Fact-Check & Editorial Responsibility: Kris Broholm
When learning a new language, it can be frustrating trying to find the course that best suits your needs. Good news for Portuguese learners: Semantica aims to get you speaking “authentic Brazilian Portuguese” faster than you can book tickets to Rio.
In this review we discuss the best features of Semantica, its pros and cons, and we've included some screenshots so you can decide if it's the language course you've been looking for.
Our Verdict: Semantica Portuguese
Semantica is a fun course with hundreds of videos designed to get you speaking Brazilian Portuguese in no time. You’ll have access to detailed language explanations, hours of audio, and opportunities to perfect your pronunciation.
It’s an excellent resource for beginner and intermediate learners, but there are other tools better suited to Advanced learners.
What is Semantica?
Semantica is an online language course with one mission: to teach “the Portuguese of Brazil as it’s spoken.” How do they do this? Through contextual videos, real-life scenarios, and speech-recognition technology. It originally launched in 2008 as a DVD but since then, its courses have grown into a popular online option for Brazilian Portuguese learners.
What can you expect from Semantica?
Semantica currently offers three levels: Beginner/Intermediate, Advanced-Beginner/Intermediate, and Advanced. With the full membership, you get access to all three levels.
The courses include hundreds of talk-show style explanations, animated grammar lessons, interactive practice, and pronunciation activities.
The Beginner/Intermediate course begins with simple phrases in everyday situations – Para onde você vai? Eu vou para a praia (Where are you going? I’m going to the beach).
However, Semantica recommends that you learn around 30 words of basic vocabulary first so you can jump right into the juicy stuff. After all, no one wants another video explaining Olá! and Tudo bem? for 10 minutes straight.
The Advanced-Beginner/Intermediate course is jam-packed, with most Semantica users falling into this category. Thanks to the subtitles and clear narrative, even complete beginners with some experience of another Romance language might feel comfortable starting from this level.
Level 3 (Advanced) repeats a lot of what you’ve already learnt in the past two levels, but focuses on correct pronunciation, idiomatic expressions, and how to really blend in on holiday.
Most of the courses follow a similar lesson structure:
Vocabulary (with video) > Dialogue (shorter video) > Vocabulary Review > Practice (speaking) > Grammar Analysis (e.g. assim in context) > “Ensino” ( full video with comprehension questions). Some videos follow a conversation, others repeat vocabulary and interject with questions.
Each level has a host of material and stories, such as Street Dialogue and Novelas which centre on everyday situations or relationship dramas.
In addition to their already extensive catalogue, you get access to “special topics”, focusing on specific grammar points or tricky vocabulary so you can master them in no time.
What are the main features of Semantica?
Semantica’s aim is to teach using real-life scenarios, so you can immerse yourself in the language from the comfort of your home. They have hundreds of videos available, all created exclusively for the platform and developed to help you prepare for situations that may arise. Visiting your partner’s parents? There’s a video for that. Got a date in Sao Paulo? Prepare to flirt like a real Brasileiro.
The actors talk clearly and at a comfortable pace which is perfect for those getting to grips with the language. Admittedly, the slowed-down, over pronounced speech does seem unnatural at first but the useful, native phrases are certain to help you out in native situations.
The videos can be quite comical and stilted at times, although we’re not sure it’s always intended. Nonetheless, the hiccups and strange storylines make the learning process more enjoyable and keep you glued to the story.
If you’re worried that your listening skills aren’t up to scratch, most videos have subtitles available. Semantica recommends watching first with the English subtitles, switching to Portuguese for the second viewing and finally removing the subtitles completely.
Speech Recognition Technology
A key part of Semantica’s learning process is the use of speech recognition technology – and no, it’s not like Duolingo.
In each lesson, you repeat target vocabulary by saying the correct phrase out loud. If it’s incorrect, you don’t move on to the next question. Encouragingly, it gives you unlimited time to correct your mistakes. Of course, if you’re not sure as to why it’s incorrect, it can get frustrating rather quickly.
Beware: there are complaints from some users that the speech recognition feature doesn’t always work. Semantica seems to respond to all issues efficiently, however, with regular updates, helpful customer support, and a tutorial on changing your browser to optimal settings.
Overall, we think it’s a great feature to practice speaking and pronunciation that other self-teaching courses don’t provide.
Blog & Youtube Channel
If you’re more of a reader than a watcher, Semantica has plenty of helpful articles to get stuck into. There are free blog posts for non-members, with full library access given to subscribers.
