Is Brazilian Portuguese Hard to Learn?

Is Portuguese hard to learn for English speakers? As a Native English speaker with fluency in Brazilian Portuguese, I get this question asked all the time, from gringos who have recently arrived in Brazil to Brazilians themselves who are curious to see what learning their language is like from a foreigner’s perspective.

The idea of this post is to give you my honest opinion as someone who has learnt Portuguese as a second language from scratch so you can find out how hard Portuguese is to learn, which aspects make it easier than other languages, and which aspects make it more difficult. 

To sum things up quickly, Brazilian Portuguese is neither the easiest, nor most difficult language to learn, and there are some things that make it easier than other languages such as Spanish and French, and other things that make it harder. This article will delve into why.

Is Portuguese Hard to Learn? 4 Reasons Why It Is:

Portuguese has a sense of mystery around it as a language as it’s not easy to recognise and many people don’t know what it sounds like due to lack of exposure. For example, when I first heard Portuguese for the first time, I had no idea what language it was and actually thought it sounded like an Eastern European Language! There are few things that make portuguese tricky to learn, as you can see below:

1. Lack of Resources Compared to Other Languages

One of the most difficult things I found Brazilian Portuguese was the seemingly lack of courses, books and resources especially when compared to French and Spanish. As it’s a less popular language to learn, it makes sense why there isn’t, but nonetheless this is something that I found challenging. What makes this even tougher is that many resources are focused on European Portuguese, which is surprisingly different to Brazilian Portuguese – much more than, let’s say, British and American English. As well as having a very different pronunciation and slang, the grammar differs in many instances, which makes it tough.

2. Spoken Portuguese is Often Different to Written/What you learn in Books

Another thing that makes Brazilian Portuguese hard to learn is that the written language is actually very different to spoken Portuguese, with the former being much more casual than the latter. What this means is that even if you speak Portuguese fluently, writing well enough to do well in the professional world can be challenging. 

A few basic examples of this include ‘we’ which is ‘nós’ in written Portuguese, but is almost always replaced by ‘a gente’ in spoken portuguese. Another example is with pronouns, textbooks will teach you to use the article ‘lhe’ (to him) where in spoken Portuguese this would be replaced by ‘para ele’. There are countless examples of these, and I’ll go into this in more detail in another post. 

What makes this difficult is that most courses and books tend to teach more the written form whereas in reality people don’t speak like this. When your main goal is to speak the language with locals, then this approach isn’t the most effective and makes things more complicated than they need to be. 

3. Pronunciation

Brazilian Portuguese Pronunciation is difficult to nail down, and in my opinion, is noticeably harder than French or Spanish. 

First things first, the sheer number of different types of accents can be confusing, for example, with the letter a there is a, á, â, ã & à. 

The second thing that’s difficult is the nasal sounds. Sounds such as ‘ão’ ‘ões’, ‘ães’ & ‘ã’ can be really tough to get your head around and take time to get right. As well as this you’ve got the ‘lh’ and ‘nh’ sounds which are tough. 

On top of this, there are lots of letters that are pronounced not only different to English, but to Spanish as well, such as:

  • T – Before ‘i’ or ‘e’ the t has a ‘ch’ sound meaning  – example the number 20, Vinte is pronounced ‘vinchee’
  • D – pronounced as a ‘g’ before i’s and e’s – for example bom dia – is bom djia
  • R – pronounced as a ‘H’ at the beginning of the word as when there’s ‘rr’ (double r)

They even take English words and pronounce them in a different way. For example, Red Bull is pronounced ‘Hedgey Boo’! What all this means is that getting your head around the pronunciation takes some time to get right, and also makes it more difficult when listening to locals and trying to understand them, as words are pronounced differently to what you’d expect when seeing them written. 

4. Subjunctive Tenses & Personal Infinitive

The subjunctive tenses, which are commonly found in romance languages are difficult to get your head around and are even more difficult in Portuguese due to the fact there are subjunctive tenses in the present, past and future, all of which are regularly used in spoken Portuguese. This means that if you want to speak Portuguese well you need to learn how and when to use these. 

Another thing that’s difficult to get your head around is the personal infinitive, which is exclusive to Portuguese, and although it isn’t that hard to form, it’s difficult to know when to use at first.

Both the subjunctive moods and personal infinitive are tough to get your head around, but the truth is that many traditional language methods make these more complicated than they need to be so it’s important to find a method that explains this in a concise and practical way.

