How to Learn Brazilian Portuguese as a Spanish Speaker

In this guest post, Kamila Tekin gives her top tips for people who sometimes mix up Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish. But before we get to her post, here’s a little bit about Kamila.

When I came across Kamila’s profile on Instagram I became instantly fascinated by her videos documenting her Brazilian Portuguese learning progress. In a way she confirmed and validated what I always tell my students – that we shouldn’t wait to start practicing a new language. We will never be ‘ready’ and it’s just by leaving our comfort zone, start practicing and making mistakes that we actually learn. This video shows Kamila’s progress in just a couple of months:

Kamila Quer Ficar Fluente

She currently has a ‘Kamila Quer Ficar Fluente’ (Kamila Wants to Become Fluent) series – she will record and upload weekly videos on YouTube speaking Brazilian Portuguese, and she wants you to do the same (in whatever language you’re learning, not just Portuguese)! The aim of the challenge is to record at least one video of min. 2 minutes each in September, October and November, post it on YouTube and share the link with her. She will then gather all the videos in one post so that the participants can interact with each other. Check out the YouTube video she made with more details about the challenge:


Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish

In one of my chats about Brazilian Portuguese with Kamila, she told me about the challenges she was facing learning Brazilian Portuguese after already being fluent in Spanish. So I asked her if she would like to write a guest blog post with her top tips for people in the same position as her. And she very kindly agreed! Here it is!

by Kamila Tekin

Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish are two languages that are pretty similar. While your knowledge of Spanish will help you learn Portuguese, it may also cause some confusion in mastering the pronunciation, speaking, and grammar.

There are certain differences you should pay attention to and also strategies that you can use to distinguish the two languages in your mind.

I’m currently learning Brazilian Portuguese as a Spanish speaker and I’ve been through the path that you’re currently walking on.

In this post, I want to share my knowledge with you so that you can learn Brazilian Portuguese as a Spanish speaker without any trouble.

The main differences between Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish

When you’re aware of the main differences, learning Portuguese will become a little bit easier. 

The use of “você”

In most Spanish-speaking countries, people tend to use tú a lot more than “vos”, except in countries like Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay where “vos” is more commonly used.

Although the pronoun “tu” does exist in Portuguese, it is only used in certain regions of Brazil. The most commonly used word for “you” is “você” and it is followed by verbs in the third person singular.

Here’s an example to show you what I mean:

Spanish Portuguese
Tú comes Você come
Él/Ella come Ele/Ela come

As you can see, the verb comer (=to eat) is conjugated the same way for “você” as it is for “ele” (he) and “ela” (she).

The use of “o senhor” and “a senhora”

Portuguese has a masculine and feminine version for “you”. These are o senhor (m) and a senhora (f), but it’s important to know that they are both only used in a formal context.

  • Como você se chama? What’s your name? (informal)
  • Como o senhor se chama? What’s your name? (formal, masc.)
  • Como a senhora se chama? What’s your name? (formal, fem.)

 In Latin America, you use “usted”, which doesn’t make a distinction between men and women.

The use of “a gente” for we

If you’re someone who learns Brazilian Portuguese as a Spanish speaker, you may think that this means something like “the people” because it looks like “la gente”. However, “a gente” is a very popular way to say “we” in Portuguese. For “the people” Brazilians often use “as pessoas”, in the sense of “persons”.

For example, when someone says, “A gente se vê amanhã,” it means “See you tomorrow.” Literally: we see each other tomorrow.

Most words that end with -án in Spanish end with an -ão in Portuguese

Here are some examples:

Spanish Portuguese Meaning
reunion reunião meeting
corazón coração heart
razón razão reason
limón limão lemon
destinación destinação destination

In case you don’t remember a word in Portuguese that end with an -ón in Spanish, follow this rule!

The plural endings ones  -iones in Spanish become -ões in Portuguese

Spanish Portuguese Meaning
reuniones reuniões meetings
corazones corações hearts
razones razões reasons
limones limões lemons
destinaciones destinações destinations

The nasal sounds – a nightmare for Spanish speakers who learn Brazilian Portuguese

Brazilian Portuguese has nasal sounds that are very different than sounds that exist in Spanish. You can recognize some of them by the ~ sign above the letters. For example, in amanhã (tomorrow), mãe (mother), and pão (bread).

Also, syllables that include vowels followed by an -m and -n in the same syllable are nasal too. When you pronounce these syllables, you make a sound that is close to the English -ng: ‘sing’, for example, with the -ng barely pronounced. (Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish)

For example, engraçado (=funny) is pronounced like eng-graçado.

These are hard for all of us who learn Portuguese as Spanish speakers. Fortunately, there’s an explanation and videos on how you can master the tricky sounds in Brazilian Portuguese and you can also enroll in Fernando’s free online course Brazilian Portuguese Pronunciation Hacks.

The O at the end of Portuguese words is often pronounced as an “u” in Spanish

When you see the word “muito” (=a lot) you would probably tend to pronounce this as muy-to in Spanish. However, it’s pronounced as muy-tu. The o always sounds like an u.

I know what you may be thinking but these are the small details that make you more understood by native speakers.

The E at the end of Portuguese words is often pronounced as an “i” in Spanish

In the same way, the letter “e” sounds like an “i” when it’s the last letter of a word. For example, “ele” (=he)  becomes “e-li” and not “e-le”.  

