Brazilians learning English – The Y

Something I’ve always wondered about is why Brazilians, when speaking English, add and subtract Y’s from words. I know it isn’t at will, but from what I gather, usually words that end in a hard consonant, they add a “y” to, while words with “y” at the end, they don’t pronounce.

My favorite example is Luck vs. Lucky. Brazilians will pronounce the first like the second and the second like the first. Although the video above is an example of a Brazilian who doesn’t speak English well, I personally know some who do…and they still commit the “y” error. So, why the “y”? Anyone know or have an educated guess?

Right now, I’m going over my Portuguese vocabulary in my head and can’t come up with an example of a Portuguese word that ends in a hard consonant. Plus, I can say with certainty that Portuguese has no K’s nor Y’s naturally in their alphabet. Portuguese also doesn’t have a W and perhaps that’s why the W sound is difficult for Brazilians learning English also. Such words like World or Squirrel are often found to be challenging to my friends. Aside from letters that take Brazilians some getting used to, there’s also the S+consonant which almost always comes out as ES+consonant. Again, squirrel is a good example.

As for myself, I doubt I’ll ever master the LH sound in Portuguese but that’s something I’ll just have to live with. When my tongue agrees with me, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, here’s a resource to tide you over…

Speech Accent Archive

Bridge Linguatec Proficiency Test

Picture 10

I found a superb online Portuguese proficiency test which I had long forgot about and ended up retaking. It’s by Bridge Linguatec and has four sections which include (in order) Listening Comprehension, Vocabulary, Grammar and Reading Comprehension. If I remember correctly, in terms of number of questions, it’s 20, 20, 50, 10, so you are looking at 100 questions all together. In haste, I missed a few questions which I already knew but otherwise received a score I’m quite happy with. Between this test and the Transparent language test, there is no comparison. Bridge Linguatec comes out on top by a long shot. Heck, they’ll even send you the ‘official’ certificate with your score for only $49.99!

As a tip, I should point out that the Listening Comprehension is a bit tricky as it isn’t cut and dry. With some questions during this section, the woman speaker will say something and you will have to choose the answer, while with other questions in the same section, she will say something and you will have to choose the synonym to her question. I have long believed that test results aren’t the final say as much depends on the test giver and the test layout.

Anyways, go ahead and try it out!

CELPE-Bras Portuguese proficiency exam


For those wanting to be officially certified in Brazilian Portuguese by the Brazilian Ministry of Education, you’ll need a CELPE-Bras certificate. Never heard of it? No worries, it’s not something everyone is aware of, neither abroad or within Brazil (from what I hear).

I’ve done some research on the matter and added the necessary links so I’ll post it all below.

It is the only official certificate that is recognized by the MEC (Brazilian Ministery of Education). The good news is it is offered not only in Brazil, but in many other countries. Here’s the list in PDF format. The bad news is, it’s pretty hard to reach the fourth and highest level, “superior” (only 9 Brazilians out of hundreds succeeded in the October test of 2008 PDF).

“The test can be taken in October or April, with registration available online in the two months prior to the test months (ie, Febuary or March & August or September).

As far as the test in general, well, the exam is in two parts on two days. The first day there is a 2.5 hour written exam, which may include video tape sequences or tape sequences.

The following day there is a 20 min. oral exam in front of two people.

There are four different levels of proficiency and most people fall into the first level initially, while only a select few make it to the highest level on their first try. It’s not uncommon to find other test-takers there who have already taken the test a few times in order to achieve higher levels.

If you are looking to get hired in Brazil, there are some companies that say they require it but most (including the companies that ‘require’ it) will see how good your Portuguese is upon interview.

There are some professions, like doctors, nurses and engineers, who need to be recognized by the local professional associations like CONSELHO REGIONAL DE MEDICINA, ENFERMARGEN or CREA.

Be prepared to write a redação (essay), interpret a given text, be prepared to listen to a tape in Portugese from Portugal or even in African-Portuguese slang. Or to watch a video tape and then have to answer questions in multiple choice or with your own words.

For the oral exam, it’s important to maintain a fluent conversation. In the beginning they’ll probably ask you some questions about yourself and what brought you to Brazil. Then the official part starts, you’ll get a photo or maybe a newspaper article to read and the you have to tell them something about the image or the article you read.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, just avoid repeating the same mistake several times, especially if they’ve corrected you the first time and the other important thing is to keep the conversation fluent. It’s not an interview where you answer questions, YOU have to talk for the most part and keep it going.” – Gringoes

Portuguese Help – The rainbow ends here.

