Should I learn Spanish or Portuguese in 2023? Well, I’m sometimes asked in surprise why I’ve chosen to learn Portuguese instead of its close – and more pushy – relative, Spanish. After all, most people learn Spanish not Portuguese. Unlike Spanish, Portuguese is hardly ever taught as a foreign language in schools in English-speaking countries. It’s taken up only by only a small number of adult learners, most of whom seem to have already studied Spanish. Do we approve? No! No! No! This is all sooooooo wrong 😉 Spanish may be great, but here are ten reasons why I’m learning Portuguese before Spanish and why you should too.
(If you already know which one you want to learn, head to one of these two posts:
How to learn Spanish fast or How to learn Portuguese fast)
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1. Portuguese is one of the most spoken languages in the world
You want a big, fat, widely-spoken language, right?
There are an estimated 200-210 million speakers of Portuguese, which puts it firmly in the world’s top ten languages. True, there are only about 10 million speakers in Europe, so we’ll quickly get through that lot. Brazil, though, has 200 plus million speakers, which will take a little longer. Numbers suggest utility but, the trouble is, while Portuguese is big Spanish is over two times bigger (400 million native speakers and counting).
Mmmm. You’ve probably guessed that my heart was not really in the numbers game. If you’re just interested in numbers you probably should learn Spanish before Portuguese.
But that not an argument for me! I’m a fan of Welsh and Basque, after all.
All the same, if size matters to you, Portuguese is hardly a minor language! Forget those relative (but for some reason more popular) tiddlers German (112 million) and French (118 million) and get started with Portuguese!
2. The Portuguese diaspora: Little Portugal and pasteis da nata
London has a vibrant Portuguese community.
I first heard the language when I lived near London’s “Little Portugal”, the concentration of Portuguese-speaking migrants centred on London’s Stockwell neighbourhood. I was soon hanging out in local Portuguese cafés, reading, people watching and trying to limit my intake of double espressos and the delicious bolo d’arroz (a kind of sponge bun confusingly called a “rice cake”) or pasteis da nata (rich custard tarts).
London even has a fair on O Dia de Portugal (Portugal Day, 10 June) and several Portuguese newspapers.
It’s not just London.
In Europe, Portuguese speakers live in numbers many European countries, such as Germany and Luxembourg. There are sizeable communities in Boston, the New England states, California (although Spanish is of course, much more widespread in the US). There are also communities in Canada, several Australian cities and in several Latin American countries besides Brazil (Argentina, Chile).
Wherever you are, there’s a pretty good chance you will be able to find Portuguese speakers based near you and put your language to immediate use.
The Portuguese diaspora is a great reason to learn Portuguese (though, of course, there’s a great diaspora of Spanish speakers out there as well). In my experience, both language groups love speaking their languages with learners.
Before we go on to reason 3, don’t forget join the Howtogetfluent Email Club and get “Discover how to get fluent”, my free, one-week video course on how to get off to a solid start learning Portuguese (or any other language). Sign up in the box!
The biggest Portuguese-speaking country has an enticing image of rhythm and colour, with its expansive beaches, rainforests, exotic plants and wildlife, vibrant culture of music, dance and football and its beautiful people. The Amazon and the threatened rainforests, Oscar Niemeyer’s modernist capital Brasília; iconic images from Rio de Janeiro too: Christ the Redeemer, the Sugar Loaf mountain, Copacabana and Ipanema….I don’t need to sell it to you.
My first visit to Rio was very memorable, though downtown Rio, for all its wondrous sights, was more of a mixed bag than I had expected, with tatty, overpriced hotels, unhealthy food, shoddy skyscrapers, astonishingly neglected monuments and polluted bays. It seemed like a cross between Barcelona and Moscow surrounded by the no-go slums that are the flip side of Brazil’s image abroad.
Warts and all, there is no doubt that this country is addictive.
I got the bug more on my second trip (note there was a second trip). Maybe my expectations were lower. An early morning jog along Copacabana beach felt like a magical homecoming. It was great to hook up with a couple of guys I’d met in Rio the first time round.
All seem agreed: it’s the Brazilian people that make it special. Meet-ups and house-stays via Couchsurfing.com provided further entrée and it helped that my Portuguese had advanced from very bad to simply bad.
This is an enormous, varied and fast-developing country and, if you want the real thing, you won’t get very far without the lingo.
Spanish not Portuguese, but if Portuguese, Brazilian not European. Brazil is hip, Portugal is not. That’s my sense of language learning trends and prejudice, at least among the internet linguarati.
I didn’t visit Portugal myself until October 2013. I knew some of the history: the Age of Discovery, England and Portugal as old allies (the Treaty of Windsor, 1386 and still in force), Salazar’s right-wing dictatorship, similar to Franco’s in Spain. There was port wine and fado music and images of Lisbon, blue seas and sky, crumbling buildings, sheer hill-side streets all trams, steps and cafés spilling onto cobbled streets.
When I got there I loved the topography, architectural variety and those trams; the clumsy playfulness of the Torre de Belém lurching out into the waters of the River Tejo, the Jeróminos monastery with the tombs of Camões and Vasco de Gama.
I also visited Coimbra, further north with its historic and thriving university with its famous student houses and carried on north to Porto, which spills down the steep right bank of the Douro, a river spanned from a height by majestic bridges over to the port lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia.
Next on my list are two cities in the far north: the historic religious centre of Braga, the medieval capital and European “Capital of Culture 2012”, Guimarães. Also: Sintra (on the coast near Lisbon), with its extravagant, multi-coloured Palácio de Pena and then the Roman town of Evora in the sun-baked, southern Alentejo region.
So a big yes to Brazil but, if you’re trying to choose between Spanish and Portuguese, don’t discount all that Portugal has to offer, especially if you’re based in Europe.
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5. The geographical reach of Portuguese. Welcome to Lusofonia.
It’s well-known that Spanish is spoken all over the world and this seems like a good reason to learn Spanish instead of Portuguese.
But the geographical reach of Portuguese is, arguably, wider than that of Spanish.
The wider Portuguese-speaking cultural sphere is the “Lusofone” world.
The word comes from “Lusitania”, the Roman province which covered most of present-day Portugal and some adjoining parts of Spain. Lusitania was inhabited by the Lusitani people. The modern Portuguese regard them as their ancestors.
The first colonies in Brazil were even called Nova Lusitânia. There are Lusophone territories on five continents: Europe, South America, Africa (Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe, Angola, Mozambique) Asia (Macau (China) Goa, Daman and Diu (India); on six if we count East Timor as part of Australasia.
It’s a geographical and cultural reach you just don’t get with Spanish, despite its Peninsular and South American strongholds. If you want to travel the world with your language, don’t limit yourself with Spanish.
Before we go on to reason 6, don’t forget to join the Howtogetfluent Email Club and for “Discover how to get fluent”, my free, one-week video course on how to get off to a solid start learning Portuguese (or any other language). Sign up in the box!
6. Portuguese sounds beautiful. .Phonological fascination or “Shchshch! Here come the Atlantic’s wannabe Slavs”?
Before I knew it was European Portuguese, the strange language I was overhearing in my part of south London left me confused but intrigued. Not only did all the words seemed to run together but it seemed to be snippets of something Slavonic, if with Romance characteristics.
