FluentU helps you learn real Portuguese by exposing you to the language as it’s used in everyday life.
Learn through authentic videos turned into immersive language lessons that will have you speaking Portuguese like a native.
The Portuguese Language
Portuguese is a vibrant, musical language, and among its rhythms and cadences is a rich linguistic and cultural history. No wonder you’re interested in learning it!
With origins tracing back to the 3rd century BC, it’s the second most spoken Romance language with roughly 270 million speakers—will you join their ranks?
Where Is Portuguese Spoken?
Portuguese is one just of a handful of languages with such worldwide distribution: you’ll hear different dialects from Europe to Africa to Asia to South America.
While its origins lay in Portugal, the largest population of Portuguese speakers by far is actually in Brazil, with around 210 million speakers! Along with Portugal and Brazil, it’s also the official language in Angola, Cape Verde, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe. And while not an official language, large Portuguese-speaking populations are also found in India, Sri Lanka, Goa and Macau, China.
How Long Does It Take to Speak Portuguese?
It’s hard to quantify the amount of time it will take you to learn Portuguese because it relies on several factors, like the level you start with, how much time you can commit and what kind of resources you have to help you learn. For example, if you know a Romance language, you’ve already got an upper hand—especially if you know Spanish, as the two languages are incredibly similar!
Plus, people define the ability to “speak” a language differently. Some would say this is just achieving basic communication, whereas others expect close to native-level speech and understanding.
If we want to get technical, the U.S. Foreign Service Institute estimates it will take around 600 hours of study to reach fluency in Portuguese.
What’s the Difference Between Portuguese from Portugal and Portuguese from Brazil?
While speaking Brazilian Portuguese will mean you’re understood in Portugal and vice versa, there are many differences between the two dialects.
- Accent. European Portuguese speakers speak rather quickly, whereas Brazilian Portuguese speakers speak more slowly and with open vowels—it’s often said that their accent is more musical. Also, Brazilian Portuguese speakers don’t always pronounce the letter “s” at the end of a word the way their European forebears do with the “sh” sound.
- Spelling. There are spelling differences between the two dialects which appear subtle, but stick out when communicating with someone from a different area.
- Vocabulary. Brazilian Portuguese has adopted many words from the indigenous languages of Brazil, while European Portuguese has maintained more of its Latin roots. You’ll find many day-to-day words are completely different in the two places!
- Formal/informal speech. In Brazil, você is the most common word of choice to say “you.” In Portugal, however, it is seen as very informal—bordering on rude. Portuguese prefer the word tu.
Why Learn Portuguese?
Discover New Cultures
Without a doubt, the best part of learning the Portuguese language is the opportunity to get to know the different cultures that go along with it. Language learning and culture are deeply interrelated, so get ready to experience a whole new world!
Portugal has almost 1000 years of rich history to discover, and Brazil has some of the world’s most incredible styles of music, dance and food—influenced by a melting pot of people over the 200 years since its founding.
It’s Good for Your Brain
You’ve probably heard this before, but let me tell you again: language learning is good for your brain! Learning a practical skill like Portuguese helps contribute to feelings of life satisfaction and fulfillment, and provides you with goals and a sense of purpose.
Its benefits are also physical: it’s been shown to improve certain mental functions like executive functioning. It’s even thought to delay dementia in older adults.
Explore and Live in Portuguese-speaking Countries
Traveling and living in another country is one thing, but traveling and living in another country where you don’t speak the language is another thing entirely.
If you’ve ever thought about visiting night markets in Rio de Janeiro, beach hopping in Recife or checking out medieval castles in Lisbon, learning Portuguese will sign you up for a much richer experience than if you didn’t know the language.
Not only will small day-to-day interactions be easier—like ordering food and asking about bus times—but it’s always safer to know what’s going on in your surroundings and how to call for help. Plus, you’ll get to know locals on a different level, which is very special!
Business and Career Opportunities
They say actions speak louder than words. Don’t just write that you’re “committed,” “motivated” and “enjoy learning” on your resume—show it! Having the dedication to learn a language like Portuguese speaks volumes to prospective employers.
