Making best use of an iTalki tutor while at A1 level?

I’m about 2/3rds through the A1 units and am having a jolly great time trying to remember the vocabulary and the grammar I’ve learnt so far. I’m aware that the Achilles heel that most folks on the forum highlight is the difficulty of understanding spoken Portuguese.

So I signed up to iTalki, booked trial lessons with 3 different tutors, picked two of them, and have had a few additional lessons. The trial lesson with each was great - I got to practise explaining who I am, where I live, my family, etc. The kind of thing that was fairly easy to prepare for.

In week 2, I dialled in without any preparation. Both tutors tried to make me comfortable speaking, but when the subject was anything other than “o meu nome é, eu moro em Inglaterra, etc”-stuff I simply didn’t have enough vocabulary to string meaningful sentences together.

For my two lessons in week 3, I told each of them in advance what I’d been studying recently here on PP (colours, dates for tutor 1, and numbers, the clock for tutor 2). Both tutors gave me a few questions around that which I would answer, but I didn’t feel like I learnt much from that (the drills in the PP units had already forced me to think through dozens of different ways to use those specific words). One of the tutors was even kind enough to send me a couple of links to alternative study-sources that explained 80-90% of what the PP unit had taught me.

I have now paused the lessons, as I’m not sure how to make best use of the tutors. My grammar is not good enough to have a normal conversation about anything. The shorites had made me optimistic, thinking that with a very limited vocabulary and grammar, it would still be possible to communicate… but they now feel a bit “contrived”, and my experience doesn’t match my expectation.

I need to be able to express “real” sentences… things like “last weekend we had [past tense] friends around, I cooked [excellent chance to practice food-words explaining a recipe] and if the weather is nice [conditional? conjunctive? vague memories from French 40 years ago tells me that this is a difficult area] we will meet up again next week”. But past tense is in an A2 unit at least 2 months into the future with my current speed, and I really believe in spending enough time to fully learn each lesson and memorise the majority of the vocabulary.

So that finally brings me to the question:

How have others made good use of tutors early in the learning? My current thinking is to just pause them for a couple of months, and then magically everything will be fine and we’ll be able to have short conversations. But I don’t know if that is really the right approach, or if there’s anything else I can try now to get benefits with my very limited Portuguese knowledge?

Thanks in advance for any input.

Hi Tomas

I fully get your frustration. However, it is the same for everyone in the initial stages of learning a new language. You get a few words and phrases under your belt and eager to try them out only to find that in the second breath you hit a brick wall. I still cringe when I think about my first attempts at speaking Portuguese only to end up at a complete loss unable to carry the conversation forward. The trick of course is to keep trying. It does get better.

As with regards to iTalki and online tutors in general, I personally find they are very much a mixed bag. At the end of the day, it comes down to making a connection with someone – no matter how qualified they are (or say they are!!). Finding the right one is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. In my limited experience of trying to use them, I find most just want to teach the way they want and get very uncomfortable if asked to do something ‘out of the box’. That is not say there aren’t brilliant ones out there but as I said, it is difficult to hit on the teacher that is right for you.

I think you are right in that you need to specify at the start exactly what you want to do and what you need in order to move forward. I would suggest as an idea that each week you specify what topic you want to speak about in the next lesson. During the week you prepare a little spiel. Practice saying it out loud and if possible from memory. In the lesson, let the teacher listen to it and ask them to correct your pronunciation and rephrase anything for you that wasn’t quite right. Ask them if there is a better way to say something. Get them to ask you questions around the piece you prepared. Even if they ask for information that you already gave, it doesn’t matter, as you are using vocab and expressions in slightly different ways. All that said, don’t worry too much about learning something new. What you want to be able to gain from the session, is being able to use Portuguese and move to a stage where you begin to respond automatically without having to think hard before you open your mouth. There are no short cuts – it will take time.

Something I found helpful and still do now, is to read as much Portuguese as possible. But lower your expectations. You mentioned the Shorties. Yes of course they are little contrived especially at A1 level but they have some great phrases in them. Note down any phrases that strike you as particularly useful, and say them to yourself (or preferably aloud) over and over again until the phrase trips off your tongue. You need to do this at least 20-30 times. Yes I am serious! Also try to imagine different situations where you might say the phrase and change the intonation accordingly i.e. say it happily, angrily, sadly etc… All this will help to cement vocab as well as grammatical constructions and you will find over time you will start to use automatically.

Anyway I hope there is something useful to you in my little ‘spiel’! I wish you the best for happy studying.



Thank you so much @michael.pearce . That was very helpful and makes perfect sense. I’ll give the pre-defined subject a run, sounds like a good way to get a few sentences out.

De nada…
I am pleased you found it helpful, I was afraid I might come across a little too pedantic !!! I love learning languages but Portuguese has been a real challenge so just passing on some of the hurdles I have had to cross (still crossing !!!)
Best of luck and don’t give in!!!

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Which raises the interesting question of how one might say “spiel” in Portuguese. Translation engines get dragged away in the direction of the German original. The best I can get from a dictionary is: “arrazoado sem interesse”, but I feel there must be a more colloquial way of expressing the idea.

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Ha ha! Yes an interesting question. In the Oxford Portuguese Dictionary I found lengalenga and conversa-fiada. I checked their meanings in the Porto Editora below which seem to come pretty close though the English use of spiel relates more to the length and these definitions point to monotony and uninteresting which is not necessarily the case though often it is implied!!!

Why not discurso? :slight_smile:

Joseph, the hierarchy in English would be something like:

Discourse - very formal
Speech (as a noun) - fairly formal
Talk (again, as a noun) - a hint of formality
Spiel - a talk that was overly long, or unnecessary, or unwanted by the listener
“Spiel” (as Michael used it) - a self deprecating use

Practical examples might include: <Let’s give them the usual spiel and then go to the pub>, or <oh, expletive, he’s going to give us the same spiel as last week>. A spiel is something where either the speaker, or the listener, or both, know is not going to result in the transfer of information.

@coljay, sorry, I didn’t explain my suggestion further! Aside from its formal use, discurso can also be used in a sense comparable to spiel, along with other expressions, such as the already mentioned conversa fiada (which I personally prefer over tagarelice in this context).

Ok, good to know. That meaning didn’t come across in the dictionaries that I have access to.

Many thanks, as always, @Joseph

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Hi Michael,
I think your suggestion about preparing a topic for iTalki is brilliant. I just had my first trial iTalki lesson and I proposed that. The tutor thought it was a excellent idea as well.
Furthermore, I am planning to try “prepared topics” when I go for a walk in the neighborhood where I stay when in Lisbon (Amadora actually). I’ve been trying conversations at cafes, and people are friendly, agreeable, and don’t speak English, yet it doesn’t go far. I think this will make these conversation attempts work better!
Many thanks - Will

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Hi Will
It’s very kind of you to take the trouble to respond. I am glad you found something useful in my rambling thoughts and even more pleased it is something your tutor is willing to do with you.
You are so lucky to live somewhere where English is not spoken much forcing you to have to communicate in Portuguese. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you have no alternative. Here in the Algarve, if I falter in my Portuguese, the listener will revert to English. They are only trying to help, I know, but it has been a frustrating process. However, it happens less these days so if I can manage to get there you will too.
I wish you all the best with it.

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