Learning English by reading about it in Portuguese: why isn’t it effective?

Many self-taught learners of English, especially beginners, choose to read about English grammar and vocabulary in Portuguese, for they feel insecure about reading a text in English. They think: I should start by reading explanations in Portuguese, and as I progress, I might introduce some English readings in my studies… This is a mistake, for several reasons.

When you read grammar explanations, you are exercising a process called learning, which is an auxiliary – and therefore secondary – process. In other words, you are learning “about” English rather than actually “learning English”. In order to become fluent in a language, whatever it may be, one should aim at acquisition, which is the process that makes you assimilate and master a language. It is a subconscious process, which takes place while your brain solves tasks and tries to communicate in the target language. It is the same process through which children learn to speak.

Tire suas dúvidas sobre os tempos verbais, baixe um guia grátis da Englishtown: Guia de Tempos Verbais em Inglês. Ele contém um resumo bem estruturado para revisar os conceitos que você aprendeu na escola. Clique aqui e saiba como baixar!

If you read about English in English, your brain has to deal with two kinds of information: the learned information – the grammar rules or patterns you are reading about, and the acquired information – the new patterns and vocabulary you acquire while reading the text. You are most likely to forget the former than the latter, since the brain lets go first of information it is spoon-fed, rather than information it has to figure out for itself.

If all this applied linguistics babble isn´t enough to convince you, maybe common sense will: the only way to learn how to surf is surfing, the only way to learn how to swim is actually getting into the water, the only way to learn how to drive is actually getting behind the wheel. It´s no use trying to learn how to stand on the surf board on the sand, it´s no use trying to learn how to drive by reading the car´s manual of instructions…

That doesn´t mean that the mother language – Portuguese – doesn´t play an important part in the process; it is a mistake to think it should be totally left aside. By contrasting new patterns and expressions of the target language (English) with known patterns and expressions in the mother language, the learners raise their linguistic awareness, which is extremely positive for their learning.

This means the learner should first deal with new information in the target language, and then associate it with the correspondent information in the mother language. For instance: you were reading a text in English and came across the sentence: “I was going on a date last night but the guy stood me up”. You should try to infer the meaning from the context, from the sentences before and after it, or resort to a monolingual dictionary. By doing this, you would understand the expression means the guy never showed up, I was alone waiting for him and he didn´t come. Then, I can contrast with Portuguese and make an association: “ah, stood me up quer dizer me ‘deu um bolo’…!”. This will help my learning and the next time I see this expression used in this context, I will remember its equivalent in Portuguese.

All in all, this is what the learner should know: the progress you will make by studying English through material written in Portuguese is limited. You should take the plunge and study monolingual material, as hard as it may seem at first. As your brain gets used to the new patterns, it will become easier. But remember: if your brain has to work hard to understand something, it will be less likely to forget it.

Aplicativo para Ampliar o Vocabulário

Você tem dificuldade para se lembrar das palavras, phrasal verbs e expressões em inglês? Conheça o "Meu Vocabulário: Um aplicativo para ampliar o seu vocabulário em inglês" e veja como nossa equipe resolveu esse problema definitivamente.

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Maria Thereza Tosta Camillo

Maria Thereza Tosta Camillo é professora de inglês (CPE Certified) e lecionou nas seguintes escolas: Yázigi, Brasas, CLC/CEPUERJ, Wisdom, CNA, FISK e em cursos de Inglês in-company, de 1991 a 2004. Colabora periodicamente com o English Experts através de artigos e revisão de conteúdo.

18 comentários

  • 28/12/08  
    Isis diz: 1

    Gostei muito do artigo! O curso onde estudo trabalha com essa metodologia. Eu aprendi bem mais rápido assimilando as palavras ás figuras e ao contexto do que traduzindo. O aprendizado deve ser como quando nós aprendemos á falar quando crianças, observamos e ninguém traduz as coisas para nós.
    Aliás, estamos pagando um curso para aprender inglês e não português. Acho muito errado os cursos que vem com o material em portuguÊs.

  • 28/12/08  
    Nani diz: 2

    Quando vc começa a forçar o cérebro para algo, é sempre complicado, mas aos poucos vai se tornando mais simple,s basta não desistir.

