On the Road

Learning Portuguese

Portuguese is spoken in Portugal, Brazil and some African countries like Capo Verde, Angola and Madagasgar (the Portuguese weren’t quite as assiduous conquerors as their Spanish neighbours). As with Spanish it’s often barely recognizable from place to place but if people make the effort to speak slowly you’ll be understood with clear Portuguese in all the above countries.

Portuguese looks like Spanish on paper but the accent is quite diverse and, especially in Brazil, is spoken a lot slower with a gentle, melting rhythm that makes it ideal for song lyrics. The main pronunciation points to watch are:

o = ‘oo’ as in ‘cube’.

e = ‘e’ as in ‘bet’ at the beginning of a word but ‘ee’ as in ‘cheese’ at the end.

s = ‘sh’ at the end of a word, especially in Rio.

ao = ‘ow’ as in ‘how’.

ao(with an accent above it) = ‘ow’ but nasalized so much that it takes on a different sound. This is important when separating the words ‘bread’ and ‘penis’ which are otherwise spelt the same – leads to embarrassing scenes in the bakery.

Regional Portuguese

Portuguese spoken in Portugal follows more or less the same grammar as Spanish and is spoken with a closed mouth that makes it sound more like Russian. In Africa it’s again mixed with other native words and has taken on a life of its own. And in Brazil, whilst they write the same as everyone else, when they speak the grammar all reverses itself so instead of saying ‘I him saw’ (as is the order in correct Portuguese) they say ‘I saw he’ (dispensing with the indirect pronoun altogether for ‘him’, ‘her’ and them’.

Brazilian Portuguese also truncates estar to ‘tar’ and likewise for all its conjugations.

Brazilian Slang

‘ta bom – It’s good.

Belleza – Is life good? Sim, belleza! (literally means ‘beautiful’)

Legal – cool.

Massa – cool (north east Brazil)

Cara – guy (lit. ‘face’)

Alugar – to bore (lit. rent)

Que saco – how boring

Jeitinho – a way around things.

E ai – what’s up?

Dai? – so what?

Poupanca – ass. (literally means ‘savings account’ and it’s held that when a Brazilian girl runs out of money she just needs to shake her savings account and she’ll make good)

Bundao – gay (comes from ‘bunda’ meaning ‘ass’)

Porra! – Bloody hell! (lit. ‘sperm’)

Cacete – Like fuck it is. (lit. ‘penis’)

Gato/gata – hot guy/babe (lit. ‘cat)

Gatinho/gatinha – same thing as above but cuter.

Brazilian Portuguese also has the tendency to make diminuitive every word possible, including adjectives to the effect that a woman might go to the train counter and ask for ‘a little ticket for the trainy-wainy’.

Brazilian slang evolves by the day in the favelas and creates a linguistic gulf between the rich and poor that even the most assiduous linguist has trouble keeping up with.

BBC Portuguese lessons