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How To Speak Portuguese

How to speak Portuguese fast with Babbel
Learning Portuguese is not as much of a time commitment (and not as hard) as you might think. With Babbel, learning Portuguese online is easy, intuitive and under your control: learn at your own pace, choose the lessons you want, and review and practice vocabulary on the go. Portuguese and English share Latin roots and thousands of words in common. Although mastering the very different accent and pronunciation can be difficult at first, Babbel’s online courses and mobile apps include speech recognition so you can quickly become comfortable with speaking. Read the guide below and then test your skills with a free Portuguese lesson.

History of the Language

Portuguese is one of the five main Romance languages – along with Spanish, Italian, French and Romanian. The term Romance has nothing to do with how romantic the Portuguese or Brazilians are (although they do have their reputation), but instead refers to the Latin phrase “romanica loqui”, meaning "to speak in Roman fashion.” When Latin speakers first began settling in the far corners of the Roman empire, their language collided with indigenous languages and the resulting mix formed new Latin dialects. When the Roman empire was in decline and Rome finally lost control over the provinces, these dialects finally diverged into distinct languages.

Since its humble origin as a provincial dialect of Latin, Portuguese has developed into a global language, officially spoken in 9 countries on four continents. Beginning in the 16th century, explorers and merchants left Portugal to expand their empire’s reach, bringing their language to new colonies far from Europe. In the same way that Portuguese first emerged from Latin, distinct Portuguese dialects are now spoken around the globe: most notably in Brazil, but also in Mozambique and Angola. Portuguese is also spoken by communities in North America, Uruguay and Paraguay, India, China, Indonesia and Australia.

Why Babbel Teaches Brazilian Portuguese

After English and Spanish, Portuguese is the fastest-growing European language. When it came to deciding which version of Portuguese to teach, we looked at the numbers. Of the 240 million people worldwide who speak Portuguese, 200 million are in Brazil and only 10 million are in Portugal (most of the rest live in Mozambique and Angola). Brazil has the most powerful economy in South America and is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Any economic forecaster discussing the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) would agree that Brazil is rapidly becoming a land of opportunity. For these reasons, Brazilian Portuguese has become the standard for anyone wanting to learn how to speak Portuguese. Start learning with Babbel and join the 240 million people around the world who speak Portuguese fluently as their native or second language.

Commonality with English

English is historically a Germanic language, but, because it borrows more than half of its vocabulary from French and Latin, it is very close to a Romance language in practice. As a result, English and Portuguese share thousands of “true friends”: words that sound the similar and have the same meaning. There are the obvious transplants like bossa nova, samba and marimba, but you might be surprised to learn that thousands of ordinary English words come from Portuguese: the verb “embarrass” comes from the Portuguese embaraçar (to become entangled), “baroque” comes from the adjective barocco (unshapely) and “monsoon” comes from the Portuguese manção. Many English words for tropical plants and animals are also plucked directly from Portuguese: açaí, banana, carnauba, cashew, cobra, coconut, flamingo, jaguar, macaw, mango, mangrove and piranha.

Pronunciation and Grammar

Pronunciation is the biggest difference between Portuguese words and their English cousins. For beginners trying to learn Portuguese, correctly pronouncing words can be a significant challenge. You can probably guess the meaning of Portuguese words like paciência, cominição and visionário because they look like English words with the same meaning – but what about all those accent marks and squiggly lines? They can make the written language seem daunting at first, but spelling rules are actually more consistent than English. Once you recognize the accent marks it becomes much easier to pronounce words you’ve never seen or heard before. With the help of Babbel’s speech recognition feature you will be able to practice your accent and help ensure that your Portuguese is understandable.

Portuguese grammar may at first seem strange to an English-speaker, but its rules are actually easier and less irregular than English grammar. Once you have a handle on Portuguese grammar, the rules are effectively unchanged for Spanish, Italian and French. Since they are all derived from Latin, the Romance languages have several grammatical rules in common: adjectives come after the noun they modify, all verbs are conjugated, the subject-verb order is inverted when asking a question, and all nouns have a gender designation. Being familiar with one Romance language will allow you to pick up others more easily.

Ways to Learn Portuguese

Although only 15 million people speak Portuguese as a second language, it is the most widely-spoken language in the southern hemisphere. If you plan to spend time in Brazil, Portugal or parts of southern Africa, learning Portuguese is an absolute necessity. There are several options available when learning how to speak Portuguese: hiring a private tutor, enrolling in a language course (in school or online), studying alone with a CD-ROM or audio course, joining an exchange program, or practicing conversational Portuguese with a native speaker (a so-called tandem partner). All of these strategies can be effective, although some (tutors and CD-ROMS) can be expensive, while classes and exchange programs are also a huge time commitment. The fastest way to pick up Portuguese – and the biggest commitment by far – is still immersion. Moving to a Portuguese-speaking country requires you to pick up the language in order to live day-to-day. This survival pressure usually produces fluency within a few months. If you do plan to immerse yourself in Portuguese, it’s not a bad idea to prepare beforehand with one of the methods mentioned above. If you don’t have much spare time, an online program like Babbel may be your best bet.

Learn Portuguese the Babbel Way

Babbel’s Portuguese course is affordable, accessible online and via mobile devices, and proven to strengthen your reading, listening, speaking and comprehension skills. As a Babbel user, you have access to a diverse program of grammar, conjugation, pronunciation, listening comprehension and writing exercises. You can practice online or via your iPhone or Android device. Whether you are too busy for a language class, a complete beginner, needing to brush up before a vacation or business trip, or wanting to re-learn everything you forgot in high school, Babbel can be customized to your needs.

Try your first Portuguese lesson for free and discover Babbel’s easy and intuitive course system which determines your individual level and accommodates different learning styles. You can learn at your own pace, set your own lesson plans and receive helpful hints whenever you need them. You will also be joining an entire community of learners. Babbel users can easily share questions, experiences and advice via message boards and chat, and the Babbel support team is always only a message away.