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Monday, November 29th
Busuu was founded in 2008 - and, if you're wondering, it's the name of an endangered language in Cameroon, too. In 2015, Busuu partnered with McGraw Hill Education to offer certification testing from core topics in the CEFR levels A1-B2. According to an independent study, using Busuu Premium for 22 hours is the equivalent of a college semester of language learning!
Thorough (if aggravating) placement test
You can get a basic membership with Busuu for free: just enter your name and email address (and uncheck the box if you don't want to receive newsletters and offers). From there, you'll be asked if you're new to learning Portuguese or if you'd like to take a short placement test. Frankly speaking, we found the placement test to be annoying and inaccurate: presented with an image of a female medical professional, we filled in the blank to say she was a "doutora" but it was marked as incorrect because Busuu was looking for the word "medica" (they're both correct). It's also a timed test, and when the functions don't let you drop the words into the corresponding boxes on your first try, you get marked down for taking too long. And, if you miss an accent or misspell a word by one letter, it's wrong. But, all grumbling aside, the test is thorough and placed us at a reasonable level of Portuguese (B1).
Set up your learning plan
Once you're given your level (including starting as a beginner), Busuu asks what your main goal is: communicating with friends and family, learning for fun and culture, helping with your education, feeling like a local when you travel, or developing professionally. Next, select which level of fluency you'd like to achieve, set a schedule for which days of the week and time of day you plan on practicing, and indicate if you'd like to get notifications from Busuu (like study reminders and learning tips). You'll also be asked how many minutes a day you want to study (they recommend at least 10 minutes). Finally, based on what you entered, Busuu will tell you how long it will take you to reach your fluency goal. For us, going from a B1 to B2, practicing for 10 minutes a day every day, it was estimated to take us just under a year to get there.
Watch the pricing and refund period
Pricing is a little confusing here. On the main page, everything was initially listed in Euros and we were told that we could choose from Basic, Premium, and Premium Plus memberships. But, on the page after our study plan was created, we were only offered Premium Plus for $5.74/month or "Limited Access" (the free basic membership). It wasn't until we clicked on the "learn more" button that we were given the middle-tier Premium membership as a choice. Make sure to click on the pricing options of 1 Month, 12 Months, and 24 Months at the top: the rates are discounted if you pay for a year or two in advance. But, keep in mind that the satisfaction guarantee only extends to the first 14 days after purchase: if you pay for an annual plan and decide a month in that it doesn't have enough materials for you, you won't get a refund.
Extra features with paid plans
Is it worth it to pay for a Premium or Premium Plus membership? Maybe. The Premium level is $9.99/month and lets you access your Busuu content in Offline Mode, gives you grammar lessons, and goes over what you've learned through an AI-powered review. At the Premium Plus level, you'll pay $13.99/month and get a personalized study plan, access feedback from the Busuu community of native speakers, and get your level certified with official tests from McGraw Hill.
Plenty of content for free
Do you need all of that? Maybe, maybe not: Busuu gives you a wealth of content for absolutely free, and you can upgrade your plan at any time if you decide you want the higher tier of features. We worked our way through the first B1 lesson, An Eventful Holiday, in about 8 minutes (it was estimated to take 12 minutes). We love and hate that Busuu marks it incorrect if you don't include the right accents; we suggest using it on your desktop if you want to make sure you're learning proper spelling, and on your mobile device (with the Portuguese keyboard/dictionary enabled) if you want it to auto-suggest the right spelling.
Not as many opportunities to speak Portuguese
What's missing? Speaking exercises. If you want those, you'll have to go to the Social tab and select Conversation, then choose to practice with a picture or a video. Under the Social tab (it looks like speech bubbles), you'll also see what kinds of exercises other people have submitted: you can be a kind human and correct other learners' submissions (like short audio clips or text answers), but you might have to get a membership if you want the same kind of feedback on more than just a few sample photos. Even then, you're still at the mercy of the native speakers of Portuguese on the platform: Busuu doesn't use any speech recognition (that we could see) for that kind of work.
Fun to help others with English, too
Full disclosure: we may have gotten drawn into correcting exercises for lots of Portuguese learners of English as we researched this service. You might too. (It's strangely addictive and fun!)
Mixed reviews from students
What do other people think about Busuu? Only about half of the 10,000 reviews we found gave this program a perfect 5-star rating. Over 20% rated it as average, poor, or bad - the vast majority of the complaints were regarding Busuu's automatic renewal; since there's such a limited cancellation policy, if you miss the reminder email telling you that you're about to be billed again, you can't get your money back. Other users criticize the structure of the lessons themselves, citing instruction without much context, a lack of cultural information, and not having enough content in each level.
Not a bad place to start
You'll have plenty of opportunity to decide that for yourself if you start with Busuu's free account. Take as long as you like to work through the Portuguese lessons you choose and see if you like the overall approach Busuu takes to teaching (and maybe have some fun helping English learners with their exercises while you're at it). If you decide to subscribe, might we suggest putting a reminder in your calendar for the week before it renews, so that you can cancel if needed? Because Busuu lets you get over 150 lessons at absolutely no cost, and given that more than 5000 users like this service enough to give it five stars, we recommend it as a good starting point for your Portuguese learning. Boa sorte!
Maybe you're enchanted by the images of carnaval and your dream is to see it in person someday. Or you live in a tourist destination frequently visited by Brazilians and it would help you in your job to be able to speak Portuguese. Whether your interest in the language is for business or pleasure, it's important to know how to go about learning it!
The truth is, not many places offer Portuguese classes (unless you live near a university). It should come as no surprise that the majority of people learning it today are doing so online! From one-on-one tutoring to fun apps you can use on the go, there's no shortage of ways to improve your fluency and get ready to have actual conversations in Portuguese.
Which Portuguese lessons are right for you? The first consideration is your current level of knowledge. Some providers are best-suited to beginners because they don't offer much beyond the basics of "Oi, tudo bem?" and "Eu gosto de comer frango" . You'll want to select a language service that has the right level and quantity of content for as long as you expect to study Portuguese.
Another important factor is how you prefer to learn. Some students want their lessons to be as game-like as possible, with lots of points, badges, and leaderboards. Others feel more comfortable with a traditional, straightforward approach: detailed grammatical lessons (preferably in English first!), lots of repetition, and no competition with other students. There are Portuguese lessons that suit both of those learning styles - and a few that even combine them!
Once you've identified a few good choices for your language learning, here are some criteria you can use to help make your final selection:
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