According to the British Council’s Languages for the Future report, Portuguese is considered to be the seventh most spoken language in the world. Brazil, regarded as the Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) epicenter, is famous for its sunny landscapes, vibrant cities, and beautiful oceanside views. But Brazil isn’t just beaches and sunshine: if you want to master the language spoken in Brazil — as well as in Portugal and a handful of other countries in Africa and even Asia — you’ll have to put down the beachside cocktails and get to work. Indeed, learning Portuguese isn’t an easy process, especially for English speakers. Here are some common mistakes that English speakers often make when learning Portuguese.
1. Pronouncing words as they would sound in Spanish
Among English speakers, Spanish is much more common second language than Portuguese; most English speakers know at least some Spanish, whether they learned the language in school or just picked up sundry phrases from popular culture. While Portuguese and Spanish are closely related in grammar and vocabulary, their pronunciation is quite distinct. Thus, it’s common to hear learners pronounce Portuguese words as if they were Spanish.
2. Mixing up gender
The concept of inanimate objects having gender is a difficult one for English speakers. Indeed, learning Portuguese entails memorizing which words correspond to which genders, and all English speakers are bound to make a mistake every now and then. This can be especially confusing if you already speak another Romance language, as words’ genders may be different in each language: “bridge”, for instance, is masculine in Spanish (el puente), yet feminine in Portuguese (a ponte).
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3. Not pronouncing nasal vowels
The Portuguese language contains not only the vowels a, e, i, o and u, but also ã, which is pronounced with a distinctive nasal twang. This sound can be hard to master for English speakers, and as a result, they often pronounce it as if it’s simply a non-nasal a.
4. Getting hung up on details
Portuguese verbs are modified for person (who is doing the action), tense (when an action happened), mood (the manner in which the speaker expresses the verb), and aspect (whether or not an action has been completed). In total, there are over 40 possible forms that each verb can take. As a result, learners often get (understandably) caught up in using perfect grammar at the expense of speaking fluently. Especially when conversing with native speakers, it’s important to drop your perfectionism and focus on understanding and being understood.
Whether you’re learning the language for personal or professional reasons, your Portuguese-speaking friends and colleagues will be impressed if you avoid these common pitfalls. If you’re studying Portuguese alone, however, it can be hard to catch your mistakes. So consider taking one-on-one Portuguese classes from a qualified native speaker to help you correct your errors before they become habits. Contact us to find out more about our flexible Portuguese course options.