Portuguese Language Guide
Learning a new language does not only mean expanding your social circle or gaining new job opportunities: it expands the limits of your world. If you decide to learn Portuguese today, for example, you’ll be able to interact with over 250 million people who live all over the planet!
Why learn Portuguese today, then? First, because knowing a second language will broaden your professional horizons. Brazil is becoming an economic powerhouse, which means that learning Portuguese is essential if you plan to take your business to Brazil or partner with companies based in this South American country.
Plus, fluency in Portuguese will enable you to dive deep into the Brazilian, Portuguese, Angolan, and other Portuguese-speaking cultures. Needless to say, you’ll also enjoy your trips to Portugal, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Brazil, and even Macau to the fullest! While English and Portuguese have different grammar and pronunciation systems, they share a lot of aspects, such as the Latin alphabet, many sounds and tone groups, and vocabulary such as piranha or zebra!
So, if you have decided to take the leap and start learning Portuguese, we are sure the following language guide will help you acquire the language in a comprehensive way. Let’s go!
How Many People Speak Portuguese and Where Is it Spoken?
The Portuguese language is a Romance language (same as Spanish, Italian, or French) that originated in the Iberian Peninsula and, over time, extended all over the world. Today, it’s the official language of many countries, such as:
All these native speakers amount to more than 220 million people, while there are more than 50 million second-language speakers scattered around the world. And most of these native speakers use different types of Portuguese. For example, if you want to learn Portuguese from Brazil, you’ll soon realize it is strikingly different from the European accent, especially in vocabulary and pronunciation. Plus, instead of using the pronoun “tu”, they use “voçe”, which changes the conjugation of verbs.
If you are interested in knowing more about the Portuguese dialects, we suggest that you read the following articles:
Learn the Basics of Portuguese: The Grammar System
The Portuguese grammar system has many features that do not exist in English. While this makes the system hard to grasp and use for those who don’t speak a Romance language, it’s not an impossible endeavor! Let’s break down the most essential Portuguese grammar rules below!
Portuguese Nouns & Adjectives
Portuguese is a gendered language. This means that nouns and adjectives have either a masculine or a feminine gender which is completely arbitrary. For example, a tree is feminine (uma árvore) while the human nose is masculine (um nariz). Most nouns ending in -a or -ção, such as filha (daughter) or comunicação (television) are feminine, while those that end in -o or -or are masculine, like bonito (nice) or ator (actor). However, there's no fixed rule to learn the gender of nouns. Polish up your flashcards and study them by heart!
As regards adjectives, they agree in gender and number with the noun they modify. So, if you want to say that the tree is beautiful, you would say a árvore é linda but an apartment would be o apartamento é lindo. Plus, as you may have noticed already, adjectives always come after the noun and not before. Take a look at the following examples:
A black cat.
A wonderful world.
An amazing journey.
Now comes the most difficult part of learning Portuguese: verb conjugation. Romance languages typically have many more verb conjugations than English. In the case of Portuguese, verbs have two parts: the stem and the ending. For instance, amar (to love) is divided like this:
The ending is the part that will change in most cases when conjugating the verb. For example, have a look at the simple present conjugations of amar in the following table (European Portuguese conjugation).
|Pronoun||Portuguese verb||English verb|
As you can see, verb conjugations in Portuguese are many more than the ones we use in English. There are 10 indicative mood tenses (presente, pretérito perfeito, perfeito composto, pretérito imperfeito, pretérito mais-que-perfeito, mais-que-perfeito composto, futuro do presente, do presente composto, futuro do pretérito, and do pretérito composto) while the subjunctive mood has 6 tenses and the imperative mood has 2.
Plus, most Portuguese verbs are regular and end in -ar, -er, or -ir and are conjugated according to certain formulas. Compare the conjugation of the verb falar (speak) to the above conjugation of amar and you’ll notice a lot of similarities!
So, for these regular verbs, you’ll only need to learn the formulas for each tense and soon you’ll master the conjugations. And if you need help, you can always use free verb conjugators like Conjugator Reverso to polish up your skills. Also, there are many websites where you can practice:
- PracticePortuguese is a great website to learn Portuguese from Portugal, with hundreds of exercises to conjugate verbs, identify nouns, and practice noun-adjective agreement.
- Verbos Portugueses has fill-in-the-blanks exercises for beginner and advanced-level students.
- Conjuguemos is also an excellent tool to put your skills into use and learn regular and irregular verbs in Portuguese.
- Listening Practice is a great resource to learn not only spelling but also the pronunciation of verbs in Brazilian and European Portuguese.
