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

7 foreigners from 7 countries tried their best to pronounce tricky Portuguese words. See how they got on, and pick up some useful pronunciation tips.
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Interest in Brazil and the Portuguese language has skyrocketed over the past few years. With major events such as the 2014 World Cup and the Games taking place in Brazil this summer, more people than ever before are either learning Portuguese, or simply trying to get to know more about the 6th largest language in the world (in terms of native speakers).

In the video above, 7 non-native Portuguese speakers from 7 different countries (some already fluent in Portuguese, others not so much) give everything they’ve got to pronounce some tricky words in Portuguese.

Think you could do better? To help you master the art of Portuguese pronunciation, here are a few tips on conquering those pesky tongue-twisting Portuguese words.

1. Exceção (exception)

xc – The letter “x” can be a big problem for people learning Portuguese. There are 5 different ways of pronouncing it, and the rules governing when to use each pronunciation have so many exceptions that it’s better not to bother. We recommend consulting a dictionary with phonetic transcriptions. For example, when “x” is combined with “c,” it sounds like “s” as in “soap.”

ç – This symbol under the “c” is called 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 an “s” as 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 tilde (also “til” in Portuguese), and indicates that the vowel is pronounced nasally.


2. Amanhã (tomorrow)

nh – Another sound with no real equivalent in English, it is pronounced in a similar way as “ny” in “Enya.”

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


3. Lagartixa (tropical house gecko)

x – As explained above, the “x” in Portuguese can be pronounced in 5 different ways. Here, it is pronounced in the same way as the “sh” in “shocked.”


4. Trocadilho (word pun)

lh – The “h” after the “l” is pronounced like a very short “i.”


5. Cabeleireiro (hairdresser)

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”. Say repeatedly “dadadada.” The “d” becomes softer and softer until you naturally start hearing “dadararara.” Ta-da!


6. Paralelepípedo (paving stone, parallelepiped)

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)

The main issue 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 “g” in “gigolo” and the “sh” in “she.” This soft “g” is also similar to the way the “s” is pronounced in “unusual.”

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