Let this be the year you master Portuguese
The language that touches the four corners of the globe. Portuguese is not only the sixth most spoken language in the world, but it also has a presence on almost all of the world’s continents. Portuguese is a language no longer stuck in the shadow of Spanish. It’s too widely spoken and has too much economic muscle to be ignored.
Portuguese is the fastest-growing European language after English. You may be surprised to hear that it’s spoken in more countries than Portugal and Brazil. Portuguese is also the sole official language of Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Angola, and São Tomé and Príncipe and a co-official language in East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, and Macau.
Portuguese is a Western Romance language originating in the Iberian Peninsula. Like all romance languages, Portuguese developed from vulgar Latin which was the spoken Latin used during the Roman Empire. It was only in 1290 that the language received its name, Portuguese. In the 1500s when the newly developed printing press helped make Portuguese a standardized language, Portugal had already started exploring and colonizing different areas of the world, bringing their language with them.
Once you have decided to learn Portuguese, the next question is usually how. Learning online has a lot of advantages.
Portuguese is the sixth most spoken language in the world and the fastest-growing European language after English. Being able to speak Portuguese, means you have the ability to communicate with over 200 million native speakers from not only South America and Europe but from more unexpected places such as Africa and Asia.
Despite the high number of native speakers, Portuguese is not a popular second language to learn. Setting yourself apart and learning Portuguese helps bolster your CV and improve your job prospects. Currently, there couldn’t be a better time to capitalize on this. In the past decade, the Brazilian economy has skyrocketed to now be in the world’s top ten largest economies.
The melodic, expressive intonations and the rich range of vowels sounds make Portuguese very special
Portuguese is a gateway to other romance languages like Spanish, Italian, French and Romanian. Portuguese shares this similarity having also evolved from Latin, making their grammar, syntax, and vocabulary quite similar. If you can master one of them, it’s a lot easier to master the others.
Portuguese is an absolutely stunning language and there’s no better reason to learn a language than just for the pure pleasure and joy. The melodic, expressive intonations and the rich range of vowels sounds make Portuguese very special. These harmonic sounds have lended the language to produce rich musical traditions including Fado, Bossa Nova, and Samba to name a few.
Admittedly, answering the question of which one is the better choice, is often quite personal. However, we are here to make your selection a little easier. Before we get into which one is best for you, let’s take a look at the difference between Brazilian and European Portuguese:
Brazilian Portuguese is spoken more slowly and with open vowels, while European Portuguese has stronger nasal vowels and may sound quite rushed and mumbled to an untrained ear. It’s worth noting that both Brazilian and European Portuguese have regional accents and quirks. Whichever dialect you choose to learn, it will also come with some variations of words and pronunciation.
There are some minor spelling differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese, however, recent spelling reforms are trying to unify the two. An example of a difference in spelling is the word “reception.” In Brazilian Portuguese it’s written “recepcão,” whereas with European Portuguese it’s “receção.”
European Portuguese is considered the more formal of the two which pertains to some minor grammatical differences.
Both dialects evolved according to their geographical location and history which is evidenced in some vocabulary differences. Brazilian Portuguese combines words from South American indigenous languages, while European Portuguese with traditional Romance languages. The word for “pineapple” in Brazil, for example, is “abacaxi,” which comes from the indigenous Tupí language. Whereas in Portugal it’s “ananás”— aligning with other European languages.
Check out our article for more differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese.
Now we know what distinguishes the two, there’s an important question to ask yourself before deciding which dialect is best for you to learn…
Why Portuguese, exactly?
Whatever sparked your interest in the language will have a direct impact on which dialect you choose to learn. Do you have personal connections to one of the countries? Are you planning on moving to Brazil or Portugal for your career or studies? Maybe you’re fascinated by carnival culture in Brazil or perhaps classic literature is more your speed, in which case European Portuguese would be the better choice. These are just a few examples to think about.
If you have no personal connections to either one, however, we recommend you to start with Brazilian Portuguese first since it's said to be easier to learn than its European counterpart. After you’ve mastered the Brazilian dialect, you then only have to make slight vocabulary and grammar changes to master European Portuguese.
Portuguese grammar—the structure, and syntax of the Portuguese language—are similar to that of most other Romance languages. Let’s take a look at what makes up Portuguese grammar:
The definite and indefinite articles
In English there is only one definite article—“the”—and two indefinite articles—“a” and “an.” Portuguese, however, has different articles for each gender (feminine or masculine) and number (singular or plural) of the noun.
Usually, nouns ending in “o” are masculine and so take the masculine article and those ending in “a”, “dade” and “gem” are feminine, so take the feminine article. The exception to this is, for example, words ending in “ema” or “grama” which are masculine and words ending in “ão” can be either masculine or feminine.
Verbs are the core of any language. In Portuguese, there are 3 main verb endings: "-ar" (e.g. “falar”/ to talk), "-er" (e.g. “comer”/ to eat) and "-ir" (e.g. “decidir”/ to decide). These verbs are in the infinitive form.
Verb conjugation is when we change the infinitive verb form to communicate when (tense) and who (personal pronoun).
To communicate when, we need to look at the tense. There are six tenses in Portuguese—Presente (present), Pretérito (preterite), Imperfeito (imperfect), Mais-que-perfeito (pluperfect), Futuro (future), and Condicional (conditional).
To conjugate the infinitive verb form based on the tense and the personal pronoun, you need to do two things: drop the infinitive verb ending ("-ar", "-er" or "-ir") and add a new ending.
