Student interview: learning a new language

We asked one of our Portuguese learners for their thoughts and experiences of learning a language:

What made you want to study Portuguese at Oxford University Language Centre?

I wanted to learn Portuguese because I enjoy learning languages and Portuguese is useful for my work. I think classes taught by a professional are the best way to learn, especially when you're a beginner.

Have you ever studied at the Language Centre before?

No, only for Portuguese stages 1 and 2.

What previous experience do you have of studying other languages?

I studied French at secondary school, then French and Italian at university, and I've taken Spanish and German evening classes, though I didn't get very far with German!

What do you find is the best way for you to learn a new language?

I think different people will find that different ways work for them.

For me:

When it comes to grammar I need to write the rules down in a structure that makes sense to me, and then note the patterns and the irregularities, so I can then remember 'generally it's like this, but there are these exceptions...'. For example I write down verb tables and then highlight one type of irregular ending in one colour, and another type of irregular ending in another colour.

For vocab I have never found that writing vocab lists helps, though perhaps it would for someone with a better memory than me! I find that context is what helps me learn, like how a child learns their native language. For example, years ago when my French was less good there was an English website that I loved reading, and there was a French equivalent, so I started reading that too. I didn't look up every word I didn't understand, but the context generally meant that I understood anyway. And then the same words had come up often enough that I found I had learnt them without even trying. You don't need to memorise a word if it actually has meaning for you, because you've come across it enough that it conjures up a picture in your mind when you see or hear it.

But there is something that I'm sure will work for everyone, and it's practice. It works for reading, writing, speaking, and listening, and grammar and vocab. I would recommend reading anything in the language you're learning. It doesn't really matter whether it's great literature or not: anything is better than nothing. And if it's something you would choose to read anyway that's even better, because if you enjoy it it won't feel like work, and languages will become a normal part of your everyday life, not something else on your to-do list. Similarly, I'd recommend watching films, listening to podcasts or even music, and finding a native speaker to write to or talk to. Websites like, where you can find a native speaker to practise with in exchange for you helping them practise your native language, have been invaluable for me. It's even through language classes, websites like that, language meetups etc. that I've met a lot of my friends, and even my partner.

Do you use digital tools to learn languages?

I've obviously used those websites that I mentioned, and I've read parallel texts on my Kindle and listened to things online. I really like games to practise conjugations, like the crosswords on (thank you to my teacher, Luísa, for that one!). I've never found that apps like Duolingo or Memrise work for me, but I know that a lot of people love them.

What do you feel are the advantages / disadvantages of studying a language remotely?

I guess the advantages of one are the disadvantages of the other.

I like the remote classes: I can do most of the activities whenever I want, all at the same time or all at once, and then the class takes half an hour instead of two hours.

Others may prefer in-person classes: it's easier to get the work done when a block of time is set aside for it, you can easily ask the person next to you a quick question instead of asking in front of the whole class or in the forum afterwards, and there's maybe a more social aspect.


If you enjoy it it won't feel like work, and languages will become a normal part of your everyday life, not something else on your to-do list.

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12 Woodstock Road

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