How To Tell The Difference Between European And Brazilian Portuguese

Portuguese in Brazil and Portugal

Today we have a guest post from Lucia Leite who runs a blog called Lingholic.

Lucia’s from Portugal herself and in this post she’ll share some interesting info on some of the differences between the Portuguese varieties spoken in Portugal and Brazil.

Over to you, Lucia.


Portuguese and Brazilians do not agree on many things and their conversations are always full of discussions.

For example, who makes the best feijoada (a black bean and pork dish) or if brigadeiro is better than Portuguese custard tarts (come on guys, just try them both! They are delicious). However, there’s one thing the residents of both countries agree on; the Portuguese spoken in Brazil is completely different from the one spoken in Portugal.

Many Portuguese learners freak out when they start noticing those differences.

Some of them even wonder if they will be able to communicate in both countries after years of a language course. It might sound scary and it will be at first sight but once you get used to the differences, the understanding will be much easier.

Though Brazil and Portugal share the greater part of the language, there are many variations in both spoken and written.

Those variations can be found in many other languages, such as Spanish and English, but in Portuguese they reach a higher level.


Can Portuguese and Brazilians understand each other?

This is one of the most common questions made by any Portuguese learner.

The first thing to point out is that despite all the differences, there is no doubt that most Portuguese and Brazilians understand each other well.

While some Brazilians still find it a bit hard to understand the Portuguese spoken in Portugal, Portuguese people are used to the Brazilian accent due to exposure through Brazilian soap operas (who does not love them?), which are really popular in Portugal.

Another very common question is how the Brazilian Portuguese became so different from the one from Portugal and why the same thing did not happen with other Portuguese speaking countries spread around the world.


Why there are so many differences between Brazilian Portuguese and the one spoken in Portugal

There is a concept created by the American linguist Albert Marckwardt called Colonial Lag that explains for some people how the Portuguese spoken in Brazil and the one spoken in Portugal have become so different over time.

Colonial Lag is the hypothesis that colonial varieties of a language (such as Brazilian Portuguese) change less than the variety spoken in the mother country (Portugal).

It is often said that colonies follow the linguistic advances of the mother country with some delay especially because of the geographical distance.

Portuguese was established as the official language in Brazil only in 1758, even though the colonization started in the 16th century. By that time, the contact with the indigenous people and slaves had changed the spoken Portuguese in Brazil.

In the XIX century, some more changes occurred in the language due to the contact with European and Asian immigrants.

The other countries that were colonized by Portugal speak a Portuguese more similar to the mother language.

There are two main explanations for that: the first one is that since most of them are African countries, they did not have much external contact from other cultures that could have adapted their way to speak. The second reason is that compared to Brazil, those countries reached their independence much later (Angola became independent in 1975) and therefore they had much more contact with Portugal and its people during their historical development.

Now that you know how the Brazilian Portuguese became so different from the Portuguese from Portugal, let’s look at these differences and how to notice them.


Differences in the pronunciation between the Portuguese varieties

Perhaps pronunciation is the main difference between the languages spoken in both countries.

While Brazilians speak sounding the vowels longer and wider, Portuguese pronounce the words with a more closed mouth and not pronouncing the vowels so much. That is definitely the hardest part for the Portuguese speakers especially for Brazilians because they do not have much contact with the Portuguese from Portugal.

In addition to the mouth and pronunciation of the vowels, there is the pronunciation of some consonants that’s also different, especially the S at the end of a word. In Brazilian Portuguese, an S at the end of a word is pronounced as SS but in Portugal, it is pronounced as SH.

Let’s use the word dois (two) as an example.

In Brazil, this world would be pronounced ‘doiss’ but in Portugal, it would be pronounced ‘doish’. Since Brazil is such a big country, the accent can change from north to south and specifically in Rio de Janeiro and in cities in the northeast, the pronunciation of the S is similar to the one in Portugal.