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Why You Should Learn… Portuguese

Statue of Jesus in Rio de Janeiro           Following on from my post last week about learning Arabic, here’s the sixth post in my series on the top 10 most spoken languages in the world.

No. 7: Portuguese

178 million native speakers, 193 million total speakers. Official language of Brazil, Portugal, Macau and 7 other countries in Africa, including Mozambique and Cape Verde.

Why Portuguese?

          I studied Portuguese for two years at university in Exeter and have taken up weekly classes again with a lovely Brazilian woman at work, Adriana. Already speaking Spanish and Italian does majorly help me, so despite the fact that I only took it up in 2009, I can hold a decent conversation in Portuguese, although I’m rapidly discovering that the languages spoken in Portugal and Brazil are vastly different! For a start, several letters are pronounced differently, then there are the grammatical differences, & last of all the vocabulary differs quite considerably.

           Having had a Portuguese teacher at university, I initially tried to hold onto my European Portuguese accent. Looking at the facts however (11 million people in Portugal vs. 197 million people in Brazil) I’m starting to reconsider my logic. Add to that the fact that the population of Portugal is actually shrinking, and that the country is in deep recession, and it looks like I need to get a new accent! Brazil on the other hand is hot stuff. Not only is the economy growing, and now the sixth largest economy in the world, but the Football World Cup is being held there in 2014, and the Olympics in 2016. And have you seen the beaches?? Ever been tempted by Carnival??

Carnival in Rio de Janiero

          As a country Brazil fascinates me, and learning the language is the first step to truly understanding it. And Lisbon is one of my favourite European cities. Although it may sound like Russian to the untrained ear, if you look at it written down you could mistake it for Spanish. The vocabulary and grammar is pure Romance language and descended from Latin, so if you have any grounding in Spanish then it’ll help you immensely. It’s not exactly ‘Buy One Language, Get One Language Free’, but not far off.

Top 5 Survival Phrases:

  • Olá – Hello
  • Obrigado/a – Thank you
  • Como está você? – How are you?
  • Não entendo português – I don’t understand Portuguese.
  • Adeus – Goodbye

         Although it’s not one of the “hard” languages, it’s not a particularly common language to study in schools and university, and because of this, my graduate friends who do speak Portuguese have all been snapped up by graduate employers pretty quickly. Employment-wise, it’s a safe bet. Subscribe to daily vocab emails from Portuguese Flashcards, and if you’re feeling flash you could invest in the Rosetta Stone software for Brazilian Portuguese, at a pricey £379 for the complete course. I’ve never actually tested Rosetta Stone’s method, but it consistently gets good reviews so it may be worth investing in. If you know of any other cheaper software out there then please do comment & let me know.

Next week I’ll be profiling the No.8 most spoken language: Russian.

[You can still vote below for the languages you’d most like to learn]


  1. Reblogged this on My Five Romances and commented:
    Now I am reblogging The Well-Travelled Postcard’s item on why you should learn Portuguese. It perfectly captures the dilemma that any student of the language faces – whether to go with the European accent or the Brazilian one. It’s a pleasant dilemma really. And yes, as the post notes, Brazil is “hot stuff”, and Lisbon really is a great city. When I first read this post, it certainly made me feel proud, if not a little conceited, about the fact that I have made the effort with this language, and I am grateful for the fact that I have had the privilege of going to both Portugal and Brazil (twice in both cases, and hopefully again soon). The people are very warm and I have made good friends in both countries. I hope other readers feel similarly inspired. Be sure to check out The Well-Travelled Postcard’s items on azulejos, fado, the life of an intern in Lisbon and other Portuguese-related posts. I guess I should get back to writing my own posts now. 🙂 Cheers


    • I’m really pleased you’ve enjoyed my posts on the various languages! I haven’t yet had the pleasure of going to Brazil – what did you like the most about the country? Hahaha and it’s true – I only have posts on Portugal, not Brazil….. I’ll get there at some point!


  2. You’re logic is illogical lol
    There are many Portuguese accents in Portugal… 🙂

    So it’s not a question of accents, but some grammatical and vocabulary differences, much like the British and the US English have.

    Not vastly! If you know Portuguese you can read and understand in any of the variants of the language quite easy. It’s all a question of hearing too.


  3. Hey Virginia! I got here randomly, doing a research on google about the russian language (one of my next target languages, after finishing with german – yeah, I am also a “language fanatic”), and discovered this awesome blog. It is nice to see foreigners studying portuguese, which is my mother language, and talking about Brazil, this paradisiacal place. The World Cup is coming, and you should really come here to visit our country, to see our beautiful beaches, culture, etc, and, of course, to learn how to surf! I’ll be very glad to show you this amazing place and introduce you to some brazilians! If you are really willing to come here some day and want to practice portuguese, feel free to add me at facebook! See ya!


  4. I find it funny that you think Russian and Portuguese sound similar because I think the same thing. I know Spanish and Russian quite fluently so maybe I should give Portuguese a try. I could probably learn it very easily.


  5. I agree! especially since I live in Brazil, I can tell you it’s a very important language to know. Brazilians don’t speak English due to the fact that Brazil is SO BIG that it’s really not necessary. so, any future travel to Brazil, it’s definitely useful to know a few phrases. But remember, in Brazil, hello is “oi” and goodbye is “tchau”, a little bit different from Portugal!


  6. They are not THAT different, it’s mostly a matter of getting used to the other accent. On that regard, because European Portuguese has LOTS of vowels (not referring to letters, but sounds), it’s pretty easy to pick the Brazilian accent(s) once you know the European one. The other way around might be a bit more difficult. Actually, if you know European Portuguese you’ll have an easy time picking Spanish and all the sounds of French because Portuguese from Portugal and Africa/Asia is like an entire catalogue of different sounds.

    @Hanna “Olá” is also used in Brazil, though they use “Oi” a lot more. It’s exactly like “Hello” and “Hi”. And in Portugal people also say “Tchau” or “Xau”, alongside “Adeus” (which is also used in Brazil). So, to sum up, you can use all of them everywhere, but “Oi” would sound to much of a “teenager” thing in Portugal!


    • I agree. When I was living in Madrid this year I met lots of Brazilians (I mainly knew Portuguese people before that) and I got used to their accent and could speak with them, which I was thrilled about because I wondered how much Portuguese I would remember after not using it for 2 years!


  7. It’s a pity that you, like the majority, do exclude Africa when comes to Portuguese (language) 🙂
    There is lots to say about the Portuguese spoken in Angola n Mozambique. Cape Verde is a world apart cos there the 90% of time peeps speak Crioulo…


    • Sorry Nelvino! I was taught that in Angola & Mozambique fewer than 5% of the people speak Portuguese, so that’s why I didn’t right much about it. However I did study Mia Couto’s work while I was uni studying portuguese and I loved his tales!


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