50 Ways To Improve Your Portuguese, by Helena Tostevin and Manuela Cook
When it comes to books that talk about learning languages there are a variety of approaches that one can have. Some books are relentlessly focused on specific parts of grammar, and are not filled with any frills. Other books are dictionaries and are equally dry, not that this is a bad thing. Other books, though, desire to not only teach a language and help one improve one’s skills in a foreign language but to do so in an amusing and lighthearted way. This book tends to take that approach to the next level, and that is to try to make the book so amusing that sometimes the lesson could even get lost if one is not paying close attention. The authors are particularly keen on letting the reader know about false cognates and the way that they can lead people astray, but this book is missing a lot of the little details that one might expect from a book that seeks to teach a language, but instead this book is focused on improvement, regardless of what level one is improving on. This is a book that is happy to assist and not to be one’s main language course.
This book is an interesting one and it is organized in a strange way. The book begins with a discussion of the authors as well as a brief summary of the materials of the book and how to quickly improve one’s skills in Portuguese if one only has one, five, or ten minutes, followed by a discussion on how this book can be used. It is only after this that the main contents of the book begins, and even this is organized in an unusual way. The first part of the book discusses how to sound right in pronuniation and spelling, and it includes letters and collections of letters as well as nasal sounds, upper and lower case, stress and accents, spelling, and subtle sounds. After that the book discusses getting the structure right, which contains various lessons that have both a theme as well as a grammatical focus, including definite and indefinite articles, gendered nouns, word order, possessives, contractions, object pronouns, tenses, and various prepositions. The last section includes choosing the right words, including to be, to have, there is/are, numbers, dates, weekdays, words for here and there, and comparisons, as well as false cognates. All of these together make up 50 lessons (somehow) and take up less than 150 pages of material.
Overall, this book is an enjoyable one to read. One wonders if one (or both) of the authors had a bad experience with telling others that they had a spouse and were suspected of polygamy or that they received quince paste when they wanted orange marmalade or were thought to be lactating when they asked for some milk. Humorously enough, all of the short lessons at the beginning of the book end up leading the reader to this book, as if it was a cure-all for being better at Portuguese. For authors who do not bother to write a complete guide to the language and leave that task to others, they seem awfully sure of themselves in the quality of their book. While I did enjoy reading this book, I’m not sure the authors have really done what they set out to do. This book is too painfully limited in what it covers to make someone as good as they might want to be in the language, and could stand to be a lot longer than it is. Still, it is better to want more than to be happy with less, though.