Semantica teaches Portuguese in a way that keeps you truly engaged
When I heard about the idea behind Semantica, I was immediately intrigued. I really enjoyed using it and found the video lessons to be very entertaining; I was soon happily going from lesson to lesson following the protagonists’ storylines!
It was very impressive just how much Portuguese they use in each lesson and how well they immerse you in Brazilian life. The different levels certainly progress in difficulty and I imagine that a beginner would soon feel comfortable listening to and comprehending basic Portuguese.
They would also certainly gain a greater understanding of Brazilian culture.
While I think it is a fantastic resource that is fun to use, I don’t think that this type of learning method is for everyone. It is very much focused on the video lessons with the written materials being a weak point.
In comparison with other Portuguese learning resources, there are very few English translations and grammar explanations. Speaking practice is also neglected though you are encouraged to follow and repeat the dialogue of the videos.
As with most resources, Semantica would be best used alongside a grammar book and someone to practice conversations with. All in all though, it is an amazing resource for improving your comprehension skills, increasing your level of Portuguese and enhancing your understanding of Brazilian culture.
High-quality video-based lessons
Video lessons make up the whole body of materials on the platform.
Semantica believes that videos about authentic real-life situations in Brazil are the best, most immersive way to get people speaking and understanding Portuguese. As such, the vast majority of the resources are in Portuguese with English only used when necessary to explain grammar points and complicated phrases and vocabulary.
In total, there are three different levels with bonus material being a series of ‘street dialogues’ which you can also access.
Level 1 is comprised of three sections which have 70 lessons in total.
Level 2, the intermediate level, has 100 lessons and the advanced lessons at the end only have 14.
Each lesson is based on a dialogue and from there, presenters explain any grammar points that arise and look at the different vocabulary used. The lessons certainly progress in difficulty and beginners and intermediates will have a lot of material to explore.
It seems too that Semantica often adds new material.
Semantica’s videos and consequently the audio with them are probably the best around. The production quality is great and they certainly cover a lot of material.
The platform is not so good however at providing in-depth analysis and vocabulary lists for people to use; in this respect, PortuguesePod101 is a lot better.
Semantica has so many good points though that it is definitely a good option for learning Portuguese if you respond well to their teaching methods.
As there is no trial version of Semantica available (unless you follow their early lessons on YouTube) you need to sign up to one of their subscription plans.
Thereafter you should have access to all of the lessons ranging from beginner to very advanced.
Right away at the start, you are asked to complete a short test which then serves to place you at the appropriate learning level. If you are just beginning to study Portuguese this will almost certainly be Level 1.
Level 1 is comprised of three different sections. After using the platform for a while to write this review, I found it a bit confusing upon returning to the beginning to determine the best start point. Another user had a similar question and luckily a staff member responded.
So… the best section to begin with is ‘O Encontro’ followed by ‘O Encontro – the Remake’ and finally ‘Eduardo e Monica’.
Having clicked on ‘O Encontro’ you are now whisked away to Rio de Janeiro and introduced to one of the video lesson’s protagonists – Paul. An American from New York, Paul has just arrived in the city and it is he who we follow throughout the first series of lessons.
Through his interactions, we learn about Brazilian culture as well as the intricacies of the Portuguese language. His partner throughout O Encontro is Raquel, a Carioca from Rio. She helps explain grammar points, correct Paul’s pronunciation and introduce him to the Brazilian way of life.
If it seems like I am explaining the start of a film or TV series this is because the format of the lessons somewhat follows that of a TV show.
The videos follow Paul learning Portuguese from Raquel as they end up in real life scenarios around Rio.
In total there are 36 lessons in this series and each lesson consists of three short videos followed by a test to see if you have been paying attention. In general, the videos range from 30 seconds to 3 minutes in length.
The first part of each lesson is a dialogue set in a particular location such as a taxi or at a café. In the bottom corner of these videos are the subtitle options which are available in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
Semantica recommends watching the video firstly with subtitles in your mother tongue, then with Portuguese subtitles and finally without; repetition being the key to understanding.
Next to the videos are options to download them so you can watch them offline either in video or MP3 format. You can also download a PDF of the dialogue. As you will see, the PDF, like the video, is completely in Portuguese!
