If you want to learn how to speak Portuguese, you are in for an adventure! This wonderful language is romantic and very expressive; at the same time, it is rather difficult. My first encounter with continental Portuguese was in 1974. I was working in a Christian youth group, and I had the incredible experience of watching the city of Lisbon burst into celebration on April 25, 1974, immediately after their bloodless coup. This fact never fails to make me somewhat of a curiosity for natives and gives me an instant degree of credibility and novelty.

Continental, or European are two of the names for the language as it is spoken in the actual country of Portugal, including the Azores. I think it also includes Madeira and Cape Verde, but I have never personally been to either of these places. In contrast, Brazilian Portuguese is often considered a distinct language, though I would compare it to American English in comparison to British English.

I have been to Brazil and could barely understand a word for the first week. Gradually I got used to the differences and could carry on a conversation reasonably well. Bear in mind that Brazil is a huge country with 208 million people, while Portugal is tiny with 10.3 million people. For this reason it is often difficult to find adequate study materials for continental Portuguese.

As a tourist to the Azores you really don’t need to speak Portuguese. Everyone who attends public school takes 10 years of English and most young people are quite good at it. On the other hand, knowing at least basic phrases will bring smiles to the face of anyone you meet. It is always a sign of courtesy and respect to know some basic phrases and is much appreciated.

As you become proficient in Portuguese you will discover that people open up and become more hospitable and welcoming. We have experienced this time and again, much to the amusement of my wonderful wife.

Simple things like hidden parking spaces, local restaurants, good exchange rates, and places to visit are a few things we have been able to find “deals” on, due to my ability to speak basic Portuguese.

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Check out this blog post more even more detailed information:

How To Learn European Portuguese

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About The Portuguese Language

First, I am no academic or trained linguist, and don’t pretend to be. However, I have a natural ability to pick up and retain languages (unlike my inability to remember what I’m supposed to be doing in the future). During my travels I have become fluent in Norwegian, almost fluent in Spanish and nearly almost fluent in Portuguese. I can understand a lot of Danish and Swedish as well.

Portuguese is a romance language, meaning that it has origins in Rome, along with French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian and Catalan. Because of this, many words are similar in each of these languages. This is both a benefit and detriment for someone trying to learn Portuguese.

It is a benefit because you can often take an educated guess at a word, if you know it in one of the other languages. It is a detriment because, if you do know Spanish, for example, you will become very confused by the difference in the similarities.

People sometimes begin speaking Spanish to me because I learned Spanish first and still tend to use Spanish pronunciation, even when I’m trying not to! Some of my verb conjugations are also guesses based on my knowledge of Spanish, which does not always work out that well. My wife has a similar problem with her French training. Her first attempt is usually to pronounce an unknown word with a French accent.

Are Spanish and Portuguese Essentially the Same?

People tend to regard Portuguese as some kind of Spanish dialect gone rogue. I don’t know how the languages diverged from their common roots, but I can tell you that they are not the same.

I spent six months immersed in Spanish while living in Andalucia and Las Palmas. When I crossed the border into Portugal I was astonished at the sound of the speech. While Spanish was clear and staccato-like, Portuguese was full of “sheesh” sounds and clipped off endings. I decided that it must be some kind of a cross between French and Spanish, which is not that far off.

Portuguese For Tourists

You can buy one of those Berlitz type booklets with phrases marked with mysterious symbols that attempt to explain pronunciation. Good luck with that! Or you can imagine that your basic Spanish is going to be an adequate substitute and when you say: “Buenos dias” that people will actually hear: “Bom dia”. Of course they know you mean “good morning”, but it is actually kind of insulting. Remember, you are in Portugal, not Spain or Mexico, and Portugal is proud of winning its independence from Spain. In Angra Do Heroismo, on Terceira, you are in the City of Heroes, where that liberation was launched.

As a little side note: Spanish tourists do not have a very good reputation in the Azores. Once you witness a few incidents it is easy to understand why: they can be rude, loud and condescending. While the Azorean people seem simple, because they are so open and trusting, they are well-educated, civilized and worldly. They are kind-hearted, and admire modesty and humor. Their Spanish visitors too often come across as demanding and arrogant.

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ear worms

The Ear Worms Language Program For Continental Portuguese

From my experience, one of the best programs to learn good pronunciation of basic phrases is a marvellous app called Ear Worms. Luckily, they offer a simple course in continental Portuguese.

I like this program a lot because it features a native speaker and an Englishman who is learning. They banter back and forth with music playing in the background. This music is what makes the approach so effective: it becomes an ear worm that burrows into your brain, helping you retain the sound and cadence of the language.

With headphones on you can distinctly hear the proper pronunciation and are given ample opportunity to mimic what you hear, with the music rhythm drilling it into you. This is important because it is far better to learn a little with good pronunciation than a lot that is poorly pronounced. Think about your encounters with Indian call center technicians and how you want to break your phone after a few minutes of trying to understand the poor people, who are doing their best.

Portuguese For More Serious Study

There are a handful of good programs out there for continental Portuguese, plus some helpful websites that offer free advice for the learner. In fact, I discovered my favorite learning tool from one of those helpful sites.

“Practice Portuguese” is an online, subscription-based language learning tool for serious students of continental Portuguese. It is the brainchild of two young men, one Canadian and the other Portuguese.

They have developed a growing language program that features everything you need in order to learn, and learn well. One of my favorite sections is the Podcast area where you can listen to native speakers, read the transcript, check vocabulary, phrases and even take a quiz. This is invaluable to help with understanding spoken Portuguese. After all, this is how children learn: by listening and imitating.

There is also a section for verbs and everyday fundamentals, complete with a quiz at the end of each module. Language study can be rather dry, but these guys have made it interesting and fun.

Portuguese Is The Sixth Most Spoken Language In The World

How is that for an unusual factoid? Who would have guessed? Don’t forget that Portuguese is spoken in Portugal, Brazil. Azores, Madeira. Cape Verde, Angola, Mozambique, and several other places. It is the most spoken language in South America… which is a great party trivia question, by the way.

So, learning how to speak Portuguese is well worth the effort, if you plan on visiting one of the above mentioned places. It is not an easy language, however, and you will need to work at it to succeed. Personally, I love the language and the people I have met who speak it.