Why Portuguese is not Spanish

How many times have you heard someone who doesn’t speak both Portuguese and Spanish say that the two languages are similar (enough)? Meaning if you speak one, the other isn’t that hard to use also. Of course the joke here is that he/she speaks “Portunhol” but if you look at a recent article (PT) in O Globo, you’ll see Portunhol is very different from people’s idea of it.

Focusing again on the reason for this post, I’d like to insert my quick opinion of both languages and their differences. Portuguese and Spanish are not the same and are not that similar. From the pronunciation to syntax to the grammar to the vocabulary and including the slang, it’s not right to confuse the two! Spanish-speakers won’t appreciate it and neither will Portuguese-speakers when you visit their countries. Additionally, there are enough differences to deal with when looking at European vs. Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish from Spain versus from Latin America.


If you want to look at why Brazilians speak Portuguese, it’s enough to look into a certain treaty.

“Technically, the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas divided the New World between Spain and Portugal. An imaginary line, running north–south from roughly the mouth of the Amazon to what is now Santa Catarina, was drawn on the map. Land to the east became Portuguese territory; land to the west fell under Spanish control.”- Source

And if you want to look at why Portuguese exists, here’s a brief explanation.

After the Roman conquest of the Iberian peninsula the Vulgar Latin replaced virtually all local languages. In the territories along the Atlantic coast it gradually evolved in what is technically known Galician-Portuguese language. Later, following the incorporation of Galicia into Spain and the independent development of Portugal, this language split in Galician and Portuguese branches. – Source

Mutual Inteligibility

Now, what do they have going for them that helps one person learn the other? Mutual inteligibility, principally in written form, can be helpful due to the fact that the two langauges can be categorized under the same sub-family of languages called West Iberian. A perfect example of this can be found in the following paragraph,


Pero, a pesar de esta variedad de posibilidades que la voz posee, sería un muy pobre instrumento de comunicación si no contara más que con ella. La capacidad de expresión del hombre no dispondría de más medios que la de los animales. La voz, sola, es para el hombre apenas una materia informe, que para convertirse en un instrumento perfecto de comunicación debe ser sometida a un cierto tratamiento. Esa manipulación que recibe la voz son las “articulaciones”.


Porém, apesar desta variedade de possibilidades que a voz possui, seria um instrumento de comunicação muito pobre se não se contasse com mais do que ela. A capacidade de expressão do homem não disporia de mais meios que a dos animais. A voz, sozinha, é para o homem apenas uma matéria informe, que para se converter num instrumento perfeito de comunicação deve ser submetida a um certo tratamento. Essa manipulação que a voz recebe são as “articulações”.


On the flip side, the differences abound (and the list could virtually be endless). Here are a few examples of the Spanish term followed by the Portuguese.

– Tienda/Loja (store)
– Rodilla/Joelho (knee)
– Calle/Rua (street)
– Ventana/Janela (window)
– Borrar/Apagar (to erase)
– Olvidar/Esquecer (to forget)
– Manejar/Dirigir (to drive)
– Llamar/Ligar (to telephone)

The days of the week are also quite different with the exception of Saturday and Sunday. If we add the influence of regionalisms, colloquial speech and the differing accents, what results is something deep and rich on both sides. So let’s not confuse the two languages anymore please because with just a few weeks of preparation, you can give either language a more honest shot. Of course, if you wish to really seek out the true depth of both, you’ll need a good 10 years of study…for starters.

You can find a long list of additional differences here on Wikipedia, where I found some of the material.


If you’re learning Portuguese, check out my ebook, 103 Tricky Verbs in Brazilian Portuguese!

51 thoughts on “Why Portuguese is not Spanish

  1. I’m studying portuguese now and it’s annoying how spanish speakers tell me “Oh that’s easy… they’re so similar!!!”
    Yeah they definitely don’t speak portuguese.

  2. I think basically Spanish and Portuguese are very similar, just depends on how you choose to look. It’s like they say in Bolivia, es la misma chola con otra pollera…

    When people say “similar”, I think they mean: 1) relatively similar, like the grammar skeleton and the presence of Latin/Greek roots makes them look similar (compared to Chinese or Arabic, par example), and 2) easier to learn if you know one or the other (like easier than using Spanish to learn Japanese). In these senses, they are definitely similar and you are missing a huge chance trying to treat them completely separately.

    The fun and challening part of any language (even our native language) is the local vocabulary, slang, and pronunciation, dialects, etc. Just for fun, I like to sometimes imagine Spanish and Portuguese as distant, distorted dialects of Latin. Just for fun, though…

    In any case, language isolation is not wise and not fun. I much prefer and find effective the synergistic approach, so called language cross-training that appreciates the differences and similarities and lets “understanding” passively emerge from the space between. Most of all, I believe students should learn how they want.

