With so many different tenses and moods to account for, not to mention irregular verbs, becoming conversational can feel like a never-ending task. Luckily, to communicate comfortably as a Portuguese beginner, you can get by studying a much smaller subset of verb conjugations – if you know a few shortcuts, that is.
With the right strategies, you can get the maximum communicative power out of what you already know. Building a rough foundation lets you start having basic conversations earlier, which means you’ll pick up additional skills more naturally over time.
Start by learning the present tense verb endings for regular verbs, as well as for the most common irregular verbs. Once you have these memorised, it’s time to get a little creative to expand what you can talk about. For example, just by learning how to conjugate the verb “estar” (to be) in the present tense, you can discuss a wide variety of other actions using only the base form of other verbs (i.e. the infinitive). For example, instead of conjugating the verb “dormir”, you can simply use “estar” to say, “estou a dormir” (I am sleeping).
In some contexts, you can even use present tense forms to talk about the future. For example, by conjugating only the verb “ir” (to go), you can say something like “Eu vou comer” (I am going to eat) or “Vais chegar em breve?” (Are you going to arrive soon?).
Another helpful shortcut is taking advantage of cognates. Cognates are words that have a common origin, which means they often look very similar to the English translation. There are a number of spelling patterns that help you pick out cognates to quickly and easily grow your vocabulary.
For example, you’ll notice that many English words ending in -tion end in -ção in Portuguese: option = opção, situation = situação, and so on. Words that end in -ty in English often end in -dade in Portuguese: society = sociedade, responsibility = responsibilidade, and so on.
Furthermore, there are a number of English loan words used in Portuguese which you don’t need to translate at all, such as marketing, stress, and email.
For a comprehensive list of tips and patterns to help you make the most of your Portuguese knowledge, we put together a guide to European Portuguese Shortcuts at this link: practiceportuguese.com/shortcuts