Portuguese is one of the world’s most widely spoken languages, placing sixth behind Chinese, Spanish, English, Hindi, and Arabic. There are two main kinds of Portuguese: Brazilian (spoken in Brazil) and European (spoken in many countries in Europe, including Portugal). While they have some similarities, there are certainly many differences in intonation, pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary.
In general, those who speak either language can understand the other, but it may be difficult in some situations. That’s because there are so many nuances between the two. American linguist Albert Marckwardt coined the term “Colonial Lag” as a hypothesis that original varieties of a language (i.e., Brazilian Portuguese) change less than the variety spoken in the mother country (Portugal).
Countries tend to follow the linguistic developments of the mother country with a bit of delay due to the geographical distance. Portuguese was not deemed the official language in Brazil until 1758, whereas the colonization really began in the 16th century. Over time, changes occurred in the language because of increasing contact with European and Asian immigrants.
The other countries colonized by Portugal speak a Portuguese more akin to the mother language. Why? Many of them are African countries, so they don’t have external contact from other cultures that could have impacted their way of speaking. Secondly, compared to Brazil, those countries gained their independence much later and had more contact with Portugal during their early development.
Differences in the Pronunciation
Pronunciation is one of the main differences between the languages. Brazilians speak vowels longer and wider, while Portuguese pronounce the words with a more closed mouth, without pronouncing the vowels as much.
The pronunciation of some consonants is also different, particularly the S at the end of a word. In Brazilian Portuguese, an S at the end of a word is pronounced as SS; in Portugal, it is pronounced as SH.
Brazilian Portuguese is thought to be more phonetically pleasing to the ear thanks to its open vowels, while European Portuguese can sound somewhat garbled. Brazilian accents have a strong cadence and lift to them, making it easier to learn and understand.
Grammar and Spelling
Some words are spelled differently. For instance, reception in European Portuguese is “receção”, but in Brazilian Portuguese there is an audible p to the spelling of “recepção.” In other words, the letter p is audible in Brazilian Portuguese and silent in European Portuguese.
Brazilians are more creative with their use of Portuguese, converting some nouns into verbs. To congratulate uses the Portuguese phrase — “dar os parabéns” — but Brazilians may condense the expression into one verb – “parabenizar.”
Sometimes, Brazilian Portuguese takes words from American English, ignoring its Latin roots. European Portuguese usually adopts words from Latin roots, keeping the original spelling. Overall, European Portuguese is more resistant to change and assimilation of foreign words.
Formal and Informal Speech
European Portuguese is the more formal of the two versions. In Brazilian Portuguese, the word você is used for “you” in informal settings; in European Portuguese, tu is utilized in the same context. In Portugal, they view the você as crude and thus remove the second-person pronoun in less casual situations and instead use the verb in the third-person singular.
When describing actions, Brazilians use “estou fazendo” to mean “I am doing,” and the European Portuguese use the infinitive form, “estou a fazer.” The latter is less direct and translates to “I am taken to doing.”
Should You Learn Brazilian or European Portuguese?
This is a highly personal decision. This will depend on your personal motives, availability of resources, future aspirations and goals. In general, the thing that sparked your interest in the language will have a direct impact on the dialect you choose. For example, if you love classic literature, European Portuguese might be the best way to go for you. If you love Carnival and samba, Brazilian Portuguese may be best.
The availability of resources will also influence your decision. “Brazil has a larger population than Portugal with many native speakers, impacting availability of content. In other words, it’s simpler to locate resources for Brazilian Portuguese learners than it is for those who study the European kind” says Ryan McMunn of BRIC Language Systems. Finding a professional resource that offers instruction in Brazilian Portuguese with access to native speakers will greatly improve your chances of being successful and learning both at your pace and in a way that will last.
What are your future plans? The answer will help you determine which Portuguese variety would be best for you. If you would like to work for the United Nations someday, you should learn Continental Portuguese because its operations are based in Europe. If you want a job in a North American enterprise, Brazilian Portuguese will be best because that country has a bigger economic and trading base.
Still can’t decide between the two?
If you are still unable to decide which option makes the most sense for you to pursue, here are a few factors to consider:
You may want to go with European Portuguese if you:
- Want to travel, live in or work in Portugal
- Want to access a wider spectrum of Portuguese-speaking countries (most of them are more aligned with the European accent)
- Want to learn a more formal and traditional version of the language
- Are drawn to the European experience, from its ancient history to its Mediterranean lifestyle
Consider learning Brazilian Portuguese if you:
- Wish to travel, live in or work in Brazil
- Want an easier, more informal version of the language to learn
- Want to apply your linguistic skills to break into a bigger economic market
- Love South American cultures and traditions
Portuguese, both Brazilian and European, is a beautiful and romantic language. While the style you learn will be catered by your surroundings and interests, the beauty of the language will remain and will be one you can enjoy for years to come.
Author Bio – Ryan McMunn:
Ryan is the CEO and Founder of BRIC Language Learning, an interactive online language learning program. In addition to being an entrepreneur and executive is multiple businesses, Ryan is an advocate for bridging the cultural divide between China and the U.S. and travels the world speaking to young business graduates preparing to enter today’s workforce.