You also never know when an employer or potential client may require Portuguese language skills, so keep those doors of opportunity wide open.
The Basics of Portuguese
Though Portuguese pronunciation isn’t as difficult as a true tonal language like Mandarin, it’s still something that some language learners struggle with. Some sounds will roll over from English, and others will take effort to get your mouth moving in the right way. Here are some of the main challenges you may come across:
- Nasal sounds. These include vowels and diphthongs and may be quite unusual to the English speaker. They’re often indicated with a tilde (~) in written Portuguese or when a vowel is followed by an m or an n that isn’t pronounced.
- Different “r” sounds. Depending on its position in a word, the “r” has a different pronunciation: one which we have a similar sound to in English, like an “h” sound, and one which is called an alveolar tap.
- Intonation. Brazilian Portuguese specifically has some intonations which are quite hard to pick up. Even advanced learners may have trouble mastering the rising and falling inflections, but it’s all part of the fun!
If you know Spanish, French, Italian or Romanian, then you’re already three steps ahead in terms of learning Portuguese vocabulary. Derived from Vulgar Latin, Portuguese and the rest of these Romance languages share many lexical similarities, so you can potentially transfer much of your existing knowledge to Portuguese. Many Portuguese words even have an exact equivalent in Spanish—albeit sometimes with different meanings.
An understanding of English will also help you in your endeavors. Because it’s borrowed many words from Latin and French over the years, you’ll understand some Portuguese words without even trying!
You can spot Portuguese verbs by their ending: they end in either –ar, –er or –ir. These verb forms are called the “infinitive,” the form of a verb that has no inflection. This means it carries no information regarding subject, tense or mood—it only refers to the action that the verb is describing. The English equivalent is any verb with “to” in front, like “to dance,” “to eat” or “to say.”
The verb conjugation is where you change the ending of a verb to reflect subject, tense and mood. Every subject requires a different ending, and this ending changes to reflect tense and mood.
Portuguese Nouns and Gender
Nouns in Portuguese are classified as either masculine or feminine. This concept may seem a little strange if you haven’t encountered gendered nouns before, but it plays an important role in how nouns are used in sentences in Portuguese.
Other parts of a sentence—such as adjectives or articles—must be altered to agree with the gender of the noun. This is best explained using an example: if we take the phrase “the yellow house,” the article “the” and the adjective “yellow” must follow the gender of the noun “house.” “House” is casa, which is feminine. The phrase therefore would be a casa amarela, as a (the) and amarela (yellow) are feminine—as opposed to their masculine forms o and amarelo.
Keep in mind that the gender of a noun doesn’t always follow the logic of what you consider to be feminine or masculine (for example, why is a house classified as feminine?). Because of this, it’s very important to note the gender of a word while you’re learning its translation!
Conversational Portuguese Phrases
Before you can form proper sentences in Portuguese, you need to get all the basics down. This obviously takes time, even though it’s best to start speaking with people as soon as you can. To get around this, we need to work smarter not harder: memorize some conversational phrases!
There are two types of phrases you should learn: generic phrases for getting to know people and some more specialized or personal phrases.
Here are examples of common phrases you can start with:
- Qual é o seu nome? (What’s your name?)
- De onde você é? (Where are you from?)
- O que você gosta de fazer no seu tempo livre? (What do you like to do in your free time?)
As for personal phrases, go for topics relevant to you and your interests—chances are, you’ll end up talking about these things. You could learn phrases related to the sports you follow, your career, your family, your home country or culture, etc.
How to Learn Portuguese
Portuguese is among the most studied languages in the world, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding classes in your local area!
Traditional classes tend to be well structured and well supported by Portuguese teachers or professors, so they’re ideal for those who like regularity, guidance and instant feedback. The social aspect of a classroom environment draws many people in, although large class sizes usually mean less attention from tutors. You also have the option to take intensive or immersive classes, often taught entirely in Portuguese.
