Book Review - Perspectivas: Português Para Falantes de Espanhol

Bateman, Blair, Marilena Mattos, Marcus Brasileiro, and Nieves Pérez Knapp. Perspectivas: Português Para Falantes de Espanhol. Ronkonkoma, NY: Linus Learning, 2016. Pp. 432. ISBN: 978-1-60797-641-7.

The most recent textbook designed for use in the Portuguese for Spanish Speakers (PSS) classroom is a welcome twist on the introductory language text, taking refreshingly full advantage of its intended audience’s multilingual background. This collaboration between scholars at Brigham Young University, Utah State University, and the University of Minnesota follows a pair of studies conducted by the lead author surveying existing introductory texts, the motivations of students learning Portuguese, and what instructors have been hoping for in a textbook. While over the years there have been a small number of laudable attempts at creating specialized materials for Spanish speakers in the US learning Portuguese as a third language (L3), it was found that most PSS classes nonetheless adopted textbooks that make little to no effort at incorporating prior knowledge of any language other than English. In Perspectivas, instructors finally have the highly communicative, multilingual, beginning textbook the field has long needed.

Perspectivas opens with a preliminary lesson that covers introductions, classroom vocabulary, and basic grammar points (e.g. subject pronouns, possessives, the verb gostar). Containing a helpful primer on pronunciation, differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese are made clear from the outset, with a sustained focus on grammatical and lexical divergences as the book progresses. The remainder of Perspectivas is then divided into ten chapters, each of which feature authentic texts (e.g. Drummond, Moraes, Sabino, Veiga) organized around a particular cultural theme, complemented by communicative activities, contrastive grammar explanations, and plenty of new vocabulary.

Appreciated are the details, such as verb paradigms shaded to indicate which forms share a stem-vowel sound — helpful to refer back to, even for students with advanced proficiency. Other subtleties made explicit within the vocabulary sections include the various ways of pronouncing ‘x’, items of specific regional currency, and whenever ‘e’ and ‘o’ could potentially be pronounced aberto versus fechado (Spanish speakers typically favoring the latter). Perspectivas also features a wide array of exactly those language-specific items fundamental to a good L3 textbook: cognates, for instance, that differ in gender (52) or syllable stress (286), or equivalent verbs that take different prepositions in Spanish and Portuguese (367-73). The three sections on false friends (81, 113-4, 148), with English translations from both languages, underscore that this book was fully created with L3 learners in mind, who themselves constitute a majority in many Portuguese-language classrooms.

In nearly every way Perspectivas is a comprehensive modern textbook, well suited for adoption by PSS classes in the US, or anywhere English is a principal medium of instruction. Following in the footsteps of a small number of innovative prior efforts, Perspectivas makes judicious use of Portuguese, English, and Spanish, each serving a particular function. The direct method is used from the very start throughout all exercises and activities, cultural notes, and dialogs, which are presented in the target language without translation. The grammar explanations, on the other hand, are written in plain English, drawing upon examples in Spanish, as necessary, to compare and contrast with Portuguese. This type of multilingual consciousness raising helps students not only develop their own metalinguistic awareness, but serves additionally to allow quick and efficient access to certain L3 structures via a pivot language, all while reducing the likelihood for attrition in either L2 or L1.

Spanish also plays a pivotal role in the vocabulary sections, where terms appear in all three languages. The subtle effect is exactly what the authors intend, that students are reminded often of their unique multilingual background, allowing lessons to proceed at a quicker pace, and in a different order, when compared to a typical beginning language class. The personal infinitive, for example, is introduced before the imperfect, while the future subjunctive comes prior to even the present subjunctive, or for that matter the conditional, imperative, and present perfect. What might otherwise seem a curious choice makes sense when considering that those are precisely the two constructions with which Spanish speakers will be completely unfamiliar, yet are frequent enough within modern Portuguese to be of use relatively early on.

There are a few shortcomings, however, that do bear mention. First, among the many cultural notes and authentic texts from Brazil and (to a lesser extent) Portugal, one wishes the perspectives of Lusophone Africa were somewhat better represented. Then in terms of layout, with a bright, full-color design making prodigious use of images, some could stand to benefit from a higher resolution. In future editions, it may also be helpful to consistently set apart Spanish with its own color for ease of reference. Finally the supplemental materials, meticulously crafted by the authors to complement and in some ways complete the text, deserve much more conscious integration. Without an accompanying workbook, and with very few grammar exercises (and no answers) in the book itself, the online component of Perspectivas takes on even greater significance. There each chapter is accompanied by audio files, its own 5-to-10-minute video featuring Doug (a standout graduate student), and around 25 Moodle exercises, many of which impressively incorporate multimedia to evaluate listening comprehension. Yet these valuable resources go largely unmentioned, which one hopes will be resolved in future editions, or perhaps sooner in the as-yet unreleased instructor’s manual.

These concerns aside, with enough grammatical content to take students all the way up through intermediate-level Portuguese, Perspectivas is an excellent choice for adoption in either a one-semester introductory PSS class, or a two-semester sequence. The cultural material is varied and interesting enough to get students to consider others’ points of view, as the name implies, lending it value beyond merely teaching the language. Once the online resources are accessible more intuitively, the book could even stand alone for the Spanish speaker wishing to engage in self-study.

To conclude, by combining communicative in-class activities with a multilingual, contrastive approach to teaching grammar, the Perspectivas team has drawn from two well-hewn traditions to design something unique for third-language learners. In the process, their exemplary efforts have created a compelling model to follow for all textbooks aiming to guide students through the classroom-based acquisition of an L3.

A version of this book review appeared in the journal Hispania, Vol. 101, Issue 4 (December 2018), pp. 658-659. DOI:10.1353/hpn.2018.0194