The Portuguese Definite Article
The Portuguese definite articles are not as easy as the English ones, unfortunately! There are 4 definite articles (a, as, o, os) and they have to agree with the noun in gender and number, as depicted by the image:
The tall apartment
Spelling and Accents
Portuguese uses special characters and diacritics, so words like coleção may seem very strange for an English speaker. But don’t worry, with practice you’ll soon master Portuguese spelling correctly.
Let’s start with diacritics. These are 5 and have specific rules on when to use them:
- The acute accent (á) as in árvore (tree) shows that the vowel is stressed.
- The circumflex accent (â) also shows that the vowel is stressed and it gives it a low quality, as in ônibus or avô.
- The tilde (ã) shows that the vowel is nasal, as in nação (nation) or irmã (sister)
- The grave (à) shows a contraction of two consecutive vowels such as a + aquela = àquela. It does not indicate stress, so it’s only relevant in writing.
- The cedilla (ç) as in cabeça (head) or abraço (hug) is pronounced like an “s” as in sister.
Learn the Portuguese Pronunciation System
Luckily, many Portuguese sounds are exactly like the English ones. For example, the c in cultura is pronounced like a “k” while the c in centro is pronounced like an “s”. But there are many other sounds that are pronounced differently or do not even exist in English. The following table outlines all of them:
|Letters||When?||Portuguese example||English approximation|
|R/ RR||Word beginning / middle of the word||Resolver / Correto||Doesn’t exist. It’s a guttural R that also exists in French & German.|
|NH||—||Canhão||Similar to canyon.|
|LH||To turn the page.||Ilha||Brilliant|
|X||Word beginning or after diphthong||Xampu/ caixa||She|
|Middle of the word||Taxi||Taxi|
Learn Portuguese Skills
Looking to take your Portuguese skills to the next level using motivating, real-life materials? Take a look at the following resources we have compiled for you!
Learn Portuguese Reading
- If you like to keep up with what’s going on in the world, you can try to read the newspaper in Portuguese! There are many options available online, some of them for free!
- Looking for a list of good books to learn Portuguese? Read our article and discover the work of outstanding Portuguese-speaking authors!
Learn Portuguese Listening
- TV and radio shows are great to learn Portuguese in context. If you are just a beginner, don’t forget to turn the subtitles on! Read this article with shows you can use to improve your skills. And if you are looking for more options, find Portuguese shows in Netflix you can use to study!
- In case you prefer using YouTube, you’ll find many amazing channels that upload high-quality content for language learners. If you are not sure where to start, you can always resort to our article with the best YouTube channels to help you learn Portuguese.
- Using music can also help you polish up your Portuguese listening skills while practicing your pronunciation. For instance, you can discover our Portuguese playlists on Spotify. Sing along to these catchy songs and put your pronunciation skills into play! Plus, here you can find some tips to learn Portuguese with music.
Tools & Apps to Learn Portuguese for Free
Whether you need more practice or decide to study the language on your own, you’ll find dozens of tools and apps to learn Portuguese for free. No matter whether you are an advanced learner or you need to learn Portuguese basics, these resources will certainly help you:
- Improve your speaking skills using pronunciation dictionaries like Forvo, which feature audio recordings of words and phrases for you to listen to and model after.
- Would you like to put your Portuguese into practice with native or non-native speakers while making new friends? Join sites like Tandem or Conversation Exchange and virtually meet like-minded people!
- Looking to learn European Portuguese but all the materials you find focus on the Brazilian accent? Access PracticePortuguese and find an array of videos, songs, worksheets, and grammar exercises to polish your skills from home.
- And if you still feel you need more practice, you should read our article and discover 5 amazing websites to brush up on your Portuguese for free.
- To learn a language efficiently, one of the first steps you need to take is to understand your current level. If you are not sure about your Portuguese ability, why not take one of our FREE Portuguese level tests and find out?
Is Portuguese Easy to Learn?
It depends! You’ll find people who claim it’s very easy while others may say it’s nightmarish. In fact, how easy or hard it is to learn a language depends on a number of factors, such as:
What Other Languages You Speak
As we mentioned before, Portuguese is a Romance language. As such, it shares a lot of vocabulary, grammatical structures, and pronunciation rules with Spanish, French, Italian, and even Romanian. So, if you already speak some of these languages, Portuguese will be much easier for you to learn than if you only speak English.
Learning Portuguese represents a big effort on your part that will not be sustainable over time without motivation. Why do you want to acquire the language? Have that objective in mind at all times! If you want to be fluent in Portuguese for professional reasons, for example, visualize yourself attaining the position you always wanted. Having a professional Portuguese tutor with you every step of your language journey will also be helpful, as they will remind you of all your progress whenever you get stuck or feel frustrated.
