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What’s the Difference Between European and Brazilian Portuguese?

Do you know your sumo from your suco? Your gelado from your sorvete? We interviewed our Portuguese Tutor, Nana, to find out more about Portuguese and the difference between European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese.


First off - why learn Portuguese?

You might not know that Portuguese is actually one of the most widely spoken languages in the world! It’s the official language of both Portugal and Brazil, with over 218 million speakers worldwide. But aside from that, by learning Portuguese you get to connect with the fantastic culture of both Portugal and my home country, Brazil!

But is Brazilian Portuguese the same as European Portuguese?

It’s easy to assume that the Portuguese spoken in Portugal is pretty similar to that spoken in Brazil. After all, Brazil was once a colony of Portugal, and there is a lot of shared culture between the two countries. Even when I was growing up as a native Portuguese speaker in Brazil, I never saw Portugal as very different. Sure, it’s far away, but we speak the same language, how different could it be? It’s true that the grammar is pretty similar whichever variety you are speaking. And, disregarding some words and grammar structures, written Portuguese isn’t hugely different wherever you are.

It wasn’t until I moved to Porto to do my PhD that I started to see the real differences between the language I grew up with and the language I suddenly was struggling to understand!! The first time I really realised the difference was in a bakery on one of my first days in Portugal. I couldn’t understand anything - and they couldn’t understand me! Yet, we were speaking the same language! It just goes to show how different the two languages actually sound when spoken.

porto houses azulejos Portugal

But which is the best Portuguese to learn?

Now this is a very difficult and complex question. An international orthographic agreement by authorities from Portugal and Brazil was proposed in a bid to manage the changes seen in the language and to create a more unified Portuguese for people to learn. However, this agreement wasn't well received by some people in Portugal. Or in Brazil for that matter! For the Portuguese in particular, who are very proud of their language and don’t want it to change, the agreement was seen as very political and controversial. So basically, there’s no “real” Portuguese. As a learner, what you need to do is decide where you want to go and make sure you tell your Tutor or Tandem partner. Otherwise you could be learning words or pronunciation that no-one will understand when you finally arrive at your destination!

Which language is easier to learn?

It should be noted that Portuguese people are way better at understanding Brazilians than we are understanding them. This is a bit strange when you consider that Portuguese existed in Portugal first! There are a few different reasons for this.

Firstly, I think Portuguese people are quite used to meeting people from Brazil - there is a lot of immigration from Brazil to Portugal - whereas many people in Brazil will never meet a foreigner from Europe. Secondly - Brazilian culture is very integrated into Portuguese life. Brazilian music can be heard everywhere, and samba is incredibly popular. But actually, I was exposed to a lot of European Portuguese writing when I was growing up. I just didn’t realise it was from Europe. For example, I loved the writing of Fernando Pessoa, José Saramago and José Maria de Eça de Queiroz. I was very surprised to learn later on that these were not famous Brazilian writers - they are of course Portuguese! The best way to learn Portuguese is to be in touch with both language variations, and its people and culture. And, of course, take any opportunity to visit both countries! Truly, the easiest way to learn any language is by being motivated. For sure you will find your motivation by visiting Portugal or Brazil and learning more about our culture!

Brazil football

How does the pronunciation differ?

The pronunciation is one of the biggest differences between European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese. Brazilians pronounce words in a very open way; Portuguese people sound a lot more closed. Portuguese people do not pronounce all the words completely as we Brazillian do. For example the word "excellent_"_ in English, The Portuguese would pronounce it "xcelent" while we would say "excelente".

With other words that have the syllables “di”, “ti”, “te”, “de”, most of the time Brazilians pronounce these quite sweetly, I would say. For example, the word “bom dia”: good morning”. In general, Portuguese people would pronounce “di” like this ði, and Brazilians would pronounce di: dʒi. The same happens with the sound ti. Portuguese: just “ti” Brazilian: "tʃi" Of course, Brazil is a huge country and this can be different in some regions. For example in the North of Brazil, they pronounce the syllables “ti” and “di” in a similar way to Portuguese people. It’s the same even in Portugal, a far smaller country: people from the north and south sometimes sound totally different!

Another thing to look out for is how we pronounce “L” when it isn’t followed by another vowel, as in the word “Brasil” or “Alguém” (someone). Brazilian people will pronounce it as “u” but Portuguese pronounce the “l” quite clearly. So it sounds like: Portuguese: Brasil, alguém Brazilian: Brasiu, auguém The sound of “s” is another big difference. While Portuguese say it “ʃ” we (aside from people from Rio de Janeiro) will say just “s”. For me, and other Brazilians, it is very cute when Portuguese people say words like “piscina” - swimming pool - because they will pronounce the “s” like“ʃ”.

One final thing - I believe Brazilian Portuguese in general is more musical than European Portuguese. I can’t really write it down, but you can definitely recognise it when you hear people speak. I could say that the Portuguese speak in a straight line, and we in curves :)

Portugal bridge

Which words are different?

There are many words that change, depending on which kind of portuguese you are speaking. Some of these, like "abacaxi" (BR) vs "ananas" (PT) - pineapple in English - are because of the influence of indigenous culture in Brazil. Some are more grammatical - like that Brazilians prefer to use the gerund of the verb when describing continuous situations, whereas European Portuguese speakers use the infinitive. Sometimes, getting the wrong word can be REALLY embarrassing. One notable example is the word for “girl” in European Portuguese - "rapariga". If you use this word in Brazil, people are likely to get offended… because it is a VERY rude word for a woman! Yikes.

Any final tips on how to learn Portuguese?

If you like singing and dancing, this is the right language for you! Whether Brazilian or European, almost every Portuguese speaker knows Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso, Ivete Sangalo and Seu Jorge. Listening to their music is a great way to learn more about the language. And of course, make sure you have a Tandem partner to practice with :)

Thanks Nana, You are a Tutor superstar!

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