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7 Portuguese Words You’ll Struggle To Pronounce (If You’re Not Brazilian)

Learn Portuguese pronunciation by jumping into the deep end.
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Portuguese pronunciation is tough. Really, pronouncing any language you’re not native to can be tricky. With Portuguese, you have the advantage that the alphabet is almost the same, but it’s also just different enough to trip you up.

Fortunately, you’re not alone. You can see in the video above seven different non-native speakers struggling with seven tricky Portuguese terms. If you want to do better them, good news! We’ve put together a guide to the seven words, focusing on the trickiest letters and letter combinations. We also have audio of each word as said by a native speaker. You’ll be saying them confidently in no time.

1. Exceção (exception)

Listen To The Pronunciation

xc — The letter “x” can be a big problem for people learning Portuguese. There are five different ways of pronouncing it, and the rules governing when to use each pronunciation have so many exceptions that it’s sometimes better not to bother. For the surest results, we recommend consulting a dictionary with phonetic transcriptions. In this word, the X is combined with C, so it sounds like the “s” in “soap.”

ç — This symbol under the C is called a cedilla (or cedilha, in Portuguese) and it changes the way the C is pronounced in languages like Portuguese, French and Catalan. In some languages, like Turkish and Kurdish, it exists as a proper letter in its own right — the “Ꝣ.” In Portuguese, it’s pronounced like the “s” in “Saturday.”

ão — This one is a real nightmare for non-native Portuguese speakers. There is no exact match for it in the English language, but if you think of “oun” being spoken in a very nasal way you’re getting close. The symbol on top of the A is called a tilde (also til in Portuguese), and indicates that the vowel is pronounced nasally.

2. Amanhã (tomorrow)

Listen To The Pronunciation

nh — Another sound in Portuguese pronunciation with no real equivalent in English, it is pronounced somewhat like the “ny” in “Enya.”

ã — Also pronounced nasally, this is somewhat similar to “an.”

3. Lagartixa (tropical house gecko)

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x — As explained above, the X in Portuguese can be pronounced in 5 different ways. Here, it is pronounced in like the “sh” in “shocked.”

4. Trocadilho (word pun)

Listen To The Pronunciation

lh — The H after the L is pronounced like a very short “i.”

5. Cabeleireiro (hairdresser)

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ei — Pronounced like the “ay” in “lay.” This sound is repeated for both the “lei” and “rei” parts of this word.

r — When placed between two vowels, the R makes a sound similar to a “d” in English. If you’re having trouble with the sound, try going “dadadada” over and over. The “d” sound should naturally soften until you start hearing “dadararara.” Ta-da!

6. Paralelepípedo (paving stone, parallelepiped)

Listen To The Pronunciation

It may have simple phonemes, but the real difficulty of this word lies in its repeated switching of vowels and consonants. The stressed syllable, as the acute accent indicates, is on “pí.”

7. Otorrinolaringologista (otolaryngologist)

Listen To The Pronunciation

The main issue of Portuguese pronunciation here of course is the size of the word, but let’s take a look at a few of the sounds in particular.

rr — Pronounced the same way as the “h” in “house,” this rule also applies to a single “r” if it’s placed at the beginning of a word. So, if you’d like to pronounce the name of the host city of the 2016 Olympics like an authentic Brazilian, you should say something like “Hio de Janeido.”

go — When placed before the vowels O, A and U, the G in Portuguese sounds like the “g” in the words “gorilla,” “garlic” and “gun.”

gi – When it comes before the vowels E and I, the “g” has a sound that can be described as something between the first “g” in “gigolo” and the “sh” in “she.” This soft G is also similar to the way the “s” is pronounced in “unusual.”

Want to improve your Portuguese pronunciation?