The other week, I spoke about a new website find which I dubbed the ‘Portuguese Pot of Gold‘, although I alluded to the fact that that particular pot of gold might not stay put as it was probably from a ripped dvd. Let me announce an even better pot of gold…in fact, I’m going to say the buck rainbow stops here. Ladies and Gents, Brazilpod from the University of Texas at Austin!

Funny, I’ve known of their Brazil Center and focus on Latin America for quite awhile yet I never saw this site. I’d love to give you all a breakdown of Brazilpod, but it’s best if left to your wandering eyes. If only I would have found it when I started out…

Here’s a description from the man behind it all, Professor Orlando Kelm,

“From this site you have access to our teaching materials here at the University of Texas at Austin for the study of Portuguese. As we develop instructional technology for our students at UT we are happy, in fact we think of it as our mission, to share everything with other institutions and the general public. Keep coming back because we seem to be adding new content all the time. Our philosophy is that all materials should be shared with everyone, with open access and without cost or password restrictions.”

Conjugating verbs and Rhyming words

I used to use Verbix but the service has proved unreliable at times so while searching for a new conjugation service to satisfy my left-brain, I found Conjuga-me which is straight forward with a clean GUI (graphic user interface).

Every now and then, I find myself needing to rhyme a word and for that I use Alcor from Australia where I can choose the number of end letters that I want to find rhymes for. Go to the site, enter the word, choose the letters and Bob’s your uncle

Portuguese Pot of Gold – Intermediate learners

I discovered a real pot of gold in terms of Portuguese language learning…but like most pots of gold at the end of any ol’ rainbow, by the time you get there, the gold isn’t there. What I mean by that, is it seems these telecourse lessons are most likely taken from a DVD…but nonetheless, they are on Youtube for now and for the sake of the intermediate learners out there, it’s best they stay put. The lessons are usually in two parts and finding the beginning of the series isn’t easy…in fact, I spent a good 10 minutes trying to locate the start of it all but came away empty.

Anyways, here’s an example

Here’s the blog where they can also be found…

Telemarketing & Vícios de linguagem

Telemarketing is big business in Brazil and as such, there are many different kinds of courses throughout the country teaching telemarketers-to-be how to attend to a client via telephone. Of course, this provides ample opportunities to poke fun at the idea.

Something else that is somewhat common in Brazil is what can be called ‘vícios de linguagem‘ (linguistic addictions) as Brazilians are extremely social and therefore love to talk (even the word ‘talk’ is like ice to Innuits, there are many ways to say the same thing), that being said, certain incorrect terms get passed around very quickly, with some even sticking. Of course, language is there to be understood and if two or more people understand each other, then language has done its job correctly.

Below, I’ll post a few videos (in PT) that address both telemarketing and linguistic addictions in a humorous way.

As a bonus, I’ll add one on the “history of telemarketing“.

The Parlance of the Paraense

I recently picked a state to study and now I’m trying to learn about it, thus a slight bias towards topics having to do with the state of Pará. In the end though, what’s interesting is what’s interesting…Below I’ll translate the story from online magazine Re-vista! of a carioca living in Belém and all the interesting instances of the Paraense parlance. First, I’ll introduce a saying that wasn’t included in the article below. “Quem vai ao Pará, parou, tomou açaí, ficou!” (roughly “Who goes to Pará, stops, has açaí and stays!”).

“To live in another Brazilian city, when its so far from where you come from, makes us come face to face with the differences in customs and principally, in vocabulary.

Every once in awhile, my friends take notice of some words I use which are unknown to them. This happened with ‘hangar’, which is called ‘cruzeta’ here, and on it goes… I have fun with this, honestly.

Thus why I decided to make a small dictionary for you all to get to know some of the differences.

· The unsupportable carioca MOSQUITOS are known in the North of Brazil as ‘carapanãs’. One can find this even on the mosquito repelents;

· The good ol’ LAGARTIXA (lizard), apart from being called here by the very strange name of ‘osga’, is commonly “assassinated”. Here, it’s believed that they attack humans and suck their blood! Because of this, they are done in just like the cockroaches: by a few whacks of the sandal. I thought it must be just an old wives tale but when I called a company that deals in pesticides, they came at me with the same kind of talk;

· The nice LAVADEIRAS (laundry women) that also are known as ‘louva-deus’ in Rio, are curiously called ‘jacinta’ around here;

· In the markets and butchershops of Belém, it’s impossible to buy CARNE MOÍDA (ground beef), even though they have meat grinders. And if you were to ask for this, the attendant will just give you the strangest look, almost as if he’s looking at an alien. Ground beef here is ‘carne picadinha’, just as ground as any other, but they don’t call it so.

