Guest Blogger Marina Khonina has taken on the task of using Mango Languages to learn Brazilian Portugese. She is providing monthly updates through our blog as she progresses through the course. Here is part two:

Several weeks into my Brazilian Portuguese learning adventure, I am more thrilled about this experiment than ever. I was able to stick to my (very laid-back) plan of one lesson per week, although the temptation is often strong to abandon my other activities and concentrate solely on my Portuguese. This urge goes hand-in-hand with my habitual impatience, which is regularly challenged by Mango Languages’ insistence on slow, deliberate practice.

Since practice, particularly of the slow, deliberate kind, is never a bad thing, in my language learning I shall try to follow the model illustrated in this memorable haiku:

O snail:

Climb Mount Fuji,

But slowly, slowly!

This approach is beginning to bear its fruits already: several weeks after my first Portuguese lesson I decided to review the material. Conveniently, Mango Languages offers vocabulary and phrasebook reviews for each lesson. I was extremely surprised to see that, whenever prompted by the narrator, I was able to come up with appropriate answers in Portuguese. There are still a few words here and there that I find challenging, but, overall, the results are impressive, considering the fact that I do absolutely no revisions between my weekly lessons.

During these in-between periods I frequently find myself wishing I had more listening exposure to Portuguese, particularly since pronunciation remains a stumbling block for me. The idea of foreign language audio immersion carries enormous appeal for someone whose learning style can be summarized as “avoid native speakers at all costs!” I’m the kind of person who has her iPod loaded with all sorts of language podcasts and audiobooks. It is no wonder, therefore, that I find myself wishing that Mango Languages would have an audio supplement that learners could load onto their MP3 players.

The absence of stand-alone audio recordings, however, may prove to be a very good thing for my communicative ability in the long run. The Mango Languages approach forces me to interact with the (imaginary) Brazilian Portuguese speakers and to respond to spoken prompts. This, I believe, can go a long way toward establishing a learner’s speaking ability from early on. So much for my initial doubts about the communicative usefulness of language learning software!

Another thing that surprised me when I started my second lesson is that I was able to follow the original dialogue immediately. Some of this is certainly due to my previous exposure to Portuguese and to Romance languages in general. However, it is to Mango that I attribute my newly developed degree of comfort with the language. Brazilian speech no longer sounds alien or strange, and, in my experience, it is the “strangeness” of the language that often hinders first attempts at speaking from taking place.

One aspect of Brazilian Portuguese that I find consistently difficult is the use of the third person (a senhora / o senhor) instead of the second person (you) when addressing someone. When I mentioned this challenge in my earlier post I did not suspect that it would require so much mental effort to overcome. Since Mango Languages lessons are built around dialogues, I am often prompted to produce sentences addressed to an imaginary interlocutor. Frequently, I find myself searching my memory for that elusive ”you” in Portuguese, only to remember (sometimes too late!) that all I am supposed to say is “the Mr” or “the Mrs”.

From my conversations with my Brazilian flatmate, I learned that this convention is just one of the various ways in which the other speaker can be addressed. These vary according to the degree of formality and the part of the country, among other things. We’ve also had some interesting discussions about regionalisms in pronunciation and usage in Brazilian Portuguese, but I will save this highly interesting topic for another time!

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