How to work on conversational engagement at A1 level?

Hi All,
I know this is a familiar topic/challenge to many (all??) here…how to start understanding what people are saying, and communicating to others in every day life in Portugal! I have just about completed the A1 units. If I knew this much vocabulary in other languages, I would be able to have simple conversations with (patient) people. I recall in learning Indonesian, how little I needed to know before I could have very simple conversations, and then learn more vocabulary and grammar on the fly - all the while improving conversational skills and confidence.
This morning I went for a walk with my Portuguese girlfriend’s rescue pigeon (who can’t fly) in Amadora. So many people (kids and adults) wanted to talk to me.
These people were very kind, patient, and would speak more slowly when I asked them to. Also, few folks around here speak English.
Nonetheless, while I could convey one or 2 things about the pombo (pigeon), getting a very simple sustained conversation was out of the question.
What have other people found that works to start working on conversation at about an A1 level - i.e. being able to comprehend the speech of new people, even if you might know the words they are using!
I’ve learned a lot from Practice Portuguese, yet in the real world, I’m still much closer to zero communication than I would be in learning almost any other language. Frustrating!!
Thank you for any tips or experiences you might like to share!


I share your frustration, and wish I had found an easy answer. I think the stock suggestion, so to speak, is to persevere and just practice, practice, practice. After that, practice some more.

Like you, I’m through the A1 units but no more. I went to Madeira on holiday a few months back and initially tried to use the little Portuguese I know when buying a coffee or trying to find things in the supermarket. The kind people consistently replied in English, so eventually I gave up even trying (this was probably a stupid mistake).

After a few days I was up in the hills hiking through a small village where I was making a point of saying bom dia whenver I met someone. Person number 10 or 20 was an elderly lady who didn’t just return the greeting, but responded with a full sentence. Unfortunately, I couldn’t understand a word of it. I explained that I was studying the language but that I wasn’t good at it. She smiled and, more slowly, said something else I also didn’t understand. We carried on for a few more sentences, and eventually said adeus.

That led to a couple of months of me not spending any time at all studying. But I am eventually “back at it”, and shall be watching this post with keen interest, in case there are any good tips or tricks :slight_smile:

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@vastspace1, it really is difficult to understand people in the real world. I don’t know how much it’ll actually help, but as a starting point, I have shared some suggestions in this other forum topic. Other members have also shared tips & strategies all across the forum. Some examples:


Hi. I think both of you are actually doing what is expected of someone who has completed the A1 level. Here are the reference points for someone at the A1 “Breakthrough” level:

  • Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type.
  • Can introduce themselves and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where they live, people they know and things they have.
  • Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

Read the descriptions of the other levels at:

and you should feel much better about what you have accomplished.

The problem is that, after a few months study and having “finished” A1 on this site, we all imagine that we can be at the B2 level, where you “can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.”

It doesn’t work like that. In order to understand what a stranger might say, you need to understand at least 80% of the words and grammar that they might use, so you need to be at least at the B1 level. Then you have to practice listening to conversations without subtitles repeatedly. For me, that’s generally listening at a level or more below the level I’m working on. This all takes time and daily study.

Don’t feel bad if at the beginning the Portuguese answer you in English. They may have studied English for 6+ years. But once it’s evident that you can understand them and communicate, I find that they will stay in Portuguese much more than in many countries. And of course they appreciate greatly that you have begun studying their language.

This is my sixth foreign language. Practice Portuguese is by far the best way to master a language that I have ever encountered, mostly because of their Smart Review, and that the units are well laid out and the right size. Even if someone is working with a tutor or taking a class, I think they should also use this until they have mastered all the units and shorties. It’s daily study and smart repetition which brings the the most efficient and effective results.

It’s not expensive to get a private online tutor, which will give you more practice in understanding and speaking. I probably will, but personally, I will wait until I’ve finished all the material on this wonderful website.



Hi there, one quick thing, its a small world! I had an apartment in Amadora until last year. It was near the train station. I know what you mean about not many people there speaking English. However, I used to buy bread most days from the same baker and she was very patient with me. Every time I went in she would tell me the name of another bread product or cake and the following day I would ask for one of the things she had pointed out. It was a good way of practising este, esse, aquele etc.

