Learning Portuguese in Brazil

Learning Portuguese in Brazil - Title Image

Portuguese is a huge global language, spoken across Europe, Latin America and Africa. There are over 280 million Portuguese speakers worldwide, and 75% of them live in Brazil. Last December, I spent almost a month in Brazil after having taught myself some Portuguese over the two years prior.  I’m glad I did study it before going, but it was not as easy to get by as I thought it would be. Portuguese is definitely necessary in Brazil if you want to navigate well and do your own exploring. If you want to learn Portuguese in Brazil, read this and find out how to make it possible.

Stay in Brazil

Visa

I know that a lot of countries require you to have a visa to visit Brazil. Luckily for me, New Zealanders get a free tourist visa for 3 months. To check if you require a visa for Brazil with your nationality, check out this website.

Living in Brazil

Brazil is such a huge country that you could really spend years travelling there and never run out of things to see. My plan is to go back and spend a whole year simply travelling around the country. But if you want to settle down there in one place, there are quite a few ways you can do it.

Teach English:

I am always a bit wary about teaching English abroad because you can fall into the trap of speaking English more than the target language. Still, it is a valid way to stay in Brazil in paid employment, and if you are dedicated to the idea of learning Portuguese, you can make it work. Check out English-teaching opportunities in Brazil here.

Au Pair:

An Au Pair is basically a live-in foreign nanny, and Brazilians happen to be looking for them! If your purpose is to immerse yourself in Brazilian language and culture, I would recommend this (note that a lot of Brazilian families are looking for English-speaking Au Pairs to teach them English, though). It is a really good way to make money to travel more as well, because you are hosted for free and you get paid on top. Check out Au Pair opportunities in Brazil at this website.

Volunteer:

Brazil is currently going through an economic recession and there are so many people there in desperate conditions, suffering from poverty and diseases, and just really in need of help. This is a great resource that I found when I was looking for volunteer opportunities in Brazil last year. Note: please ensure your volunteering projects are sustainable and useful, rather than ‘Voluntourism’. Find out more about picking the right volunteering job.

Workaway/WWOOFF:

This is what I chose when I was in Brazil. It involves doing some volunteer work for a family or organisation in exchange for food and accommodation. There are some great ecological and sustainability projects that we came across, but you could find anything from building houses to teaching Spanish or English. There is a small fee for signing up for these sites but if you are serious about finding an opportunity on them, it is worth it.

WWOOFF | Workaway

Study:

If you are a University student, you may be entitled to study for free in Brazil. Most universities have exchange programmes which allow you to pay local course fees for a semester or two at a foreign university. This is a great opportunity as you can opt to take not only Portuguese classes, but other subjects in Portuguese, which is a great way to learn academic lingo and immerse yourself.
Alternatively, if you want to dive straight into Portuguese-learning and take intensive classes, you can find and enrol yourself in a Brazilian language school here

Languages in Brazil

Portuguese is the only official language of Brazil, and while there are a few indigenous languages and immigrant groups, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Brazilian who doesn’t speak Portuguese.

English in Brazil

If you stick to very touristic areas, you will probably find the odd person who speaks English. But definitely don’t expect everyone to speak English. Remember that Brazil is a developing country and as such the learning of a second language isn’t widely promoted throughout the country. Brazil is not a country that you can easily rely on English to get by, which further reinforces my point why you should learn the languages of the countries you visit.

Spanish in Brazil

Spanish is similar to Portuguese, right? Surely it must be pretty easy for them to learn, then? Not exactly. While Spanish might be an easy language for Brazilians to pick up, the truth is that most of them simply do not prioritise learning a language. This is how the majority of our conversations about Spanish went with Brazilians:

Me: você fala espanhol? (do you speak Spanish?)
Them: um pouqinho, sim. (a bit, yeah.)
Me: (speaks in Spanish)
Them: (understands the gist but responds in Portuguese)

Even people that said they spoke Spanish didn’t speak a word of Spanish. And while Spanish and Portuguese are very similar languages, they are not always mutually intelligible. My partner is Colombian and never thought to learn Portuguese before our trip, so attempted to speak to everyone in Spanish. He and the Brazilians he spoke to might have understood about 50% of what each other was saying, but it is certainly not an effective way to communicate.

Portuguese in Brazil

As I mentioned above, Brazilians are definitely in the majority when it comes to worldwide Portuguese speakers. Even though Portuguese originated from Portugal, there are now almost 20 times as many Brazilians as there are Portuguese people.

I remember talking to a Brazilian guy while I was there who said he went to Portugal and couldn’t stop laughing the first week he was there. The truth is, Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese are vastly different – even more different, I would argue, than the different Spanish dialects. Here are some things that make Brazilian Portuguese unique.

Accent:

The pronunciation of the ‘d’ and the ‘t’ when followed my an -e or an -i, is soft, meaning the ‘d’ sounds like an English ‘j’ (phonetics: dʒ), and the ‘t’ sounds like an English ‘ch’ (phonetics: tʃ).

Slang/expressions

Common words or phrases you are most likely to hear in Brazil:
Caralho – shit
Bacana  – cool
Parceiro – mate
Falou – OK
Valeu – thanks

Syntax/grammar

Brazilians seem to have simplified Portuguese a little bit. European Portuguese has not two, but three different ways of saying ‘you’ (excluding plural forms), depending on formality and familiarity. The majority of Brazil has done away with one of the forms, leaving them one informal and one formal second person pronoun. Down from Portugal’s six, this leaves Brazil with only four conjugations.