It’s all those “s” and “z” sounds, particularly in European Portuguese. Then there are the nasal sounds. “M” at the end of a word sounds like “ng” in “sung” [ŋ] so that bem (good, well) is pronounced “baing”.
So far, so bem, but Portuguese has in ãe, õe and ão three “nasalized diphthongs”. Ãe is a bit like the “ie” in pie but through the snout: mãe (mother), pães (loaves). Õe resembles the “oi” in “boil”: lições (lessons). Ão is a nasalized version of “ow” in “how” or “crowd”.
In Brazil, especially, ão can be pronounced in a gloriously elongated, exaggerated and expressive way, not only in short words such as important little não (no) but at the end of the hundreds of easy-to-remember words which have equivalents in “-tion” in English or French and “-ción” in Spanish (comunição, relação, imaginação).
So, if you don’t want to sacrifice good wine and weather but you do want to get in touch with your inner Slav, Spanish just won’t cut it. You have to learn Portuguese. No more northern European Protestant reserve for me, I wanna make new noises! Ãããoooooooow!
7. Portuguese has a great but little-known literature
Paulo Coelho aside, how many writers in Portuguese can you name?
“Portugal Day” is on 10 June because that’s the day, in 1580, of the death national literary icon Luís de Camões (born c. 1524).
He is not nearly so well-known in the Anglophone world as his Spanish counterpart Cervantes. Camões’s poem The Lusiads Os Lusiadas is the national epic. Camões has been compared to Dante, Virgil and Shakespeare. Zola was said to consider Eça de Queirós (1845-1900) as greater than Flaubert, but which of the two had you heard of?
There are significant writers, such as Queiros’ great rival, Camilo Ferreira Botelho Castelo-Branco (1825-1890), none of whose works have been translated into English. Portuguese has a great but, from an Anglophone perspective, under-appreciated literature.
Some Portuguese writers are better known to us, such the great Lisbon flâneur Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), who wrote in different styles under different names. José Saramango won the Nobel Prize in 1998.
The modernist Jorge Amado (1912-2001) is one of the most translated and internationally-known of Brazil’s authors. Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839–1908) had a unique style and is often considered the greatest Brazilian writer and one of the world’s great novelists. Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902-1987) is widely regarded as the country’s top poet.
Portuguese letters are not just a Portugal and Brazil affair.
The Camões prize is the highest award in Portuguese letters.
Since it was first awarded in 1989 there have been four winners from elsewhere: José Craveirinha (1922–2003) from Mozambique, Artur Carlos Maurício Pestana dos Santos (pen name Pepetela) (b. 1941) from Angola, Arménio Vieira (b. 1941) from Cape Verde (2009) and Mia Couto (2013) again from Mozambique.
There’s lots to discover, from across the world. Let’s join the fray!
8. Great, well-known (and not so well-known) Portuguese music
Portuguese-language literature might be a voyage of discovery for the learner, but world-famous music genres in the language may well be some learners’ prime motivation for getting into it. It might be fado (meaning “fate”), Portugal’s famous lyrical expression of sad but dignified resignation.
It might be samba, synonymous worldwide not just with Rio’s carnival but with Brazil as a whole.
It might be another of the renowned genres that emerged from samba: the jazz-influenced bossa nova, samba funk, sambass (samba + drum and bass), Música Popular Brasileira.
But wait….there’s more! For a start, the language offers the learner the full range of more derivative, main-stream offerings.
If you don’t fancy Brazilian hip hop and rap, you could start with populist Portuguese crooners or…erm, sertanejo, h-h-h-huge in Brazil, it’s a kind of Brazilian “country” music…. 🙂
If you’re still reading following those suggestions, how about the many other exotic styles of rhythm and dance associated with carnival in Brazil beyond Rio: afoxé and axé in Bahia region (north east Brazil), maracatú in Pernambuco (further north and further east), carimbo and lambada in Pará in the north?
Wider Lusophonia is rich with variety, with music in indigenous languages part of the mix.
The national style in Cape Verde is the blues-like morna, which is often sung in Cape Verdean creole. In Angola, semba is still vibrant. It was a precursor to Brazilian samba and to other Angolan styles such as kizomba and kuduro.
In Mozambique, the Chopi people are famous for their traditional music, in their own language. Marrabenta is an urban fusion with lyrics in local languages and in Portuguese.
The Portuguese world even has its own range of instruments. Fado is often accompanied only by the distinctive Portuguese guitar. The mind boggles at some Brazilian devices, such as the single-stringed berimbau with a dried gourd as a sound chamber. I have to give the Portuguese bagpipes (gaita) a mensh and hope, before too long, to have a blow myself.
Whether you want to understand much-loved favourites from the inside or tap your feet to something completely new, Portuguese is the language for you!
9. Hardest first?
You may be wondering which is hardest, Spanish or Portuguese.
I have heard from both Portuguese and Brazilians is that Spanish speakers don’t understand their language, even though they can make sense of Spanish. Why is this? Those difficult Portuguese sounds (see above) don’t help.
Portuguese has more vowels and vowel combinations than Spanish.
Unstressed vowels in European Portuguese may be hardly voiced at all, including at the end of words (which seems to make separating words from the flow of sound harder for a beginner). There are various contractions which can hinder early comprehension.
So, the Spanish “en la escuela” (in the school) is “na escola” in Portuguese and this sounds more like “nascola”. In grammar there are additional complexities.
The Portuguese verb has more tense inflections than any other Romance language. A rare feature is “mesoclisis”, the placing of object pronouns on the end of the verb stem before the future or conditional endings, for example “vendê-la-iam rápidamente” (“they would sell it (fem.) quickly”; colloquially: “vendiam-na rápidamente”.
Most of these complex features are present in Continental Portuguese and the Brazilian Portuguese of the educated elite, although there is a strong tendency towards regularisation and simplification lower down the Brazilian social scale.
To answer the question “Should I learn Spanish or Portuguese first”, some would say start with the easier language. But I’m never one to walk through a gate if there’s a fence there to be scaled. The insecure striver in me says “prove yourself first with the real business”.
I don’t want to scare you off, though. That fence, remember, is still not too high. Portuguese, like Spanish, is in the “easiest” category in the United States’ Department of State Foreign Service Institute scale of difficulty.
The bargain hunter in me takes note of this and says: “this way round sounds like two for the price of one”. Do either of these viewpoints work for you too?
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10. Just to be different….and to cock a cheeky snoop in the Basque Country and Catalunya!…..
It’s true, I rather like standing out from the crowd of Spanish learners and one fun reason to learn Portuguese first, Spanish second, is just to be different! 😉
Portuguese speakers certainly seem flattered when you tell them you’re learning their language and you don’t speak Spanish.
It beats being just another of those awful travellers who regales Lusophones with ropy Spanish and hopes for the best. Does such crass behaviour really beat just speaking louder in English?
Then there’s my personal take on Spain as someone instinctively sympathetic to minoritised languages.
As a Basque learner, like any other minoritised language learners, I sometimes have to make an extra effort to get exposure to my target language. Speaking the big, bad “imperial” language 😉 is hardly going to help. It’s a problem I don’t have. I don’t speak Castilian. End of. You don’t speak Basque, you, Mr Spaniard, despite twenty years residence in Donostia? You wanna say something? How’s about this: I regale you with my ropy Portuguese or….I speak to you louder in English. The choice is yours. ¿Vale? 😉
No, I don’t say you have to buy into my views in the minoritised language sphere 🙂 but I do say get clear on your own reasons for your choice of language….it will help you keep going on the road ahead. So, it’s Portuguese for me. At least first of all.
