Languages in Portugal

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Languages in Portugal

The official language of Portugal is Portuguese. Portuguese is today one of the world's major languages, ranked 6th according to number of native speakers (approximately 240 million). It is the language with the largest number of speakers in South America, spoken by almost all of Brazil's population. It is also the official language in Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor and Macau.

Portuguese is a Romance Language. Although it may be mutually intelligible with Spanish to a wide extent, with about 90% of lexical similarity (both in vocabulary and grammar), it is far from identical. Portuguese are proud people and are uneasy when foreigners from non-Spanish speaking countries speak that language when traveling in Portugal. While many words may be spelled almost the same as in Spanish (or Italian), the pronunciation differs considerably. This is because Portuguese has several sounds not present in those languages. Spanish is widely understood, but it's not always the best language to use unless you're from a Spanish-speaking country.

It is also worth mentioning that pronunciation in Portugal differs significantly from that in Brazil. The difference is basically in pronunciation and a few vocabulary differences, which make it tricky even for Brazilians to understand the European Portuguese accent, although not vice versa because Brazilian pop culture (soap opera and pop music, for instance) is very popular in Portugal. Nevertheless, the current media has made these difficulties in understanding each other's accent irrelevant.

English is spoken in many tourist areas, but it is far from ubiquitous. Portuguese youths are taught English in school, and are also exposed to American and British films and television shows with the original English soundtrack and Portuguese subtitles, so while shy, most younger people would have at least a basic grasp of English. To improve your chances of being understood, speak slowly and stick to simple phrases. In fact, you are very likely to find more English spoken in Portugal than in the likes of Spain or France. In the main tourist areas you will almost always find someone who can speak the main European languages. Hotel personnel are required to speak English, even if sketchily. French has almost disappeared as a second language, except possibly among older people. German or Italian speakers are rare. Approximately 32% of Portuguese people can speak and understand English, while 24% can speak and understand French. Despite Spanish being mutually intelligible in a sense that most Portuguese understand it written and/or spoken, only 9% of the Portuguese population can speak it fluently. If you're a Spanish speaker, chances are you'll understand each other very well without an interpreter for the most part.

Portuguese people are of generally excellent humor when they are talking with someone who cannot speak their language. This means that all types of shop owners, sales-folk, and people curious about you will take time to try to carve out any means of communication, often with funny and unexpected results. Helping a foreigner is considered a pleasant and rewarding occasion and experience. If you attempt to speak correct Portuguese, especially if slightly beyond the trivial, with locals, you will be treated with respect and often the locals will apologize for how "difficult" it is to learn Portuguese, or how "hard" the language is, and will almost adopt you. This might encourage travelers to learn the very basics of Portuguese, such as daily greetings and the routine "please-thank you" exchanges.

In Miranda do Douro, a town in the North East, and its vicinity some people speak a regional language called Mirandese, in addition to Portuguese, although rarely in front of people they do not know.

Foreign television programmes are almost always shown in their original language with subtitles. Only children's programmes are dubbed into Portuguese.

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