Why would you want to learn Portuguese? There is certainly not a lack of people to speak to – Portuguese is spoken by about 250 million worldwide as their native tongue, and by 24 million second-language speakers worldwide, for a total of about 274 million speakers. This makes it the sixth most spoken language in the world.
Although many might think Spanish is the primary language of South America, it is, in fact, tied with Portuguese, with about 210 million speakers each. It is also an official language of the European Union, Mercosur, the Organization of American States, the Economic Community of West African States, the African Union, and the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, and one of the 10 most widely spoken languages in Africa. And the list goes on: Portuguese is an official language of NATO, the Organization of American States, and the European Space Agency, among other international institutions.
Apart from the many countries where it is an official language (including Portugal, Brazil, Cape Verde, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, and Macau), countries such as Canada, Switzerland, the United States, India (specifically in Goa, Daman, and Diu) all have large Portuguese-speaking communities.
The reasons for learning Portuguese can be varied: relocation, travel, needed for school, career, culture, family and friends, and many others. And luckily, there are many online resources that make learning Portuguese fun and efficient and will have you communicating with this vast global community of Portuguese speakers in no time. To help you navigate the available resources, we have put together our list below of top Portuguese courses you can follow online.
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Defining your goals
Before picking a course, it’s good to take a few moments to think about your goals with your language studies.
First – are you looking to learn European (Portugal) Portuguese or Brazilian Portuguese? While the two variants are fully mutually intelligible, you will want to pick one based on your location or the community that you will be interacting with. I would recommend studying European Portuguese of any audience in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and Brazilian Portuguese for South America.
You may also want to consider whether you need or could benefit from an official language proficiency certification – there are several ones available for Portuguese, including:
- CAPLE – accepted for academic studies, employment, and citizenship applications
- Camões Júnior – an e-certification aimed at a youth audience
- NEWL Portuguese – administered by the American Councils for International Education (can be used for college credit and placement in the US)
If that is something you are aiming for – check their requirements and make sure that your selected course will help you build your language skills in those areas.
And with that, it’s time to look at our recommended courses.
Recommended Portuguese courses
Best Overall: PortuguesePod101
Even if you can read and understand the Portuguese language, you might still come up blank when trying to understand a native speaker. They might talk quickly, and it’s easy to fall behind. PortuguesePod101 is a primarily podcast-based course that guides you through Portuguese conversations and focuses on listening comprehension. Audio and video lessons feature different teachers so that you can become comfortable with a variety of speech styles.
The lessons are diverse, ranging from grammar and phrases to culture and customs, and you can choose the ones most suited to your needs. The focus is on Brazilian Portuguese, but there is some content that also touches on the European variant. The Basic Plan, at an inexpensive $8 per month, includes unlimited access to all of them as well as transcriptions, notes, and lists of key Portuguese words and phrases. The Premium Subscription also features a line-by-line audio dialogue breakdown so that each sentence is slowed down and translated with time added so that you can practice pronunciation. Tools for reinforcing learning, such as interactive quizzes, voice recordings, flashcards, and word banks, are also included.
If you want to learn faster and ask questions, the Premium Plus version also gives you access to one-on-one lessons with a Portuguese teacher so that you can further personalize your learning journey. PortuguesePod101 is the right option for someone wanting to quickly start understanding spoken Portuguese on a budget.
Best for Beginners: Rocket Portuguese (Rocket Languages)
For those wanting a self-paced Portuguese course that emphasizes conversation and speaking, Rocket Portuguese from Rocket Languages provides an interactive audio-based program. The lessons contain various stages, including an audio section and a grammar and writing portion, and they even include information about Portuguese culture.
One of its unique features is that it focuses on teaching learners how to speak and understand spoken Portuguese rather than just its written form. When focusing primarily on writing, second-language speakers lose out on learning how to have real-life conversations with native speakers of the language. Like many other programs, Rocket Languages has a library of audio clips from native Portuguese speakers so that you can copy the pronunciation. But what’s more, it also has advanced voice recognition software which can record your voice and rate its pronunciation compared to native speakers. It also records your voice so that you can learn by comparing it with different pronunciations yourself.
The lessons last 30 minutes and are structured and comprehensive. Rocket Languages features a mobile app for easy on-the-go learning, and it has various tools for reinforcing what you have already learned. There are quizzes at the end of each lesson, flashcards, and different tests which focus not only on writing but also speaking and translation. Aimed at beginner speakers of Portuguese, there is only one level of the program – unlike the three levels offered for some other languages offered by Rocket Languages, including French.