Should I learn Spanish or Portuguese? The verdict
In this post, we’ve seen ten great reasons to learn Portuguese rather than Spanish.
I’ve argued that many of the reasons to learn Spanish are also reasons to learn Portuguese: wonderful counties that speak the language, vibrant diasporas and a world reach, great music and literature. Both languages are beautiful.
Spanish has simpler grammar and is easier for English natives to pronounce than either Continental or Brazilian Portuguese. If you’re new to language learning, that would be an argument for learning Spanish before Portuguese.
But you can turn two arguments on their head. If you’re an experienced learner or simply love an added challenge, once you’ve mastered Portuguese, you’ll find Spanish much easier. If you start with Spanish, Portuguese will be more of an effort (though your Spanish will still do a lot to help you along the way).
So, I guess my choice came down to personal reasons. Portuguese makes sense for me because I have more opportunities to use it in my life. It appeals because I’m a natural supporter of the underdog (though these two “dogs” are both pretty big and shaggy! 🙂 ). To me, Portuguese is more exotic and, well, I like to be different and go in the opposite direction from the crowd.
And that’s the thing!
You should always choose the language that you most want to learn for your own personal reasons.
And don’t think that just because I’ve decided to learn Portuguese before Spanish that I’m somehow against Spanish.
I do admit, you see, that it’s never really “either…or”. Not for me or for any true language lover.
Whisper it quietly, but I do feel some of the allure of Spanish 🙂 It’s just that it will simply have to wait.
If you’re starting with Portuguese (or if you really much prefer Spanish), it’d be great if you told me your reasons in the comments section below.
Update: if you fancy starting to learn Portuguese (or taking it further) as part of an online study group, check out my review of the 90 day Add1Challenge here. I’ve done three Add1Challenges and highly recommend it. Applications tend to open monthly. Follow the link at the bottom of my review.
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Great list! I tried to enrol in a Portuguese class three years running in university. It was canceled every year due to lack of enrolment. I really don’t know why there isn’t more love for Portuguese! There’s a strong Portuguese community here in Toronto. It may or may not be the next language that I learn.
Things are changing. The Portuguese language and Portugal itself are the world’s new cool. everyone everywhere is learning Portuguese i.e., Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Americans, Africans, Spanish speaking South Americans, France, Luxembourg Andorra, Spain and even Canadians, Americans and Eastern Europeans..
The thing is Portuguese is far more interesting than Spanish. Portuguese is exotic, unique, officially spoken on 5 continents by 270 million people, in 10 countries. Portuguese is the world’s 6th most spoken native language, And Portuguese speaking Brazil has the 6th strongest economy in the world.. Furthermore, Portuguese is the most spoken language of the Southern Hemisphere, 3rd most spoken European language, and just like the British Commonwealth, all of the 10 Portuguese speaking countries/territories have their own Portuguese Commonwealth known as the CPLP (Community ofPortuguese Speaking Countries). – they even have their own Olympic Games. And Portugal has become a world class tourist destination loved by the: English, French, Spanish, Italians, Dutch, Germans, Scandinavians, Spanish speaking South and Central Americans, Canadians, Americans, Indians, Chinese, Eastern Europeans i.e., Ukraine, Romanians, Russians, and Africans from all 6 of the Portuguese speaking African nations i.e., Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, etc, which are the Brazils of Africa so rich in natural resources that they are..
Plus, if you are fluent in Portuguese you are gifted Spanish, as these are the closest pair of romance languages by a country mile, differing slightly in accent only, but in terms of vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure they are 90% alike. In fact, educated speakers of both Spanish and Portuguese can have any conversation each speaking in his own language, and they will understand one another remarkably well! …….not Spanish and Italian as many people wrongly believe.
Judith Meyer says
Great post, full of good reasons 😀 I enjoyed it.
Paulo Ricardo says
First of all, I really appreciate your article.
I’m not in this list of someone who wants to learn Portuguese since I’m Brazilian and I’m native Portuguese speaker haha :p
Just found your blog accidentaly…
Seems you’re a very good Portuguese speaker or you’re doing great!
Really enjoyed your article and there are interesting things you said.
1 – You said that we “seem flattered” when someone from another country which is non Spanish nor Portuguese speaker, tris to speak Portuguese… Sometimes we even laugh. Not about you, but about the situation… It’s like to see a baby speaking… it’s cute for us to see that your trying hard to just speak our language. I never went there, but I always heard that if you go to France, you better learn French, because if you try any other language, they won’t.
Here in Brazil, we try everything possible to help someone whos visiting us. Even those who doesn’t speak English aswell…
2 – You said about the “contraction” we use… and the example you made was perfect (talking about the “nascola” you used)… If you asked me for use an example right now, I can’t think… It just comes when we’re speaking… Stop to think about it and make an article using it as an example was simply awesome…
Just one thing… when you say that we don’t use much of colloquially, is not only due to the fact of it’s more used by those elite educated. Even those who had good education basis, hardly use colloquially form.. It’s because it’s faster, simpler to speak. But if we’re doing a job interview, for example, if seems to have the needy of using those kind of forms, we use…
Last but not least… in Brazil there’s a kind of “brawl” between Rio and São Paulo.
They’re always trying to say which one is better (it’s like brothers who wants to know which one is the most beloved haha)…
If you play like you did in the picture in the Christ the Redeemer says that it’s in São Paulo, people would mock about you and with you… don’t see it as a bad thing but they’d consider that you preffer São Paulo instead of Rio… but it’s just for “hahaha’s”.
I’m from Rio de Janeiro btw…
That’s it, bro…keep the good job. Really enjoyed it alot.
Take care and cya soon 😉
I’m trying to learn Brazilian Portuguese and I’ve found the Brazilians probably the friendliest welcoming people I’ve ever dealt with, everyone is very accommodating and happy to help and share things to help me on my language journey, they don’t mock, at all,we may have a laugh at my prononciation attempts but it’s a warm mutual fun experience and a very encouraging one, they warn me that even they sometimes struggle with their grammar and just be patient and it will come to me, and I in turn help some who want to practice English with me a chance to sharpen their conversation skills
This is incredibly well researched and detailed! Thanks for sharing. I like the point you made about Portuguese speakers being able to understand Spanish, but not the other way around. To me, that’s a fantastic argument! Kill two birds with one stone! Two languages for the price of one! I’m sold.
This is besides the point, but I had a class with a student from Sao Paulo who’s a singer/producer. He sent me a song he wrote and sang, which made me realize how unbelievably beautiful this language sounds.
I am Spanish speaker and I can have a conversation without so much problem with a Portuguese speaker, I can even read in Portuguese, there are some differences grammatically between these two languages, but are just a few, and you can learn them so quick. Conclusion, we can really understand them, do not be fooled. Have a happy day.