    I do have a grammar question though: In Spanish you put the preposition “a” before objectified people (the personal a), but in Portuguese I sometimes see some flexibility with this (like with a lot of other grammar “rules”). What is your take on this? Do you put a lot of weight on minute grammar when you study, or does it depend on the language?

    • Hi Tommy,

      Well, I do understand the similarities and how one can help the other but when I hear nothing but “they are pretty much the same” by those who speak neither fluently, their opinion seems a bit baseless. So for those who study both, and I’m not sure that job is ever done, it is much easier to appreciate the ‘synergistic approach’. What is interesting is that yesterday (the day of the post), roughly 10x more people clicked on this post than do those on my other posts, if looking at clicks for a single day. The second part to that, is there are virtually no comments on this post, which can be taken in a few ways (but I tend to think those who read it are mostly those who don’t know much about the two languages in question). It would have been telling though to have altered the direction of the post with the intention of more specifically attracting those who speak or study both.

      As far as putting weight on minute grammar rules, I think that as with all rules, they should be learned before they are broken. This includes ‘eating’ words, using slang, and having flexibility with the minute grammar rules. The other part to that is to always keep an eye out and ear open to native use of their own tongue as whether native-speakers know better or not (being that some are not as educated as others), they do know how to communicate with each other. Ultimately, I think it is a great thing to learn everything, both big and small, so one can converse with a resident of a small town somewhere and also be able to write a thoughtful essay on a number of topics (although personally, I lean towards being able to write poetry as a mark of a high level of understanding).

  3. Great discussion here guys. I speak advanced Portuguese and I have to say that Spanish speakers sound like they speak with a lisp (no offense). Basically I like the sound of Portuguese way better. Orangeroomstudios had mentioned above: “think basically Spanish and Portuguese are very similar, just depends on how you choose to look” es la misma chola con otra pollera…” Similar huh? Translating the sentence to Portuguese: “e a mesma coisa(?) com a outra…. pollera??? Which word in Portuguese is similar to “pollera”?? Po? (dust??), polegar?? (thumb??). Randonly asked in Spanish “déme su capa” I probably would look stupid because I would think they are asking me for either a book cover (capa), a cd cover (capa). : ( They might be similiar because we want them to be (?), but it causes a lot of confusion in a real life conversation, you always have to stop, explain what you meant, repeat the word aloud, access your memory bank and see if sounds familiar enough to make sense, yicks. It’s a guessing game I think. Fun? Maybe.

    But why wouldn’t they sound similiar? They have a lot from latin and belong to the same romance language family. Portuguese, Italian, French and Spanish they will be similar (Romanian not so much though). But if you aren’t neither a Portuguese or Spanish native speaker PLEEEEEEEEASSSSSSSE learn the official language of the country you plan to visit. When I hear from somebody (being Spanish his/her second language)”oh you going to Brazil, hablas espanol?” it sounds soooooooooooooo lame, my reply is “nao, eu falo portugues, voce fala portuguese?” And the look on the person’s face is like “that sounds like Spanish but I don’t know how to reply”. Lame! You judge.

    Cheers! Tchau

    • Gail, only European Spanish, and especially the Spanish spoken in central and northern Spain has a “lisp” sound. All the other dialects of Spanish do not. Some varieties are really pretty, like Argentine and Uruguayan Spanish that have a melodious quality to then similar to Italian.

    • No offense, but you have to be a complete idiot to think that the official language of Brazil is Spanish. As for similarities, I speak fluent Italian but I cannot understand much Portuguese. I get the gist of what somebody says but I can go no further.

    • ” Portuguese, Italian, French and Spanish they will be similar (Romanian not so much though).” Really? Romanian not so much? Excuse me, but do you speak Romanian? Italians can understand very well written Romanian , and some of the spoken language. (Spanish people can understand a lot of the written Portuguese, but they won’t understand a thing in spoken Portuguese). If we compare ancient Vulgar Latin/Classical Latin with the Neo Latin languages, we will see that Romanian is the closes Neo Latin language to the Vulgar/Classical Latin.

  4. I agree. I’m not much of fan of having opinions about Spanish and Portuguese, or any other “topic” for that matter, without any real experience as a base (though critical observation/consumption is essential too). I have heard of a lot non-native speakers approach the Spanish/Portuguese relationship question only after achieved a certain degree of comfort in one or the other, so there is probably always some bias or flavoring. In my case, I grew up in the US and learned Spanish and French from my mother’s side in Bolivia, and so as I study Portuguese through media like this blog, I am learning to manage or understand my natural inclination towards these Spanish/Portuguese comparisons.