From now on you will be completely immersed in the language.
Below the video, you will also find a comments section which is often very helpful as Semantica staff answer any questions that anyone may have.
The second video of the lesson is the ‘teaching’ part.
Here, an English presenter briefly explains what we saw in the previous video before breaking down the dialogue and interpreting the words and phrases that were covered. The words pop up in written form on the screen and the presenter also explains a couple of grammar points too.
Usefully, the words and phrases used in the dialogue are then spoken by different people in different settings.
This helps introduce us to a range of accents. Below this video are the words, phrases and grammar points from the dialogue which are explained in a little more depth.
Interspersed amongst the explanations are ‘tags’ and ‘posts’ which you can click on. These then take you off to explore a range of different grammar points and colloquialisms.
In the videos themselves, however, the early lessons could do with explaining the grammar in more depth.
The third part is the ‘vocabulary’ section.
This video simply has English words and phrases appearing with the Portuguese equivalents following on. Most if not all of the words come from the earlier dialogue.
Here again, different people say some of the phrases so that you get an ear for different people speaking. These videos don’t seem that useful or necessary to me.
The final section of each lesson is a short test.
The questions come in a number of forms and they are designed to test your listening and speaking skills as well as your reading and writing abilities.
For instance when it comes to speaking you simply record yourself saying the Portuguese phrase and Semantica picks up on whether your pronunciation was correct or not.
It is pretty accurate but will still accept some terribly pronounced Portuguese.
Other questions are a different form whereby you select the images that correspond to what has been spoken. These images do not always match that well to what has been said, however. When it comes to writing, the website usefully provides accents for you to insert into your answers.
The other two series at Level 1 also follow the same format with O Encontro – the Remake and Eduardo e Monica consisting of 14 and 20 lessons respectively. For each of the three series at Level 1 you can download PDFs of the syllabus and grammar used in the videos.
The syllabus is pretty useless and while the grammar is definitely useful, they could sometimes do with going into a bit more depth.
All in all these videos will certainly immerse you in the Portuguese language and prepare you for a range of scenarios.
Lessons progress in difficulty
The lessons in Level 1 are very good for beginners for a number of reasons.
Right from the start, you will immediately be immersed in Portuguese with very little English being used. This is in contrast to PortuguesePod101 which is predominantly in English early on.
The videos are of a very high quality and increase in length and difficulty over the three different series. Seeing the setting and hearing the actors is very useful and what’s more, the lessons are entertaining too.
They are very digestible in length and the subtitles option certainly comes in handy.
In essence, Semantica is aimed at visual and aural learners. By setting the dialogues in real life scenarios dealing with daily life in Brazil, the lessons are sure to improve learners’ comprehension skills.
The early lessons, however, are not that great at exploring Portuguese grammar and that’s where it comes up short in comparison to other resources. The supporting resources such as the PDFs and short vocabulary lessons are also not the best.
Level 2 is much better in this respect as the presenters delve a lot deeper into Portuguese grammar and colloquialisms.
At this level, there are a hundred lessons and they largely follow the same format as the Level 1 lessons though there are a couple of differences.
At the start of Level 2, the dialogue is quite quick; the assumption being that you are fully confident with all of the material that was presented at Level 1. The first 14 lessons go over all the grammar you have already seen before delving into new material.
Each lesson at this level is preceded by two presenters saying words and phrases for you to practice. Everything they say is in Portuguese as are the subtitles. These videos are quite short and introduce you to some of the vocabulary that will be used in the dialogue.
These videos are primarily to improve your pronunciation skills. Although useful for pronunciation, there are no resources available that either translates the words or provides them to you in writing. I think this would be quite useful for a lot of learners.
Following the pronunciation videos are the dialogue ones which constitute the main focus of each lesson.
The videos are again quite short as they are around one minute in length. Below the video, you can find the dialogue written out in Portuguese. Although there are no English translations provided, there are usually a couple of explanations in English concerning grammar rules and Brazilian culture.
These videos again cover a wide variety of topics and real-life scenarios. At Level 2 we follow Bianca, a Brazilian who has moved to Rio for the first time and we see her life as she adapts to the city. The dialogue is generally quite quick and I imagine that other learning resources would classify some of the lessons as upper intermediate if not advanced.