The author is correct when she says that Portuguese speakers have a easier time understanding Spanish then the reverse. I experienced this first hand when my Brazilian Girl Friend spoke Portuguese in Uruguay. However when I was in the Dominican Republic I listened in on Brazilian woman trying to speak and understand Spanish, she was so annoyed that she had to switch to English.
thanks for the comment, Mike, interesting to hear your experience (I’m a guy by the way) – Gareth 🙂
I speak a little Spanish and I have a very hard time understanding Dominican Spanish. People from South and Central America who are fluent in Spanish also have difficulties understanding the dialect of Spanish spoken in the Dominican Republic when they are initially exposed to it. I went to the Dominican Republic on vacation a few years ago and had to constantly tell the person talking to please slow it down. Dominican Spanish is very fast, includes words that are unique to the country (slang), and often times the ending of words are cut off and not fully enunciated. I’m almost certain if your Brazilian girlfriend went to Colombia or Mexico, she would have had a easier time understanding the people although she speaks Portuguese.
An interesting new dimension to the discussion here, Floyd. Spanish seems to have a really reach range of variations. I guess for learners, the key is to decide which one you want to speak in and get as much exposure to a real variety of the others to broaden one’s comprehension. Certainly a challenge…but interesting.
Hi Julie thanks for your honesty. I wish more people like you told the truth about the great similarity between Portuguese and Spanish – much more than between Italian and Spanish as many wrongly believe. It’s funny actually when Italians I see on vacation sometimes walk around the hotel boasting about Italian and Spanish being the ‘same’, not ‘similar’, but the ‘same. But then they try communicating and it quickly devolves into a linguistic circus of muddled speech and tons of misunderstandings, at which point the Italian will politely take his leave and say ‘we’ll talk later, and I never see the 2 men conversing again for the remainder of the holiday. A little humility goes a long way, something which Italians generally don’t have. They like to be the best at everything, and when they are put in their place the there is no holesmall enough for them to hide in. Oe thing Italians dread is a bruised ego.
Saleem Ahmad says
Hello Shana, can you please help me in learning Portuguese
If a Portuguese speaker speaks slowly and clearly, trust me, Spanish speakers will understand 80% of what is said. There are lots of travel videos on youtube that prove this. Often, especially in Spain, they pretend that they have a hard time understanding Portuguese when in reality they do. The Spanish attitude about languages is that their language is the best, period. They do not speak other languages for this reason. Foolish pride. Portuguesse is a world language spoken in 11 countries-territories, on 5 continents, by 270 million people – 5th most spoken language in the world. Personally, I find Portuguese to be a much more richer and beautiful sounding language than Spanish.
i don’t think it is a matter of “pride”, it’s that portuguese to a spanish speaker seems deceivingly easy when actually it is not, so we dont bother to learn it when you can understand us well.
i have learned italian, and as a native spanish speaker i’ve found it way easier to learn than portuguese, so i dont know :\
but i do agree that portuguese is a culturally rich language, the only downside it’s that the thing that makes it beautiful is the very same thing that makes it difficult to learn. its countless grammatical rules.
Great to have your prespective, thanks Andres!
Portuguese and Spanish are linguistically are as close as any two languages can get. Spaniards can read 95% of Portuguese and understand it easily, and vice-versa. they also understand the spoken part if they had an open mind and ope ears. These brother Iberian languages are simply so damn close in vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure to the tune of 89%.
Often it is subconscious averse attitude that complicates things. Look, I’ve have seen so many political and current events shows from Portugal where everyone there spoke Portuguese except for. and Spanish speaker. For a full hour, the discussion was spirited, sometimes complex, but they Spaniard understood the Portuguese show host perfectly, as well as the other guest Portuguese speakers and Portuguese audience. It was simply remarkable how perfectly well the Spaniard and Portuguese guest, audience and Portuguese show host all understood one another perfectly. Moreover, to untrained ears, a person would easily believe that they were all only speaking one language. That is proof positive right there that educated Spaniards and Portuguese can communicate with one another each speaking in his own native language and be perfectly understood – of course speaking slower and without slang/jargon really helps too. It was incredible to see! I felt so proud as a Portuguese seeing that kind of flawless dialogue taking place between a Portuguese and a Spanish neighbour. I felt proud for the Spaniard as well as he was obviously. totally relaxed and right at home among his Portuguese speaking Iberian brothers.
I have never, ever seen that kind of facility of communication between an Italian and a Spanish speaker. The have similar accents, but the lexicon, grammar and structure are simply too diverse, and the communication gets further hampered by the false friends words to allow for any smooth and fluid communication between speakers of Italian and Spanish each speaking in his own language. From what I have seen over and over is that they both end up switching to English and then the communication gets much functional even if they are both not fluent in English.
The other important thing to consider is that all people do not have the same ability with languages. I am taking here about educated speakers with no prior familiarity with the other language. Research has proven time and again that Portuguese and Spanish speakers always score significantly higher in several different language intelligibility tests, than between Spanish and Italian speakers. Empirical research bears these facts out. Language experts are really good at devising language intelligibility tests 50 ways to Sunday so to speak.
I meant to say “they (Spanish speakers) would also understand spoken Portuguese easily too if they only had an open mind and listened more attentively.
I really enjoyed your post about portuguese and being myself a portuguese girl from Portugal I have to agree with mostly of what you said.
I always ask myself why is that the Spanish can’t understand Portuguese… I think they do, but they just convince themselves that they can’t, I think they are just being lazy and so if it sounds a bit different they don’t want to make the effort and try to understand… One more think that I notice is that a Portuguese from Portugal usually can speak better English (pronunciation), or any language in general than a Spanish, or even a Brazilian. Why do you think that happens? Do you agree with my statement (since you been to the three countries), who spoke better English?
Currently I learn german, but I would love to learn Greek. Unfortunately where I live I can’t find a place to learn it 🙁 do you recommend some other way to start?
And if you need help with the portuguese please say something, I would help you gladly!
Thanks for an authentic Portuguese perspective, Inês. Keep going with the German (I am!) and, as for finding an exchange partner, informal or formal teacher for Greek, I’d look first on italki.com. Good luck!
There are certainly more Portuguese that can speak English and they are easy to understand. In Spain, even when they speak in English, it was hard to understand them!
Agree that Portuguese is the language to learn first as it sounds nicer to me but now there are 10 more reasons!
Yes I always find Portugal Portuguese speakers are always the best at english (except for maybe the dutch), which is why I’m now interested in returning the favour (hopefully haha). Brazilians are not far too far behind either…
Also I loved what you said about a non Spanish speaker trying to comunicate with the portuguese in Spanish. I find that incredibly annoying, I work at a Caffè and I have a lot of tourists and they proud themselves of saying a few basic words like gracias instead of obrigado or obrigada, and some other “pérolas de sabedoria” (literally “pearls of wisdom”). And I have to be nice to them but I always get itchy because I want to yell at them that “this is Portugal not Spain, your stupid!” but I can’t 😛
Again if you need help with your portuguese let me know!
Alan Batalanto says
I teach English in Spain, but I live very close to the Portuguese border. I came here to learn two languages, and to see two countries. Portugal is 20 minutes away from here, and my students often go there for weekend breaks.
However, I’m often very disappointed with their behaviour! They go to Portugal, and immediately address the locals in Spanish, without even politely asking if they can speak Spanish – or English.
When I ask them why they do it, they casually reply that all Portuguese can understand Spanish. When I speak to them in my basic Portuguese, they tell me to stop joking and speak Spanish!
