With 215-220 million native Portuguese speakers worldwide, Portuguese is a fascinating language that originated and evolved from several dialects of Vulgar Latin in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia and County of Portugal between AD 409 and AD 711. In 1290, Portuguese was officially declared a language and it is now spoken in ten countries, with Brazil being the country that houses the majority of native Portuguese speakers. With that being said, it’s natural for someone who is learning to speak Portuguese to want to learn Brazilian Portuguese. But then again, Portugal is the country that birthed the language. So, which version of Portuguese is better to learn? Let’s uncover the five main differences between Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese. Then you can decide!
1. The Accents
If you’re a native English speaker, you probably already know that different English-speaking countries have their own unique accent. This is no different for those who speak Portuguese as their native tongue. Phonetically speaking, many tend to find Brazilian Portuguese more pleasing to the ear than European Portuguese because Brazilians tend to speak with their mouths more wide open. In doing so, the sounds that are produced are much more distinct resulting in clearer communication, which can make it easier for a beginner Portuguese speaker to learn the language. Native Portuguese speakers from Portugal, on the other hand, tend to speak with their mouths more closed, which results in less distinct sounds, making it a little more challenging for a beginner Portuguese speaker to learn. Listen to this conversation to hear the differences in each accent.
2. Pronunciation of Certain Letters
Going hand-in-hand with accents, there are also some variations as to how certain letters and words are pronounced. Let’s look at a few examples.
- The “S” and “Z”: The pronunciation of the “s” and “z” is very distinct between Brazil and Portugal. In Portugal, people tend to pronounce the “s” sound in many instances as a “shh” sound, especially if the letter S falls at the end of a word. People from Rio de Janeiro tend to pronounce the letter S as “shh” like people from Portugal as well. However, in Brazil, the majority of the people pronounce the letter S as “sss”. This type of pronunciation also generally applies to words with the letter Z as well. In Portugal, words with the letter Z at the end take on a “sh” sound, whereas in Brazil, they are pronounced as the American Z. Here are some examples:
Portuguêss/Portuguêsh = Portuguese
Esspanhol/Eshpanhol = Spanish
Talvezz/ Talvezsh = Maybe
Felizz/Felizsh = Happy
- The “L”: In Portugal, they pronounce the letter L as in English; however, in Brazil, if the letter L falls at the end of a word, it tends to be pronounced as a “w” or “u”. Here are some examples:
Real/Reaow = Real
Responsável/Responsáviu = Responsible
- The “T”: The letter T can also be a noticeable difference to those learning Portuguese. In Brazil, the letter T is usually pronounced as a “ch” sound, whereas in Portugal, the T is pronounced as it would be in English. Here are a couple examples:
Boa noite!/ Boa noichi! = Good night!
Te amo/ Tchi amo = I love you
3. Second Person Pronoun: Tu vs. Você
Both the second person pronoun in the singular form, “tu” and “você”, mean “you”. In Portugal, “tu” is used more frequently than “você” because “você” is considered a more formal way of addressing someone. However, in Brazil, “você” is more commonly used than “tu”, although in some northern and southern regions in Brazil, people use “tu” as well. But, if you want to sound a little bit more formal when using “você”, you can always add something like o senhor to the phrase. One last thing to note: though “você” and “tu” both mean the same thing, their conjugations are different. Here is an example:
You speak Portuguese.
Você fala português. (Brazilian Portuguese)
Tu falas português. (European Portuguese)
4. Different Vocabulary
Just as the Americans and the English have their own set of vocabulary, the Brazilians and Portuguese also have their own set of words to describe the same things. But be careful: sometimes words that are commonly used within a specific region may actually be considered offensive to those in a different region. Let’s look at a few examples. The Brazilian word will appear on the left and the Portuguese variation will appear on the right.
- Abacaxi/Ananás = Pineapple
- Ônibus/Autocarro = Bus
- Suco/Sumo = Juice
- Casa de banho/Banheiro = Bathroom
- Por favor/Se faz favor = Please
It may be in your best interest to try and familiarize yourself with words from both Brazil and Portugal so you can be aware of the different vocabulary that is used and know how to use them.
5. The Gerund
On a more technical note, Brazilians are big fans of using the gerund, whereas the Portuguese typically tend to omit the gerund in their daily conversations. A gerund is a noun that is formed from a verb. A gerund is formed by adding “ing” to the end of a verb. We use the gerund a lot in English without even realizing it. For example, take the verb “to read”. When you say to someone, “I am reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho,” you are using the gerund. Like in English, Brazilian Portuguese tends to use the gerund more often than not by adding special verb endings to each verb. However, a different grammatical structure is used in European Portuguese: a + the infinitive form of the verb in place of the gerund. Here are a few examples:
1. I am reading a book.
- Estou lendo um livro. (Brazilian Portuguese)
- Estou a ler um livro. (European Portuguese)
2. What are you eating?
- O que você está comendo? (Brazilian Portuguese)
- O que estás a comer? (European Portuguese)
Notice the difference in the use of the second person pronoun in this example.
So, which version should you learn: Brazilian Portuguese or European Portuguese? It doesn’t matter! The choice is completely up to you because the language is the same. Even though the accents, vocabulary and expressions, and grammar may be a little different, Portuguese is still the primary language used in Brazil and Portugal. As long as you can successfully communicate with other Portuguese speakers, that’s all that really matters.