– First Person (eu)
– First Person Plural (nós) (note: even this is used less frequently now, replaced with the more colloquial “a gente”
– First Person Plural, Second Person & Third Person (a gente/você/o senhor/a senhora/ele/ela)
– Second Person & Third Person Plural (vocês/os senhores/as senhoras/eles/elas)

Brazilians have also simplified pronoun placement and word order. Pronoun order in European Portuguese can get a bit complicated, but in Brazil it is fairly simple: object pronoun + verb or verb + subject pronoun (this is interchangeable). For example:

Eu te quero/ eu quero você – I love you
Vou-lhes deixar no sitio. Vou deixar eles no sitio. – I’m going to leave them at the farm.

Brazilian language also differs a lot depending on where in Brazil you are. This is to be expected with the size of the country and its population.

People & Culture in Brazil

Brazilians are Latin Americans, and everyone knows latin americans are known for their warm, welcoming nature. It is also known that they love to party, and Brazilians are well renowned for this aspect. I found that when people found I was learning Portuguese in Brazil, they were pretty amazed and excited, and wanted to help me with it. The Brazilians that I met genuinely love sharing their culture with foreigners and are happy to include you as part of the crowds.

How to learn Portuguese in Brazil

If you put yourself in the right situation, you will not have trouble picking up Portuguese in Brazil. Brazil is a largely monolingual country and its people are more than happy to try and communicate with you. Make sure you are able to meet and stay with native Brazilians, and you will learn a lot more quickly. For more tips, check out my article about how to make the most of your time travelling to learn a language.

Most towns or cities will have a language school where foreigners can learn Portuguese at the level they require, so you can keep studying while you are there. They key is to ensure you practise what you learn every day. Click here to find a language school to learn Portuguese in Brazil.

Some ideas for learning Brazilian Portuguese:

1. Pimsleur

When I first started to learn Portuguese, I was overwhelmed by the difficulty of the pronunciation and confused by the way the phonetic language related to the written language. Pimsleur really helped me to alleviate these concerns, and I now feel quite confident in my pronunciation. My listening skills have also improved for sure. Try the first lesson for free here.

 2. Language Exchange

Sites like conversationexchange.com are incredibly helpful. You can also put up posters in the local library etc if you are looking for a partner. You will not only make local friends and contacts, you will also get more Portuguese practise.

3. Brazilian music:

Brazilian music is upbeat, fun and just awesome. I recommend artists such as Tim Maia, Supercombo, Criolo, Turma do Pagode & Imaginasamba. A great way to learn is by looking up the lyric videos for songs and translate any words you don’t understand to get what the song is saying.

4. Brazilian TV shows and movies.

There is an abundance of Brazilian-made movies and TV shows. Cidade de Deus, Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho & Aquarius are great movies to start with. This will give you a better idea of how they use Portuguese in Brazil.

5. Fluent U

A natural way to learn by watching music videos, news reports, commercials and movie trailers, which not only give you access to the content but also help you learn from what you see. Learn more about Fluent U.

6. Online language courses

I wrote another post about the best online courses to learn a language. See them here.

This ‘Learn Portuguese in Brazil’ post is part of a series I am starting: Languages Around the World. See the previous post about learning Spanish in Spain.

> Have you learned Portuguese in Brazil or are you considering it?  Let me know in the comments!

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7 Comments

  1. These are some really great tips! I would love to do a similar thing in France. I speak some French, but I would love to become fluent and spend some time really experiencing the culture. I’ve heard about Fluent U from a few different people, so I’ll definitely have to check it out! I’ve also heard about the Pimsleur approach to learning languages which seems so good. I would absolutely love to visit Brazil too! Your photos are amazing, and that mural in Rio is so cool!!

    1. Hey Christie, thanks for the comment and I’m glad you found this useful for your French learning! Wishing you good luck with the journey – and if you do end up going to France for immersion I would love to hear how it goes! 🙂

  2. This is such a comprehensive post!!! Although I have to say language is my weakness. I’ve always struggled in learning new languages, heck I even took Spanish in university and failed on the second semester when it comes to grammars and structures. When I went to Peru I dabbled in Duolingo and it works for simple communications, but I could never carry a conversation. Pimsleur looks fun tho! Would look into that thanks!

  3. Hi! I’m brazilian and I loved your post!! We like it very much when we see someone interested in our culture! Have you been in Espírito Santo?
    Just an observation, there’s no “bacano”, just “bacana” 😉
    And “caralho” is very rude to me (and I’m young), so take care when and with who you are saying this… It’s more like “fuck”.
    I hope you come back and get to know this beautiful country a little bit more! Have a great weekend!!

    1. Hi Marianne, thank you so much for reading my post and I am glad to see that you enjoyed it! I absolutely love Brazil and Portuguese is my favourite language 😉 Thank you for your correction as well! It is always good to get some feedback, and I have edited the original post to make it correct. 🙂 I guess the Brazilians I was hanging out with must have been a really rude bunch because I heard that word every 10 seconds when I was there! Where in Brazil are you from?

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