in Productivity

“My” Strategy for Dominating Portuguese

It’s time to learn another language.

The 10,000 foot view

  1. Use Tim Ferriss’ DiSSS method to quickly deconstruct the pillars of the language
  2. Use Anki flashcards and Spaced Repetition to build up my vocabulary
  3. Use Duolingo


The DiSSS method comes out of Tim Ferriss’ book, The Four Hour Chef, which is less about cooking and more about skill acquisition and learning.  In it, he outlines this method as follows:

  • Deconstruct – Chunk the skill into bite-sized pieces
  • Select – Pick the 20% of the chunks that will give you 80% of the results.
  • Sequencing – Put these chunks in the order that facilitates fast learning.
  • Stakes – Put something on the table.  Have something that you will either gain or lose that you care about so you’re motivated to follow through.

For deconstruction, I’m using his sentence method.  The basic idea is that a few sentences can unlock a language’s structure, so all you need to do is find someone who is fluent and have them translate these for you.  You can then chunk down to the heart of a language and understand the nuts and bolts.

These are the sentences:

  1. The apple is red.
  2. It is John’s apple.
  3. I give John the apple.
  4. We give him the apple.
  5. He gives it to John.
  6. She gives it to him.
  7. I must give it to him.
  8. I want to give it to her.

I’ve reached out to a friend about these sentences, but in the meantime I found this: that is more or less exactly what I’m looking for.  Not only does it translate the sentences, but it also does a lot of the chunking for me.  I can build off of this to understand the rules of the language.  After fully understanding this, I need to increase my vocabulary so I can speak in a variety of situations.

For stakes, I’ve decided to travel to Brazil as my next traveling journey, so I more or less need to learn how to speak the language if I want to have an immersive experience there and not just be an outsider looking in.

Anki and Spaced Repetition

Most of us are familiar with burning through flashcards to memorize facts.  Maybe while pulling an all-nighter fueled by caffeine (or other stimulants)?  Spaced repetition is basically flashcards on steroids.  The idea is that there will be some cards that you recall easily, and some that you just can’t seem to remember.

In the case of language learning, there may be words that you always know immediately, and some that you never remember.  Spaced repetition is a flashcard based system that allows you to rank how well you remember a particular card, which affects the next time that it shows up in your deck.  Harder to remember cards show up more often, easier to remember cards show up far less often.

The results is a more streamlined way to dump facts (in this case, words) into your brain.

Anki is a cool little program that allows you to create your own decks or download premade decks.  As you roll through a deck, you can rank how easy a card was to remember, and the program will automatically adjust frequency.  It’s pretty neat!


Duolingo is an absolutely awesome webapp.  In a nutshell, it turns learning a language into a game, so you get addicted to learning it instead of viewing it as a chore.  I don’t think I view learning Portuguese as a chore, but I used to play a ton of video games and my background in poker has confirmed that I have a massive addictive personality (though if you’re winning, is it really that bad?).  Duolingo helps me take advantage of this for a good reason instead of a time-wasting reason.

It’s gotten to the point where I annoy people in line because I’ll run through a Duolingo lesson and people will hear, “Eu gosto de abacaxis e eu como limaos” (I like pineapples and I eat lemon) and give me the weirdest looks.  Doesn’t matter – learning Portuguese!

That’s it!  DISSS, spaced repetition, and Duolingo.  The only other thing I’ll do is chat with a couple friends a few times a week that already know Portuguese so I can start to build the speaking and conversational skills up.

Any suggestions?