Eu Falo um Pouco de Português


Everyday I get an email in my mailbox from Duolingo saying:

Daily Portuguese (Beta) reminder email
You made the owl cry.
To keep the owl happy you should practice regularly.

People have mentioned that if we’re going to Mozambique, someone should know how to speak Portuguese. Someone even gave me the Pimsluer Method for European Portuguese on CD. Doulingo was conveniently online and free, and philosophically interesting, so I tried that one first.

I learned about it in a Computer Science/Engineering class I was TAing for last quarter, when someone presented a free language learning “gamified” web app, used to facilitate online translation. In other words, you think the owl cares about how much German you’re learning, while all the owl wants you to do is translate those endless German periodicals like the browser interfaced drones that we are.

Duolingo is a free language-learning website andcrowdsourced text translation platform. The service is designed so that, as users progress through the lessons, they simultaneously help to translate websites and other documents. (


At a Christmas cookies making party, I had a random assortment of friends show up. In particular, Paulo, who’s in my research group and from Portugal, was in attendance. In Portuguese, I could say things to Paulo, like: “I am an apple” and “Look! a restaurant.” I’ve also said things to him like, “Girls drink milk and men drink drink beer.” To which, Paulo questions, “where are you learning this from?” “Duolingo, of course,” I respond.


Ok so, two downfalls of learning Portuguese this way are: (1) Duolingo Portuguese is in Beta, so there’s clearly some fine tuning that needs to happen, not to mention the computer voice is hard to understand and (2) it’s Brazilian Portuguese, not European. However, as annoying as daily emails sound, the owl’s tears motivate me to at least practice everyday, and as any music instructor has taught me, you need to practice everyday, even if only for 2 minutes.

Since Paulo knew Portuguese already, we switched to German, where we learned phrases like, “I am a man and you are a woman.” Jokingly, I told another friend that these are good pick up lines for a night out in the town. “I am a man and you are a woman… Look! a restaurant!”

So, in addition to Duolingo and the couple years of Spanish I took in high school, I have Pimsluer on my smartphone, which works on repetition and enunciation, and tells you how awesome it’s method is for the first 15 minutes of the lesson. Hey, I’m happy for all the help I can get.

My energy is focused on getting funding right now for the trip, and finishing this PhD. Although, I have been thinking of ways in which I can “gamify” this trip to Africa.

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