Is Portuguese hard to learn? 5 Reasons why it isn’t

Despite there being a few things that make Portuguese a hard language to learn, there are also a few things that make it easier than other languages, including the following:

1. Conjugations

The verb conjugations are easier than in many other languages including French and Spanish as there are only 3 different verb endings that are commonly used in spoken Brazilian Portuguese, which makes it much quicker to learn. Here’s an example with the verb ‘falar’ (to speak):

I speakEu Falo
You speakVoce fala
He/She speaksEle/Ela Fala
We speak A gente fala
They speakEles/Elas falam

As you can see, there are only 3 different endings, and this rule applies to all of the tenses, which makes learning verb conjugations noticeably easier than other languages such as French and Spanish which both have 6 different endings. 

2. Tenses – Past and Future

The future tense is easy in spoken Brazilian Portuguese when compared to other languages, due to the fact that they use the form ‘vou …(full verb)’ when referring to something in the near future as well as in the distant future. Here’s a example below:

Vou fazer isso amanhã – I’m going to do it tomorrow

Um dia vou fazer isso – One day I’ll do it

Whilst, the term ‘farei isso’ is also correct, you’ll rarely hear this is spoken Portuguese meaning that you only have to learn the one way of forming the future tense to speak well, which is easy to form.

The past is also relatively easy in the sense that both ‘i have done’ and ‘I did’ use the same form (preterite)

Eu fiz isso – i did it

Eu fiz isso – i have done it 

This makes it easier than Spanish where the perfect tense ‘i have done, he has been etc’ is used alongside the preterite on a regular basis. 

3. Similarity to Spanish and Other Romance Languages

Let’s be honest, if you already have some knowledge of Spanish or even French or Italian, learning Portuguese is going to be noticeably easier than if Portuguese is the first foreign language you’re learning. 

The reason for this is that the grammar is very similar in both Spanish and Portuguese, as well as the vocab, where 90% of the words share a lexical similarity. That being said, the languages do sound very different to each other when spoken and it’s easy to get confused between the two which is a challenge in itself.

When it comes to other Romance languages, whilst the vocab is noticeably different, the grammar shares many similarities, including things such as the subjunctive mood and reflexive verbs meaning that learning Portuguese becomes much easier. 

4. Levels of English Spoken Lower

One of the most difficult things about learning a language if you’re an English speaker is the fact that all over the world you’ll find people eager to practice English with you, as well as the fact that there are many places where you can get by on just knowing English. This, combined with the fact that speaking a foreign language is daunting at first and requires a strong mental effort, means that resisting the temptation to speak English can be hard, and in many instances it’s easier to give up learning the language and revert to English.

Luckily, In Brazil, this temptation is lower due to the fact that English is much less widely spoken here than in a lot of other countries, meaning that you’ll severely struggle to get by, integrate and make the most out of your experience of living in Brazil without learning Portuguese. This means that there’s all the more reason to learn the language and more opportunities to get out of your comfort zone when it comes to confronting your fear of interacting with locals, due to sheer necessity to get by here. 

If you’re in Brazil, and you’re still struggling to communicate with locals the way you’d like to, then please see our method for learning Brazilian Portuguese, a revolutionary, practical and time-efficient approach. 

5. Locals are Usually Friendly and Patient

One thing that helps massively about learning Portuguese is the fact that Brazilians are very encouraging towards any foreigner trying to learn their language and are generally very patient with your efforts, meaning that even if you make a few mistakes, which is inevitable, they’ll still be reassuring. 

This makes a huge difference when it comes to building confidence with learning the language, as you know that people will tend to be very positive towards your efforts, which can be a contrast to some other countries where locals may be impatient towards those who don’t speak their language. 

In fact, the truth is that many Brazilians aren’t used to hearing foreigners speaking Portuguese, meaning even if you speak just a little bit, they’ll be impressed, which is very encouraging if you’re struggling with confidence when speaking the language. 

Final Thoughts

As you can see above, there are a few things that make Portuguese a tricky language, whilst there are also a few things that make it easier than other languages. Overall, I’d say it’s not that much of a difficult language to learn as an English speaker, and if you know any other romance languages, you’ll have a head start. 

That being said, learning a language is never an easy task and requires the right method of learning to make decent progress, and there are lots of methods out there that are cost & time inefficient, not enjoyable and don’t address your fear of speaking and communicating with locals, which is by far the most important thing when moving to a new country. 

With this in mind, If you’re someone looking to learn Portuguese and like the idea of having a hands on approach that only requires 30-45 minutes a day to make solid progress and gain confidence speaking to locals, then we can help you out. If you’re interested in hearing more, please reach out to us through Whatsapp via the button in the bottom right hand corner. 

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