Your Learning Methods
Learning the endless Portuguese conjugations can be a drag, but endlessly repeating the verb forms is not the only way to learn. Why not experiment with and learn Portuguese with an online flashcard maker and see if you remember new language items better in this way? If you love music, you can also use Spotify playlists or apps like LyricsTraining and use songs in Portuguese to help you learn vocabulary. Just think about your preferences and look for suitable materials online. Or let your teacher do it for you!
And if you are not convinced, you can always read our article and discover 4 reasons why Portuguese is not as hard as you may think!
Portuguese Survival Phrases & Idioms
In addition to memorizing and understanding complicated grammar and pronunciation rules, you’ll need something else to be fluent in Portuguese: conversational phrases. There are certain structures and expressions that will help you navigate your way through a conversation. Some of these are basic, like greetings, while others are more advanced, like idioms. Explore some of them below!
These are expressions that will help you get by in a Portuguese setting if you know nothing (or very little) of the language. They include greetings, polite requests, asking for help, and more! Find some of the most useful survival phrases in the table below. And if you’d like to learn more, you can read our article with some of the top Portuguese survival phrases!
|Greetings||Hello / Hi||Olá / Oi|
|How are you?/ How are you doing?||Tudo bem? / Como você está?|
|Good Morning/afternoon/night||Bom dia / Boa tarde / Boa noite|
|Thanking others||Thank you! Thanks! (You're welcome)||Obrigado(a)! / 'Brigado(a)! / De nada|
|I appreciate it.||Agradeço.|
|Asking for repetition||Sorry, can you repeat?||Desculpe, poderia repetir?|
|I don't understand. Can you say that again?||Não entendo. Você poderia repetir?|
|What do you mean by...?||O que você quer dizer com…?|
|Rejecting an invitation||No, thank you||Não, obrigado(a)|
|I'd love to, but I'm busy right now.||Eu adoraria, mas estou ocupado(a) agora.|
|Thank you, I have other plans.||Obrigado(a), mas tenho outros planos.|
|Asking for help||Where is... the bathroom/the kitchen?||Onde fica…o banheiro/a cozinha?|
|Can you help me with... my luggage/my phone?||Você poderia me ajudar com…minha bagagem/meu telefone?|
|There is a problem with/ I have a problem with...||Tem um problema com/Tenho um problema com…|
Idioms are phrases that make no sense if interpreted literally but that have their own meaning. In English, these would be phrases like “break a leg” or “a piece of cake”. Portuguese has many idioms, and these are some of the most used ones:
|É muita areia para o meu caminhão.||I’ve got too much on my plate.|
|Cair a ficha.||To finally understand something.|
|Comprar gato por lebre.||To have been fooled.|
|Torcer o nariz.||To strongly disagree.|
|Ficar a ver navios.||To wait for something that never comes.|
|Partir o côco a rir.||To laugh a lot.|
|Pão pão queijo queijo.||It is what it is.|
|Falar pelos cotovelos.||To speak too much.|
Would you like to discover even more Portuguese idioms? Have a look at our article with 7 of these phrases and how to use them!
How to Learn Portuguese Quickly?
There’s no definite answer to this question, but the best and fastest way to learn Portuguese is the one you like the most. If you cannot stand learning with a coursebook, for example, you may want to find another method that you find more exciting. Some options include:
- Signing up for one-on-one lessons with a native-speaking tutor.
- Looking for online Portuguese courses or apps that help you learn Portuguese for free.
- Compiling and using different resources like podcasts, Spotify playlists, films, and books as the ones we mentioned above.
So, find in the table below a comparison of benefits and drawbacks of learning Portuguese with a teacher or alone:
|Learn Portuguese With our Native Teachers||Learn Portuguese Alone for Free|
|Planned lessons with a clear objective||Yes||No|
|Commute time||Zero: Our teacher goes to your home or office or you can take online classes.||Zero|
|Conversation||Speak to a native speaker and develop conversation skills||No speaking practice.|
|Have to spend money||Yes||It depends (you may need to pay for the subscription of an app)|
|Ask questions and clear up doubts||Yes||No|
|Get personalized feedback||Yes||No|
|Identify strengths and weaknesses||Yes||Yes|
All in all, both options have their advantages and drawbacks. While learning on your own gives you more freedom and flexibility, it can be challenging to advance without the guidance of an expert, especially if you are only a beginner. Plus, learning conversational skills will prove difficult if you don’t have anyone with whom to practice. Just reflect on your needs, requirements, and expectations before making an informed decision!
If you have decided to take the leap and learn Portuguese today, sign up for our Portuguese lessons, be it online or face to face, and start learning the language interactively. And if you need more resources to practice, remember you can follow us on social media and access our weekly-updated blog!
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