Learning my 4th Language. Tips & Tricks!

Olá! No começo deste ano, comecei a aprender português. Eu acredito que aprender uma língua é o primeiro passo na imersão em uma cultura.

Learning a new language can be tough if you don’t change the way your brain works. Don’t be trapped in our old, rusty brains, dive into your young 2-year-old brain!
I grew up speaking Tagalog, the language spoken in the Philippines. But, the advent of Americanization in the Philippines exposed me to the English language and its culture as a tot. Like many American kids my age, I grew up watching the same shows like Spongebob Squarepants, the Power Puff Girls, Hey Arnold, etc. Because of great volume of English I was digesting from TV, I naturally picked up English as my second language as early as 6 years old.
When I was enrolled in school, I started learning formal English grammar and semantics. The faculty encouraged students to speak English in and out of school. This resulted in my English getting significantly better. After learning proper syntax and new vocab, I was able to fashion some educated sentences in English. Then, I moved on to perfecting my accent. I did this by emulating the characters I watched in cartoons. I can do a pretty good Bubbles imitation (Bubbles from Powerpuff Girls) and I can recite so many Spongebob lines.

Now, why is this important?

Studies have shown that learning a language is extremely easier at younger ages due to the way our brains develop. [Check out this article explaining why children learn languages easier than adults!] What I have done to make learning another language easier is to revert back to my 5-year-old self and embody that same mindset.


What does that mindset look like?

Babbling Stage: Don’t be afraid of sounding silly! Practice sounds out loud and keep tweaking as needed. In Portuguese, there is this phoneme, “ão.” I had so much trouble getting this sound down. Whether I was cutting up veggies in the kitchen or making spreadsheets at work, I would quietly practice words like “pão, mão, chão, explosão.” I was in this stage for a good week.

One-Word (Holophrastic) Stage: Take it easy! Learn nouns first. We all know that a baby’s first words are typically “mama” or “dada.” In that same manner, focus on learning nouns that you would use on a daily basis. For example, I learned all the things I would see during our breakfast (bread, milk, plate, water, etc.). At this stage, I replaced all the nouns I knew in Portuguese. “Could I have um ovo e duas torradas for café da manhã, please?” I would estimate I was in this stage from anywhere between 3 weeks to a month.

Two-Word Stage: Learn “staple” verbs. The next step in my language-learning journey was to add verbs to my nouns. After a baby’s first words, they learn to add on verbs to specify their needs. “Need milk. Want milk. Need potty. Cat meow.” Their language pattern now follows a verb-noun (v.v.) pattern. At this stage, I learned verbs I used most often: to can, to sleep, to talk, to call, to make/do, to go, etc.. I learned how to conjugate these verbs in the present tense. So I could say things like “Eu como. Você faz. Ela fala.” Then, I could piece those short verb-noun combos with other verb-noun pairs like this, “Você pode me dar um ovo e duas torradas para o café da manhã?

Here is how the verb “fazer” is conjugated in the present indicative tense.

Telegraphic Stage: Learn syntax. This stage naturally happened for me since Portuguese sentence structuring is similar to English. The Portuguese sentence structure is: Subject > Verb > Object.

Practice, Integrate, and Immerse! The easiest way to learn is to keep practicing, even if you find yourself saying the same things. After getting to the telegraphic stage, I could then sprinkle in adjectives, gerunds, and other extra goodies to my sentences. It is also helpful to have practice-conversations with another person who can speak the same language you are learning. Spontaneously, I would request to speak only in Portuguese with my boyfriend in short 5–10 minute spurts.

Language integration is critical in becoming fluent. Let the language become a part of your daily life by thinking in that language. Following the child mindset/language acquisition steps (as outlined above) makes thinking in another language feel natural and intuitive.

Lastly, cultural immersion is as integral as learning formal grammar. Like I was exposed to so much American TV as a young child, it should be noted that cultural immersion makes language acquisition so much easier! Now, I am emulating that experience by listening to songs, watching kids’ shows & movies, and reading books in Portuguese.


Se você leu essa parte, muito obrigado! Gostaria de agradecer ao meu namorado por ser um professor maravilhoso!
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