    I also agree with the comment about writing poetry. The trick, though, is finding your own voice, not just knowing the rules before breaking, but knowing and feeling the rules well enough to break them in unique ways.

  5. Gail –

    I’m glad you pointed out the saying “la misma chola con otra pollera”. It is very Bolivian Spanish, so I think it works well with this conversation where we are generalizing very broadly about “Spanish” and “Portuguese” and the theoretical relationship between the two.

    “Chola” is a word to refer to the indigenous women of the Altiplano (the high plains). A nicer way would be say “cholita”. And “pollera” is just a dress or skirt. Sometimes they also “la misma puta con otra pollera” which then means “its the same whore in a different dress”.

  6. Hey! I speak Spanish, French, Portuguese….. a bit of Italian and I’ve also been a Latin teacher and an ESL teacher. (English is my native language).

    Get a group of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese speakers together and they can usually understand each other in each other’s language. From experience, you have to “tune your ear” to understand them. Bring in a French speaker and I don’t think the French speaker could join in and communicate with the other 3 language speakers.

    Spanish is my 2nd language (I have a master’s in it.). Before I went to Italy I took one of those 6 week Italian courses that meets only one night a week for 2 hours. That helped me learn how to “change” my Spanish linguistically speaking to better communicate with Italians. Of course, I learned some Italian words and expressions.

    I took an intensive 6 week Portuguese class in grad school. That helped a whole lot, too.

    If you speak Spanish and put yourself around Italian and Portuguese and try to learn a bit about their language and pronunciation, it helps a lot in communication. By the way….. adverbs were really different for me comparing Spanish and Italian.

    Also, there are around 25 countries that speak Spanish. So, you have to get used to different accents. But, to me, the various national accents in Spanish seem easier to understand than the various national accents in English (i.e. Australia, UK, South Africa).

    Not unlike Americans who enjoy watching Masterpiece Theatre from England. Following upper-class British English wasn’t too hard to do. But I had to really “tune my ear” when we first started receiving programs from Australia. I had to get used to the accent. Then England started to export “Prime Suspect,” [Helen Mirren] and I had to adjust to hearing England’s English being spoken by police officers and “regular” day-to-day people.

    Oh… back to Spanish and Portuguese….. hey, also throw in Catalan. Having studied and spoken Spanish and French…. hearing Catalan was interesting. I think I could understand 60% of it. Things would throw me…. ciudades oficiales…. but it sounded like ciudats oficiels in Catalan.

    Thanks for letting me go “stream of consciousness” on this…..

    But, I think “Spanish speakers: both from Spain and L-Amer, Portuguese, Italian and Catalan….perhaps Romansch as well… could understand each other with a bit of work.

    Oh… I was in Germany….. knowing only a few German words and expressions. If a German spoke in a 4 word German sentence and I spoke in a 4 word English sentence, we could usually understand each other. Kinda like “Me, Tarzan; You, Jane,” English/German exchange.

    Also, I’ve met Deaf people from different countries [Germany, Argentina, Mexico] and we can usually negotiate some meaning between us in our various sign languages. English and Korean sign language have more in common than spoken English and Korean. Although, the two sign language systems are different. [North-American Sign Language and pedagogy have had a strong influence on Deaf culture throughout the world.]

    Take care, everyone!
    Bobby in Virginia

    • Hi Bobby,

      Thanks for your comment. As I hinted to in my previous comment, speaking on the subject of mutual inteligibility is something I believe should be reserved for those who speak both Spanish and Portuguese. I too have dabbled in other Romance languages (6 months of French and 2 years of Italian) and German as well (which I’m currently learning) so I have a general understanding of their similarities. The reason why I stopped Italian (at this point, I should have around 6 years of study under my belt) is because my Spanish fluency would have decreased due to similarities in grammar and syntax. However, my Spanish did decrease partially due to my strong focus on Portuguese. Now, I’m bringing my Spanish back up to par and although my Italian remains at a basic level, I can understand a good 70% when reading. German enters the picture only because I fear I can’t take on anymore Romance languages for the time being.

      The goal used to be 5 languages by age 30 but since that isn’t exactly possible as I’m almost 30, I’m hoping for 4 by then. We’ll see

  7. Portuguese and Spanish 89% similar lexicon are still by far the closest 2 major romance languages – Italian is only 82% similar with Spanish, 7% less intelligiblew with spanish than Portuguese is. That makes a huge difference.

