Guest Post: Three Pains and Three Pleasures of Learning to Speak Portuguese

As promised at the end of last week, here is the first ever guest post on Um Lisboeta Inglês, by Miriam Malek of Lusa Language School in Lisbon.


Learning any language can be tough – but the subtleties in the Portuguese language and its phonetic differences from its Latin neighbours make the journey to fluency that little bit more challenging.

Here at Lusa Language School, we explain three of the pains and three of the pleasures of speaking Portuguese.


1.       Oh meu Deus! What did you say?

One of the most challenging aspects of Portuguese is that tricky accent. Though written Portuguese looks deceptively similar to Spanish, Italian or French, spoken Portuguese sounds more similar to the Slavic languages, such as Russian.

This is because of the closed way in which Portuguese is spoken… or mumbled! In northern Portugal, such as Porto and the surrounding areas, the accent is even more closed and slang is commonplace.

Beginners in Portuguese can find it much easier to understand Brazilian Portuguese, because the pronunciation is clearer and Portuguese is spoken more slowly.

Tip: When you’re at a loss, ask someone to slow down by saying, “Pode falar mais devagar, por favor?”

2.       Strange sounds, sometimes scary

One of the other hurdles for Portuguese students is getting to grips with the strange sounds in the Portuguese language.

There are several kooky phonetic differences between Portuguese and other Latin languages – such as pronunciation of the letter ‘s’, which is normally pronounced as ‘sh’ in Portuguese.

This can lead to embarrassing spitting incidents during the first few weeks of speaking – just wipe your face down and power through.

In Portuguese, they also make full use of nasal pronounciation – for example, ‘tudo bem’ sounds like ‘tudo beng’ when it is spoken. Although this sound is not commonly used in English or Spanish, these nasal sounds can be found in French and many Slavic languages.

Tip: The nasal sound in Portuguese is similar to the ‘ng’ at the end of the word ‘bringing’.


3.       Tu or você?

Unlike English and many other languages, in Portuguese there is extensive use of formal language.

For the English word ‘you’ there are two tenses – ‘tu’ and ‘você’ . To address friends, relatives, and colleagues, normally it is appropriate to use the informal word ‘tu’, for addressing elderlies or superiors, the form of ’você’ is used instead.

Within European and Brazilian Portuguese, how often the ‘você’ tense is used differs. For example, in Brazil, ‘você’ is much more widely used than in Portugal.

In Portugal it’s common to refer to the person you are speaking to in third person, as a sign of politeness. So if you find yourself in a conversation with someone who is referring to a seemingly absent ‘senhor’ or ‘senhora’– that’s you they’re talking to!

The formality of the language varies according to the area of Portugal you are in. In the north, swearing and using informal slang language is commonplace, but be careful, you may receive reactions of shock by using this language in southern Portugal!

Tip: Most Portuguese people will just appreciate that you are making an effort to speak, but  when in doubt, use ‘você’.


If you are willing to put in the effort, the pleasure of learning Portuguese vastly outweighs the challenges. Check out these three pleasures of learning the language below.

1.       French? Italian? No problem!

One of the huge benefits of learning Portuguese is that it is a strong gateway language for the rest of Western Europe. You’re sure to find that once you begin learning Portuguese, your understanding of other Latin languages, such as French, Spanish and Italian, naturally improves in tandem.

This is because much of the vocabulary is similar, and if heard phonetically and slowly, the languages can be mutually intelligible. Similarly, the grammar structures between the Latin languages are very similar and involve learning the root verbs and conjugating accordingly, depending on who the speaker is addressing.

Tip: Once you begin learning Portuguese, have a look at some written Spanish or French – you may be surprised by how much you can comprehend.

2. Get a key to the world… or at least to Lusophone cultures

Learning Portuguese can give the speaker a key to the world of Lusophone cultures, which spans four continents. Apart from Portugal, Portuguese is spoken in Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde and several other African islands, East Timor, Macau, Goa in India, and many more places.

Portuguese is a fantastic tool for understanding these cultures on a deeper level – giving students the opportunity to interact with locals, listen to music and read cultural texts and literature.

Tip: Because European Portuguese uses so many closed sounds, it is thought that Portugal is the best place to learn if you’d like to understand Portuguese accents in other Lusophone cultures.


3.       Boost your skill-set on a professional level

Portuguese is one of the fastest-growing languages in the world – up there with Chinese and Spanish. But despite this, there are actually very few speakers of Portuguese as a second language.

This means it is highly-coveted within a number of sectors – including trade, business, media and travel. Having the language as part of your skill-set can boost your employability and broaden your horizons on a professional level.

Tip: Learn the basic phrases to use Portuguese in a professional setting. Clients and colleagues will appreciate that you are making the effort!


If you’d like to find out more about learning Portuguese or begin your language-learning journey in Lisbon, visit the Lusa Language School website and get in touch!


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