How To Communicate With Locals In Portuguese-Speaking Countries

While English can help people navigate many countries when traveling, it’s a good idea to know the basics of a few other languages ​​as well. For example, according to Babel, Portuguese has over 232 million native speakers and is the official language in Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Macau, Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe.

While travelers won’t experience culture shock in most of these countries, at least some knowledge of Portuguese could make traveling across at least three continents easier. Although it’s easy to travel in Portugal if you only speak English, the rule doesn’t apply to all countries. In Brazil, for example, only 5% of the population speaks English, so it’s always a good idea to learn some Portuguese before exploring the country’s natural beauty.


Knowing more about the language will also enrich the experience of visiting other countries, as tourists can interact with locals and learn more about their culture. Discovering Portuguese is also an immersive experience in a new culture with a dynamic language and fascinating history.

Another good reason to learn Portuguese is that it can help people learn other Romance languages, including Spanish, French, Romance, and Italian. Of course, it also increases the opportunities for people who want to move to one of these Portuguese-speaking countries.

There are major differences in each country

Before diving into Portuguese, one should be aware that there are differences in the language depending on the country. Officially, there are two types of Portuguese: European and Brazilian. In the past, Brazil was a Portuguese colony and was influenced by indigenous and enslaved peoples living there, which helped create a new language. The country is also continental in size and of course the language evolved differently there.

Although speakers of Brazilian Portuguese can understand European Portuguese and vice versa, there are notable differences between them, including grammar, verbs, and vocabulary. For example the word breakfast can be translated as Cafe da manha in Brazil and Pequeno almoço in Portugal. A cell phone is called cellular (Brazil) or Telemovel (Portugal).

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African Portuguese is more similar to European Portuguese. But which Portuguese should you learn? The answer will depend not only on where people want to travel, what culture they are more interested in and even what accent they prefer.

Immersion is the best way to learn Portuguese

The best way to learn Portuguese, or any other language, is to have as much exposure to the language as possible. Traveling, of course, is a guarantee of 24-hour contact with the language, and in almost every major city it is possible to find courses for foreigners. Although it’s normal to feel unsure about communicating when you’re not fluent, native speakers often appreciate the effort and will try to help.

It is also possible to start learning before the trip. According to Babbel, there are nearly 700,000 Portuguese speakers in the US and 220,000 in Canada. The good idea is to try watching movies novels (soap operas are very popular), series, reading books and listening to music and audio books in Portuguese. These are great ways to get familiar with the sound of the word and the correct spelling.

If you want to become more confident when speaking, you can record yourself reading aloud. Listening to the audio will help identify points that can be improved.

The biggest challenges in learning Portuguese

Portuguese is a beautiful language, but also difficult. While most sounds will be familiar to English speakers, some simple words can pose a challenge. Here are some of them.

nasal words

The language has many nasal words, which is often one of the biggest pronunciation challenges. The nasal sounds occur in words like pao (loaf), macã (apple)and to calculate. (Shorts) and in words with vowels followed by M or N: Mentira (lie) and Panela (Pan).

Since the sound doesn’t exist in English, the best way to practice is to listen to it and repeat the words.

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False friends

When learning Portuguese, people will find words that sound almost identical to English but have completely different meanings. That is why they are called false friends. Here are some of them:

atender: answer (the door, the phone). Participate: participate

Assumir: take a job. Assume: presumed

college: School University: Faculty

Costume: habit costume: Fantasy

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Technology helps a lot

Needless to say, technology has made travel easier in recent years. Of course, navigating a country where a traveler is not fluent in a language also helps. For example, if someone is having trouble ordering a meal in Lisbon, they can use Google Translator. A good tip is to download the language catalog so you can access it even when phone service is unavailable.

When technology isn’t available, it’s always possible to use sign language to help tourists, for example, find their way or order meals.

Portuguese words and expressions

ola = Hi

Como vai? = How are you?

Bye = Goodbye

Por favor = Please

I ajude = help me

Com licenseca = sorry

banheiro = bathroom

Komida = meal

agua = water

Hotel = hotel

airport = Airport

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