Modern Brazilian Portuguese Grammar: A Practical Guide
March 10, 2013
Author John Whitlam
Series Routledge Modern Grammars
Publication Date 2011
Skill Level Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced
This book is very thorough. I like when books are thorough, though unfortunately Modern Brazilian Portuguese Grammar: A Practical Guide is thorough enough to be too heavy to tow around comfortably in a purse, especially since all the exercises for it are in a separate workbook that needs to be brought along, too.
Like other books I have come across for other languages in this Routledge series, it seems reliably written and edited, but it is not a huge amount of fun. With Routledge, I tend to feel I am laboring in a textbooky type thing much more than I do when I am using, say, McGraw-Hill’s Practice Makes Perfect series.
But guess what! There aren’t thousands of options for Portuguese, and Modern Brazilian Portuguese Grammar is a solid one that I would recommend if you are serious about learning the language.
I would describe the author, John Whitlam, as pretty descriptivist in approach—or as close to it as I have ever seen in a foreign-language instructional text. Most foreign-language textbooks are firmly in the prescriptivist camp.
In other words, they tell you what to do, with language rules and regulations, whereas Whitlam tends to describe how language is actually used. He regularly offers notes and asides on the differences between oral and written Brazilian Portuguese. It’s interesting, but oral language is messy, and I am not keen on this unusually strong focus on spoken language, for various reasons.
One is that when a grammar book keeps describing all the variations in oral/informal and written/formal cases, the volume of data gets overwhelming. It is too much for a language learner in this delicate stage of the learning process.
Give me the simplest prescriptivist explanations, and I will learn the special cases and exceptions and the weird idioms and all that other more casual stuff when I go spend time in Brazil and they keep correcting me every four minutes.
In general, if you learn a language in a country where that language is not natively spoken, you are often (and, in fact, usually bordering on always) going to end up sounding stupidly formal at first. Learning resources are on the more formal end of the spectrum, which is fine, because a hard-line, rules-based approach is the most efficient route to basic courteous literacy. If I were in the country, or even in a class, I would have more opportunity to learn spoken idiosyncrasies and variations.