The other thing I have been doing over the past year or so is having a weekly 1-2-1 lesson with a native Portuguese teacher where we mainly practise conversation - I completed A1 and about half of A2 using PP but, I’m finding the speaking very good at gaining confidence. I also write a daily diary for my teacher in portuguese and also listen to some portuguese podcasts to get the feel for the language and to get used to the sounds.

I spend about 5 months of the year in Portugal and I’ve found I can now understand a lot of what is said to me but I still find replying a bit of a challenge. I have though got more used to answering the telephone to Portuguese speakers without immediately asking if the caller speaks English.

Recently I joined another web platform called Portuguese with Carla that includes a weekly live small group practice session with a native Portuguese speaker. The sessions use 7 questions based on a theme such as my favourite food or my favourite season and why.

The platform is pretty full immersion with little English but lots of excercises and explanations - Portuguese and English. So far I’m finding it very good. I’m considering giving up PP now.

Basically getting as much exposure as possible will help. By the way, if your girlfriend speaks English tell her to only speak in Portuguese - at least part for of the day.


One of the things my husband & I started doing when we first moved to Portugal is watch O Preco Certo (The Price is Right). Before, I would go to the market and it would take too long to work out the price a vendor had told me, so they would switch to English. After watching O Preco Certo, and playing along in Portuguese, I now find that I can easily understand amounts when they are spoken in Portuguese. The show is funny, sometimes silly, but it’s a fun way to get exposed to the Portuguese language. I still don’t understand a lot of what they say, especially some of the contestants with strong accents, but they more we watch it, the more I understand. Plus it gives you exposure to some of the various dialects in the country. The show is on RTP 1 at 7:00, and is also available to stream on the RTP website.
I have also found that listening to Portuguese music and radio helps. I especially found this listening to Portuguese Christmas music. If you have Spotify, do a search on Natal, there is a lot of Portuguese Christmas music there.


Thanks for sharing your experience. It is tough. The one ‘positive’ thing I can say is that each time I come back and I am with my girlfriend’s family, and with Portuguese friends (who generally speak English - but they speak Portuguese among themselves)…though I still can’t understand enough to get the meaning - I can tell that I am understanding a higher percentage of words - and I get a touch of the meaning. So if I live to be very old, I may be able to speak Portuguese :rofl:
I just signed up for some iTalki lesson trials - will see how that goes.

Thanks for what you shared. Yes, I had read that about A1. And I have come to the conclusion I must push forward in the levels. Nonetheless, the comprehension and spoken accent issues seem very difficult in Portuguese. I just signed up for some tutoring - and am accepting it will take time. I agree that PP is great. At the same time I feel real conversation is essential. Otherwise, when we go “off script” ie stray from the Practice Portuguese sentences, it gets waaaayyyyy more difficult. So getting that start in simple conversation seems like another key!

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Hi, Thank you for what you wrote of your experience. It sounds like you are well on your way over the initial challenge to being able to actually use Portuguese! Congratulations!

Would you mind sharing your favorite podcasts for getting more familiar with the language?

Also, how did you find a teacher? I assume you work with him/her remotely at least when you are not in Portugal.
If you think if would be ok with your teacher, would you share their contact with me via private message? I just signed up for 2 trial sessions with different teachers on iTalki over the next couple of days - so I will see how that goes. I think a good teacher would make a big difference.

I’ll look back at Portuguese with Carla too I encountered a while back - but for no particular reason I didn’t get started with it.

Muito Obrigado!

Hi Vastspace 1,

I don’t feel the need for a private tutor yet. I do speak Spanish, so speaking and communicating in Portuguese comes perhaps a little easier. I normally don’t get a tutor until I am fairly advanced. But I do lots of Smart Review - generally 200+ points a day. That seems to get me by when I’m in Portugal. I was able to get our phone contracts and rent an apartment in Portuguese.

I’ve looked for tutors in other languages. Basically you go by the ratings, the price and then try a trial lesson. I’ve had good experiences with Italki. You can tell in the first lesson whether you enjoy speaking with the person and whether you can get from them what you want - in your case, perhaps the chance to speak with some, but not too much, correction. Tell them what you want and remind them during the lesson. If you’re not enthusiastic about them, try someone else. Hopefully they will give you some notes on your lesson and perhaps suggestions for study. You should really enjoy the lesson.