However, what makes traditional classes attractive to some students makes them unappealing to others. They aren’t very flexible, and there are better options out there in terms of teacher support.
If you’re driven, you can also learn Portuguese on your own by utilizing the full power of the internet and other resources available.
The idea is not so much that you do it alone, just that you’re in the driver’s seat: you decide when, where and how long you’ll study, plus the different resources you’ll use.
You could opt to see a tutor regularly but still request what you learn in lessons, you might buy a textbook or two, download different podcasts and even meet native Portuguese speakers to practice with. It’s all down to you. It’s not easy, but it’s completely possible with planning and persistence.
Have Language Exchanges
A language exchange is a learning method where you connect with someone who is learning a language that you speak, in order to help them learn that language and vice versa. For example, you would seek out Portuguese speakers who are learning English (or any other languages that you’re lucky enough to speak) and exchange mutually beneficial conversations.
It’s a cost-effective way of learning Portuguese while simultaneously connecting with native speakers, getting to know a bit of their culture and helping them out in return. In other words, it’s a win-win for both parties!
It can be a bit intimidating, but what better way is there of learning Portuguese than actually chatting with a native Portuguese speaker?
Travel to Portuguese-speaking Countries
Being surrounded by a language 24/7 is in some ways like being in a classroom constantly, where everything from catching the bus to ordering food is a learning opportunity. For better or for worse, you’re forced to use Portuguese.
It can be pretty challenging and uncomfortable at times, but full immersion is one of the best ways to learn—after all, that’s how we learned to speak our mother tongues! Being exposed to the Portuguese language in this way also means that you pick up more natural speech, as you have the opportunity to see exactly how it’s used by locals.
Plus, if you’re in need of a push, booking a trip to Brazil is always a great motivator to start studying Portuguese!
Spend Time in Other Portuguese-speaking Environments
Hopping on a plane to São Paulo just to improve your Portuguese skills isn’t exactly realistic. Luckily, with millions of native Portuguese speakers scattered about the globe, there are things you can do instead!
Check out what’s on offer in your local community—are there any Brazilian street food events or Portuguese-language movie festivals going on? Are samba or capoeira classes available? Group Portuguese language exchanges? You’d be surprised how much is going on when you actually stop to look!
Watch Portuguese Movies and TV Shows
Watching Portuguese-language movies and TV shows is not only entertaining, but it can be a super-effective study strategy, too. This doesn’t mean that you should passively binge-watch your favorite Brazilian reality shows though. How you go about it is important.
First, consider your subtitle use. If you can, watch with Portuguese subtitles but try not to completely rely on reading them the whole time. Glance down as you need them, but don’t get in the habit of just reading! If you’re still a beginner, you might need to go for English subtitles, but again, make an effort to listen to spoken Portuguese.
You should be actively watching and listening, and jotting down any new vocabulary or questions you think of as you go. It’s not as relaxing as watching a normal movie, but it’s much more effective!
Immerse Yourself in Portuguese
Earlier we touched on the idea of immersing yourself in the Portuguese language in your daily life. Here are some ideas:
- Switch to Portuguese audio. Consider swapping your usual music and podcasts for ones in Portuguese. Brazilian music especially is super catchy and fun to listen to, and there are Portuguese-language podcasts on pretty much any topic you can think of!
- Read books in Portuguese. If you’re a big reader, it’s easy to combine your Portuguese study with your love of books. You can opt for books you already know well as they’ll be much easier to understand or challenge yourself with something new, as long as the content isn’t too difficult for your level.
- Read Brazilian and Portuguese newspapers. Not only will you keep yourself informed on current events, but newspapers are generally written in relatively simple language. You may well even learn a few things about their cultures along the way
- Follow native speakers on social media platforms. This is a great way to squeeze in some extra study. Take the opportunity to read captions or listen to videos as you come across them, and practice your reading and listening skills with pretty minimal effort.
