A great way to learn and practice a language is to read lots and lots of stories. Here on this Learn Portuguese Through Stories page, you’ll find two different links to all sorts of stories in Portuguese. They are organized into the comprehensible input method and the direct instruction/translation method.
Which one should you pick?
Well, that depends on several factors. For instance: how do you approach language learning? What’s your preferred way to learn?
- 1 – Do you prefer learning by studying the theory first? Do you “have to know” how it all works? Then you will probably like the traditional storytelling style more. I have those listed in the classical format tab below. Keep in mind that this method, generally speaking, is usually the slower approach to language learning if you stick with only this. So, having said that, I invite you to give the Comprehensible Input method a try too – you may surprise yourself!
- 2- If going through endless grammar rules and textbooks sends you running for the hills, then it’s safe for me to assume you learn better by doing and seeing examples – even if that means you won’t understand every little detail at first. In that case, I strongly believe a more immersive learning experience may be right for you. But you still have to put in the work! Choose stories from the Comprehensible Input tab. I will say though, don’t shun grammar exercises altogether – they are important too and well worth having a look at later.
In my humble opinion, I think you should pick both but at the right time. There’s a lot to be said about learning grammar and proper pronunciation etc. But learning progress is usually slow or non-existent when sticking to ONLY this. Especially if you’re not able to put into practice what you learned straight away. Most linguists agree that comprehensible input is one of the best, fastest and most effective ways to learn a language. How? Read on to learn more.
What is Comprehensible Input?
The Comprehensible input method is part of The Input Hypothesis that was developed by Stephen Krashen in the 1970s and 1980s. It states that comprehensible input is the language that we can understand. Language inputs are things that we can hear and read. For instance: the radio, people having conversations, podcasts, etc. and books, articles, social media posts and so on.
But Krashen specifies that we can’t just read “anything” and then magically improve our proficiency in a language (in this case – Portuguese). We have to read and listen to things we CAN understand or easily get the meaning of through the context. Language acquisition happens best when the input is just slightly more advanced than our own level.
What do I think? Personally, I would go on to say that you’ve probably scratched the surface of comprehensible input before without realising it. Those moments you were able to get the “gist” of what was going on or being said. The fact that you got the “gist” was because you understood enough of the language that was used – by those words or hand gestures!
But, usually, there are several problems with those interactions. The main one is: that you don’t remember anything or almost anything about them. The vocabulary didn’t stick. Why? Well, there are several reasons:
1- The moment was too quick for you to “absorb” anything. It passed by as soon as it arrived.
2- The suddenness of the moment/being “put on the spot”. This creates anxiety and it doesn’t make for a productive learning moment. Our brain wasn’t able to make any meaningful connections to the input it received. Thus it went into the “I didn’t like that moment” box or “what the hell was that/I want to forget about that experience” box.
3- Another factor that contributes to the “memory loss”, is there was no comprehensible repetition of that input. Our brain remembers language it can clearly understand. Otherwise, it’s remembered as gibberish and it’s not stored properly or not at all.
4- This reason is connected to the last one – our brain didn’t associate the right meaning with the right words. So when you hear them again in another interaction, it generates confusion because you no longer understand what you thought you did. The word doesn’t make sense anymore. Keep in mind though that here it can also be the case of the word having a second meaning you didn’t learn yet. – be kind to yourself, acquiring all meanings of everything takes time.
Is Krashen right?
There are studies that suggest he is. For one, we’ve known for a long time that children who grow up in encouraging linguistic surroundings develop greater linguistic skills in their own native language.
The same is true for students who read outside of the academic environment and are better writers. So this suggests the Input Hypothesis is correct – there is a connection between more exposure of a child/adult to language and language ability.
What about learning a second language, is he still right?
Yes, his hypothesis also seems to ring true in the case of acquiring second languages.
There are several studies that have found that the more exposure to the target language students have, the more proficient they are in it. Perhaps you’re thinking “well that’s just common sense”. And, I agree with you.
There is also significant evidence that learners of a second language can acquire “grammar rules” this way without ever being taught. This demonstrates language acquisition without direct instruction can happen using this method.
So is that it? Read, read and read/ listen, listen and listen?
Well, yes and no. Krashen says that exposure to comprehensible input is important. But if you’re not interested in the topic, you won’t pay attention to it. Attention is an essential part of this learning method.
So, the type of material you read matters. It’s better to choose materials and topics you’re interested in. And read about that in your target language.
“To make sure that language acquirers pay attention to the input, it should be interesting. But interest may be not enough for optimal language acquisition. It may be the case that input needs to be not just interesting but compelling.”Krashen
It has to grab your attention in a way that you almost don’t notice it’s in another language. Some examples of how to do this are to set the language of your phone or computer to your target language. Another example is to play video games you like in your target language. Yes, even the simple phone games that are out there.
But finding material with topics you find compelling that are ALSO at a level you can follow is easier said than done. There are many “x goes to the market” stories and exercises that you’re probably sick and tired of going over. However, jumping into a Tolkien novel in Portuguese would probably be very frustrating if you’re trying to figure out the meaning of every single word. (Even if you absolutely love “The Lord of the Rings”)
You need to start somewhere – this means very basic and simple sentences/stories. And don’t underestimate the power of simplicity and of repetition. Only because you’ve already “done that lesson”, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it twice, or trice or 10 times more – even if you already know it. Especially just sitting and listening to the recordings or native speakers speak.
