One of the hardest things for students of Brazilian Portuguese is to learn how to pronounce ão.
There are many nasal vowel combinations in Portuguese. They are: ãe (mãe/mother), ãi (cãibra/cramp), ão (pão/bread), -am (eles cantam/they sing), -em/-ém (sem/without, também/also-too) and -en/én(s) (hífen/hyphen, parabéns/congratulations), but in this post we’ll focus on how to pronounce ão.
Although we pronounce it as one syllable, for the purpose of practising we need to look at the two different sounds that will merge into one.
The first thing we need to do is to practice the sound ã:
Say the English word sun out loud. Now try and isolate the sound of that u and repeat it a few times.
Now let’s move onto the second sound we need to be aware of in order to master the pronunciation of ão:
Say the word zoom out loud. Now try and isolate the sound oom and repeat it a few times.
Great! Now, all we have to do is to merge these two sounds:
Now let’s practice it in the word pão (bread):
Start with the English word pun a few times and isolate the ‘puh‘ sound:
Now add the ‘oom‘ sound and you’ve got pão!
I’ve chosen this particular word, pão, because if mispronounced it can sound like pau, which means a ‘piece of wood’, and also the slag for… er… ‘penis’!
So, be careful when ordering pão in a bakery in Brazil, because it might sound like you’re ordering something else!
How you pronounce the ‘a’ at the beginning is what differentiates these two words.
The first one is the nasal ‘uh’ sound that we learned:
and the second is a very ‘open’ ah sound:
Now that you know how to pronounce ão, let’s practice it with some other words:
If you want some other words ending in ão to practice, here’s a list of them.
I hope this post has been useful to learn how to pronounce ão! Let me know in the comments if it’s been helpful.
Now that you know the different ways of how to pronounce the letter o in Brazilian Portuguese try this post: Difficult Sounds in Brazilian Portuguese