Learning Portuguese: Beginner’s Tips

March 13, 2012

Learn Portuguese

Why You Should Start Learning Portuguese

According to the BBC, Brazil has surpassed the United Kingdom in size and now has the 6th largest economy in the world. It will host the World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016. While the economies of the developed world are in decline or on the brink of collapse as in certain parts of Europe, the emerging economies of BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are shining. And you are not going to do well in business in Brazil if you can’t speak Portuguese. To know how to sell to the growing middle class in Brazil who mostly doesn’t speak English, you need to start learning Portuguese!

Portuguese Is NOT Bad Spanish

If you’ve had some high school Spanish or already speak Spanish, don’t think of Portuguese as poorly spoken Spanish. We’ve all heard this linguistic insult many times from Spanish speakers and it will get you nowhere but failure and disappointment if you are serious about learning Portuguese. There are many similarities, but there are important differences between the two languages. You may get by reading Portuguese if you speak Spanish but understanding and speaking are two separate things. Do not let yourself “get by” by speaking portuñol (A hybrid of Spanish and Portuguese) and think you are fine.

You have to approach Portuguese as a new language and accept the new sounds of Portuguese (the nasal vowels and frequent “sh” sounds).

There are words that look the same but mean different things. For example, “más” in Spanish means “more” but “mas” in Portuguese means “but”.

Learn Portuguese By Learning New Sounds

Brazilian Portuguese has a mellifluous (sweet sounding) sound to it. It flows like honey. If you are going to Brazil for business and you want Brazilian reais to move your way, like bees to honey, then you need your Portuguese to be sweet, smooth and melodic. The closer you sound to native, the easier it is for people to understand you and accept you. The better your accent is, the friendlier and more accepting locals will be. People like to be around others who sound like them.

As mentioned before, Portuguese has many nasal sounds like in Russian. That means that your nose has to vibrate to make these sounds. In this short video, you will hear a few words with nasal vowels. Try to copy them and see if your nose vibrates:

Luciana Lage of Street Smart Brazil and I made a video of the Brazilian song Você Não Me Ensinou a te Esquecer by Fernando Mendes, also recorded by Caetano Veloso to show how to use songs to learn Portuguese. In this segment, we talked about the nasal sound in the word “minto” (I lie) to show that it’s not the same sound as in Spanish “miento” but has a nasal “o” sound. As I demonstrate in this video with a clown nose, you need to place your fingers to your nose (but not inside the nose!) to feel if it’s vibrating.

For an approximation of Portuguese nasal sounds based on English words, read this article.

Connections And Differences Between Brazilian Portuguese And English

Luciana Lage of Street Smart Brazil made a video of words that sound similar in Portuguese and English. Check it out so that you can hear how she pronounces the words that you see on the screen so you can hear how familiar words are pronounced in Brazilian Portuguese.

Photo By: Rodrigo Sá

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