Apart from the different names, there are expressions that also cause estrangement to us, foreigners. One very common expression used by belemenses (people from Belém) is ‘pior’. Everything is ‘pior’! However, not in a bad way. It’s equivalent to ‘puxa’ or ‘putz’ or the famous carioca ‘pô’. An exclamation: ‘Pior!’.

Have I already spoken about the very famous ‘égua!’?! It’s another exclamation which is very, very used around here. It’s a typical slang for the paraense (people form Pará), which is one way to call the locals and it’s stamped on the tourist t-shirts too…I already tried to investigate its origin but the closest I came was that it’s a reduction of  ‘pai d’égua’, the original expression. That being said, there’s no real consensus as to where the original expression came from. What is known is that both expressions are very much used to define something good. For example: a supermarket chain uses it in its adverts saying ‘promoção pai d’égua’, which would mean its a damned good discount, can’t be missed…But the ‘égua’ alone, which became its own generic exclamation, also serves for bad things. If someone takes a tumble on the sidewalk or if you tell a belemense some bad news, certainly you’ll hear them say ‘ééégua!’.

Another word I still don’t quite understand the meaning of is ‘arredar’. You want to haul something? Then you are going to ‘arredar’. If you are going to prepare, do, resolve, clean…Anything can become ‘arredar’. Example: ‘arredei’ the seat. Example two: I’m going to ‘arredar’ the fridge (meaning you’ll clean and organize it). Crazy, huh?

And there are names of places that are unforgettable. Ever imagined a neighborhood called ‘Telégrafo sem fio’? Well yeah, here in Belém there’s one and its affectionately called ‘Telégrafo’ to those who know it well. And what exactly would you call someone born in ‘Além Quer’? Well, believe it or not, there’s a city with this name in Pará.

Speaking of being born…Who is born in Belém is known as either belemense (with M) or belenense (with N). I discovered that both are possible and correct. You must have seen both being used before. But the belemenses have another name too: papa-chibé. Everyone that was born here is called this. Chibé is farinha, something the local population loves to use. It seems the little joke also has an indigenous origin too…Above all, when I think that my daughter will be called a papa-chibé, I lose all will to continue writing…Ay, ay, my departed carioca heart! Ay, ay…

Being as I am, a good carioca, FUI! (lit. ‘I went’, otherwise meaning ‘I’m done with the conversation’)”

If you are a native of Pará, perhaps you’ve noticed a few things that need correcting in her story…the commentators on the original story had a few corrections, etc to say, which I’ll also translate below.

Claudia Melo: (partial) The good ol’ LAGARTIXA, never was “assassinated” at home. After all, the eat ‘carapanã’…so, they are always welcome. Speaking of being welcome, they came to Brazil in the time of slavery, on the so-called slave ships, and they adapted in such a way that today there isn’t a single house in the country which doesn’t have a little ‘osga’…in spite of there being one where I lived which one day never reappeared…I liked her so much, I even called her by the name of Rose.

Viviane: Hi! I found your article to be very cool because it’s proof that within the same country, we have such different customs and we actually live these differences! I am a paraense, I live in Belém in the district of Icoaraci (meaning ‘facing the sun’), I’m a professor and I was looking around on the internet when I came across your article. How nice that you got to know a little of what makes a paraense, we are all papa-chibés of the círio de Nazaré, of açaí, of tacacá, of the afternoon rainfall and of a magnificent vocabulary. Did you know that the Icoracienses (people from the district) are called ’round feet’? It’s because around here, we always get around by bicycle.

A big hug for you, true carioca

Luiz Carlos: Hello, Daniele.

They call me Luiz. I’m from Belém, but I currently reside in Foz do Iguaçu – PR.

The language utilized in Belém is very similar to that which is used in specific locations in Brazil, to cite a few: Rio de Janeiro and Florianópolis, including the hiss upon speaking.

What unites us is the typical Portuguese colonization.
Example: Alenquer, aside from being a paraense city, is also a Portuguese city, just like Santarém, Ourém, Óbidos, Alter do Chão, Almeirim, Vigia, Bragança, Viseu, Portel, Benevides, Faro and Belém itself. All of the cities with these names are in homage to the homonymic Lusitanians.

‘Osga’ and ‘arredar’ can be located in the dictionary. They are very much used within the region due to the influence of the Portuguese colonization.
The ‘Pai d’égua’ was introduced, with due respect, by the cearenses (people form the state of Ceará) which arrived here in search of new opportunities.
The ‘louva-a-deus’, in Pará, is called ‘põe-a-mesa’. And as for ‘jacinta’, it actually means ‘libélula’ (dragonfly).

Brazil is imense. Brazilian culture is rich. The memory is the weak point.

