Learning Portuguese: is it difficult?

What you should know about Portuguese language.

Portuguese is considered to be one of the most widely spoken languages all over the world. Currently there are more than 210 million native speakers in four different continents, which make it the 6-th most spoken language in the world and third in Europe. Although the language itself originated from Europe (Portugal) the vast majority of speakers are elsewhere. The biggest number of speakers can be found in Brazil (184 million) and Portugal (10.5 million). Currently it is the official language of Portugal, Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, Principe and Sao Tome. Portuguese is also one of the official languages of Macau together with Chinese (Cantonese), Equatorial Guinea together with French and East Timor together with Tetun.

When it comes to dialects, Standard Portuguese is based on dialect of Lisbon. Different dialects within Portugal are very limited and the differences are minor. However when we compare Portuguese and Brazilian dialects the difference is quite huge. The differences can be found in syntax, verbs and pronunciation of vowels. Although these differences are more in a spoken form and there are less of them between educated Portugal and Brazil people. Even though there are quite a lot of differences between these dialects it can be said that people would be able to understand each other and communicate. When we compare other dialects that are spoken in Asia and Africa they are considered to be closer to European rather than Brazilian.

How difficult it is to learn Portuguese?

learn-all-the-portuguese-wordsPortuguese is much easier to learn for people who are already familiar with other Romance languages such as Spanish, French and Italian. If you already speak one of these languages it will be much easier learning Portuguese or vice versa. The similarity can be seen in vocabulary and language structure. According to FSI (Foreign Service Institute) scale Portuguese falls into first category of easiest languages to learn for English speakers. Based on this rating it is estimated that you can learn this language within 23 weeks or 575 hours. By “learn” it meant that you can achieve speaking level (S3) and reading level (R3). Other languages that are in this group are Spanish, French, Italian and etc. According to the same rating more difficult languages like Chinese, Japanese and Arabic can take up to 64 weeks to achieve the same level. Although this rating is useful when comparing difficulty of languages it doesn’t necessary mean that it will take you that much time to learn it. There are quite a lot of factors which will determine your learning length such as determination, hours you can spend learning and etc.

The more difficult parts of Portuguese are pronunciation. There are some sounds that might be quite difficult to pronounce for some people. Some examples could be a sounds “ão” and “ç” that are challenging for most learners. However even though you might make mistakes while pronouncing words or sounds you will still be easily understood, which is the most important part. The grammar is also quite difficult due to many tenses and verb forms. Just like many Romance languages, Portuguese also has two genders: masculine and feminine. In most cases masculine nouns ends with “o“, while feminine with “a“, although there are some exceptions. An article that goes before noun is an indication of gender. One interesting feature of this language is that you can make a simple sentence a question without making changes to word order like in English. This can be done by raising your tone at the end of a sentence.

While learning Portuguese you will soon notice some familiar words. You can find some words in English language that were loaned from Portuguese for example piranha, flamingo and etc.

Some interesting facts about Portuguese language.

  • The vast majority of Portuguese vocabulary originated from Latin and from languages like French, Arabic and Italian;
  • There are different ways of saying “you” in Portuguese. When you want to be polite and are taking with older people you should use “senhor” for men and “senhora” for women instead of “tu“.
  • Most people who speak Portuguese can understand Spanish, although it’s not mutual;
  • If we would compare 18-th century Portuguese to Brazilian and European dialects, surprisingly the closer one would be Brazilian;
  • Even though the main roots of this language comes from Latin, quite a lot of vocabulary is from Arabic origin;