The catalogue is impressively extensive, full of useful grammar tips for you to dip in and out when needed.
Semantica’s Youtube channel is the perfect option if you’re still not sure whether to commit to the paid version. The short videos give you a taster of the course and cover linguistic issues in bite size clips.
For an additional price, Semantica has the option to purchase a block of 10 private classes with an in-house teacher. It’s a great compliment to the course and provides an opportunity to discuss and practice the language learnt in your own study.
What we love about Semantica
The sheer volume of content is enough to make Semantica worth your time and money. Despite Portuguese’s popularity as a second language, there aren’t as many options available compared to French, Spanish, and German. Semantica addresses this issue with its huge video catalogue, and various courses to work through.
The grammar and vocabulary explanations are in-depth and in easy to understand formats. From assim to vamos embora, it covers nuances and common pitfalls using songs, sketches, presentations, and blog posts.
Excellent for beginner/intermediate learners
Semantica is excellent for new or intermediate learners who want to teach themselves Portuguese at their own pace using technology. It can be difficult to find high-quality comprehensive courses designed specifically for Brazilian Portuguese, and this course tackles everything you need to take your language skills to the next level.
What Semantica could improve
Structure can be confusing
The course structure typically follows the same pattern, but occasionally a video appears that doesn’t seem to be related to the class topic. In some Advanced vocabulary explanations the presenters suddenly speak in Spanish, with no subtitle options. Confusing to say the least.
Repetition is great (and essential!) for learning a language effectively but, at times, Semantica’s lesson structure becomes predictable. For example, some videos are repeated several times which is perfect if you’re a struggling newbie, but feels unnecessary if you’re already familiar with the content. Having said this, there is the option to skip the lesson.
What’s more, each level is very similar. The Advanced level is more in-depth (idiomatic expressions, pronunciation etc.), but you still learn things which we consider to be intermediate content.
What is Semantica's pricing?
Semantica's prices are reasonable when considering the amount of material that comes with membership, but it's definitely not the cheapest around.
There are several membership options with £14/monthly subscription as a reliable choice for those not ready to commit long-term. If you’re ready to take the leap, 6 months comes in at £72, or £110 for 12 months. The long-term subscriptions get you full access and downloadable lessons.
For those already sure of their language level, there’s now the option to purchase a single level for a reduced price.
Who is Semantica best for?
We’d say Semantica works best for upper-beginner & intermediate learners as much of the content seems aimed at this level. It’s ideal for people teaching themselves Portuguese but don’t like textbooks and want to learn at their own speed/schedule.
Learners who are based in Brazil or plan to go there soon would benefit from Semantica, being able to directly use what they’ve learnt.
Semantica's Pros & Cons
- Immersive learning
- Hundreds of engaging videos
- Great for listening and pronunciation
- Speech recognition
- Different membership options
- Limited free options
- Software can be glitchy
- Not suitable for mobile
- Limited writing practice
Semantica vs. Rocket Portuguese
Like Semantica, Rocket Portuguese has 3 available levels and interactive audio lessons to choose from. Although the lessons include videos, Rocket Portuguese emphasises the listening and writing practice rather than learning through in-context videos. Overall, Rocket Portuguese is cheaper but Semantica offers more subscription options.
Read our full review of Rocket Languages here.
Semantica vs. Busuu
Busuu courses are available online and as an app, so it’s more accessible than Semantica’s software. It provides content in over 12 languages which is perfect for learning more than one language at a time, but is perhaps not as specialised as Semantica. Busuu has a range of subscription options with one-to-one classes available but has free access available for those who want to learn 1 language with no added extras.
Check out our full review of Busuu here.
Our final thoughts on Semantica
Semantica Portuguese is fantastic for those wanting to learn Brazilian Portuguese on their own time with engaging, interactive lessons. It’s perfect for practicing listening skills and learning “authentic” language and grammar, especially if you’re a beginner or low-intermediate learner. One serious downside is that there isn't an app version, meaning you can’t learn on the go like you can with other programs on the market.
The content might not be challenging enough for advanced learners but if you’re looking for a solid, affordable introduction to Brazilian Portuguese, Semantica could be the course for you.
Kris is the founder of Actual Fluency, and has spent the last 8 years becoming an expert in language learning software, methods, and techniques.
Originally from Denmark, he now lives in Portugal and speaks 5+ languages at varying levels. His other interests are Wine, Online Marketing, and Travelling.