anyone, whether you know other Roman languages or not as they mostly start from zero. Enjoy!


I started off with Duolingo which I am currently still using. To be honest, I had never been a big fan of Duolingo because I don’t see it as very useful when you’re not a complete beginner and one might argue that the repetitiveness of some sentences that you might never use might not be the best. However, for Brazilian Portuguese especially I have found the app extremely useful and here’s why. I think it has a great progression in teaching you vocab and grammar. You usually have one or two vocabulary topics, then one or two grammar points. I love that as it gives a good rhythm to what you’re studying. Also as there are no grammar rules, you are basically acquiring the grammar just through example sentences, the way a child would learn it. Also, grammar is repeated regularly and so is vocab (meaning they come up in later lessons) so I am highly convinced of this language program on Duolingo.
My main advice for using it would be to really speak the sentences out loud. You will remember them so much easier and get a feeling for the language. Like this, you are living the language a little and it feels less dry than just passive listening and typing or drag and drop.
Also a little extra tip regarding the keyboard you’re typing with: You have the option on phones to install different keyboards for different languages in your input language settings. If you activate Portuguese, then it will be much easier to type and there will be a Portuguese autocorrect to help you with the spelling. I do sometimes leave the English keyboard on purpose so that I really have to think about the correct spelling myself but other times, it makes typing much faster and smoother.

Final note: I have found the quality and structure of Duolingo to be different from language to language. I had tried other languages and the way they were structured wasn’t for me. So if you weren’t convinced by one language, maybe give another one a try and see whether it works better for you.


Another app I’ve been using has been Busuu. What I like about Busuu is its structure. Rather than just single vocabulary lesson or grammar sentences you have different units which are also categorized in different levels (according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages from A1 to C1). Each lesson starts with some vocabulary that you later review in a separate section again (sort of like flashcards). This is then followed by a dialogue with questions, where you’ll be asked to fill in some gaps after a listening practice. Section 3 is the vocabulary review and the final section often comprises a free writing or speaking assignment.
I especially love the dialogue section as it gives you some real-life context and a chance to listen to a larger section of native pronunciation.
Another great section is the writing and speaking assignment. You get a topic for this assignment related to the lesson you just finished and are then prompted to either type a short answer or record some audio. This will be corrected by other users of the app (native speakers) and creates a great feeling of community and the possibility to get feedback pretty quickly (within a few minutes up to a day) from native speakers.
I have purchased the app’s paid plan to download lessons for offline use and have access to all lessons.

Semantica Portuguese

Another resource I had been using a lot in the very beginning has been Semantica Portuguese. This is a video online course that you can purchase (their first video telenovela is for free). I loved learning Portuguese by watching videos from day 1. It is entertaining learning by following a story which is broken into separate parts where vocabulary and grammar are taught.
Also, I didn’t find it too expensive for what I got. They have several whole video series and some small video lessons as well as explanatory blog posts to deepen your understanding.
You can find their telenovela Eduardo e Monica on YouTube for free to have a look into it.


In order to practice my reading skills, I good a Portuguese beginner stories book from Kindle. This was Portuguese from Portugal which I didn’t mind because it is rather similar and rather for intermediate learners or learners with a previous understanding of Spanish.
For absolute beginners, there’s also an app called Beelinguapp. You can read a story in the language you’re learning with your native language on its side. I personally haven’t used it much as the stories are mostly for beginners.
I actually just finished reading ‘The Alchemist’ by Paolo Coelho in its original form which I read without major problems after about a year of semi-regular self-study (and knowing the English version of the book!)

YouTube vlogs

Last but not least after finishing the video course, I finally decided to move on to real-life Portuguese. As I don’t watch TV and don’t use Netflix, I resorted to YouTube and have been following several Brazilian vloggers. I enjoy listening to either Brazilians living abroad or foreigners living in Brazil (vlogging in Portuguese!!) talking about their experiences. I am able to follow the videos without subtitles and am generally not too bothered if I don’t understand 100%. The same goes for reading, I hardly ever look up words unless they come up so often that I really need them to follow the storyline.

Of course, as final words, I am returning to Brazil and am planning to spend as much time as possible talking to locals. This is always one of the best options, but I can say that the above methods really got me pretty far I’d say.

Até logo!