The third part of each lesson is a video titled ‘the breakdown’; these videos are longer in length at around three minutes.
They are very useful and really help to explain the dialogue you have just watched. The two presenters, Josh an American and Beatriz a Brazilian, go through the dialogue in depth. Beatriz reads the Portuguese line-by-line while Josh translates it into English.
They also explain any grammar points that come up and Beatriz often gives other examples of how different verbs or words might be used. They have good chemistry together and it is usually interesting listening to any questions that Josh has about Brazilian life and how to use Portuguese.
Below the video, you can also find the grammar discussed and links to other useful verb tenses or videos relating to the lesson material. While you can obviously watch the videos as many times as you want, the presenters often go through quite quickly which sometimes makes it hard to follow and take everything in.
The final part of each lesson is again a test that in theory covers the material in the lesson.
A lot of the time though you are tested on words that have not appeared anywhere to date. Semantica staff have commented on users’ posts questioning these new words, saying that they hoped it would inspire learners to look up the words themselves.
The tests are similar to the ones in Level 1 with the same positives and negatives. They are a lot harder and the increased difficulty shows that over the lessons, Semantica improves and builds up users’ grammar, vocabulary, and comprehension.
This progression is again evident in Level 3 in the advanced dialogues. Here, the videos are around three minutes in length and feature Brazilians speaking Portuguese completely naturally. They are very quick at times!
The videos are engaging to watch and are very authentic so are perfect for learning useful, real-life Portuguese. There is a lot of drama in the videos so it makes for interesting and fun watching! There are only 14 videos however at this level.
Following these dialogues are the ‘teaching’ videos which have a presenter breaking down the dialogue and reading it at a slower pace with the sentences written in Portuguese on the screen.
The teaching video is roughly double in length of the original dialogue each time. A vocabulary video follows this and simply presents a few words from the dialogue. The only reason these videos are useful is that they are slightly slower than the original. You can find a PDF of each dialogue on the side – this will definitely come in use!
The final lessons available are 29 ‘street dialogues’ which are everyday scenarios that you will come across in Brazil. Again, Semantica does a great job in portraying everyday Brazilian life.
Semantica is great for a number of reasons though like any learning resource it does have its weak points.
Firstly, this is surely the best resource out there when it comes to learning about Brazil, its culture and people. The videos beautifully highlight what it is like living there and what visitors to the country can expect. Right from the start, you will be immersed in Portuguese with the vast majority of the resources being solely in the language.
The lessons are well thought out and there is definitely a progression from the early lessons up until the end. Learners using Semantica will certainly understand a lot of Portuguese if they follow the course right up until the end. Their vocabulary too will be large and they will have a very good idea of what to expect when visiting Brazil.
Weak points, however, come in terms of writing, speaking and grammar. While there are PDFs available with each lesson and useful subtitles which provide some reading practice, the only writing you do is on the very short tests at the end of each section.
Speaking too is always going to be a challenge online unless you use a resource like italki for online lessons. While the voice recording technology that Semantica uses is good and they certainly do place a lot of emphasis on pronunciation, the reality is that you need to actually converse to properly practice.
This is again a weak point of the resource. Grammar too could be better explained.
From using the website, you can see that Semantica is continuously striving to improve by following their users’ feedback. While Semantica does have some weaknesses (as does every other resource), it is certainly an amazing and unique resource to use.
All in all, they have definitely made a fun, entertaining and educative product that will help people progress in their language skills. As always though, it depends on your preferred learning style.
The cost varies depending on the subscription length
As aforementioned, there are a number of different forward-looking subscription plans available to you. What is great is that whatever option you select, you will then immediately have access to ALL the materials.
This differs from many other Portuguese learning resources which scale the user’s accessibility depending on the length and price plan that they choose.
The only difference between the subscriptions is that the 12-month and longer memberships gain access to a special downloads page.
This helps facilitate moving the lessons onto other devices. Whenever new material is added to the platform, you gain access to it regardless as to which plan you choose.
As all of the materials are made available to you, it becomes easier to choose a subscription plan. This is unlike with other learning resources where you compare prices and consider what is and isn’t included.
