Como se chama? Ele chama-se Filipe Why does the 'se' move

One of the most common questions I get asked by learners who are really starting to get into the language is why do some words move around. I ask a few questions to find out what they are talking about in particular, and they are nearly always talking about the -se - o - nos etc, that can either be tagged onto the end of verbs, or just before them.

‘It seems to be so random!’ they say, ‘sometimes they are stuck at the end of a verb, other times right before!´ There is nothing worse than something you can’t pin down, a wild card, and this gets learners worrying!

No need to worry! It is very predictable, although it does take time and practise to master. This is something peculiar to European Portuguese, the Brazilian version (like Spanish and French) puts these little words neatly before the verbs.

So, to let out the secret….

It’s all about what I call ‘trigger words’. These are certain words, which when found just before the verb in a sentence oblige the little word to move from its usual position tagged onto the end of the verb to being placed before the verb (without the hyphen).

Let’s look at some examples:

Como se chama? vs Ele chama-se Filipe
Não me lembro o nome dele. vs Lembras-te o nome dele?
Já o vi vs Vi-o
Gosto de lhe dar prendas vs Dei-lhe uma prenda

Can you spot the trigger words? Como, Não, Já and de

I group these words into 4 categories to make it easier to remember:

  1. Question WORDS - Como, Porque, Quando…. (must be a word not just a question…)

  2. Negatives - Não, nunca, nada…

  3. ‘Adverbials’ - words like já, ainda, só, todos …

  4. Prepositions - de, em, por, para ….

And that’s about it! Get reading to spot as many examples as you can, and once you are feeling confident, have a go! You’ll soon be correcting yourself for putting the -me, te, o etc after as you get a feel for it, Já me.. Nunca o .. quando te .. starts to sound really good :)

There are a few more advanced points here, but to keep to the point and not go off on tangents I’ve left them out (perhaps they will be the subject of another blog post!)

How to understand spoken Portuguese better... listen more!

A common complaint of students is although they can READ Portuguese well, as soon as someone speaks to them, they have little idea of what’s being said :(

Portuguese does take time to ‘tune into’ and you need to give yourself opportunity to do this by exposing your ears to as much Portuguese as possible.

How to do this in a relaxed way? Listen to the radio!

Some tips on how to get the most out of this:

1 - Choose a station with music you like. Or you will end up turning it off!
2 - A commercial station with adverts is a GOOD idea. Why? You will hear the same adverts, with exactly the same words repeated over and over and each time you will understand a bit more.
3 - Don’t try to pick out every word. The object here is to ‘tune into’ Portuguese. Get used to the sounds of the language, the way it sounds being spoken by different speakers. Listen for how the langauage sounds overall, with all the words sliding together naturally.
4 - Listen out for: numbers - in weather forecasts, traffic bulletins, time, dates etc.
place names, cities, countries
greetings, words that are often repeated.

How can you listen to the radio? On the internet! has some stations. Here’s some infomation on a few of them.

Antena 1, 2, 3 don’t have adverts. 1 is mostly news, 2 classical, 3 independent music
RFM and Radio Comercial play ‘hits’, music and adverts
TSF has news and chat, information , no music really
Cidade FM is an upbeat station aimed at youngsters

Do you have a estação de rádio preferida? Any other tips - dicas- on listening in Portuguese?

Answering questions quickly!

Olá! Thinking this week about developing fluency…

We often want to speak Portuguese in a conversation, and be able to respond to what people ask us.

Very often the thought process is like this:

1) What did they say? translate to Mother tongue
2) What do I want to say? think of answer in Mother tongue
3) How do I say that in Portuguese? by this time I have completely forgotten what they question I was asked was, and maybe the conversation has moved on!!

This can be TOO SLOW… how to speed it up?

Listen to the question, and decide what type of question it is and accordingly use that information to get speaking FASTER

  • Is it a question about somebody else? He/She/They. »» Repeat the verb in the same way in your answer.
    E.g: - O teu irmão mora na Escócia? - Não, mora na Irlanda / - Onde estão os seus documentos? - Estão aqui

  • Is it a question about YOU (just you, 1 person)? »» Change to ‘I’ verb form, ‘o’ ending present, ‘ei/i’ end past

    E.g. - Voltaste para casa ontem? - Não, voltei no domingo / - A senhora quer sentar aqui? - Quero

  • Is it a question about YOUS (you and someone else) »» Change to ‘-mos’ on the end of the verb

    E.g. - Os senhores visitaram Sintra? - Visitámos / - Vocês querem ir à praia? - Queremos

Obviously, there are a few irregular verbs to deal with that are slightly different, but this can help you to speed things up overall and get speaking more confidently and faster :)

ARTICLE - Context is King!