I find that PP has everything you need at the beginning. The shorties give you the chance to practice listening at many different levels in short sessions. Try listening twice before looking at the text with or without translation. Listen one level lower than where you are. Listen to a shortie every day and don’t be discouraged! It gets better over time.

I wouldn’t listen to podcasts until I was at a strong B2 level. Then you can listen to anything.

However, there is a good European Portuguese telenovela (soap opera) WITH SUBTITLES - O Sabio. Unfortunately, most Portuguese programs do not have subtitles. This has 300 episodes. You can probably watch this with subtitles starting sometime when you’ve reached the B1 level and eventually you don’t need the subtitles anymore.

João Fala

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Hi there,

Thanks for your reply.

The podcasts I listen to are:

  1. Aprender a Comer. This one is a healthy food expert in conversation with one or two others where they talk about topics covering healthy eating. Episodes tend to be around 10 minutes. The good thing is, if you know the subject they are talking about it’s (almost) possible to understand the conversation. Also, they repeat a lot of words. It’s weekly.
  2. RTP (recommended by my teacher): you can download the RTP player to your phone or iPad or computer. RTP is basically like the Portuguese BBC. They have a lot of news and documentaries and they also have 10 minute-ish podcasts about news of the day. They have channels for all the regions in Portugal including the Açores - different accent.
  3. Noticarío National: more national news, again short episodes 10-20 minutes of news.

It can be hard to get into the habit of listening but 5 or 10 mins every day or every few days gets you familiar with the sound of the language. The advice I had was not to try to translate what’s being said more to get the feel of the sounds and to repeat out loud a few words for pronunciation practice.

Another option is to watch Portuguese TV on Netflix with English subtitles or Portuguese subtitles.

This is popular

Rabo de Peixe or Turn of the Tide in English. I haven’t watched it yet.

I found my teacher via VerbalPlanet

I’ve been having lessons with Suzanna Melo.

I find Portuguese with Carla really good but it’s quite expensive but if you do the 7 day trial you’ll see why. Amazing resources and it has a great structure. I have decided to leave PP now and focus on the lessons and Carla.

I hope this all helps.

Best wishes,


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Hi Jonathan,
Thank you for all of this info! It sounds like you are spending more time daily than I have been spending. I go through phases of more intensive learning, but then sometimes I just do one or two smart reviews a day. It makes sense that I need to up my daily efforts to make more progress.

  • Will

Hi - Thank you for your suggestions. I found O Preco Certo and started watching. My Portuguese girlfriend was shocked at first :scream: but then admitted that it was a good idea :rofl:
I’ve been listening to Portuguese music as well.

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Thank you Joseph!! It is really helpful that you put all these useful links together! I’ve seen some, but there’s a lot I haven’t seen yet too. I hope this will be helpful to many others as well as me.

  • Will
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Hi again,
I found this post from Michael in another thread that I am going to try and I think it will be really helpful. The suggestion was to prepare a spiel (dialogue on a topic) for iTalki suggestions - and I think it would be a great way make conversations any many contexts when the opportunity arises to work better. Here is the link: Making best use of an iTalki tutor while at A1 level? - #2 by michael.pearce

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Thanks Jonfeller. O Sabio seems to be a great learning tool. People don’t speak very fast:). But I don’t see how to get subtitles. H Could you please let me know how to turn them on. Thanks again. Lester

Hi lesfoley. Open O Sabio at Then look at the bottom right corner of the screen where there is a rectangular page with lines on it, just like on YouTube for subtitles. It is above where it says Controlo parento inativo. Click on the subtitles icon. At the top of the page it says Legendas Ocultas. Desativado is probably highlighted now. Click on Português. If you want to change the size and style of the subtitles, click on Configuraçoes. Then click the X at the top right of the page. That should do the trick. You may have to turn on the subtitles for each episode, but the configurations will continue.

João Fala


BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS? Does anyone have a good recommendation for a European Portuguese language learning book that can serve as an easy reference for looking up and reviewing elements of grammar? Having completed a lesson in Practice Portuguese, sometimes I need to look back and review - eg demonstratives.
I take notes from Practice Portuguese, but a clear summary in a language reference book might be a useful tool. Or is there a good site with concise, easy to navigate Portuguese language grammar summaries? Obrigado pelos vossos conselhos!

@vastspace1, lots of nice suggestions in this thread :slight_smile: : Best Portuguese Textbooks

Great! Thanks!!

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