    • Ive read that Spanish and Italian are sister languages while Portuguese and French make up another pair of sister languages. I agree with such statistics based on my learning two and dabbling in the other two. Either way, I still don´t like those who speak neither to pretend they know what theyre talking about when they say Port. and Span. are the same.

      • Italian belongs to a completely different Latin language family than Spanish, so they’re not sister languages. The closest national Latin language to Italian is Romanian. Everyone leaves it out because it is only spoken by about 25 million people. But we should not forget it, because Romanian is the closest living language to Classical Latin.

  8. I agree with Cindy. As a native Spanish speaker from Spain who lived in Portugal for years, I think I am in a position to say that Portuguese and Spanish are very similar brother languages. Portuguese has its unique aspects for sure, but that language is still compatible with Spanish in many ways starting with an 89% similarity in vocabulary. Pick any word in either language and there is a high probability that you will also find that word in the other language either spelled exactly the same, or with a letter more, or a letter less. In terms of grammar and overall structure, also very similar. The point is that Spanish and Portuguese speakers, especially educated ones, can understand one another with a minimal amount of effort. Our histories have always been intertwined and our cultures are really similar – even our names are identical. These languages are really cross-compatible. The same cannot really be said about Italian or French, although Italian would be next in line at an 82% similar lexicon with Spanish.

    • Perhaps the similarities increase with native speakers of one of the two languages but for a non native speaker, such as myself and many others, the similarities are a lot less.

  9. I speak fluent Spanish, having lived in Latin America for 13 years. I’ve had the opportunity on numerous occasions to interact with Brazilians, and also feel that I can read Portuguese fairly well. I can certainly understand why it would be annoying to always hear, “Well, they are practically the same thing”. I remember once listening to a group of Brazilians telling jokes with each other, and it might as well have been Chinese for all I understood. However, we really shouldn’t downplay the similarities, either. My knowledge of Spanish has been a huge help in learning Portuguese. My understanding of Portuguese is far greater than it “should be” strictly based on how much time and effort I’ve dedicated to learning it. A speaker of Spanish will have thousands of “freebies” while learning Portuguese, both in vocabulary and grammar. Of course, the same would be true vice versa.

  10. Dear Website Colleagues:

    I really appreciate the % about the similar lexicon among Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. That’s a handy thing to know.

    Does anyone know the similar % of lexicon between Spanish and Catalan? or even Provencal? While I’m at it… how about Romansch, too?

    Oh… somewhere I read that 85% of the Spanish language comes right out of Latin. While I was learning “Classical Latin,” I would thumb through upper level Latin high school text/anthologies and found that medieval Latin prose and poetry were very easy for me to read and understand. However, Classical Latin is quite different.

    Spanish has gustar. Portuguese has gostar…. but the verbs are “handled” differently.

    I look forward to seeing more posts about this strand.

    Bobby in Virginia

  11. I think the percentages % are unnecessary and a little bit absurd.

    Like tudobeleza keeps saying, to nonnative speakers of Spanish and Portuguese, these languages may truly “seem” and “sound” and may even “look” very different. It’s a question of individual perception and experience.

    But I do believe (or at least, I hope) that nonnative speakers can learn to see the relationship better and then, perhaps, there will be some “ah” moment of realization as they gain fluency.

    I would like to see some of these people here look and listen to, for example, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc. If you have no experience with these languages, you will be completely lost and, if you begin to study and isolate one language, you may even make these same common assumptions that they are completely different, x% similar, whatever…

    My belief is that the more you learn, and the more your learning process matures, the more clearly you will see simultaneously the big holistic picture and little unique details.

  12. Of course you will be looking for similar words like “gustar” and “gostar”. That’s easy and convenient, but in the real world neither Spanish or Portuguese speakers will slow down their natural speech to make sure if each other is following the conversation. In a communication setting that’s when “similarities” go down the drain, you either will take Portuguese or |Spanish lessons (yes!). Gee, we don’t even have to go this far. Take for example a simply shopping experience or dining, if these languages are so similar I would know what they mean without having a previous basic knowledge right? Yeah, right. They “sound” similar, they both have the cognates” (we found them in most/all languages), can you communicate naturally (meaning, without “snail” taking) from P to a S speaker and vice-versa?? I have my doubts, you have to have previous basic knowledge and a lot of guessing tricks.

    This is a great place to read all about these similarities (or not). I’m really enjoying reading everyone’s comment here. Keep them coming please!!!

  13. I did my Masters thesis in Portuguese/Spanish linguistics, so I feel that I can contribute something legitimate here. I just want to add my opinion here.