Best for Bite-Sized Learning: Busuu Portuguese
Ideal for beginners to intermediate Portuguese speakers, Busuu offers an affordable and slick program for learning Portuguese. It combines various components of language learning, an easy and intuitive design, flexible lesson durations, and an interactive social community of native Portuguese speakers.
Busuu allows the student to start learning while investing only 10 minutes, both at beginner’s and more advanced levels, with free online lessons. This is supported by research showing that learning in 10 minutes pieces shows optimal results.
The student can track progress, a highly motivating option. You can develop a Study Plan tailored to your needs. The student can monitor his/her Fluency Score, as well as the Portuguese words learned per week.
For those just wanting to learn a bit of vocab for a vacation in a Portuguese-speaking country, Busuu offers a free plan covering some useful Portuguese vocabulary along with examples of those words being used in relevant sentences. You also have limited access to lessons focusing on grammar rules and listening skills.
But the real perks of Busuu come with its Premium and Premium Plus versions. Instead of scrolling through the different levels to see where you should start, the program offers a placement test that will tell you your language grade. Though some reviewers are not convinced that these levels correspond to the grade requirements of the European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), it can still be useful if you don’t know where to start.
This is a course that comes with a fair bit of freedom. You can create your own personalized study plan based on your main focus or goals, whether you want to learn a bit of Portuguese in preparation for your holiday or become fluent. You can also choose the days and times of the week that you want to learn, and you’ll be reminded if you should be studying.
Like many other language apps, there are exercises for practicing pronunciation, vocabulary, translation, and grammar. It even boasts an AI-powered grammar learning tool that enhances learning by focusing on a person’s weak points when it comes to writing the language.
One of the biggest perks of Busuu’s Premium Plus subscription is that you gain access to a social community of Portuguese native speakers. Uniquely combining language learning with a social medium, the program allows you to receive feedback and practice conversing in Portuguese.
Best for Immersion: Semantica
Semantica is a little bit of a different Portuguese online course. It is all based on video courses (it also has a lot of content in its Facebook group and YouTube channel). Semantica is based on learning through stories that are scripted to always give the student the most important and useful grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation lessons.
The video stories present the grammar and vocal that Brazilians actually use. In every lesson, the language is broken down and explained by using a variety of (mostly visual) methods. The student is free to study any of the stories, at any level. The stories resemble somewhat ‘novelas,’ the popular Brazilian soap operas.
Semantica aims to build confidence in speaking Portuguese by using speech recognition software so you can make your mistakes in front of a screen instead of a real person. Portuguese speech recognition now works so well that you’ll soon be talking to it like a friend with feedback in real time.
This course can work very well for you if you are more of an intuitive learner who easily gets bored with spaced repetition and long vocabulary lists to memorize.
Best for European Portuguese: Portuguese Lab Academy
The Portuguese Lab Academy is an online platform teaching European Portuguese from beginner to upper intermediate level. The platform is built on the principle of offering flexibility to learn at one’s own pace. While it offers guidance on next steps, it does suffer a bit from lack of structure. On the other hand, it has a ‘my support’ functionality where you can reach out to get answers to your questions in case you’re feeling lost.
With relatively strong material beyond the beginner level, this is a good choice for intermediate level students, with engaging listening and reading lessons and great tools for European Portuguese pronunciation. The content comes in several different formats, including interviews with native speakers on subjects ranging from farming to the weather and short stories illustrating grammar.
The Portuguese Lab Academy is a great choice if you enjoy independently putting together your learning plan. It is less suitable if you are searching for a fast way to get on track to learning, in which case a more rigidly structured program is probably a better bet.
Best for Casual Learning: Duolingo
Probably the world’s most popular platform for learning languages, Duolingo is a fun, game-style app that is free and caters to casual beginners and intermediate to advanced speakers wanting recaps and some extra Portuguese practice. While the motivation to learn might wane from day to day, the app keeps you on your toes through push notifications that encourage you to maintain your ‘daily streak’.
The app features a well-designed and engaging interface, and the Portuguese courses are designed to be completed in succession, starting from the basics at level 1. More intermediate and advanced learners can move to the more challenging levels by taking tests to pass the earlier levels. Duolingo keeps students encouraged by using a point system whereby they must earn a certain number of experience points to complete a lesson. There are also various games and quizzes to keep learning enjoyable.
Although Duolingo promotes consistency, it also gives learners control of over how in-depth they want to study. They can choose how long they would like to study per day and can also choose to be a ‘casual’ learner who needs to earn just 10 points to reach the next goal/lesson, or a more serious learner who must earn at least 50 points to advance.