The D and T before  a phonetic [i] sound

You see a word in Portuguese and you know what it means because it’s similar to a word you use every day in your conversations in Spanish. But when you hear the pronunciation in Portuguese, you may be thinking, “People pronounce this as… What?”

That’s because in Brazilian Portuguese the consonants D and T are pronounced ‘softly’ when followed by a phonetic [i] sound (which will always be the sound of the vowel ‘i’ and sometimes the vowel ‘e’ – mainly at the end of words and in the prefix des-). 

For example, di and de will sound like the beginning of the English word ‘jeans‘, and ti and te will sound like the ‘chi’ in the Spanish word ‘chico‘.

False friends

When you learn Portuguese as a Spanish speaker, you’ll soon come across some false friends. These are two words that are written in a similar way in both languages but have a different meaning.

While many words may be correct and understood properly, the false friends can turn your message into something that you wouldn’t want to say to your friend.

For example, you wouldn’t want to say in Portuguese that your friend is made of rubber (borracha) and that your heart is barking (latindo), right?

Portuguese Portuguese-> English Spanish Spanish -> English
borracha (fem. noun) rubber borracha (fem. adj.) drunk
cola glue cola sart, queue, line, glue
embaraçada confused embarazada pregnant
latido barking latido heartbeat
ligar call (telephone) ligar flirt
ganância ambition ganancia profit, gain

The best way to deal with this, is by either learning these false friends or by simply asking a word that you don’t know instead of guessing. You can find a larger list of false friends on the website of IELanguages.

Can you give me…: Direct Object Pronouns in Spanish and Portuguese

The way direct object pronouns are used in Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish is also different in both languages. When there are two verbs in a sentence, the direct object pronoun in Spanish comes either in front or after the verb it’s associated with.

For example, the sentence “Could you give me the chair?” can be written in two ways:

  • Me puede dar la silla?
  • Puede darme la silla?

Although this is also true of Brazilian Portuguese, there is an important difference between formal and informal language. In formal language, especially in formal writing, the object pronoun is placed after the verb, with a hyphen:

  • Você pode dar-me a cadeira?

However, in informal spoken and written Brazilian Portuguese, the direct object pronoun (me) is almost always placed before the verb it’s associated with.

  • Você pode me dar a cadeira?

Okay but… How to learn Portuguese as a Spanish Speaker without confusing the two languages?

Use the OPOL method!

And no, that’s not a misspelled way to say the car brand “Opel”.

OPOL stands for One Person, One Language. It’s a method used by many parents who are raising their children bilingual. One parent speaks only in one language and the other speaks only in the other language. The child learns to associate the person with the language and that helps them avoid confusion in the long term.

Now, you’re probably not a child anymore but you can still use the same method in your case.

Only Portuguese with Brazilians

Somewhere in your learning journey, you’ll meet a Brazilian who speaks Spanish or a Spanish speaker who’s also learning Portuguese. Force yourself to stick to one language. Speak Portuguese only with Brazilians and Spanish only with your Spanish-speaking friends.

No, don’t speak Portuñol with Brazilians and other latinos

I know, it’s funny, it’s tempting, and many people who are learning Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish do it. They speak Portuñol. A mix of Português and Español.

However, it’s very important to only speak one language entirely and not mix both. By mixing them, your brain will get used to thinking in both languages at the same time so it will only get harder to distinguish them.

Also, your Spanish accent in Portuguese will be stronger and this may make it harder for Brazilians to follow and understand you entirely.

When you don’t know a word, pause, and ask your Brazilian friend for help. Or try to describe what you mean with examples in Portuguese. The other person will interrupt you and ask, “Do you mean…?” and you’ll hear the word you were looking for.

Pronounce the words out loud with the Portuguese accent even if it feels strange

If you speak Spanish and you hear the exact same word pronounced with a Portuguese accent, it feels strange. An example is the word “muito” that is pronounced as muy-tu (with a Spanish accent).

You’re not used to saying this word in that way. You want to imitate Brazilians but it seems strange and you just want to say it as in Spanish. Muy-to.

I know that feeling but you have to push yourself past this because Portuguese is an entire new language.

Even if it seems like a very small detail, the way you pronounce words will also influence the way we perceive a language. When you put the effort into teaching yourself the correct pronunciation, you tell your brain that it needs to separate Spanish from Portuguese

And the earlier you start teaching yourself the correct pronunciation, the less problems you’ll have in the future.

Create the “only in Portuguese hour” for yourself

Another way to separate Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish is by creating an hour every day that you’ll only dedicate to Portuguese. You can watch movies, read a book, listen to music, chat with native speakers, and maybe do something else only in Portuguese.

Don’t chat with Spanish speakers or mix anything in Spanish with your Portuguese materials in this hour. The purpose is separating the two languages in your mind.

When you do this consistently, you’ll be proud of yourself in the long run.

It’s OK to use Spanish somewhere at the back of your mind

No matter how hard you try to separate Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish there’s no denying that they are similar in some ways, and you’ll always think, “oh, in Spanish, it’s called this and this way.” There’s nothing wrong with that. Making associations like that helps us memorize complex phrases, expressions, and words. However, at some point in your language learning journey, when you know enough vocabulary, it’s better to create these associations with Portuguese words so that – again-  you separate the two languages in your brain.

Do you ever get confused when learning Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish at the same time? What are your tips to deal with this?

Share it with us in the comments and let’s help other learners as well.

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