Another thing: Belemense is for who was born in Belém do Pará and Belenense is for who was born in Belém in Portugal. As well as who was born in Belém in the West Bank, is called a Belemita.

Living and learning …

Random Portuguese Lesson

I’ve been saving little by little random expressions, etc on my computer in order to make another Portuguese language post. Here goes it…

Imagina! – Literally, ‘imagine!’ but it is used mostly as ‘don’t mention it!’ or ‘don’t be silly’.

Mó/Maior – Mó is slang for Maior (largest/biggest), the opposite being Menor (smallest, etc). The twist is that they have entered into expressions such as “tem maior sol hoje” (lit. the sun is the biggest today, basically its really hot today). A popular expression with Mó is Mó barato (maior barato) which lit. means ‘the biggest cool’ yet in everyday language is ‘very cool’. Barato is slang too, normally it means cheap but according to a source of mine, it comes from drug culture where mó barato meant ‘a great trip’.

Mão Boba – Silly/Dummy hand and it means your hand ‘accidentally’ passed over someone else’s private parts. Basically taking advantage of a situation where you could get away with it.

Craque – Usually pertaining to futebol, meaning a star player, someone who is really good at futebol…but in recent times it can be given to anyone who is good at anything. I’m told it can mean the drug too.

Ser chegado em – Similar to a phrase I wrote about in the past (Estar a fim de), meaning you are down for something. Ser chegado em algo though has more to do with personality and not how you feel in the moment. Ex. Não sou chegado em futebol = I’m not one for (watching/playing/etc) soccer.

Negócio/Parada – Negócio means business but its slang for any unnamed object. Parada holds the same meaning too although used more in Rio.

Língua Mãe vs. Língua Materna – The two are sometimes confused. Língua Mãe means mother language while Língua Materna means maternal language. Specifically língua mãe should be used to speak of the main language from which others developed, while língua materna should be used to speak of your first language.

Nao Esquenta – Lit. Don’t heat up. In popular speech, it means ‘don’t get worked up’ or ‘calm down’ or ‘don’t worry’.

Mauricinho/Patricinha/Playboy – The two words are the male and female variety of someone born with a silver spoon, hauty-tauty, etc. Playboy is a word for a wanna be Mauricinho, although mainly a womanizer.

Galinha/Safado/Cachorro – Galinha lit. means chicken but as slang it means a guy who gets around (ie, not faithful). Safado means someone with a dirty mind, so to speak. Cachorro is a dog, lit. and fig.

Capenga/Coxo/Desajeitado – The first two words mean crippled. The last word means deformed.

Jangada, Juba – These are just two words I like, they have no connection. Jangada means a raft. Juba is a mane, such as that which a lion would have.

Seu… – Lit. means ‘your’ but it is also a way to address a man in a respectful way. If my name was Carlos, I would be Seu Carlos. Also of note, Seu… can be used in a creative way when angry at (or making fun of) someone. Seu Idiota!

Mar/Maré – Mar is sea. Maré is tide.

Bêbado/Embriagado/Perder a Linha – Three ways to say ‘drunk’. Bêbado being the most commonly heard. Embriagado is a little more formal, meaning intoxicated. Perder a linha means to have crossed the line into complete drunkenness.

Mourão, Mourão – Similarly, there is a saying with losing a tooth as a child. It goes like this…”Mourão, Mourão, Tome este dente podre, e me dê outro são!” (take this rotten tooth and give me another thats sane!). After you say the phrase, you throw your tooth on the roof. More on the story behind this can be found here (in Portuguese).

Prece/Oração/Reza – All three mean ‘prayer’.

Devagar/Vagar/Vagabundo – Vagar is a verb I heard in a Brazilian period piece (film) which I took to mean ‘to wander/roam’. I’m not sure as to its popularity these days but I also took it to be the root of ‘slow’ in Portuguese (devagar…which would be ‘de vagar’). I’m also taking a leap to connect it to the word for bum or wanderer (Vagabundo).

Summing Up Portuguese Language Links

Great Portuguese source for non-basic level help and links for further reading.

This one is great for random slang terms, with definitions you can add yourself.

Basic and Intermediate lessons with Audio.

With 200 tests from your language into Portuguese, varying levels.

Good site to learn those always useful connector words.

  • My Vox (Portuguese Audio Lessons)

Made by a Brazilian voice actor with lots of different subjects.

This site is run by Jackie at Adventures of a Gringa in Rio.

Here’s a list of written grammar lessons

And if you ever wondered how Brazilians from different regions sound in English…

If you are a flash card learner, this is a good site to use where you can add your own and vote.

This community has been my savior over the years and its where I get most of my questions answered.