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Does Portugal Have an Advantage at the World Cup?

Does Portugal Have an Advantage at the World CupWill speaking Portuguese help soccer fans in Brazil this month? We look into the differences between European and Brazilian Portuguese, and what they could mean at the World Cup

Last week, the World Cup officially kicked off in Brazil with energetic performances from Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull and a flurry of fast-paced matches. The opening ceremonies honored the customs of the host country, with dancers donning regional costumes, music from different parts of Brazil, and capoeira performances.

Indeed, the World Cup is as much a tournament as a celebration of cultures coming together to share their love for soccer. Fans worldwide gather around televisions at home or in local pubs to have a pint and cheer like mad as 32 teams prepare for battle.

In Brazil, the environment is no different as tourists and locals alike settle down in front of TV’s or into stadium seats, cheering on their favorites and following rivalries four years (or more) in the making.

Ronaldo Invites Brazilians to Support Portugal

The Portuguese certainly have a leg up this year. For one, they’ve got Cristiano Ronaldo on their team, one of soccer’s best players. They also happen to speak Portuguese, the language of the host country. Does this give them a kind of vicarious homefield advantage?

Ronaldo seems to think so. According to the Guardian, the star player asked Brazilians to support his team: “Portugal and Brazil have historical connections and both countries speak the same language,” he wrote in a blog post for Sportlobster. What of this shared language and history?  Will it really inspire Brazilians to support Ronaldo’s cause?

Portugal and Brazil

The two countries have been entwined since a large fleet of ships, led by Pedro Alvares Cabral, landed in Brazil in April, 1500. Since then, they’ve shared much more than a language. They’ve shared a history, an appreciation of Brazilian telenovelas, political and economic ties, and, of course, a love for the same sport.

Historically, Portugal and Brazil have worked together to promote Portuguese throughout the world.  In keeping with cultural celebration, Brazilian fans could choose to think expansively about national identity and support their Portuguese-speaking allies.

Do Visiting Fans Have an Edge?  

Whether or not the shared culture garners support for Portugal, it definitely gives Portuguese fans in the stands an edge over other audience members. In many ways, the Portuguese will feel more comfortable in Brazil than Spaniards, Germans, or the British. They can communicate with the locals, finding the best spots to watch the game or the best places to eat.

But, of course, they do not speak exactly the same language. Since the days of colonization when Brazilians first began speaking Portuguese, the language has morphed, taking on the culture of the country.

Differences have emerged, primarily in sound but also in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar.  Brazilian Portuguese has felt the influence of several more languages than its European cousin. For example, African slaves brought over between the 16th and 19th centuries contributed their languages to Brazilian vocabulary and place names as well as culture.

Differences In European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese Don’t Stop Casual Conversation

In formal writing, differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese are less pronounced. There is a standard set of rules in Brazil, and while they differ from the ones in place in Portugal, the variances are slight and in recent years have become even more negligible.

That’s also the case with spoken Brazilian. The two languages are about as similar as English spoken in the United Kingdom and used in the United States. While there are differences, they wouldn’t lead to major misunderstandings.

So if where might fans feel the cultural difference?

Word Choice and Spelling  

Portuguese fans will notice Brazilians favor different words and constructions.  Take the use of você and tu. According to Living Language, both mean the 2nd person singular, or “you,” but In Brazil, você is used more frequently. There are even variances with the word within Brazil. The Gaucho dialect, spoken in Rio Grande do Sol, Parana, and Santa Catarina, uses tu but conjugates it differently. Similarly, some parts of Brazil lack the second-person verb forms completely.

Another key difference lies in spelling. Brazilian spellings of some words varies from what’s used in other Portuguese-speaking countries. Some alternate spellings reflect pronunciation differences, but there are even differences in vocabulary.

For example, a football fan in Portugal may be confused when a Brazilian official asks for a carteira de identidade, or ID card. They would be used to hearing bilhete de identidade. When ordering breakfast, Portuguese may have to use the word parva instead of their usual pequeno-almoço.


The list of differences goes on. Many are minor and do not prevent partial or complete understanding of the speaker. In fact, the two countries have signed many agreements attempting to create a universal orthography for Portuguese. Thus, it’s likely that Portuguese and Brazilians will find common ground to communicate this summer. Over other foreign fans, the Portuguese may have the advantage in Brazil.