Sábado foi um dia muito importante para nós - o meu filho teve a sua primeira aula de natação - his first swimming lesson!  (tem quatro anos...)  Então, off we went, com fato de banho, chinelos, toalha, touca.  He had his photo taken at reception for his card on the way in, and they said the cartão would be ready to pick up after I'd taken him in and got him ready, so they buzzed me through.  To get out, I had to press the campainha (bell) and they buzzed me out.  Muito bem, did all that.

Back I went to rececão and got the cartão de utente for him (with the fotografia) and a cartão de acompanhante para mim.  Then he said venha cá, and took me to the turnstile entrance to show me how to get in with the cards.  He told me that on the way in I needed to present this card first and then other, and to get out I had to do the cards the other way round.  He'd lost me before he'd finished the sentence.  As someone who will mix two things up with ease (left/right being the prime example) I knew I would not remember.  So I smiled and said desculpe, nunca vou me lembrar disto, tenho de escrever...  whilst fumbling in my bag for a pen.  And he said, to my relief, não faz mal, é só tocar a campainha (great- the buzzer!).  

After watching the lesson, I used my cartão de acompanhante to get back through the turnstile and dressed my weary child and headed back to the turnstile to get out.  Which card first?  I was sure it was his, did that and it worked, out he went no problem,  Tried mine and no luck, again, still no.  By then o meu filho was halfway across reception on his way to the door to the car park.  - Anda cá!  - Porquê? (has to always ask why) -  Não consigo sair daqui  (and he came back..)  Pressed the campainha, lovely rececionista buzzed me out and explained that I have to go out first so my son isn't wandering around reception by himself - Ah... now I will remember.

Why this little story?  Often it is very hard to remember things.  When learning a language, this is our major challenge - to build up a large bank of brand new words and phrases and know what they mean.  To help new pieces of information to stick in our minds we need to be proacative and help ourselves.  A bit of context can make all the difference.  For me, understanding that the order of the cards was  important as it made it safer for my son meant the information instantly memorable.  Prior to that understanding I was at a loss as to how I would remember without having the information written down. 

As a teacher I am constantly looking for ways to make the learning experience easier and providing meaningful understanding of complex ideas.  I hope this little história will help you to think a little more about ways you could remember things that you struggle with.  One challenge I have of teaching mainly adults is you guys, vocês, are not all the same!  So, often it is a case of thinking carefully about you as an individual, how you learn, what your situation and interests are etc in order to give you pertinent advice on how you will learn best.



POST - Sabem nadar ou podem nadar? What's the difference?

Well, if you listen to the little cantiga, you'll get that 'sabem bem nadar' must mean can - i.e. know how to swim well. 

Why not podem?  that also means can, right?  Yes, but mostly in the sense of to have permission, more like may.  So, podem nadar aqui, means they can - i.e. may, are allowed to swim here.

Let's make some more examples:

Can as in know how to do

  • Sei falar português, mas não sei falar francês.  I can speak Portuguese, but I can't speak French
  • O meu irmão sabe cozinhar muito bem.  My brother can cook very well
  • Os meninos ainda não sabem nadar.  The children can't swim yet

Can as in have permission

  • Posso fechar a janela?  Can I close the window?
  • Nao podes sair mais cedo.  You cannot leave earlier
  • Podemos trazer os nossos caes?  Can we bring our dogs?

Can you think of any more examples that would be relevant for you?

Who would think you can learn much from a little children's song?  (and for those of you ready to delve into the prepositions, note the use of para - cabeca para baixo, rabinho para o  ar and the truncated p'ró = para o as it is said /sung so quickly!)

POST - Bom dia, bom dia, bom dia a toda gente. Eu hoje venho à escola e por isso estou contente!

This little cantiga my son sings every day at the beginning of school every day is very sweet. It’s also a great example of the repetitive little songs that we learn as children. Children will happily sing and repeat the words, perhaps not understanding exactly the meaning of it all, but from the repetition they will eventually get all the words in the right order and then get the meaning.

Songs like this are a perfect way to take on board a lot of language effortlessly . Let’s look at the masculine and feminine here.

Bom dia, bom dia, sounds good doesn’t it once you have learned a little Portuguese or spent any time in Portugal, that’s what everyone says. But wouldn’t boa dia be more logical? Well, yes, but nobody says that, so it’s bom dia!

More phrases with dia
todo o dia – all day, todos os dias – every day, o meu dia – my day

A toda gente – to everyone. a toda tells us that gente is feminine.
More phrases with gente
muita gente – lots of people, pouca gente – few people.
It, surprisingly can also mean we, so a gente vamos = we are going!

If you learn the song, you learn the phrases, and have a good example of a word with its masculine or feminine counterparts, so when in doubt, recall the phrase, and you will be sure of the gender. For example, you want to say lots of people, and want to use the word gente. Is it muito or muita? Well, it’s bom dia a toda gente, so must be muita gente.

If you would like more info and some practise of the basic patterns of gender in Portuguese, email to get a free pdf  ‘Introduction to Masculine and Feminine in Portuguese’