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Learn Portuguese: Basics to Get Started

Learn Portuguese: Basics to Get Started

by Emily Mudge

When visiting any country, it’s helpful to understand a few key words in the native language. For your next trip to Portugal, we’ve put together some basics about how to learn Portuguese, and a few key phrases to get you started. 

About Portuguese

Portuguese is not Spanish!

Uma garrafa (a bottle) of Portuguese liquor.

Though the two languages may look similar, this is only because of their shared Latin roots. While Spanish speakers may be able to read some Portuguese, and vice versa, the two languages sound quite different when spoken. Portuguese also draws a lot of influence from Arabic, including words like bottle (garrafa) and carrot (cenoura).

Hear all 3 languages on our Portugal, Spain, and Morocco tour!

Some Celtic dialects also influenced the Portuguese language. 

The closest language to Portuguese is actually Galician.

Galician comes from a region in Northern Spain, and is another one of the major influences on the creation of the Portuguese language. In fact, the two languages used to be one language, called “Galician-Portuguese.”

9 countries have Portuguese as their official language.

Although it may seem like Portuguese is only spoken in Portugal and Brazil, this is not the case. Portuguese is the official language of Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Timor-Leste, Equatorial Guinea, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Principe. 

Portuguese is the sixth most commonly spoken native language in the world, and the third most common in Europe.

The largest concentrations of Portuguese speakers in the United States are in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

If you want to practice your Portuguese without leaving the US, you should check out Massachusetts, where over a million people speak Portuguese. This makes it the second most widely spoken language in the state, after English. Rhode Island also has a dense population of Portuguese speakers, especially in the Eastern half of the state.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Is it hard to learn Portuguese?

Fortunately, Portuguese is a fairly simple language to learn. Though the grammatical structure is different from English, it is easy to understand. Once you learn the rules, Portuguese is easy to understand. If you know another Romance language, such as Spanish or French, it will be even easier for you to pick up Portuguese!

How long does it take to learn Portuguese?

Like any language, learning to speak Portuguese will take a lot of time and effort. Expect to commit between three and six months to learning the language, depending on your pace and expected level of fluency.

Why is it important to learn Portuguese?

If you plan on traveling to Portugal, it will be important for you to brush up on a few Portuguese basics. This will make your trip a lot easier, since not every Portuguese person speaks English. In addition, any additional languages are great skills to have in life. You never know when it might help to speak another language. Learning Portuguese will also help you learn other Romance languages in the future.

The Brazilian Flag

Should I learn Brazilian or European Portuguese?

Brazilian Portuguese is often easier for first-time language learners to understand. However, for a trip to Portugal, you will definitely want to know European Portuguese! While Portuguese people will likely understand Brazilian Portuguese, there are a few grammatical differences that may trip you up.

Can a Portuguese person understand Spanish?

Not necessarily. While Spanish is closer to Portuguese than English is, not every Portuguese person will understand if you speak Spanish. There are enough differences in words that certain phrases will not translate easily.

Important words and phrases

Hello: Olá

Goodbye: Adeus

Good morning: Bom dia

Good evening/night: Boa noite 

Please: Por Favor

Thank You: Obrigado(a)

Note: Obrigado is used by male speakers, while obrigada is used by female speakers.

You’re welcome: De nada 

I’m sorry: Desculpe

Do you speak English?: Fala inglês?

Portuguese Learners Resources

There are lots of great ways to learn Portuguese. Some universities and community colleges offer in-person Portuguese classes. There are also great online courses, such as Babbel and Duolingo. However, both of these programs currently only teach Brazilian Portuguese. 

In addition to taking classes, one of the best ways to learn any language is to watch TV in that language! This is an easy way to practice your skills, and to hear the language spoken out loud. Netflix offers some great Portuguese television programs, all with English captions so you can easily understand what’s going on. If you’re looking for a place to start, 3% is a great Brazilian Portuguese sci-fi show.