Book Review (part 2): Muito Prazer, Fale O Portugues do Brasil / Speak the Portuguese of Brazil

March 26, 2009 at 5:43 pm 8 comments

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned this book and said I would write a review. Here it is.

I guess it’s natural for me to approach Brazilian Portuguese textbooks for English people in a similar way to how I view English textbooks for Brazilians. I do this in my job as an English teacher, and there are many, many poor textbooks but a few excellent ones too. “Muito Prazer” is, fortunately, a Brazilian Portuguese example of the latter, in my opinion. I would have no hesitation recommending this publication to learners of the language. It was certainly the sort of book I’d been hoping to see and use.

I’m going to be quite objective about this and list the many pros and few cons below and then conclude, briefly.

Why I like this book (the pros):
– The book is substantial (400 pages long), nicely presented (something you can’t take for granted in language textbooks) and nicely illustrated.
– The 2 CDs-worth of listenings are short, sharp and generally reflect possible real-life situations well.
– Explanations of new language are clear and simple, don’t rely on linguistic jargon and are rarely given in isolation without examples. New Grammar or vocabulary is introduced in small portions, tested with useful and appropriate exercises and activities and then slowly built on through the book. In other words, it is an integrated approach to learnign the language and this is a good thing.
– Students are not expected to “remember” everything and so helpful hints and reminders with references to pages earlier in the book are given.
– helpfully notes anomalies and irregularities to the principal rules.
– The activities only test what has been presented (which is not always a given in other textbooks).
– Authentic material is used in the readings. Articles are sometimes pulled from real website pieces.
– Each of the 20 units addresses a related theme – sport, health and body etc.
– The book does NOT forget pronunciation and includes some helpful pages on the topic.
– The book uses examples of Brazilian culture, geography and history to teach the language.
– The new language is presented in practical situations – buying tickets, viewing an apartment, meeting people.
– Useful reference sections at the back, scripts, answer pages and so on make it possible for someone (with a reasonable grasp of latin languages or previous exposure to Portuguese) to use this book without outside input and expect to attain an Upper Intermediate level appreciation of the language by the end of the 20 units.

Things that could be improved (or the cons).
– The readings are often far too short. Basically, make sure you are reading widely in addition to the material in the book. But, this is not surprising as the writers probably didn’t want to waste space in the 400 page tome.
– Related to the above, the questions for the readings are often too easy. For example, the reading might ask what the cost of an item is from the menu. Attaining the answer does not really demand comprehension of Portuguese – a child who only knows English would easily work it out.
– Occasionally, vocabulary is presented as a list with no explanation as to meaning. (This is when I have to call my wife to help! – or keep a dictionary handy!)
– Not really a con, but the book is designed for group use. Several activities involve talking to partners and this may not be possible.
– Related to the above, the answer section provides no clues as to what answers may or not be right when it involves the opinion of the reader (or his partner). For example, the book might ask you to write about your favourite colour. You want to check how you did, but the answer pages only say “Answers may vary” instead of giving examples of possible responses.
– Just a small thing. The book relies on Dialogues to introduce or present new language. Generally, they’re quite good and they’re not long but it would have been nice if there was some kind of task to do with these dialogues (fill in gaps / listen for an answer to a question) – otherwise, you may find yourself asking “why am I listening to these people?” or “why am I reading this?” which undermines motivation to learn.

To sum up, the cons are not very weighty if you are self-motivated in your learning, augment your use of the book with authentic reading material and have someone (a teacher? a native speaker?) to talk to and quiz about the tricky bits, and check your writing. I’m already half way through the whole thing and really enjoying it. So, if you’re learning Brazilian Portuguese, put this on your Christmas list.


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