Our guide to Portuguese
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Our guide to Portuguese

First published date October 30 2013 Amended date October 30 2013

Congratulations! If you’re reading this page, it’s likely you’re interested in learning the sixth most spoken language worldwide. Being able to speak Portuguese not only opens up the country of Portugal itself (not forgetting the beautiful islands of Madeira and the Azores), it’s your gateway to South America via Brazil, as well as parts of Africa. Portuguese is an official language in Mozambique, Cap Verde and Angola. It’s also spoken in Macau and East Timor.

If you are looking for a new language to learn, Portuguese is a more enterprising choice than Spanish, French or Italian. It’s less widely spoken in the UK than the aforementioned languages, so you’ll look extra brainy for being able to speak a language that few British people can! Plus, if you bump into a premier league footballer (you never know), you’ll get on like a house on fire – Portuguese-speaking countries have a habit of turning out some of the best players in the world (hello, Cristiano Ronaldo and Pelé).


Reasons to learn Portuguese

Whether you’re planning to sun yourself on the beaches of the Algarve or enjoy a city break in Lisbon, knowing Portuguese will make for a richer experience. In the country’s more remote towns and villages, you’ll find that few people speak English at all.

Up for an adventure? Brazil offers incredible, bucket-list experiences: journeying into the rainforest and visiting Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue to name but two (and if you don’t want to go that far, there’s a replica statue in Lisbon).

Staying closer to home? Many cities in the UK have vibrant Portuguese-speaking communities, where Portuguese and Brazilian culture is alive and well. Take a samba class (Brazil’s home-grown dance), have a go at capoeira (an Afro-Brazilian mix of dance, martial arts and theatre) or listen to fado, traditional Portuguese folk music. Some Portuguese restaurants even have special fado dining nights.

Love seafood? Arguably, the Portuguese do it best. You can sample some of their famous dishes at your local Portuguese restaurant – try bacalhau (salt cod – which can be cooked in a zillion ways), or caldeirada (a fish stew).


What to expect

Classes range from those catering for beginners to those wanting to achieve fluency in the language. Whether you need to learn advanced business Portuguese or simply want to acquire some survival phrases for holidays, you should find a class to suit. You can take a course of group lessons with other learners, or receive one-on-one tuition. Teachers will help you work on the four main components of language learning: listening, speaking, writing and reading skills.

If you are planning on using your Portuguese to travel to Brazil, it’s worth finding a class taught by a Brazilian native, as there are differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese. Brazilian Portuguese has variations in vocabulary, spelling, grammar and pronunciation. However, anyone with a grounding in European Portuguese should have no problem making themselves understood in Brazil, and vice versa.


A distinctive sound

Portuguese isn’t Spanish, but if you already know some Spanish (or another romance language, such as French or Italian) you’ll have a head start when it comes to written Portuguese. However, Spanish will only take you so far. Portuguese has a very different sound from its Iberian neighbour. To native English speakers, Portuguese can sound like Spanish with a Russian accent! This is because of the ‘shushing’ sounds and closed vowels, which are also found in Eastern European and Slavic languages. Knowing French can help with Portuguese pronunciation, as it uses similar nasalised vowel sounds.

Another interesting fact for English speakers: the Portuguese alphabet does not use the letters ‘k’, ‘w’ or ‘y’. In fact, you’ll only come across these letters in words which are not of Portuguese origin – foreign words such as ‘whisky’.


Food, glorious food

Portuguese gastronomy is world famous. Try the following specialities next time you’re in Portugal, or seek them out at a good continental deli:

·         port – this sweet fortified wine comes from Porto, in the north of Portugal

·         vinho verde – literally, ‘green wine’, meaning it should be enjoyed while still young and not stored away in the cellar

·         pastel de nata – custard pastry tart. A must for anyone with a sweet tooth

·         São Jorge – a cow’s milk cheese from the Azores

·         salmonete – Lisbon red mullet. We told you Portuguese fish was good

·         rojões – a pork dish from northern Portugal cooked with cumin, garlic and white wine


You already know some Portuguese

English has a number of words which come from Portuguese:

·         albino – from albo, meaning white.

·         breeze – from brisa.

·         cashew – from caju, meaning ‘tropical fruit’.

·         cobra – from cobra de capello meaning ‘a snake with a hood.’

·         flamingo

·         molasses – syrup made from raw sugar, from melaços.

·         palaver – meaning talk that is unimportant, from palavra, meaning ‘word’.


Get started now

Start chatting straight away and impress your teacher.

Bom dia! – Good morning!

Quais as novidades? – What’s new?

Preciso praticar meu português – I need to practise my Portuguese

Obrigado/obrigada – Thank you

Te amo – I love you


By Kate Wilkins

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