    Every time I look for a word in an english-portuguese dicctionary, I actually don’t learn that word, I learn better when I look at an english-english dictionary or try to figure it out by the context. That’s the best way to speak a new language. Hard in the begining, but easier and more effective in less time.

    Congratulations for the article!

  • 29/12/08  
    Juliana diz: 3

    Sou professora de inglês há alguns anos e sempre tentei colocar isso na cabeça dos meus alunos em vão. Achei o artigo muito bom. Ele fala do assunto com argumentos óbvios, mas que a gente sempre passa por cima em nome da comodidade de ler a explicação gramatical de forma mais simples e clara, mas em português. Meus alunos sempre pedem um ‘resumo’ da matéria em português e eu sempre me recuso a dar, eles acham que é por maldade e ainda há os que pensam que é preguiça minha em procurar outra fonte de informação, pode? . O artigo é de primeira.

  • 29/12/08  
    Deivis diz: 4

    What’s up! Cool article

    Let’s your students know about this site “Project TV”. It’s the best website ever to watch movies, sitcoms, TV shows and so on online.

    Take care and keep the good work.

  • 29/12/08  
    Deivis diz: 5

    BTW, in case anybody wants to chat in English, go ahead and jot down my msn:

    vemkenois@hotmail.com

  • 29/12/08  
    Deivis diz: 6

    Just for the record I made a minor typo in the first post. I meant “let” not “let’s”.

    take care

  • 29/12/08  
    Thaís diz: 7

    Hi!
    Well, I was thinking.Maybe you could make a post about Brithsh culture and some slangs or useful phrases. Please. I searched but I didn’t find it and I really need it.
    By the way, your article is really cool!
    bye

  • 29/12/08  
    Maria Brasileira diz: 8

    Thank you guys for the feedback ! I am glad you liked the article.

  • 30/12/08  
    Fabiana diz: 9

    This article is so….rich! A bit of a punch in the stomach….just the way I like it…. thank you!

    Fabiana

  • 03/01/09  
    Dicas de Inglês :: Basic questions about learning diz: 11

    […] Learning English by reading about it in Portuguese: why isn’t it effective? […]

  • 04/01/09  
    Why learning English by reading about it in Portuguese isn’t effective (and vice-versa!) « Danissima’s Scrapbook diz: 12

    […] 4, 2009 at 5:54 am (Brazil, ESL, Language & Culture) This is a link to an article on an Brazilian blog about English, shared with me by a Brazilian student. Often when I mention […]

  • 04/01/09  
    Patricia diz: 13

    Este artigo é muito bom e guarda uma verdade profunda. Aprender Inglês lendo em Português não produz efeito, e pior, leva a uma preguiça cerebral extrema. Estudo Inglês há um ano e no meu curso existe um mix, algumas coisas são apresentadas em Português, mas a maioria delas é apresentada em Inglês. Obviamente preferimos que a apresentação venha em nossa língua mãe por conveniência, mas como é explicado no artigo, isto não é muito efetivo. Além do mais, muitas vezes substimamos nossas habilidades, achamos que não vamos entender se estiver escrito em Inglês, mas isto não é verdade. Me surpreendi ao conseguir ler e compreender muito bem este artigo, mesmo estando em Inglês.

  • 05/01/09  
    juliano diz: 14

    it’s great, congratulations.

  • 05/01/09  
    Alexandre diz: 15

    sempre procurei traduzir textos em inglês, agora que estou fazendo o curso tenho dificuldade em estudar tudo em inglês, parece que acostumei com esta forma. se tiver alguma dica eu agradeço.

  • 09/01/09  
    Nicole Brooman diz: 16

    I totally agree with you Maria, one will only learn English by actually dealing with it, that’s why it’s so important to read and listen to the target language, cause it’s the best way of really learning it.
    Great article!

  • 05/01/10  
    Rosangela diz: 17

    Very good!!! I’m an Enlgish Teacher and I have many problems in teaching my students only in English because They complain all the time, actually They want all translated into Portuguese and say thas is so difficult learn only in English, but I say back: If you are learning English you have to have classes only in English…
    It’