After a year here I get the impression that Spanish people really cannot be bothered to learn someone else’s language. Actually, many of them come to my classes because they have to – sent by their employer, usually.
Interestingly enough, they also do the same in Catalonia, and get offended if the locals speak to them in Catalan…
It reflects all the better on you, Alan, that you make the effort, even if (like me) you currently only speak basic Portuguese. Do you find it difficult to keep the two languages apart in your head? That’s one problem I don’t have, not knowing any Spanish at all!
Wow! That’s interesting. I teach ESL in the USA and I have students from different countries in my classes and I find that the students that make the fewest efforts to learn English are those from Spanish-speaking countries. They just can’t be bothered to learn English. They insist on speaking Spanish all the time. It’s kind of arrogant and impolite but they persist. Other students from countries in the Middle East and Africa don’t do this. So what’s the deal with Spanish speakers? Argh! It’s frustrating!
Pablo Contreras says
Spanish speakers are too arrogant about their language. They believe that the world begins and ends with Spanish.
They are so convinced that Spanish is a great international language, but it is not. Okay, Spanish is a big REGIONAL language, and by that I mean that 98% of ‘officially’ Spanish speaking countries are in the AMERICAS. And half of those countries are still economically impoverished banana republics.
A very frustrating thing is the insistence of Hispanics that Spanish is spoken in the Philippines. Just look at the maps of the world under languages and you will notice that the Philippines is shaded the same colour i.e., along with all of the other officially Spanish speaking countries. And half of the geographic area of the United States is usually shaded as a Spanish speaking country too. The audacity and pompous attitude! Morocco is the other country that is usually shaded in as well. Spanish is NOT spoken officially in any of the above mentioned countries.
Today, the only 3 languages that are truly INTERNATIONAL as they are spoken OFFICIALLY on at least 5 continents are:
English, French and Portuguese.
Juan Silva says
I agree with Michael, we’d all be much richer if we stayed positive about learning any language. I speak five languages fluently (English, Spanish, French, German and Portuguese – in order of learning) and two conversationally (Italian and Arabic). In the large scheme of things, attitude is most important when learning any language. If you set out with the attitude that you are going to learn one language first and that is your goal, then more power to you. Focusing on one language at a time has its benefits and depending on the inspiration or need to learn it, can be crucial. Everyone learns differently and Spanish and Portuguese are so similar that it would be difficult not to either mix or have an accent (Spanish in Portuguese or vice-versa). An error in syntax, could give you away too, even f your pronunciation is unbelievably on point. Truth of the matter is, unless you grow up speaking both languages from childhood, you are likely to make errors, A good attitude and maturity are the healthiest attributes to encounter the challenge, because we all learn at different levels and make mistakes. A healthy attitude is one that will help you get up after falling and applying the lesson learned in the future, as a result of the fall.
Also, if anywhere on your journey of learning Spanish or Portuguese (if you already speak one or the other) you are needing to speak “Portuñol” (the infamous mix of the two), then so be it! Allow yourself to speak “Portuñol”, for the sake of speaking and being understood in the interim. Invariably both groups of native speakers will understand most of what you say while speaking “Portuñol”, which is the basis of language anyway. You can fine tune your single-language-at-a-time goal as time, resources and opportunity permit. Watching Brazilian satellite TV, social events with Brazilian friends, reading news and entertainment articles online, watching Youtube videos, listening to Brazilian music, etc. can help the ear gain its distinguishing edge, becoming all the more sophisticated in the process. Most of all, just enjoy learning it/them. Why limit yourself? Make it fun. All the emotional chatter about one’s preference over another becomes less and less relevant the more fluent you get in one or both, and as you make friends and delve into their relevant history and culture. Boa Sorte! Buena Suerte!
Well said, Juan!
Brender Sander says
Portuguese like to point out that Macau speaks Portuguese when in reality about 2 percent of the country speaks it…They also say that Equatorial Guinea Speaks Portuguese when in reality a few speak it there main languages are Spanish-Fang-French. They also like to point out that GOA in India speaks Portuguese only thing is GOA is not a country it’s like saying 10 Million folks in California speak Spanish only thing is that like GOA,,, California is not a country. Portuguese teachers like (Mia Esmeriz) has said that Portuguese is the #4 most spoken language on earth if she had done her reach it would be 1#Chinese #2English #3 Hindi #4 Spanish #5 Arabic. Plus 85 percent of it’s speakers live in Brazil.
To be honest, I’ve substituted in an esl class full of Latino and other students from various Asian countries (high school). And it’s not that they’re arrogant but they just find it easier to communicate in Spanish with their friends unlike the Korean, Russian, or Vietnamese students who literally can’t communicate anything and feel the need to learn English. They don’t like to struggle is what it appears to be.
Yes, I guess it comes down to convenience and how much pressure of necessity there is (or is perceived to be) to learn another language. Germans are “good” at English, for example, but not many learn Danish or Polish, even if they live near their borders with those countries.
Native Spaniard here 🙂
I do actually agree with some of the things stated in your article and in the comments.
Spaniards usually don’t bother to learn Portuguese when going to Portugal because we just assume that we’re going to understand each other more or less fine. It’s also true that we have a harder time understanding them because of their pronunciation.
But I’d say it’s not because we’re trying to undervalue the Portuguese language or Portugal because we think we are bigger and better. Many people would probably do a very similar thing in Italy. We just take advantage of the fact that these are three more or less intelligible languages we can communicate in.
I’d find it normal for Portuguese or Italians trying to communicate in their native languages here if they just can’t speak much Spanish.
Of course this has to be done with respect and not just assuming that a bar tender in Lisbon has to absolutely understand everything you say to them in Spanish. Throwing in a few simple Portuguese words or phrases would be a very nice sign of respect I think.
As for why Spaniards tend to speak worse English than Portuguese, well, I think it might have to do with the fact that I’ve heard that in Portugal foreign films and TV series are not dubbed, whereas in Spain EVERYTHING is dubbed. I don’t think it has to do with pride or thinking that our language is better than others, it’s just that the way languages are taught at school does not work, a very similar situation to what happens in France or Italy.
Thanks, Bea! Some very good points. Tourists in Portugal (for example from England or the US) need to learn to say “obrigado”/”obrigada” too, I think, and not just say “gracias” as if they were in Spain.
Definitely, even us, just as we would like them to say “gracias” to us 🙂
Lucas Gomes says
In Portugal there’s nothing dubbed although in Brazil they dub every single thing hahaha I’m Brazilian/Portuguese and grew up in Portugal. The best of both worlds hahaha
I totally agree with you about the accents. By the way I’m Portuguese.
The reason my English accent is good is because, besides the classes I had with a British teacher to do the CAE exam, my obsession started with the movies I watched, specially one franchise in particular, Harry Potter.
I loved the way they talked so I set myself to do all that I could to even come close to speaking like they did.