    Portuguese is older than Spanish. And although the former developed separately from Spanish, there remains between the two languages, to this day, a great deal of language uniformity, especially in terms of vocabulary, grammar and syntax. Plus, I would hazard a guess that when Portugal was under Spain, 1580-1640, the Portuguese language underwent changes which made it closer to Spanish. And, during those 60 years, the Spanish language was also influenced by the already popular soft and poetic sounding Portuguese. Let’s not forget that Galego-Portuguese was “able to exert such pressure in the 13th century, that it led to a situation of dual official status for Galego-Portuguese and Latin [in medieval Iberia] in notarial documents, edicts, lawsuits, etc.” So, Portuguese and Spanish have always been connected, intertwined, in some way, shape, or form, for almost a thousand years. That said, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Portuguese and Spanish are still the most closely related modern, major Romance languages in the world today.

    For example, Portuguese and Spanish share a great number of words that are either spelled identically (pronounced the same, or a little differently), almost identically (though they may be pronounced more or less the same) or similarly predictable. Consider for example the following paragraph, taken from the Gramática Esencial del Español, by Manuel Seco, and compare it to the Portuguese rendition below, noting the extensive lexical similarity and the only slight changes in word order:

    Pero, a pesar de esta variedad de posibilidades que la voz posee, sería un muy pobre instrumento de comunicación si no contara más que con ella. La capacidad de expresión del hombre no dispondría de más medios que la de los animales. La voz, sola, es para el hombre apenas una materia informe, que para convertirse en un instrumento perfecto de comunicación debe ser sometida a un cierto tratamiento. Esa manipulación que recibe la voz son las “articulaciones”.

    Porém, apesar desta variedade de possibilidades que a voz possui, seria um instrumento de comunicação muito pobre se não se contasse com mais do que ela. A capacidade de expressão do homem não disporia de mais meios que a dos animais. A voz, sozinha, é para o homem apenas uma matéria informe, que para se converter num instrumento perfeito de comunicação deve ser submetida a um certo tratamento. Essa manipulação que a voz recebe são as “articulações”.

    I personally find this language pair remarkably similar even if their accents are a little different.

    Happy reading!

  14. Very interesting discussion. I original from Cordoba, Spain, and I have lots of portugues friends – we understand each other almost perfectly. I speak to them in Spanish and they speak to me in Portugues. Lots of people think only about the different accents of these two languages. When the words and sentence estructure is very similar, like with Spanish and Portuguese, it makes real easy to understand each other. This does no happen with French or Italian.

  15. They are so similar that you need to “otherwise” by this post.

    I’m Brazilian, and lived in Argentina for more than 25 years. I’ve seen brazilians with no knowledge of Spanish talking with argentines that know no Portuguese and, of course, the conversation is not as smooth, has misunderstandings, etc… but it *is* possible.

    Try that between, say, a Greek and a Thai.

    • Incorrect. If you read my post again, you will notice I refer to those who dont know either language. And I specifically state in my responses that I agree with a certain level of similarities when dealing with anyone who knows one language or the other, or both.

      Thanks for your comment.

      • “…Brazilians with no knowledge of Spanish talking with Argentines that know no Portuguese”…

        I understand what SpiceMan is trying to say here, but something about this statement is just wrong. Brazilians who “know” Portuguese will “naturally” have some knowledge of Spanish, which is precisely why they can understand each other’s language with no formal training.

        This is a privilege of native Spanish/Portuguese speakers which sets them apart from non-native learners.

  16. Pingback: Why Portuguese is not Spanish « Eyes On Portuguese

  17. I know the original post is a little old, but I was hoping for some advice on what I should do. I like to go to a country and learn some of the local language before going, I think it helps in understanding the people and culture. I’m going to be visiting brazil in the middle of August and have about 5 months to pick up some of the language. However my problem is that I’ve been trying to learn spanish casually for the past year and have just gotten to the point that I can understand most written sentences and figure out what it means. So do I switch to Portuguese for brazil which in 5 months I might be able to understand what people are saying and be able to say a little back. Or do I just stick with spanish, get really good at it (obviously still won’t be fluent) and hope the similarities can get me by. My other fear is that I will try to learn Portuguese and will end up mixing the two languages together anyways when I try to speak it and end up being further from learning either.
    Any advice would be benefitial, Thanks.

    • Hi Peter,

      Tough spot you are in. I would say that if you haven’t dedicated a lot of time to your Spanish in the last year then taking on two languages might not be fruitful enough for you to benefit from them both at the same time. I say that based on your comment and I suppose it comes down to whether you want to be average in both or fluent in one (Spanish). While I personally would say go for Portuguese, that’s just based on my own tastes. My advice is then to learn basic “get me by” phrases in Portuguese while sticking with your Spanish, otherwise you risk mixing the two.


