For the past two weeks I have been faithfully going to the website "Duolingo" on a daily basis and doing my lessons on German and Portuguese. After my trip to Europe, I went back to the very beginning of the German lessons and started to review what I had already covered. I was surprised at how much I still remembered, and I have breezed through lessons with a minimum of mistakes (and most of those are typos from typing too quickly). Nevertheless I keep going back and reviewing over and over again. I even feel as if I am starting to get a handle on the pronunciation of those pesky vowels with "umlauts" over them. I have still not reached the lessons where I was starting to hit a wall with the difficulty of the grammar. But hopefully when I get there I will manage to overcome the obstacles and progress farther.
As I wrote previously, the Portuguese vocabulary and grammar have been a snap due to their similarity to Spanish. However, I have become increasingly frustrated with the Portuguese pronunciation. There are so many differences from Spanish. For example, when the vowel "o" appears at the end of the word it seems to sound like the "oo" in "moon", or the "e" at the end of a word sounds more like the Spanish "i". "Ele come" (he eats) is pronounced as if it were spelled (in Spanish) "Eli comi". The letter "t" when between two vowels sounds like a "ch", and a "ch" sounds like a "sh". An "r" at the beginning of a word sounds like a harsh "h". "Roupa" (clothing) is pronounced "Houpa". It was all starting to make my head swim.
"Duolingo" uses Brazilian Portuguese rather than the pronunciation of Portugal. That is understandable since Brazil has a population of over 200 million, whereas Portugal has a population of around 10 million. However, I am teaching myself the language in preparation for a possible trip to Portugal next summer. So I decided to look for a website on the pronunciation in the mother country, and I hoped that it would be easier.
I found a website with audio examples of the how the letters are pronounced. Many of those Brazilian sounds are not used, but there are other peculiarities of pronunciation in Portugal. For example, an "s" at the end of a word is pronounced like our "sh". So, "Falas portugues?" (Do you speak Portuguese?) comes out like "Falash portuguesh?"
And the vowel sounds! There are nasal vowels, open vowels and closed vowels. I get the nasal vowels, but, for the life of me, I could not hear any difference between the open and the closed vowels. After visiting that website I only felt more confused and frustrated!
With sincere apologies to any Portuguese speakers that might be reading this, I was starting to believe something that someone told me long ago. "Portuguese is sloppy Spanish."
I finally pulled out a book that had been sitting on a bookshelf for years.
I had purchased this book ages ago at a second-hand book store prior to a trip to Brazil. I had learned a few phrases, but I had not continued. The text began with a "Note on Pronunciation". It mentioned that there were differences between Brazil and Portugal and even between northern and southern Portugal, but that for this book the publishers had adopted a neutral accent. Also, except for the "tilde" (which makes a vowel "a" nasal) they had eliminated "the bothersome diacritical marks". They listed a number of rules (most of which I already understood). There was no discussion of closed vowels and open vowels. (Perhaps Mr. Berlitz couldn't hear the difference either!) In the lessons, under each word or phrase, they give a close approximation of the pronunciation in English. It is all so much simpler.
I don't know if Berlitz is still in business, but at one time it was the biggest name in language instruction. I figure if these are the pronunciation rules that they give, they must be acceptable and understandable. So I will continue with my lessons on "Duolingo", but I will speak according to Berlitz. And if I end up sounding like a Mexican trying to speak Portuguese, so be it!