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European or Brazilian Portuguese – Which Dialect Should You Learn?

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So, you want to learn to speak Portuguese?

Well, the first question after that is, WHICH Portuguese?  You have a choice of the Portuguese they speak in Brazil and the Portuguese they speak in Portugal (which is where the language first started).

The reason for this, if you don’t already know, is that in the age of “Europe exploring the world and colonizing the landmasses it found,” Portugal was one of the important players of the game. Brazil became a Portuguese colony (and, in that way, became the Brazil we know today) on the 22nd of April, 1500. As with Christopher Columbus thinking he’d gotten to India and calling the American Natives “Indians,” the 2nd Portuguese India Armada was headed to India – and landed in Brazil by accident.

However, the Portuguese knew a good thing when they found it and turned that accident into a very lucrative colonization. Brazil was colonized by the Portuguese until the 7th of September, 1822, which is now celebrated as Brazil’s Independence Day. (This is skipping a huge amount of fascinating history, of course.)

Which Portuguese Dialect Should You Learn?

All of which leads to – you want to learn to speak Portuguese, but which Portuguese language do you want to learn? Portuguese is spoken in Portugal, Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Macau, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

The largest of those countries is Brazil, and their form of Portuguese is now returning to Portugal and influencing the language in the home of their former colonists through Brazil’s catchy music and addictive soap operas.

The Portuguese spoken in Brazil versus the Portuguese spoken in Portugal can be compared to the differences between American and British English. There are some differences in vocabulary and grammar, but the phonology and prosody are much more different from each other (even more than the Parisian and Québécois varieties of French).

So, it does matter which Portuguese-speaking country you go to when you decide to learn the language!

Learn to Speak Portuguese with Pimsleur

This is very much on my mind because I’m the co-writer of the newest version of Pimsleur’s Brazilian Portuguese I. I’ve had to do all this research while working on the program. I would say that I was happy to get the Brazilian form of the language – because who doesn’t like long walks on perfect beaches, watching sunsets on those beaches with a caipirinha (Brazil’s national cocktail) in hand, and of course, partying the hot Rio nights away during Carnaval! (This is not to neglect their world-class museums, of course, and many people think “Brazil” and then think “football” – or soccer! – as their very next thought.)

I jokingly tell friends that Portuguese is the “language of cats” because, mostly, of the word for “no” – which is “não” – and which is pronounced very much like the “meow” my family’s cat speaks with some regularity. Unfortunately, this has not let me in on the secret communications of felines, but I wonder if cats don’t understand Portuguese speakers better than English speakers. (Not that they won’t ignore either if the mood suits them.)

But, seriously, Brazilian Portuguese has a flow and music, which is a pleasure to hear. It is no wonder that Brazilians create such excellent music because they are halfway to singing already in just their regular chit-chat. And there is another reason to learn to speak Portuguese!

My Favorite Portuguese Words from the Pimsleur Course

Two of my favorite words from the course include the “-zinho” diminutive ending. The cafezinho is a traditional Brazilian cup of coffee, similar to Italian espresso. It literally means “a little coffee,” a small, sweet, and intense shot of caffeine. It was offered to guests at business meetings and at regular intervals throughout the day. Sadly, the proliferation of Italian-style cafés has endangered this indigenous tradition, and in the bigger cities of Brazil, you have to specifically ask to get the traditional cafezinho. Still, I think it is worth trying if you visit Brazil.

Not unrelated is tchauzinho, which literally means “little goodbye.” It’s a casual, “Bye!” or “Laters!” sort of leave-taking. But I think it is a good word to sum up Brazilian Portuguese, a friendly language, and the exuberance of the culture is expressed by all the words, which are so much fun to say. It’s a pleasure to listen to – and a pleasure to speak.

So, if you are going to Brazil, take a Brazilian Portuguese course to learn to speak the right sort of Portuguese. However, Pimsleur also offers a European Portuguese course if you visit Portugal.

Either way, I hope you have fun as you learn to speak Portuguese!