- Put your phone in Portuguese. In the same vein, make the time you spend on your phone more productive by changing the language to Portuguese. You’ll pick up and reinforce a lot of practical Portuguese words, plus adding Portuguese to your keyboard really helps your writing skills (thanks to autocorrect, of course).
Online Resources for Learning Portuguese
You can find everything you need to learn Portuguese online. Everything is within reach, including private tutors, Portuguese lessons on everything from grammar to pronunciation, access to native speakers, activities and exercises for practicing listening and speaking skills, apps that help you conjugate tricky verbs and language learning programs for absolute beginners through to advanced learners.
Not only are many of these resources very affordable, but often completely free! The hardest part is weeding out the good ones.
While there are seemingly endless resources for learning Portuguese, not all are made equal. Here’s a rundown of the different types you should look for, plus our own recommendations!
- Podcasts. These are excellent resources as they allow for hands-free learning in moments when traditional forms of study aren’t very practical. They’re also almost always completely free!
- Language apps. These can cover a huge range of material, from help with grammar and vocabulary to full-blown courses. Their advantage comes with their portability and ease of use.
- Courses. Courses are extremely useful if you need a bit of structure in your routine or have specific learning needs.
- Websites. The content on language learning websites varies hugely, so you need to consider what you’re looking to achieve. Do you need to focus on specific aspects of Portuguese like grammar or vocabulary, or Portuguese for particular uses like travel or business? Do you prefer quizzes, video material or downloadable documents?
Common Questions About Learning Portuguese
Is Portuguese Easy to Learn?
Relatively speaking, Portuguese isn’t a difficult language to learn—but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. If it were, everyone would speak it!
Portuguese uses a variation of the Latin alphabet we use for English, so it doesn’t require you to learn a whole new writing system. Its grammar is relatively simple. However, its pronunciation isn’t as straightforward as you may think. Still, it’s easier to master when compared with a language like Arabic, Cantonese or Finnish, for instance.
Ultimately, your success will depend on your persistence and the time you dedicate to learning.
Can You Learn Portuguese by Yourself?
Absolutely! There’s a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips thanks to the World Wide Web, and language learning is more accessible than ever before.
The main thing which is overlooked when it comes to self-directed learning is planning and preparation. Learning a new language takes consistency, so it’s best to have some form of guide or routine to make sure you get regular, effective study in.
Motivation will be a big challenge, so just decide on your resources, knock out some sort of a plan and you’re halfway there!
What’s the Best Way to Learn Portuguese?
This may not be what you want to hear, but there is no absolute best way to learn Portuguese. We’re all different, and it ultimately comes down to the individual—your personality, your needs and your learning style.
You might hear people swear by a particular program or language learning app, or read online that you must start with Portuguese grammar but read elsewhere that actually speaking Portuguese from day one is the way to go.
It can be overwhelming trying to decide on a single method or program, so just to help, here are three excellent ways to achieve fluency in Portuguese:
- Full immersion
- Intensive courses
- Having a consistent study routine
Can You Learn Portuguese for Free?
Yes, you can!
There are literally thousands of resources for free online, including free courses, free online classes, free activities, free everything! Most language exchange websites and apps are also free of charge, so learning with native Portuguese speakers is also extremely accessible.
Admittedly paying for premium resources will often get you faster results, but it’s still absolutely achievable to learn to speak Portuguese without paying a cent.
Learning Portuguese with FluentU
If you want to learn real Portuguese, textbooks and scripted conversations will only get you so far—you need to learn with authentic content.
Authentic content is made by and for native speakers, like native language news reports, commercials, and music videos. It exposes you to a language as it’s really used, and you’ll pick up better pronunciation, vocabulary knowledge and listening comprehension as a result.
FluentU has turned this concept into a seamless, flexible language learning program. Just pick a video from the expertly curated library and start learning Portuguese today!
Learning tools like interactive subtitles, a contextual video dictionary and personalized quizzes make learning with FluentU easy and effective. Plus, the program fits around your lifestyle—study for as long or as little as you’d like. And with our web platform plus iOS and Android apps, you can do it just about anywhere!