Note: This is an unedited series of comments to someone I shared about my experience learning Brazilian Portuguese. One update is I ended up studying it for about 11 months and I took the CELPE-Bras test last November where you watch videos, listen to audio, read articles, write short essays and have a short conversation with a native speaker. I got a level of "High Intermediate" (out of Intermediate, High Intermediate, Advanced, High Advanced).
The grade wasn't broken up, but at the time of my test my reading and listening were much stronger than my speaking, which reflected the amount of time I spent on the former towards the end of my studying.
The summary of this post is basically if you want to get good at speaking, reading, listen, or writing you should practice those things, and there are good tools for them. Apps like Duolingo can be useful to bootstrap but you want to move to comprehensible input as quickly as you can.
I've been meaning to write this down, so I'll give a somewhat stream-of-consciousness summary of what I've learned diving into this pretty deeply.
In 6 months of Brazilian Portuguese, I've gotten to around B2 in reading and listening and approaching B2 with speaking but just need to get more practice in. (This is based on my teacher's assessment and self-assessment). I've had multiple conversations with new speakers and I can fully communicate even if I'm making a lot of mistakes.
I completed Duolingo Brazilian Portuguese course which got me to A2 (+ working with a teacher). I continued it for a little bit but I've now switched over basically 100% to LingQ.
I've also researched a lot of meta-language learning and agree with the "language acquisition" and "comprehensible input" methods. Basically get to a point where you can under the majority of beginner content (listening and reading). And then I combine a mix of "extensive" and "intensive" reading. LingQ has unscripted recordings (30 seconds to a few minutes), short stories, TED talks, etc... I try to listen to them a few times and get as much of the gist, and then will similarly read through. And then you have the ability to look up specific words, or more usefully phrases.
You can then turn these words or phrases into "LingQ's" which basically builds up an Anki-style SRS flash card system. I tried using Anki for a while but I just generally found the interface and experience very unpleasant to use. And also entering new content. While with LingQ you get all the benefits of an SRS system but the content is coming from material you're actually reading and listening to.
Vernon update: I ended up ditching reviewing LingQ flash cards and relying solely on reading and listening to content in LingQ. Reviewing cards took too much time that I could end up consuming actual content. I also learned that words and phrases that are actually important will show up again in other material so you get natural review. It's not important to drill super low-frequency words and phrases that don't show up again.
If the material is too hard, you can switch to easier material, and visa versa. What I've discovered with comprehensible input and extensive reading is there's a small amount of words or phrases you don't know each time and you can basically build out your "long tail" which is basically what getting to B2, C1, C2 is where you've learned the grammar and structure of a language but need to build out your vocabulary and language use in context.
Looking at my LingQ vocab list I have phrases like "but it was of no use", "would not hold back", "he sends his regards", etc... that you generally don't find in Duolingo but do come up in reading or when actually people are talking.
Doing this alone will significantly improve your reading and listening skills. I feel I can basically read anything and then it's more about adding more topic-specific vocab (LingQ had 30+ Aesop's fables in Brazilian Portuguese so I learned a lot of animal, nature words). TV shows and movies will give you a lot of accent practice, idiomatic phrases, etc...
You can import Netflix and YouTube content into LingQ. My process is to watch the content all the way through with native language subtitles. This is somewhat universal advice for e.g. books — read a chapter all the way through, and then look up words afterwards; if you can't do this, then choose easier content. The idea is you need increase your habit of reading or watching so it's enjoyable and you're understanding at least 90% of the content.
Then I'll go back through the transcript with LingQ for the "intensive reading" aspect.
Some extra tools I'll use are ChatGPT to give me the origin and cognates in other languages of certain words to help me memorize vocabulary and create mnemonics (e.g. helado in Spanish meaning "ice cream" related to the word "gelato"). I also use it to break down sentences ("break this down into meaningful fragments"). I'll also have it translate a paragraph or a scene from a movie that I'm having trouble understanding what's being said. It's particularly good with colloquialisms, more complex meanings, etc... vs. more literal translations with Google Translate. I sometimes use DeepL as an alternative translator.
ReversoContext is a really good tool that lets you search for words or short phrases and see them in context, e.g. you have a translation for a word but it's not clear how it'd be used in a sentence. It also has really good conjugation charts if you're still learning that.
The last piece is speaking — I was also doing around 4 iTalki lessons a week with an amazing teacher. This is a good opportunity to e.g. talk about what you've been reading or watching, talk about your day, etc... since you've probably "learned" the basics of the language already at this point. I've more recently switched to a Brazilian Portuguese movie club with the same teacher, which is great but quite intense.
My teacher keeps track of words and phrases I don't know which I then also add to LingQ (it doesn't just have to come from text / video in the app). Any time I learn a new phrase or word from someone I add it to LingQ. When I want to express something new (in speaking or writing), I add it to LingQ.
LingQ will then have a certain number of flash cards for you to complete every day (you can configure this). This is the most similar to e.g. Duolingo although it's much harder. LingQ has a "coin" system where they significantly downrank vocab review (e.g. you'll get 30 coins for doing vocab review) but you get hundreds of coins from listening to audio and reading text. Basically it encourages you to do the harder / more input work than just drilling flash cards.