See the below table for the personal pronouns in Portguese and the present tense patterns:
|'AR' verb endings||'ER' verb endings||'IR' verb endings|
|Eu||- o||- o||- o|
|Tu||- as||- es||- es|
|Você/ Ele/ Ela||- a||- e||- e|
|Nós||- amos||- emos||- imos|
|Vocês/ Eles/ Elas||- am||- em||- em|
The form “tu” is rarely used in Brazil. Instead, “Você” is used to mean “you” in an informal way. In Portugal and Africa, however, “você” is used in a formal way.
Portuguese Word Order
The sentence structure in Portuguese is, generally speaking, not much different than that of English:
Subject > Verb > Object
Let's illustrate the Portuguese word order with the examples below:
at the beach.
|no Rio de Janeiro.
in Rio de Janeiro.
are going to schedule
Notice how the Portuguese word order is the same in the present, past, and future tenses.
If you want to turn the sentence into a negative statement, the negative word ("não", "nunca", or "nem") goes before the verb in Portuguese. For example, “Nós não vamos à praia” (we aren’t going to the beach).
It’s also important to note that the adjective (descriptive word) is always placed after the noun in Portuguese. For example, ”A casa grande” (the big house).
If you want to ask a question, the Portuguese word order is exactly the same as above, however, you would need to raise the intonation at the end when speaking or add a question mark at the end of the sentence when writing.
If you want to ask a direct question however, all you need to do is add a question word at the beginning of your sentence: "O que ele faz no Rio de Janeiro?" (What does he do in Rio de Janeiro?).
There are five basic things to understand when it come to Portuguese pronunciation:
1. The stress in a word:
Most Portuguese words are stressed in the second last syllable. However, words ending with “L”, “Z”, “R”, “U” and “I”, are stressed in the last syllable.
It’s because of word stresses that Portuguese native speakers are thought to ‘swallow’ words. What they actually do is silence the part of the word that is not stressed, or they run one word into the next one.
2. Written accents:
If you have a word that has a written accent you must ignore all the other rules (I know, we’re sorry). Portuguese has four written accents: the acute accent (á), the grave accent (à), the circumflex accent (â), the tilde (ã).
Pronounce every single vowel when reading a word to nail that Portuguese pronunciation
The acute accent is the strongest one. The circumflex accent almost doubles the vowel when the word is short (for example, the word “têm,” it’s pronounced “tay-eng” rather than “teng”) and the tilde makes a vowel sound more nasal.
3. The vowels:
“A” can have an open “ah” sound or a closed, soft “uh” sound. Normally the “a” is open at the beginning of a word, and closed at the end.
The “e” can also be open and closed in sound. The open “e” sounds like “eh” in the word “get” in English. The closed E is more common, and it has the sound “ay” like the words "lay” or “way” in English.
An open “o” has a “aw” sound, like the English word “law.” The closed “o” is a bit softer and has an “oh” sound, like in the word “cold” in English.
An important rule to remember is to pronounce every single vowel when reading a word to nail that Portuguese pronunciation.
4. That “S” sound:
When “s” appears between vowels it sounds like “z” in English. For example, “rosa” (rose) and “casado” (married).
When at the beginning of a word, the sound is like the “s” in the English words “soap” and “Saturday.” For example, “sabão” and “sábado.” This is also the same sound for when it appears doubled (“ss”) in the middle of a word e.g. “profissional.”
When followed by a voiced consonant (b, d, g, j, l, lh, m, n, nh, r, rr, v and z), it’s like the “zh” or “j” sound in English – “casual” and “seizure,” for example. This sound appears in the Portuguese words “Islândia” and “felizmente” for instance.
When followed by an unvoiced consonant (c, ç, ch, f, p, q, s, t), it has an “sh” sound, like the English word “English.” This sound appears in the Portuguese words “Inglês” and “faz,” for example.
5. “C” and “Ç”:
Consider that the letter “C” is the rule and “Ç” the exception. The Ç (cedilla or cedilha) only has one sound – “sss,” like in the English word “service.” This sound appears in the Portuguese words “comunicação” and “açúcar” for instance.
Phew, that was a lot!
Once you’ve got the Portuguese pronunciation down, you’re ready to start learning a few basic Portuguese words and phrases. Take a look at some of them below:
There are so many options out there, it’s hard to know where to start. Lucky for you we have made a definitive list to make your Portuguese language learning journey that bit easier.
You’ll learn Portuguese much faster by using and speaking the language especially with a native Portuguese speaker. This particular method is at the heart of Tandem.
The Tandem app is the most effective way to gain fluency in any language. With millions of members, Tandem is the largest global language learning community out there! Tandem lets you connect with native Portuguese speakers all over the world, and practice speaking via text, voice notes, and video calling. Immerse yourself in the Portuguese language and culture, and speak your way to fluency, for free!
Every language learner needs their go-to dictionary. Bab.la is an online dictionary where you can not only look up words, but also common expressions. They have their own translation function and a tab for conjugations so you can see words in their different forms.
For you audio learners out there, podcasts are a great resource to learn Portuguese. For beginners, we recommend Todo Mundo Pod. This podcast is a great place to start because it’s specifically designed for language learners.
For intermediate to advanced Portuguese learners, RTP Play (Rádio e Televisão de Portugal) ia an equally great choice. RTP is the Portuguese national radio and television channel and on its website, it offers a wide variety of free Portuguese podcasts.
“Speaking Brazilian” is our top choice as a great resource for learning Portuguese. This channel, created by a native Brazilian, has tons of videos on vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation, including differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese.
With all the resources readily accessible these days, it’s easy and fun to get actively involved in practicing your Portuguese!