If you decide to pay month-by-month, you will end up paying $20/month for full access to all the lessons. This option is useful for you to play around with the lessons and explore the platform. It apparently only takes one click to cancel the subscription which I assume rolls on unless you unsubscribe.
Obviously the longer you sign up for; the cheaper the price per month over the duration of the subscription. For the shorter term subscriptions, it is thereafter $100 for six months and $180 for a whole year.
After that, we are talking about long-term commitments as there are subscriptions for five, ten and twenty years! It costs $300/5 years, $500/ten years and $900/twenty years. The Semantica website reckons that the ten-year plan is the best value for money. I’m not sure, however, if that is indeed the best option overall.
On the website, I can only find subscription plans with no free trial version available.
This is amazingly generous of them although it obviously does not include all of the lesson materials that the website does. From following the videos on YouTube you should be able to get a good idea of what the lessons are like, how they are structured and what type of content they cover.
This too should help you ascertain whether these types of lessons fit your learning preferences.
In any case, I can certainly recommend Semantica for a number of reasons.
You are immediately immersed in Portuguese right from the start as all of the videos are predominantly in the language.
The conversations and lessons are about real-life scenarios and at each stage, you follow the actors through their storyline.
It is quite entertaining and the focus on grammar after each lesson is useful, although other platforms do go into more depth on the vocabulary and grammar used.
You will certainly improve your listening and comprehension skills and your Portuguese is sure to get better and better as your progress through the levels. In short, there are lots of reasons why Semantica is worth paying for – it just depends on which subscription you choose and whether you respond well to this type of learning.
Having said that, it is always good to learn languages in a number of different ways and so you should probably complement Semantica with other tools regardless of which subscription you choose.
As they actually say on the website: not everyone responds in the same way to different teaching methods.
While you can record yourself on the website, it is obviously preferable if you practice your conversation and speaking skills in person with someone.
Reading too takes a backseat on the website.
Semantica does offer learners looking to practice their speaking skills a solution: webcam lessons with one of their teachers. This is separate from the subscription plans and not included under any of them.
Prices start at $30 for one lesson and there are also bundles of five lessons for $130 and ten for $240. However, those interested in working with a teacher would find better value from a website like italki or Verbling.
Consequently, I am reluctant to recommend any of their long-term subscription plans as they don’t include any webcam lessons in the price. This is on top of five, ten and twenty years being a long time to dedicate to one resource.
While there are a wealth of useful resources on the platform, I doubt whether it is presented with enough variety to retain your attention for all that time.
As far as I can tell Semantica is quite a unique way of learning a language and this is what makes it worthwhile exploring. A foolproof way to check whether it works for you is to follow the lessons on YouTube before buying a subscription if it does appeal.
As the lessons are well-presented, cover a huge range of topics and progress in difficulty; either the six-month plan or one year plan is best in my opinion.
You will need to complement both of these options with writing and speaking practice but you will certainly improve your Portuguese in a number of areas while gaining a greater understanding of Brazilian culture.
The Semantica staff are genuinely helpful
From browsing through the comments section of the lessons, you can immediately see that the Semantica staff are very responsive and that they genuinely seem to care about the product and your language learning.
What impressed me is that they take users’ feedback and use their insight to improve the lessons and overall package that they offer.
They seem to be very genuine people and I think this should be lauded in this age where many of these learning resources care more about your money than your learning experience.
On one page of the website, for instance, I found them advising learners to use Duolingo to increase their vocabulary – not many other platforms would say that as they would be too worried about losing your business.
At another place too, James, the creator of Semantica, published a couple of emails he received about the resources they offer.
A user wrote in detail about how he loved both Pimsleur and Semantica but explained that if pushed he would have to choose the former. The fact that James published that email unprompted highlights to me that he is confident in the product and that Semantica users will appreciate how they use their feedback and constantly look to improve.
I highly recommend Semantica
Semantica is a great resource which is definitely worth checking out for all the aforementioned reasons. It is entertaining to use and I certainly had a fun time working through the video lessons which at times made me laugh out loud!
In conclusion, Semantica is a great option for anyone looking to improve their Portuguese.