To me, movies helped a lot.
they are both terrific languages i love brazilian music as much as spanish or even more and for a while i was studying both i went back and forth between the two .i even had friends in brazil but i decided to study spanish as my main language and portuguese as a language when i had free time to spare .simply spanish is more useful, more free and better resources to learn especially where i live , more places to visit, more opportunities to speak . but like i said i love brazilian culture, ,music ,and the people are so friendly no disrespect to portugal i would only ever study portuguese because of brazil and anything after that would be a bonus
Thanks for the comment, Kevin! Did you find studying both together reinforced both or was it hard to keep them apart?
yes i mixed up them all the time especially when speaking they have very similar structures but they are not identical like some people want to believe. i don’t necessarily think portuuguese is much harder either that’s another myth .if they were more resources to learn portguese it would be more popular second language i think
I’m learning portuguese beaucause i’m in love with a brazilian man 🙂
First of all I would like to say that I am either Portuguese or Spanish, I am German and I just found your blog by accident. I have to admit I am really surprised by your blog, it looks to me like if you have a big problem with Spain or anybody from that country. Why do you need to put down a language, a country or a culture in order to give an argument to learn the other one?
If you want to learn Portuguese, do it! Enjoy it! If you want to learn Spanish, do it, enjoy it too! But, please, leave your complexes at home.
I am not sure of all the wonderful aspects of something if you just need to put down something totally independent… I don’t really see the connection…
Hi Michael, thanks for reading the post and taking the time to comment. I have no problem with Spanish at all and I wouldn’t say I’m putting down that language. I say at the beginning that Spanish may be great and at the end “Whisper it quietly, but I do feel some of the allure of Spanish. It’s just that it will simply have to wait”. The connection, as I see it, is that Portuguese often comes across as the poor relation of Spanish. I’m arguing that it isn’t and that it makes a lot of sense to learn Portuguese first. The two are often bracketed together (they share 80% or so of their vocab/structures and an intertwined history). The wonderful aspects (or not) of Portuguese stand or fall regardless and I tried to put them across as clearly and humorously as I could 🙂
Isabelle Bedell says
Gareth: I so enjoyed your article. I love Portuguese, ever since I saw the movie ‘Black Orpheus” and the lovely music in it. I am no trying to learn it on my own, because there is no one in this small town that could tutor me.
I am multi-lingual and Spanish is among the languages I have learned. I agree so much with what you said about Spanish people being resistant to learning other languages, yet I did come across some Spanish people that wanted to learn English more than any other group of Latinos….it was in Santo Domingo, even the very poor made an effort to lean English.
I love Fado, with Amalia Rodrigues singing….Uma Casa is an example of a Fado, yet different from the typical rhythm.
Thanks for sharing so much about the culture, the article enthralled me. I am 79 years old and I loved the way you presented the material. Isabelle
Many thanks for your comment, Isabelle. So glad you enjoyed the article. I have a humorous dig at Spanish but only because I think Portuguese is under appreciated and could do with a bit of a boost. I certainly don’t regret having chosen to learn Portuguese first. With the internet, there’s no reason why not having a teacher in your own town should mean that you have to work in isolation. Take a look under my Recommended Resources tab for information about italki. Email me if you are having any problems getting started with it and I’ll talk you through. You can either use it to find and book a fee-charging teacher or to set up an excahnge for English with a native Portuguese speaker.
David Percy says
What I miss in these intense contributions is the internal strength of the languages concerned. The intricate tense structures of English, German and Italian (perhaps ever so slightly less in French) encourage a certain type of clear and somewhat legalistic thinking. Apparently Latin does the same, but in a more difficult and irregular way. Dutch is extremely irregular, basic and vernacular, but it has a way of reducing nature to practical, farmer-like descriptions — expect no subtlety. What can Portuguese express that another language cannot? Crooning folksongs cannot be its greatest and most subtle mode of expression, I do sincerely hope, and neither are beaches and sex opportunities. Its musical pronunciation, at least in some dialects, is second to none, and that may be the reason to get involved.
I finally got to go to Portugal for two weeks in September on. Trafalgar group tour. I was a Spanish, French, Latin, and ESL teacher before retirement. I also took a six week elementary Portuguese class 41 years ago in grad school.
I had read in travel books and posts that the Portuguese do not like to be addressed in Spanish as the Portuguese are very proud of their language, culture, and history. Over the centuries, various Spanish crowned heads have tried to invade Portugal. In face Felipe II did so for 60 years. I think that that has something to do with it, too.
My tour group was composed of anglophones from The USA, Canada, UK, NZ and Australia. Besides our bus driver, I was the only one who could speak some Portuguese.
Before going, I reviewed my conversational Portuguese, verbs and grammar. Also, reread up on Portuguese music and cuisine. Oh, and I watched a Portuguese soap opera, “Agua de Mar,” from Portugal on my iPad for free and in addition to the spoken dialog, I could watch and read the Portuguese subtitles.
Being with an anglophone group, the Portuguese might sometimes start out in English. I told them that I could speak some elementary, basic Portuguese and wanted to practice my Portuguese. They were always helpful and appreciative. I made a conscious effort to brush up on these tenses: present indicative and present subjunctive, imperfect, preterit, present perfect, gerund and past participle. Also, the high frequency irregular verbs. Keeping the verbs “ver, vir, and por” were most challenging.
I had a great time. Of course, I could read all the signs, etc, easily.
I really appreciated the opportunity to learn about Portugal through the history of the Portuguese people. What I knew about portugal’s history had come from an American, and Spanish point of view.
Portugal is the size of the US state of Indiana. In the 12 days of the tour, we made a big oval through Portugal, hitting all the regions in the north, central and south. Algarve, alentejo, and other regions.
I’ve enjoyed reading your article and the comments of others. Thanks for this sharing opportunity. From Bobby in Williamsburg, Virginia, USA
Sounds like you had a great trip, Bobby. Thanks for the comment!
Jim Causey says
I am trying to learn Portuguese because my wife is Brasilian. She has me reading books in Portuguese and after a couple of months I can sometimes read a few paragraphs without needing help from the translator. I am hoping one day I will be able to have a basic conversation with my Brasilian family.
Good luck, Jim. You have a strong, clear reason for wanting to learn. Success is only a matter of sticking at it, practising a lot and stretching your comfort zone in using the language.
Lucas Gomes says
I’m actually a portuguese native speaker, I bumped into this article because I was searching if I should learn spanish or french hahaha. I’m a Brazilian/Portuguese, I grew up in Portugal and I can tell you, the european portuguese is way different from the Brazilian, people in Brazil often don’t understand a Portuguese, well but they don’t even understand each other either due to several different accents in the country hahaha And yeah, when I say my native language is portuguese people try to speak with me in spanish even though they don’t speak spanish at all, I always tell them “gracias” or “buenos dias” it is not portuguese.
Thanks for the interesting comment, Lucas. Which regional accent of Brazil is the hardest for people from other parts of the country to understand, would you say? Do you think you’ll learn Spanish or French?
Even Spanish speakers don’t always understand each other. To me South American Spanish is very different from Central American Spanish. Then there’s Cuban and Puerto Rican Spanish and that’s different to my ears. Sure we can understand each other most of the time but accents and pronunciations can also make understanding difficult sometimes. Sorry you’ve had the experience that people think that saying gracias or buenos dias is the same in Portuguese trust me not everyone thinks the same. I think you should learn Spanish first than French because I think it will come easier to you especially if you use the Duolingo app. Interesting because I plan on learning French next not just because I love languages but because my best friend is French.