  18. I speak with newcoming brazilian at my school in Spanish(I’m a native speaker), they speak to me in Portuguese. The thing is that besides small talk I can’t really speak to them. I speak slowly and articulate so they can understand and they do the same. That is my experience with communication between Spanish and Portuguese.

  19. If you speak Spanish and want to communicate with a Portuguese speaker, you have to tune your ear to the Portuguese accent and vice versa.

    Many Spanish speakers who have only studied Latin-American Spanish, have some difficulty tuning in to Peninsular Spanish. This is the case for many Anglo-Americans who have studied Spanish without exposure to Iberian Spanish. I’ve heard some natives from Latin America say that they have had some difficulties, too, until they got used to the different accent of Spain.

    I myself had to adjust to the accent heard in the Caribbean.

    And… bringing it back to English…. I was used to BBC Masterpiece Theatre English. When we began to receive programming from Australia, I had to tune my American ear to that accent. Furthermore, when Masterpiece Theatre started “Prime Suspect,” I had to get used to everyday English English being spoken by regular Britons.

    It takes practice. In the United States we have very many different accents. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand each other. I once heard a woman from Texas pronounce “paper” as I would speak the word “piper.”

    I realize that languages and accents are different things… but you have to become accustomed to hearing different types of speech unless the accent you’re hearing is closer to your own.

    I appreciate everyone’s contribution and opinions to this forum.

    Last year, I went to Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay and had a wonderful time speaking with all sorts of people from all over the world.

    I wish the larger American population had our love for languages and foreign cultures.

    hasta luego/ ate logo ;-)

    Bobby in Virginia

  20. I’m Mexican and here is my view.

    Portuguese and Spanish are the closest, I repeat, closest pair of major romance languages today. Nothing else needs to be said.

  21. Just out of curiosity,

    I’m moving to Brazil with my Colombian-American girlfriend. I want to begin to study both Portuguese (for use in Brazil) and Spanish (for use with her family). Given the similarities/differences between the two languages, would it be less confusing to study them in strict isolation from each other, or in tandem?

    • Hi Chris

      Well, that’s a good question. I would think studying them together would be confusing unless you had a really good sense of discipline and were living in a country that wasn’t Brazil or Colombia (like in the States) where you could take on a full two weeks of Portuguese then a full two weeks of Spanish, for example. I’ve never done such a thing but I suppose it’s possible.

      Being in Brazil, it really is your best opportunity to focus solely on Portuguese. I studied reading and writing prior to going to Brazil and while that helped me a lot, my speech and listening skills suffered when I got here so luckily I was able to use that time to put my Portuguese into practice daily. I learned Spanish before learning Portuguese thus my opinion is just that, an opinion…because I never took them on at the same time.

      For me, Spanish was my second language but then I downgraded it to my third upon learning (about) Portuguese. So something you should do is choose what your second language will be if you are looking to get serious about both in the long-term. My Spanish has gone from 90% down to about 70% in the years I’ve focused on Portuguese so it’s not horrible but not as I’d like it. In Lingusitics, there have been disputes over if fluency in a second language really is possible. I tend to think it isn’t (not “fluent” fluent, that is). The gov’t has a scale between S1 and S5 for fluency and even after many years focusing on Portuguese, it’s only an S3 that moonlights in S4. Being like a native is S5.

      All in all, my new belief is that I will study/learn/use the language of the country I’m in and that puts my polyglot-yearing mind to rest. I stopped looking at language as a hobby and now just use it for real life needs.

      Hope that helps some.

  22. Really old, but awesome article and indeed the comments.

    I’m Brazilian and I’ve learning English for quite some time now and seeing the discussion regarding the Portuguese and Spanish similarity is kind a fun. Here what I have to say:

    I can understand Spanish without much trouble this will depend of the region though.
    I can understand and communicate myself with the foreign countries around Brazil, as well they can understand me without much trouble, but I’ll probably have issues with Spanish from Mexico or Spain. It sounds too much different to me, but If I read what they say I would get at least the most important of the text without much suffering.

    And besides the fact that I really don’t appreciate the accent of Spanish speakers that doesn’t mean I have a problem with it. In Brazil, North and South have huge differences (the Portuguese accent on North is awful, mainly because they were also colonized by Dutch people plus the worst education on Brazil).

    Still pretty good article. If any Portuguese speaker desire to take out some doubts I’d be glad to help.

    • Yes, Portuguese-Spanish comprehension relies a lot on which dialect one speaks and immersion in the language. For me, Central American Spanish is harder to understand because of the aspiration of the letter “s”. Also some parts of Spain have that English sound in “thing”. It’s not very straightforward. Reading is much easier.
      But I appreciate every dialect in every language.

