Giving Portuguese a Try

Since I took Spanish for 11-plus years in school, using the usual supplies like paper, pencils, books, and the like is pretty much second nature for me. Certainly the same goes for all those oral drills, quizzes, tests, and workbooks my teachers assign. It’s tedious at times, but these materials and methods have proven to work for me. Earlier this year, given my background in Spanish, I decided to try my hand at Brazilian Portuguese. The problem is I’m notorious for my previous efforts with self-directed study. They’ve always been, let’s just say, “less than thrilling” (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). With traditional self-study books out of the picture, Rosetta Stone came to mind. I’ve heard a lot about Rosetta Stone software, and I’m currently using Rosetta Stone Version 3 in my Russian classes at school, so it seemed like a natural choice.

Today, self-directed learning is an entirely different world. During my first lesson with Rosetta Stone Version 4 TOTALe, I felt like I was on the streets of São Paulo, without so much as a dictionary. Challenged and confused at first, I had no clue what I was doing. But with a word and four pictures, I thought, it couldn’t be that hard, right? Several buzz sounds later (each letting me know about my responses), I discovered I had much to learn. After a bit of a learning curve, it started making sense. Rosetta Stone’s approach to learning through immersion pushed me to analyze, to think critically about what I’m reading. I began recognizing patterns, such as singular versus plural endings, and recalling vocabulary easily. Maçã, leite, and mulheres came to me easier than when I pore over my vocabulary list for a quiz in Russian class (don’t tell my professor that).

Learning with Rosetta Stone reminds me of my senior year in high school. A young girl had moved to my area from Mexico City, and she shared the same homeroom with me. Always looking for an opportunity to practice new languages, I befriended her—and I quickly found out she practically spoke only Spanish. Truth be told, I felt like I jumped into the deep end when I really still belonged in the kiddie pool. However, just like the Rosetta Stone approach, the experience with my new classmate pushed my limits and made me pay greater attention to what I read and heard. If I didn’t know how to say the word for flu, for example, I had to take a roundabout way of saying it. But once I learned that word, I remembered it and had the added benefit of improved speaking skills.

While still a traditionalist in my preference for classroom-based learning, I find learning with Rosetta Stone encouraging. Coming from someone who has learned three or four languages on the side, this isn’t a recommendation made in passing. Buying a phrase book at a local bookstore doesn’t result in online sessions with native speakers, instant feedback on pronunciation, or a guided, level-based approach. With TOTALe, I get all of those.

Speaking of books, the last book I used to study a language by myself still proudly displayed the former USSR as a country. That’s where self-directed study really goes downhill. I’m glad that Version 4 TOTALe has up-to-date features, including live coaching sessions. Hopefully, this will keep me from sounding too out of date!

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Josh Wilberger

Josh Wilberger currently attends Virginia Commonwealth University, majoring in Spanish with a minor in Russian Studies. As a boy who took speech classes in kindergarten, he never expected to find an interest in foreign languages. But from the tildes of Spanish to the Cyrillic alphabet of Russian, he now enjoys languages as ways to grow and learn. Not having traveled abroad, Josh has a dream itinerary that includes Spain, Brazil, and Russia, among other destinations. He hopes to further augment his linguistic background with Italian, French, and Polish.
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