This is the key to fluency. Babies hear the same “the cat chased the mouse” sentence hundreds, if not thousands of times before they can say it themselves. Does this mean you need to sit and listen to “x goes to the market” 500 times? No – but there are studies out there that say you need to be exposed between 10 to 20 times to a new word before you will remember its meaning without effort.
Ultimately, if the story/activity holds your attention and is a little challenging – then it’s a good comprehensible input exercise! We’ve all fallen down the internet rabbit hole of watching silly cat videos for longer than we realise. Are they “challenging” videos? No, BUT they were intriguing/entertaining and easily understood. So that’s the feeling you need to aim for. Now, if you notice the input holds your attention but is not particularly challenging – congratulations, you’re ready to move on to the next difficulty level!
If you’re struggling to find engaging material, please keep checking this blog and my youtube channel where I will try my best to have many topics and difficulty levels available. Suggestions are always welcome! My story lists are a work in progress. Also, let me know here what your topics of interest are.
What about speaking?
Isn’t speaking important too? It certainly helps. As does writing in your target language. Linguists agree on this. However, not all of them believe that a learner should up their speaking and writing over listening and reading.
A linguist by the name of Merril Swain proposed the comprehensible output hypothesis. Though Krashen himself agrees that writing has utility in learning a foreign language, he doesn’t agree that language output is a good way to acquire a language. Rather, he says that output is an effect of input.
I agree with him here – it’s not repeating lists of words and sentences over and over again that will teach you how to speak the language. But I do think it is effective in helping your speech organs (face muscles, mouth, tongue, throat, etc) develop the skill to produce the words and help your brain recognize the patterns of the spoken language.
But I don’t live in Portugal / I don’t have opportunities to speak to native speakers
You can search for a speaking club or group online. Groups with other students who are learning Portuguese. I know they are out there. Try looking in Portuguese learning Facebook groups, and maybe make a post on social media. You may find one in your area!
A great way to get some output practice is to read stories out loud. Lots of times. It’s key to read out loud though. Reading in your head doesn’t count for practising word production. My stories in the classical format tab are great for this.
What you can expect from my stories
I will try my absolute best to have a variety of stories on many topics. Feel free to suggest topics to me please! I’m always looking for ideas. Let me know here what your topics of interest are.
The Classical Method tab
These will have translations and will include a traditional style comprehension questionnaire. Try to read/listen to the video and solve the questions before you look at the translation first. While it’s nice to have the translation, referring to it first before trying to comprehend the context yourself will hold you back in the long run. In real life, people don’t speak with subtitles or translations 😉 Just a thought.
The Comprehensible Input tab
The comprehensible input video lessons do not have translations unless absolutely necessary. They work on the principle of lots of visual input (images, gestures, sounds) and circling.
Circling consists of asking a series of circling questions about a statement in the story (all WITHOUT translations). I’ll give you an example in English:
“Peter wants a cat.” (Like this: “O Pedro quer um gato.”)
- Does Pedro want a cat? (O Pedro quer um gato?)
- Does Pedro want a cat or a dog? (O Pedro quer um gato ou um cão?)
- Does Pedro have a cat? (O Pedro tem um gato?)
- Who wants a cat? (Quem quer um gato?)
In this example, all four questions are circling around the information provided in the original statement, “Peter wants a cat”.
Because these lessons are in a video format and not in-person, I also give the answer in the video. So for example:
Question: O Pedro quer um gato? Answer: Sim, o Pedro quer um gato.
My step-by-step advice on how to use these stories effectively:
Step 1 – Even if you’re not an absolute beginner, start in the comprehensible input tab. More specifically with the basic vocabulary. Don’t translate anything. Watch several times. Then watch some more if necessary. Solve the quiz. (follow the link provided in the video description)
Step 2 – If the basic vocabulary videos and exercises are not presenting a challenge, then congratulations! Move on to the short stories. Same principle here – don’t translate anything and watch as many times as necessary until you can understand at least 90% without needing translators.
Step 3 – Once you are able to understand at least 90% of what’s said, then click the link in the description box of the video lesson in question (on youtube) to get the story/lesson on the same topic in its classical format.
Step 4 – Read the classical format story out loud. As many times as you can. This will help with language production (speaking). It will train your muscles to say the words and help you recognize the partners of the Portuguese language more naturally. Ask a tutor or a native speaker to help with pronunciation. Also, look into joining a speaking club or taking conversational Portuguese lessons.
Step 5 – At this point, I encourage you to start journaling your days – in Portuguese – and create your own daily “stories”. Important here is to use the words you know and try out new ones where applicable. Here is when grammar books/exercises come in handy. You can practice and look up how to formulate certain sequences for your sentences (verb conjugations, plurals, adjectives, pronouns etc). Keep it simple and don’t overwhelm yourself. I encourage you to read them out loud or try to tell them to a speaking partner/tutor. It doesn’t have to sound like Fernando Pessoa or Saramago 😉
Step 6 – Move on to the next level in the comprehensible input tab and follow the same steps as before.
Step 7 – Every now and then revisit the beginner lessons to solidify your vocabulary and comprehension of basic sentences and structures. Amaze yourself with your progress! If you find you forgot a lot of the vocabulary in the lessons, it’s important to note, that you may have previously jumped ahead too soon. But no bother at all! Watch the lessons again as many times as you need!
If you stick to these steps and are consistent with them, they will help you improve your Portuguese by leaps and bounds. Let me know how you get on!
If you come across a story (even in your native language) that you think would be a great addition to this page, please message it to me. Vote in this poll on topics you are interested in.