“Make as many mistakes as you need”

Tips from our teachers:
|| Hugo B in Vienna ||

Hugo B who teaches Portuguese in Vienna tells us what he finds fascinating about the language he teaches and gives tips on how you can get over the fear of speaking and build your vocabulary. Hugo B is an experienced Portuguese teacher and he will help you improve quickly.

‘Tips from our teachers’ is a regular series we run on our blog where we ask our teachers to shares tips and advice on improving their language skills.

Portuguese is a surprisingly big language

Portuguese is the 8th most spoken language in the world, which seems surprisingly shocking, and it was, even to me as well, when I first found out.

I’d say the most interesting thing about this language I’m passionate about is its origin. The Portuguese language evolved from Latin and developed on the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula, going through the the Roman Period, Galician-Portuguese, Archaic Portuguese, and finally Modern Portuguese.

The point I’m trying to make here is that once you have mastered Portuguese, it will be incredible easier to learn other languages that share the same roots with Portuguese, such as French, Italian, Spanish, and the list goes on. Therefore, not only it’s an incredibly beautiful and amazing to learn it, but it’s also a smart move if you are thinking about going further with your languages skills.

Focus on speaking if you want to learn a language

I believe the most important thing about learning a language is the keyword: communication. Usually, when learning a new language, people really fear trying to speak it, which is understandable since they don’t have enough knowledge to feel 100% confident in what is being said.

This conflict is often reinforced by schools which, through traditional methods, focus on grammar and the structure of the language —all of the rules— but they hardly speak. We are taught mistakes are bad and we should avoid them at all costs, when, actually, the more mistakes you make, the faster you can correct them and learn from them.

What is the worst thing that could possibly happen if we challenge ourselves, open our mouths, and speak the language we have been working so hard to learn? Absolutely nothing. So, for this reason, I’d suggest: go out there and speak, speak and speak, surround yourself with the language and make as many mistakes as you need.

Try limited immersion to improve outside of lessons

Based on my experience, the best and most effective way is always to go on an immersion experience. Of course, ideally, that would mean travelling or being part of an exchange program in the country where the language you are learning is spoken. However, I know that type of experience is not always possible, whether because it’s expensive or simply because you wouldn’t have the time to do it. Therefore, as an alternative, I’d suggest two things.

First, looking for cultural houses of the country where they speak the language near where you live, because they usually promote language exchange sessions where you can practice your skills with native speakers and/or other people who are learning the language as well. They also usually have cultural days where you can learn more about the culture of the country, such as food, customs, traditions, etc.

The second suggestion would be signing up for language exchange apps, there are lots of options out there, such as Tandem. On apps like that, you will be paired up with a native speaker of the language that you are learning, who happens to be interested in learning your mother tongue. So, this way, both win and end up improving their skills in a fun and dynamic interaction.

When it comes to apps, I’d definitely recommend Duolingo and Babbel to learn Portuguese.

The teacher needs to make his students comfortable and encourage speaking

The best way to get students talking is to make them feel comfortable and try to explain that making mistakes is not a bad thing, but quite the opposite, since they will only improve their skills if they learn from them, so making mistakes is only natural and part of the learning process. Then, developing their confidence by showing everyone has their insecurities will create a welcoming environment which will allow them to speak without the fear of being judged.

My approach would depend on the student’s needs and objectives, however, as rule of thumb, I try to create dynamic and interesting games and tasks. For instance, I believe role playing, therefore learning English through Drama, happens to be a very effective method to build vocabulary, since you can chose in which context the role playing would be set, and therefore create situations where students would have to make the usage of specific vocabulary that would fit the situation.

I don’t believe there is such thing as some accents being better than others. They all have their particularities and bring stories along them, which makes them special for being different than all others. However, if the student would like to change theirs into another specific one, I’d say the best way is to watch and listen to programs, shows, films, sports, and etc from the country where the accent desired is from, and then try to repeat words and sentences while recording yourself. This way, you can listen to the recordings, compare to the originals and then correct yourself if mistakes were made.