A rough guide to Portuguese for ESL teachers

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Portuguese is one of the romance languages, and it is spoken primarily in Portugal and Brazil: there are about 200 million Portuguese speakers in Brazil alone.

Brazil is also a popular ESL teaching destination, and novice ESL teachers should familiarize themselves with a few aspects of the Portuguese language if they hope to teach Portuguese speakers more effectively. Here are a few points worth remembering.

1. In terms of pronunciation, spelling, and vocabulary, the Portuguese spoken in Portugal (PP) exhibits differences from the Portuguese spoken in Brazil (BP).

2. The alphabet does not admit the letters K, W, and Y. Diacritics are also used with eleven letters. Visit: http://www.omniglot.com/writing/portuguese.htm

3. From a phonological point of view, BP is a syllable-timed language. In contrast, the PP is stress-timed. English is also a stress-timed language; consequently, BP ESL students may initially experience difficulty with English pronunciation. See: http://www.personal.reading.ac.uk/~llsroach/phon2/frp.pdf

4. In general, Portuguese ESL learners (PESLLs) experience many pronunciation difficulties, for example, difficulty in distinguishing between minimal pairs; problems with diphthongs; and imperceptibility of terminal unstressed vowels to name but three problem areas. In short, PESLLs are confronted with serious problems when attempting to sound like English native speakers.

5. The Portuguese interrogative is formed by intonation, and this may result in errors such as ‘You have car?’ ‘She came to work yesterday?’

6. The Portuguese use of the double negative may result in an error such as ‘He doesn’t know nothing.’

7. The incorrect choice of the appropriate verb form for use in the present tense is a common problem and may result in errors such as ‘They are knowing’, It is ages since he doesn’t play chess. Modal verb constructions may result in an error such as ‘She must to go home’.

8. PESLLs should not experience any major difficulties with English syntax.

9. Prepositions are exceptionally difficult for PESLLs, and there is no simple correspondence between English and Portuguese prepositions.

10. Portuguese has a single possessive pronoun for his/her:  this agrees in gender with the object possessed. This can often result in confusion, for example: when the PESLL wrongly writes ‘She’s having dinner with his brother’; instead of ‘She’s having dinner with her brother’.

11. Personal pronouns are often omitted: this can result in an error such as ‘He told’ instead of ‘He told her’.

12. Portuguese has only one question tag: this can result in an error such as ‘He’s going tomorrow, isn’t it? 

13. Because of the Latin roots of both languages, acquisition of a strong vocabulary should not be a problem; however, PESLLs will have to be wary of the occasional faux amis, e.g. parents ≠ parents (relatives) and familiar ≠ familiar (respectable).

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