Brazilian Portuguese Lessons: How to Get Started Online
It can be a huge challenge to find Brazilian Portuguese Lessons — be it on or offline. Most people do not even realize there is a big difference between the Portuguese they speak in Europe and the Brazilian version.
It does not go to the point where there is no mutual intelligibility, of course, or else it would not be the same language.
However, the differences are not as few as they seem at first. Let’s look at the main things that separate Brazilian Portuguese from European Portuguese.
Why Is There A Difference?
Unlike other Portuguese-speaking countries, Brazil was colonized a long, long time ago. It also regained its’ independence much longer ago than other territories. Most African varieties of Portuguese have a tighter connection to the Portuguese of Portugal because there were colonizers hanging around for longer and until more recently.
Brazil is not only separated by the Atlantic Ocean but it has also had years to develop independently.
During those years the language also changed although the formal writing remained almost the same. Brazilians were not talking to a whole lot of Europeans until recently (thanks to globalization) so it is only natural that the pronunciation and the phrases would change. Grammar and orthography, being more formal aspects of the language, remained the same.
What Influenced Brazilian Portuguese?
Let’s go back to when the Europeans first ‘discovered’ the New World.
The Americas were not there just waiting to be discovered and inhabited. There were already indigenous people and those indigenous people had their language develop in accordance with the environment in which they lived. Europeans did not have the words for a lot of plants and animals in America since it was the first time they even came across such things. Thus it is natural that the vocabulary for much of Brazil’s flora and fauna comes from indigenous languages, particularly the Tupi language.
When the Europeans brought slaves from Africa, their language also came into play. Modern day Brazilians have very rich and complex heritage. Some of their heritage is African and some of the vocabulary they use has been inherited from those distant African ancestors. Western African Yoruba words for food, religious concepts, disease and body parts, as well as music, are used to this day.
Later European and Asian immigrants also influenced the Portuguese of Brazil not to mention that with modern technology even more foreign words entered the Brazilian Portuguese lexicon. Words related to modern technology, especially informatics, are almost exclusively of English origin.
One particularly interesting influence is that of Italian. There are large immigrant communities of Italians in the Southern and Southeastern states of Brazil. Some of the population in these states even speaks Italian. However, almost everybody employs the very particular and recognizable Italian tone of voice and mannerisms, even when speaking Portuguese. The patterns of speech and intonation sound unlike those of Portuguese and it is because they are in fact Italian.
Since there were quite a few immigrants from Asia, particularly China and Japan, there is also a certain Chinese and Japanese influence on Brazilian Portuguese. This is usually visible in regional expressions and not so much in the accepted national variety.
Você and Tu
Perhaps the most recognizable difference between Brazilian and Portugal Portuguese is the use of você and tu. Both of them mean ‘you’, as in 2nd person singular you. In Portugal, people tend to use tu much more, while in Brazil you can hardly ever hear it. It will not be a mistake to use você in Portugal or tu in Brazil, of course, but you will immediately sound foreign.
There is a different conjugation for verbs depending on whether you use você or tu. The você conjugation is the same as the 3rd person conjugation (the one for him/her) and so it is not hard for a learner to get it right. If anything, it is the tu pronunciation that is more difficult for learners. So in fact, if you have started out with European Portuguese and you want to learn Brazilian, you have it much easier than the other way round.
While tu is sometimes used in Brazil, here is the peculiarity: they actually conjugate it as they would conjugate verbs after você! There is virtually no situation in Brazil where you would need the tu conjugation.
The gerund form of a verb is formed by a+infinitive in Portugal. For instance, if you are saying that you are speaking right now, this would be estou a falar in European Portuguese. In Brazil the preposition a is not necessary. Instead, a suffix is added to the verb, usually -ndo. And so ‘I am speaking’ in Brazilian Portuguese would be estou falando.
A general rule of thumb for Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation is to keep your mouth open. In Portugal, vowels tend to be pronounced in a more muffled manner. They are also usually shorter. Brazilians on the contrary, often elongate vowels and they also generally speak louder and more clearly. Consonants, especially s, are usually a bit more exaggerated in the European variety. A Portuguese person pronounces the s almost like [sh] as in shark. In Brazil and especially in Sao Paolo, they just say a regular [s] as in soup.
Since it takes quite a lot of practice to even get a native accent (be it Brazilian or Portuguese) you should not worry too much about pronunciation as a beginner. Whether you get Brazilian Portuguese lessons, or you stick with the more basic and common European Portuguese lessons, it will be long before anybody notices you speak in a more Brazilian or in a more Portuguese manner.
Vocabulary differences are more difficult to learn and get used to. The first thing to remember is that using the European equivalent is never wrong. Using Brazilian Portuguese words in Portugal is not wrong either. People will understand you so fine tuning your vocabulary to the continent so to speak, is not a matter of survival. It is rather a courtesy toward the people of the country in which you are staying.
Brazilian Portuguese vocabulary is best learned in context. I could give you a handy list of Brazilian words and phrases but I highly doubt that you will memorize them all. If anything, trying to make the distinction between Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese as a beginner can be confusing and counter-productive. Still, just for illustrative purposes, here are a few words that you will immediately notice to be different, some as soon as you land in Brazil:
A mobile phone is a celular in Brazil and in Portugal, it is a telemóvel. Your driver’s license is carteira de motorista in Brazil. In Portugal, it would be carta de condução. In Brazil, you will be asked for your cédula de identidade, ID card, at customs while in Portugal they will want to see your bilhete de identidade.
It is also worth noting that there is a lot of Brazilian TV in Portugal and much less Portuguese content in Brazil. For that reason, European Portuguese might get you slightly more confused looks from locals in Brazil than Brazilian Portuguese would in Portugal.
Brazilian Portuguese Lessons — Can They Even Exist?
Up until fairly recently, Brazilian Portuguese was regarded as ‘less than’ in comparison to European Portuguese. Schools and universities taught standard Portuguese even though it was not exactly the language of the students.
Brazilians showed much regard to how Portuguese was usually written in Europe and very little to how it was spoken there. As is typical of the spoken language, it changed rapidly even as European Portuguese was imposed to be the ‘correct‘ Portuguese.
Thanks to the 20th-century Brazilian nationalist movement in literature some changes were introduced in the written language too, to reflect the true Brazilian Portuguese.
These are limited, however, because pretty soon after those events, agreements were made to preserve at least the written unity of all Portuguese varieties. Today differences between written Brazilian and European Portuguese are about the same amount of differences between American and British English. The true distinction can only be made in pronunciation and in preferred phrases and grammatical structures.
Because language lessons are typically oriented toward giving you a good basic understanding of the written language first, it is difficult to find Brazilian Portuguese lessons as a beginner. Your best bet would be to get a Portuguese course that focuses on speaking and then to build your knowledge of the Brazilian variety as you go.
The Rocket Languages Portuguese course is one such option. It does not burden you with excessive grammar but rather it focuses on spoken interaction. You will get a head start on spoken Portuguese which will allow you to quickly progress into exploring the Brazilian variety!