Robert Oliver says
I was a Spanish major as an undergrad. Then I decided to get a master’s in Spanish, too. Back in the 1970s, grad school (in Spanish) offered us the opportunity to take an intensive six-weeks beginning Portuguese class that would also count as part of a language/linguistics requirement for our master’s . I jumped at the chance. I’m so glad that I had that opportunity as I have had opportunities to use my bit of Portuguese, now and then, Most recently in September, I took a 12 days tour all around Portugal. I also have undergrad minors in French and Latin. Latin has really helped me with my Spanish, French, Portuguese–and my native English, too.
Sounds like the best of both worlds, Robert. I don’t know any Latin….but I want to learn some.
I’m from brazil, and I’m looking for someone to practice english. In turn, I could help with portuguese. If someone is interested, please answer my comment!
Good luck with your Englis, Einara. If you look over at italki. com (see the details under the Resources tab above) you should be able to find a practice partner. You could also try an app such as HelloTalk, which I’ve heard good things about (though I haven’t tried it myself yet). Another option would be for you to check for language meetups in your area, through sites such as couchsurfing.org or meetup.com.
SAYAJI SALOKHE says
I am a multilingual person from India. I speak English, French, Portuguese, Hindi, Marathi, & Konkani language. I like Portuguese language the most. It’s a sweet language.
Thanks very much for the great post. I am definitely getting a desire to learn Portuguese now. I already speak French and Spanish so I think that it would be a nice language to try. I am primarily focussed on learning Japanese right now but every now and again I have to try something new or get a boost in one of the languages I already know. I took a course in Korean last year for that reason.
It’s so ,much harder to get to a really high level in a difficult language than it is to quickly learn a new language like English (be that on the Germanic side or the Romance side). There is a much bigger effort to reward ratio. With Portuguese I do have a whole part of my family living in Portugal but I am actually more attracted to the Brazilian version of the language (as it is so much easier to understand).
Thanks for reading and for the comment, Rinn. Respect for tackling Japanese and I hope you do manage to get to have a go at Portuguese too!
Claudio Dias says
Hispanic speakers can even understand the Portuguese language written a little. Now, understanding Portuguese spoken is another thing. I am a native speaker of Brazilian Portuguese and have never studied Spanish but I understand 80% written and 70% spoken. I communicate with Peruvians, Argentines, etc. in Spanish without ever having studied the language. When I speak Portuguese with Spanish speakers, they always ask me to “speak slowly” Nor do they understand me 50% of what I say. and returned to Spanish. I show you the reasons for this phenomenon. The phonology of Portuguese! Sorry for my English.
Estudos e pesquisas comparativas dos idiomas(Espanhol e Português).
ENTRE O ESPANHOL E O PORTUGUÊS (A maior quantidade de sons do Português o torna mais complexo e rico em comparação ao Espanhol).
O quadro vocálico do português:
No português existem vogais orais e nasais. As orais [o] e [e], em posição tônica, podem ser abertas ou fechadas. No português do Brasil existem 7 vogais orais e 5 vogais nasais. Total: 12 fonemas vocálicos em posição tônica. Em posição átona não existem vogais abertas, sendo que em posição átona final, o quadro vocálico do português fica reduzido a três fonemas vocálicos: a, i, u porque o e e o o fechados ficam reduzidos, respectivamente, a i e u: pele [´peli], dedo [´dedu].
Os fonemas vocálicos abertos provenientes do latim vulgar permaneceram no português.
O quadro vocálico do espanhol:
O quadro vocálico do espanhol é muito simples. Consta apenas de cinco fonemas:
Não existem no espanhol vogais abertas com distinção fonológica, embora foneticamente haja realizações com maior ou menor abertura vocálica. Os fonemas vocálicos abertos provenientes do latim vulgar não permaneceram em espanhol mas ditongaram-se em espanhol: petra> pedra, (esp) piedra; forte> forte, (esp) fuerte. O mesmo quadro vocálico mantém-se em posição átona, pois não há elevação vocálica nem mesmo em posição final: leche [´letfe], dedo [´dedo].
A nasalização de vogais tampouco existe no espanhol, ao menos com valor fonológico.
Fonologia: O inventário de fonemas do castelhano é mais pobre do que o do português, talvez por isso é mais difícil para os falantes de espanhol entenderem o português falado do que a situação inversa.
Conclusão final: Verificamos muito sucintamente que o espanhol e o português, embora tendo como tronco comum o latim ibérico, apresentam diferenças em todos os seus aspectos, desde os fonético-fonológicos até os lexicais, sem deixar de lado algumas diferenças morfológicas e sintáticas. Não há dúvida de que para uma simples compreensão, principalmente da língua escrita, a semelhança pode ajudar, porém, para efeito de aprendizagem como segunda língua, a facilidade pode ser mais aparente que real. Aqui apresentamos apenas algumas diferenças, como era nosso propósito, embora as semelhanças sejam muito maiores, mas há muitos aspectos que não consideramos como a organização do discurso, as preferências vocabulares, etc. A aquisição de uma língua semelhante à língua materna requer tanto estudo e dedicação como a de qualquer outra língua estrangeira.
Thanks for the comment and all the info, Claudio! Obrigado!
Portuguese also helps to communicate in one region of Spain, Galicia (or Galiza), where Galician language (very similar to Portuguese and same origin) is spoken together with Spanish.
Good point, David!
First, thanks for the article found out to be a bit humorous. I’m an Angelino of a mixed background my mom is Brazilian and my pops is Mexican. So I grew up speaking English, Spanish, and Portuguese. I found that of the two my dad spoke better english maybe it’s because he worked while my mom was a housewife. As far as learning one before the other it doesn’t really make a difference especially if you speak English and Spanish or Portuguese and English they all have cognates to a degree. I find that I do sometimes interchange words in Portuguese and Spanish unconsciously but It’s bound to happen with how similar they are. Not sure if this helped at all but I wanted to give some insight on what speaking all 3 languages Brazilian-Mexican American.
P.S . I find that my thoughts blur the lines b/w all 3 creating a unique blend of sportuglish…
“Sportuglish”…that sounds like a really cool language, Ryron 🙂 I’m very envious of you growing up naturally trilingual!
Pietro Miralha says
I desagree about one thing, the Spanish speakers don’t have more difficult in learn Portuguese than Portuguese speakers in learn Spanish,but different of the Americans from the US who accept very easy to learn Portuguese (obviously it depending which is the country) the Spanish speakers are not curved to try to understand the Portuguese(this is very bad especially when they do it inside of a Portuguese speaking country and lack of respect).For exemple:people from the Spanish South America (especially from Argentina Uruguay and Paraguay) countries are especially respectfull people and try to understand Portuguese.while the people from Spanish or the Central America intend less to do it.
An interesting point, Pietro. Thanks!
In Goa and Timor almost doesn’t speak in Portuguese, and Spanish is also spoken in Ocenia IEastern Island) and Africa (Guinea Ecuatorial)
William Hanagan says
I love both Portuguese and Spanish. I’m fascinated by Brazil. Yes, Portuguese is more widely spoken geography speaking and in terms of numbers of speaker than Spanish. However, Spanish would be an easier vlanguage for me to learn. There are many more Spanish speakers in North America than Portuguese speakers. Opportunities for speaking and listening to Spanish are greater than Portuguese. In any event, both are lovely languages.
Agreed, William and it certainly makes most sense to learn a language you’re going to be able to use.
Md jubed says
Thank you very much for your nice and informative article.
