How to communicate with people in Portuguese-speaking countries

While English can help people navigate many countries while traveling, it’s also a good idea to know the basics of some other languages. For example, Portuguese has more than 232 million native speakers, according to Babel, and it is the official language in Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Macao, Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe.

Although travelers don’t experience culture shock in most of these countries, knowing at least some Portuguese could make traveling to at least three continents easier. Although it is easy to travel to Portugal speaking only English, the rule does not apply to all countries. In Brazil, for example, only 5% of the population speaks English, so it’s always a good idea to try and learn some Portuguese before exploring the natural beauties of the country.


Knowing more about the language will also enrich the experience of visiting other countries, as tourists can connect with the locals and learn more about its culture. Discovering Portuguese is also an immersive experience in a new culture, with a dynamic language and a fascinating history.

Another good reason to learn Portuguese is that it can help people learn other Romance languages, including Spanish, French, Roman, and Italian. Of course, this also increases the opportunities for people who wish to settle in one of these Portuguese-speaking countries.

There are key differences in each country

Before diving into Portuguese, people should be aware that there are differences in the language depending on the country. Officially, there are two types of Portuguese: European and Brazilian. In the past, Brazil was a Portuguese colony and received the influence of the natives and the slaves who lived there, which helped to create a new language. The country is also continental in size, and naturally the language has evolved differently there.

Although Brazilian Portuguese speakers can understand European Portuguese and vice versa, there are some notable differences between them, including grammar, verbs, and vocabulary. For example, the word breakfast can translate to Cafe da Manha in Brazil and Pequeno almoco in Portugal. A cell phone is called cellular (Brazil) or telemovel (Portugal).

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African Portuguese is more like European Portuguese. But which Portuguese should you learn? The answer won’t just depend on where people want to travel, what culture interests them most, and even what accent they prefer.

Immersion is the best way to learn Portuguese

The best way to learn Portuguese and any other language is to have as much contact with the language as possible. Traveling is obviously a guarantee of having contact with the language 24/7, and in almost all major cities it is possible to find courses for foreigners. While it’s normal to feel insecure communicating when you’re not fluent, native speakers often appreciate the effort and try to help.

It is also possible to start learning before travelling. According to Babbel, there are nearly 700,000 Portuguese speakers in the United States and 220,000 in Canada. The good idea is to try to watch movies, novelties (soap operas are extremely popular), series, read books and listen to music and audiobooks in Portuguese. These are great ways to get familiar with the sound of the word and how to spell them correctly.

Those looking to become more confident in speaking can record themselves reading something. Listening to the audio will help identify areas that can be improved.

The main challenges when learning Portuguese

Portuguese is a beautiful language, but it is also delicate. While most sounds are familiar to English speakers, some simple words can be tricky. Here are a few.

nasal words

The language has a lot of nasal words, which is often one of the main pronunciation challenges. Nasal sounds occur in words such as pao (bread), maca (apple)and calcão. (short), and in words with vowels followed by M or N: Lie to (lie) and panela (stove).

Since sound does not exist in English, the best way to practice is to listen to it and repeat the words.

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Fake friends

When studying Portuguese, people will find words that sound almost identical to English but have completely different meanings. This is why they are called false friends. Here are a few:

Expect: to answer (the door, the telephone). Attend: to participate

assume: resume a position. Assume: presume

Collegio: school Middle School: faculty

Suit: habit Suit: fancy

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Technology helps a lot

Needless to say how much technology has made traveling easier in recent years. Of course, it also helps to navigate a country where a traveler is not fluent in a language. For example, if someone is having trouble ordering food in Lisbon, they can use Google Translator. A good tip is to download the language catalog so that it can be accessed even when telephone service is not available.

When the technology is not available, it is always possible to use sign language which helps tourists to find their way around or to order food, for example.

Portuguese words and expressions

Ola = Hello

How are you? = How are you?

Chaou = Goodbye

By favor = Please

Me ajude = Help me

With license = Excuse me

Banheiro = Bathroom

Comida = Food

Agua = Water

Hotel = Hotel

Airport = Airport

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