      I have to disagree about the Dutch colonization. It happened in the 17th century and it’s unlikely that the Dutch language would leave impressions until nowadays. Ik spreek Nederlands. The closest dialect to 17th century Dutch is the one spoken in West Flanders in Belgium. Look for it, its phonetic is completely inverse to what Northeast Brazilian accent sounds like.

    • The so-called “Dutch” colonization hasn’t played any major role in the Portuguese spoken in Northeastern Brazil. Besides, the accents in the south, where there was a big german colonization are harder to understand and sometimes don’t even sound natural Portuguese. You definitely don’t know what you are talking about, Eberson.

  23. All interesting discussions and posts but we need to understand that in order for a Brazilian to understand Spanish he/she needs to learn the language. For example, if you walk to a Brazilian that never heard Spanish before and say, “Yo soy un hombre casado y con muchos niños” he/she will have no idea of what you are talking about. The only word that is spelled the same is “casado” but the pronunciation is different since in Portuguese “s” between vowels sound like “z”. Actually, he/she would hear “caçado” which has a different meaning: hunted.

    People here saying that they can go to Portugal or Brazil with with knowledge of Spanish alone and understand the conversations are not telling the truth unless he/she is a linguistic genius. I have a friend from Spain, a guru in languages, that told me that Portuguese is a tough language to learn because of too many irregular verbs, grammar and pronunciation.

    I can understand Spanish because I have learned many words but frequently I have to ask about the meaning of one word here and one word there during a conversation with a Spanish speaker. There are many words spelled the same with different meanings, or spelled differently with same meaning. And there are many words in Spanish without any meaning in Portuguese and vice-versa.

    Portuguese pronunciation is closer, in so many instances, to French than Spanish. Take the words containing “G”, “J” and “X”, “CH”, for example: Jornal, Geral, Puxar, Xa, Cheiro, Chutar, etc.

    My accent here in the US was never confused with Spanish one. People ask me: are you French? Are you Russian? (!) Even the Hispanics ask me that.


  24. It’s not that similar. At first sight it might seem so, but as you delve into it—heck, you start to wonder how you came to that conclusion in the first place. I had a really hard time learning to speak it right—and by that I mean, no “portunhol”. One thing I noticed while living in Spain is that the amount of diglossia here is comparable to that of Brazil, which doesn’t work in your favor at all. Especially when you’re trying to do the “right” thing. Mistakes in newspapers are omnipresent and whatnot. And natives (overgeneralizing here) mess up more often than you’d think. The problem with mixing up two or more languages is inexorable if they all belong to the same family. However, It’s possible to minimize that by thinking in your target language at all times. Naturally, it comes with its pros and cons. You get rid of the errors but your L1 proficiency starts to deteriorate.

    Digressing a little bit, here in Europe they have this framework that is deployed to measure a person’s proficiency in an arbitrary language. “CEFR”. The lowest level being A1 and C2 the highest. They do amplify the facts when they say C2 denotes mastery. Scholars never agree on what it means to speak a language, let alone how to assess proficiency. The question is—where do you draw the line? This kind of framework just hinders the learning process and gives a lot of power to institutions and companies, given that most people are not interested in how good they can get per se, rather in getting the certification. The result? Schools make lots of money and people are unaware of how little they know.

    The journey never really ends!

  25. With a little ear training and oral practice, if you are already fluent in Spanish, you are already in the know for Portuguese. If you are already fluent in Portuguese, you are already in the know for Spanish. This is the wonderful gift speakers that Portuguese/Spanish speakers get. You cannot say the same thing for any other pair of Romance languages. It’s as simple as that.

  26. Hello to all, I’m half Portuguese and English. I speak both fluently. I can only reiterate what others have said before. The pairing and mutual understanding between Portuguese and Spanish is very much like, though not as close as, Flemish and Dutch.
    Certainly the closest, between the two, of the romance languages. Mutual understanding for native speakers of one or the other is endemic. That said, being a native Portuguese speaker does cause me to find it difficult to “speak” in Spanish without mixing or confusing it with Portuguese. To understand the spoken or written language is one thing; to speak it, is another.