I was in Portugal and it is a beautiful country for tourist and Lisbon is one of the best places
Matt Richardsdon says
I’m somewhere between an A2 and a B1 in Spanish and have tried to take a few lessons in Portuguese.. Whilst I find it easy to pick out meanings from written text since it has lexical similarity to Spanish, I find the pronunciation very difficult. As a result of this I only ever do a few lessons in Portuguese when I feel like it which doesn’t tend to be very often, so I forget most of the stuff I’ve learned. I’m not fluent in Spanish yet either so maybe I should stick to that.
Hi Matt, one way to get tackle the problem would be to do a lot more listening practice and maybe even experiment with listening and transcribing (dictation) if you have transcripts. I love the site Practice Portuguese for European Portuguese.
Tu odio y tu animadversión hacia España y hacia el mundo hispánico es clara, según se ve en este artículo. Nada que ver y nada que tener en común con alguien como tú.
Your hatred and animosity towards Spain and the Hispanic world is apparent, as seen in this article. Nothing to do with and nothing to have in common with someone like you.
Not at all, Cgog! Did you read to the end? Don’t be so insecure! 🙂
I feel you hate Spanish cuz is more widely spoken in the world and is the second language in U.S and the U.N. Even in Brazil ALL FAMOUS singer have to sing in Spanish.
Nope. I suggest learning Portuguese first for the reasons I set out in the pst. I do not say don’t learn Spanish. At the end, I say I’d quite like to learn Spanish. There’s always a bigger language out there (unless we’re thinking Chinese) 🙂
There are a few things I’d like to point out. Spaniard here, I have learned English, French and German. Very interested in learning Portuguese but all I can find is Brazilian and not so much European Portuguese, I know they’re the same language but with major pronunciation differences and a lot of vocab differences but I guess just like in all varieties of Spanish, English, French, etc.
1-The author seems to dislike the Spanish speaking world for whatever reason. Saying bad things about Spanish isn’t going to make people want to learn Portuguese. Both are languages with a large number of speakers and with interesting cultures, music, literature, etc, etc.
2- Portuguese speakers need to relax about what language tourists use with them. I live in a touristy area in southern Spain and I know Brits, Germans, even Finns who can’t even count to 10 in Spanish after living here for 20 years, so if suddenly an Italian talks to me in Italian assuming I’m gonna understand, I don’t get all upset about it. It actually makes sense. I’d rather make a little effort trying to understand some Italian and some Portuguese than speaking English with my Iberian/Latin brothers.
3-Yes, everyone I have been to Portugal I speak Spanish, they reply in Portuguese, we understand each other just fine, no drama. I have met many Portuguese people who were on holiday in Spain and they spoke in Portuguese slowly so that we could understand them. No big deal.
4- Spanish speakers are not arrogant when it comes to their language. We’re well aware that English is the world’s Lingua Franca. No other language comes even close when it comes to usefulness. Yes, Spanish is a big language, so are Portuguese, French, Chinese, Arabic and Russian.
5-In conclusion, if a Portuguese person doesn’t know any Spanish and talks to me in Portuguese, it’s not a big drama. If someone has learned Italian and uses it in Spain to try to get by, no big drama(it has happened to me). In my case, I have always loved Portuguese and Italian. Why have I learned English, French and German first? Well, English for obvious reasons, French because it was offered in school and then I kept on and German because it’s useful in Europe.
Hi Emilio, if you’re keen to start Portuguese, https://www.practiceportuguese.com/ is a good place to start – but from English, for course. Portuguese with Leo is a good YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDqH89_8ThHUWatP2sLC1Qw
Enrique Bustamante says
Why do I feel offended? I came here to read about the Portuguese language while improving my reading comprehension in English. And although it is great to have Portuguese in the spotlight, as a Spanish speaker I feel like in many parts of it you were just bashing Spanish and Spaniards (I’m Honduran). I want to believe this is a misunderstanding and that I just need to keep practicing English and get more exposure to it. But God knows I’d feel awkward if I were a Spanish person. The worst part is, I feel some type of way and I’m not even from the Iberian peninsula. Anyway, thanks for the vocabulary you have used, it was easy to read out loud.
I’m sorry you feel offended, Enrique. My argument is not that Spanish is bad. There’s no “bashing” of Spanish in the post (but I respect that this is not how you understood it, so if you can point out where you feel I’m “bashing”, I can have another look and see whether I should rephrase). The argument is that for a native English-speaking language lover (who maybe intends to learn both languages) it makes sense to learn Portuguese before Spanish. The reasons for that are the ones I list in the post. At the end of the piece I do say I’d like to learn Spanish. I use emojis in several places to show where my comments are less than serious. I do think there is a strand within Spain that thinks that Spanish is somehow a more valid language than, say, Basque or Catalan. Your English is perfect, by the way and I would certainly love to be able to write Spanish (or any language) as well 🙂 Do you use the reading out loud method often? I think it is an undervalued exercise.
Rachel Graça says
On the topic of Portuguese & Spanish being very similar….
My father-in-law is from Portugal and in 2019 we went to visit his family in Lisbon & Coimbra. On the way, we took a bus through Spain. We were on the bus platform and my FIL was chatting with the bus driver to discuss price, etc. When my FIL came back from talking with the driver, he was laughing and told us that while they were talking my FIL was trying to talk to the driver in Spanish and as they were chatting, the bus driver asked my FIL if he was Portuguese. Turns out that the driver was also Portuguese and they were both trying to speak to each other in Spanish, lol.
Eleanor Healey says
Hi Stuart! I am desperate to send you a comment, no about Portugal ( lovely country) but about Spain Post Brexit.
How do I send you a comment, please? Yours, Ellie
My reason is I’ve studied French and I’m a Slavic native. Portuguese has similar sounds as in French/Slavic that Spanish just lacks. I also prefer Madeira to the Canary islands and the architecture in the Algarve beats Benidorm, Málaga etc. Spaniards like building huge concrete apartments for some reasons that look terrible next to the sea coasts. Compare that to the smaller hotels and houses in Portugal.
Also Portuguese people seem friendlier, yet humbler than French, Spaniards and Italians (maybe South Italians and Andalusians are just as nice but they also have the “big imperial country” ego). Latin Americans are fantastic, no matter the language. In Europe the friendliest Romance speakers in my experience are the Portuguese and the Romanians, no contest. I am often looked down on by Spaniards and Italians for being Bulgarian while my flatmates from Portugal were great!
Just forgot. I prefer how Portuguese makes some words better sounding. E.g:
– the “i” added in some words makes them more pleasant, e.g. “madeira” sounds less harsh than Spanish “madera”.
– at the same time PT reduces some vowels like “u” as in “nuevo/a” having the much simpler “novo/a” (matching the Bulgarian equivalents “nov/a/o – we have 3 genders in Bulgarian”).
– Spanish has more words of Arabic origin, which have no cognate in other Romance languages. Arabic being non-Indo European makes some words frustrating.
Jeff Stotler says
How many folks speak Portuguese in the U.S.?? Is it close to Spanish or Chinese
Dr Popkins says
Nowhere near close, Jeff. The census figures for 2019 say just under 500k speak Portuguese at home, as against 30.6 million speaking Spanish and 2.8 million, Chinese: https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2022/acs/acs-50.html