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How Many People Speak Portuguese, And Where Is It Spoken?

Did you know that Portuguese is the most spoken language in South America? Read on for more facts and background about Portuguese.

By Y Yates

A Brief History Of Portuguese

Portuguese is a Romance language that developed over 2,000 years ago — in the 3rd century BCE — when the Romans arrived at the Iberian Peninsula, a European peninsula primarily comprised of modern-day Portugal and Spain. In 216 BCE, Roman soldiers arrived speaking Vulgar Latin, also called colloquial Latin, which is the form of spoken Latin from which all Romance languages evolved.

The Romans weren’t alone in their influence on Portuguese. During the collapse of the Roman Empire between 409 CE and 711 CE, the Iberian Peninsula was conquered by Germanic peoples who brought their languages to the region, but also adopted the Vulgar Latin dialects and culture. The Moorish invasion of 711 CE influenced both Spanish and Portuguese. Today, modern Portuguese has between 400 and 800 words of Arabic origin.

In 1143, Portugal was recognized as an independent kingdom. In 1290, the king of Portugal, Denis, created the first university in Lisbon and declared that the spoken language of Vulgar Latin be used and that it should be called Portuguese.

Modern Portuguese evolved from Galician-Portuguese or Old Portuguese, which is now two distinct languages, Galician and Portuguese. Even though they are two separate languages, Galician and Portuguese are similar, with some speakers describing the difference between them as akin to the difference between American and British English.

Where Is Portuguese Spoken?

Portuguese is an official language in ten countries, including Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Portugal, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Macau, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

During the Portuguese discoveries of the 15th and 16th centuries, the Portuguese language was brought to many regions in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Local officials and Europeans of all nationalities used Portuguese as a lingua franca (a common language) to facilitate communication. Portuguese was also used by Roman Catholic missionaries in Asia, and today there is a cultural presence of Portuguese in parts of India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia.

How Many People Speak Portuguese?

Portuguese is estimated to have between 215 and 220 million native speakers and 260 million total speakers. It’s the sixth most natively spoken language in the world and the second most spoken Romance language in the world, after Spanish.

Although they are the same language, there are some differences between the European Portuguese spoken in Portugal and Brazilian Portuguese. The one you decide to learn will depend on your individual goals and interests.

Brazil has the largest population of native speakers, with over 205 million Portuguese speakers. Mozambique and Angola both have around 25 million speakers, and Portugal has roughly 10 million speakers. To put that in perspective, the Brazilian city of São Paulo alone has a population of 12 million.

Are There Any English Words With Portuguese Origins?

The Portuguese language has influenced English, and there are many words in the English language with Portuguese origins, including banana, breeze, embarrass, and your favorite superfood, açai. The word cobra comes from cobra-de-capelo, meaning “snake with a hood,” and mosquito is a Portuguese word meaning “little fly.” Which seems like a mistranslation to be honest — couldn’t it at least be “extremely irritating little fly”?

Why Learn Portuguese?

“If you already know Spanish, Portuguese will be easier for you to learn,” says Vitor Shereiber, a project manager on the Didactics team at Babbel and a native Portuguese speaker from Brazil. Another reason to learn Portuguese is for a better travel experience. Planning an upcoming vacation to Brazil? Shereiber says that Brazilians don’t usually speak foreign languages, so if you speak Portuguese, it will make your trip easier.

“Brazilians are usually very welcoming and will be very excited about that,” he says. “That’s really good if you’re looking to learn the language— they will try to talk to you in Portuguese and you will have lots of people willing to help you.”

Although there are some regional differences, there are no Portuguese dialects in Brazil, he explains. That means that no matter where you go in the country, you’ll be able to understand everyone if you speak Portuguese.

If you’re interested in learning Portuguese, Shereiber says to try listening to Brazilian music.

“It’s a good way to learn. You can find something that you like, and it’s something you can talk about with Brazilians once you start to have more complex conversations.”

Some popular genres include bossa nova, which Shereiber adds is great for Portuguese beginners to listen to because the lyrics are often short and very simple. For more sophisticated lyrics, there’s “MPB,” which stands for Música Popular Brasileira. Finally, for musical genres that are commonly associated with the Brazilian celebration of Carnival, listen to axé , and samba.

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