Vernon note: As I mentioned above, I eventually ended up fully ditching the flash cards.
They also track your known vocabulary which is motivating (I'm at 9000 words in Brazilian Portuguese right now).
By the end you're basically progressively reading more complicated text, listening to more difficult audio (e.g. accents, faster speech), and speaking / writing more fluently. From significantly increasing my input, my vocabulary is much better, and you now understand what other people are saying which allows you to focus on listening and what you want to say vs. breaking the flow.
As I mentioned earlier, I've discovered there's basically just a long tail of learning and what a lot of people believe is that the best way to improve to increase your input as much as possible.
When you speak you only know what you already know and likely will just say the same things in the same way (which I discovered) and consciously or subconsciously avoid talking about more interesting / complicated topics. If someone says something you don't understand, you can ask them, but you can only learn so much and it breaks the flow.
But with LingQ you can listen to e.g. a 60 second piece of audio multiple times, look up phrases, save them to use as flashcards later, etc...
That's my $2 of thoughts. I've found LingQ has replaced 100% of the other language apps I've used (Duolingo, Pimsleur, some Brazilian Portuguese-language specific video materials, etc...). It's harder / more work than Duolingo which is more like a mindless game, but it's very satisfying to read and listen to actual native material vs. drilling "the butterfly ate the sandwich" a hundred times.
Comment re: the importance of finding relevant material.
If it's helpful, re: comprehensible input, something I've discovered is that finding appropriate material that you like is the main piece of work you'll need to do. If something is a slog you won't end up doing it. If you can find e.g. a podcast, TV show, playlist (e.g. the conversations playlists in LingQ are really good) then you have material at least for a couple weeks that you'll be motivated to continue. Then I'll spend maybe 30m–1h to find the next set of content that I like / and is it at my level.
It's a small shift, but initially I thought I was finding material to evaluate whether CI was good approach or not. If you do end up using LingQ, look through all the different playlists, guided material, etc... I imagine they have a lot of good stuff for Spanish. And then you can import TV shows, etc...
You might like Olly Richard's StoryLearning courses. They're pretty pricy but if you want something structured and leveled with text + audio (which I also import to LingQ) it can be good. I'm going through his advanced Brazilian Portuguese Grammar Hero course now. But I don't think you need it / since there's a ton great free content, but I use it as a more advanced supplement.
Comment re: how to determine whether material is at your level or not.
Re: Levels, there's a really enjoyable set of videos (four 20-min videos) interviewing someone who did a deep dive into a lot of the research behind extensive reading you might like.
For reading specifically, theoretically there are some percentages the "Extensive Reading Foundation" has defined: Reading Pain or Reading Gain? Reading at the Right Level
"Reading pain" is defined as less than 90% comprehension, where reading is too hard, demotivating, high effort.
90–98% is considered "intensive reading" where you can follow along but need to look up a lot of words, and 98+% is "extensive reading" where you can read at a fast pace and only occasionally need to look up words.
That said it can be pretty hard to get an exact percentage. LingQ will show you the percentage of unknown words in a piece of content but it will it be much higher while it learns what words you know as you consume content. But for a language with a lot of English cognates the "actual" percentage of unknown words will likely be much lower. I.e. It says 20% unknown but there are words "impossivel" which you may not have encountered yet but can guess. Or "new" conjugated forms that you can figure out.
So I use those categories less as an exact percentage but more as a feeling. If reading a few pages feels very difficult, or if I can't understand what's going on, then I will try something simpler. If it's beginner content with unnatural speaking ("Hello. My name is Bob. I like to go to the store.") then I'll usually tune out and find something harder.
This is a good reference, step-by-step guide: 6 Steps To Read Effectively In A Foreign Language
(One thing in that blog post is I actually really didn't like his Brazilian Portuguese graded reader... maybe the Spanish one is better, but the stories were pretty un-engaging and I prefer to read actually good native literature).
For books specifically the best benchmark for me is to read through a whole chapter without looking anything up. Or watching a video with target language subtitles or a podcast all the way through. If I can follow along (even if I miss some phrases and vocab) and it's enjoyable and not too basic, it's good content. Then I can look up words, intensively study in LingQ after.
Right now I'm targeting more novellas around 100 pages and chapters about 10 pages, which I can read in one sitting, which is good for my level and not tiring. I personally wouldn't target a larger book like Harry Potter right now, however... if you know the super story well and you can enjoyably read a chapter all the way through and generally follow along, then I think it passes the test.
Another tip I've seen (I think it was in the videos linked above) is to intensively read the first chapter... use LingQ, look things up, make sure you really understand it. And then try reading subsequent chapters all the way through first. The idea is you get introduced to a lot of the initial language in the first chapter and if you can make it through that, then a lot of language and characters are reused later. This is the same argument for watching TV shows vs. longer movies.
I'm actually reading a short book by Mexican author Don Miguel Ruiz you might like in Spanish (it's called "O domínio do amor" in Brazilian Portuguese, or "The mastery of love"). I'm really enjoying it / it's written in relatively straightforward language that's easy to read. He's the author of the four agreements.