  27. I love this discussion, specially because I am Brazilian and have been living in the US for about 5 years, constantly having to deal with people assuming Brazilians speak Spanish, “isn’t it practically the same language?” I’ve heard some say. Or they actually think, for a fact, that we do speak Spanish, not Portuguese! Don’t get me wrong, I understand and appreciate the effort to try to communicate with us through the language people “think” we speak, but just like in any other culture, we Brazilians love and are so proud of our language and I can’t help but to feel a little… well “insulted”. I think Spanish is beautiful but I never really put the effort to learn, growing up I focused on English, French and Italian. If the Spanish and Portuguese were really that similar I should be fluent without much effort, shouldn’t I?
    I do agree that Portuguese and Spanish are very similar to each other with cognitive words that can be easily translated. However, outside of non-oral communication, there is still a big difference in pronunciation. Yes it’s true that some Portuguese speakers can easily communicate in Spanish but not the other way around; Spanish have a lot of difficulty in both speaking and verbally understanding Portuguese, not just in Spain but people from many Latin American countries as well. Therefore, if one is trying to use Spanish to orally communicate in Portuguese they will not find that it’s “just like Spanish”. You can ask any Portuguese speaker who has had interaction with Spanish tourists/clients/friends as well as from the mouths of Spanish people themselves. My whole reason for writing this post was to express my opinion as a Brazilian, and bring it up that maybe this “phenomenon” will only be realized once you have spent some time in Brazil. If you haven’t, then one is led to believe there is no difference based on the facts.

  28. Bella
    Maybe you’re not so intelligent or as you said you have never studied it, so how to know if you will be fluent or not ?
    I’ll give my opinion as a native spanish speaker (but also French) let’s say, I have lived in Latin America and France, I speak fluently spanish and french, and here in France there is many Portuguese people (The second community and the first in Europe) but also … brazilians…

    Really I’ve never been in Brazil or Portugal, but Portuguese and brazilians have problems in understand each other, a brazilian friend said me that he speak “brasileiro” and portuguese say that brazilians don’t speak really portuguese… and more surprisingly, in the schools and universities here in France and in Europe the distinction between both is made, (look at book for learning ‘brazilian” instead of portuguese of brazil http://a142.idata.over-blog.com/1/48/62/13/Methode-Assimil-Bresilien-copie-1.jpg )

    I speak a bit of italian (because I live next to the border) and I go frequently to Spain with having not that kind of disctintion of my accent (they ask me if I’m from the Canary Islands, Spain or from south of Spain and then from Latin America) but never they said me ”you speak let say latinoamerican or so LOL” I think is because some spanish dialects resembles to Latin American spanish and this regions influenced spanish spoken in the americas, mainly Andalucia (people from the city of Malaga speak as similar as colombians) and the Canary Island speak so similar as mexican standard spanish … and I can understand every spanish dialect, even caribean…

    In the other hand, Portuguese and Brazilian have two orthographies that they’re trying to unify, and the language spoken is really different in gramatical and lexical features…

    BUT, in the other hand, it is easy for spanish speaker to understand better brazilian and north portugal portuguese than standard european portuguese.. I have ”learned” brazilian portuguese because my girlfriend is from Sao Paulo and believe me, only a month to learn it, I have never studied it, only heart her and read some books, and now I can speak it fluently and she can speak spanish too … So maybe is love, but I don’t think so, I believe that if you have a good education and are able to adapt to dialect you can adapt your hear to brazilian portuguese … In the same way I can’t understand a word of portuguese of portugal, very closed with almost no vowels …

    There are theories that say that spanish and portuguese are the same language but with different accents in time (and isolation one from other), so this theory claims that both are the same language but that Spanish adopted basque vowels and influences (A E I O U 5 vowels) and galician-portuguese (was influenced by arabs and celts) … This theory fits for me, because similarities between both languages reach more than 90 percent.

    Somme exemples of this evolution

    “”Many languages, however, innovated further in developing an even more polite pronoun, generally composed of a noun phrase (e.g. Portuguese vossa mercê “your mercy”, progressively reduced to vossemecê, vosmecê and finally você) and taking third-person singular agreement. A plural equivalent was created at the same time or soon after (Portuguese vossas mercês, reduced to vocês), taking third-person plural agreement. Spanish innovated similarly, with usted(es) from earlier vuestra(s) merced(es).””


  29. Well, I’m a native Spanish speaker and Portugese always sound a bit like a 5 year old Spanish child speaking. They leave out a lot of letters and pull words together like they are lazy.

    • That is funny because that is exactly how Spanish Spanish sounds like to Portuguese people. You just have to tune your ears, amigo.

  30. I am brazilian. I do not agree that is so easy for us to understand Spanish and vice versa. It is easy to read Spanish, but not talk or listen and understand. The accent is very different and they speak very fast. The communication is only possible if we (brazilians) and them (Spanish speakers) start talking very slow.

  31. And Galiza,
    I think you are totally wrong. Spanish and Portuguese are different languages. And although it was easy for you to learn our language, not all people agree. Here in Brazil we need to do two-year course to learn Spanish and most people have difficulties. Please do not spew ignorance and prejudice.

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