The English language is known to have the highest number of speakers globally approximating 1.1 billion which is about 15% of the world’s population. Although Portuguese currently has no place in the top five languages, it remains a fascinating language to learn. Here are some major reasons you should consider learning a foreign language like Portuguese:
- Portuguese remains a widely spoken language globally with approximately 250 million native speakers and 24 million L2 speakers.
- The language belongs to the Romance family of languages alongside French, Romanian, Spanish, and Italian. Because they belong to the same language family, knowing one simplifies the language learning process of the remaining.
- Portuguese has an 89% lexical similarity with Spanish, thus increasing mutual intelligibility between a Portuguese speaker and a Spanish speaker.
- Learning Portuguese before visiting a lusophone country (Portuguese-speaking country) will make your vacation splendid. Lusophone countries include Brazil, Portugal, Cape-Verde, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Sao Tome, and Angola.
- Having a foreign language on your curriculum vitae increases your employability prospects. In Nigeria, for instance, Portuguese isn’t as widely taught as English. Hence, having both languages in your CV would open more doors.
If you’ve decided to add Portuguese to your language repertoire, then buckle up because the journey to fluency is amazing but arduous. You should realise from the outset that learning Portuguese as an L2 speaker is challenging and here are some reasons why:
Inanimate Objects are Assigned Genders
As an English speaker, you’re aware that inanimate objects are assigned the pronoun for neuter gender. Also, only figurative expressions in Literature employ the use of grammatical gender for inanimate objects. While learning Portuguese as an English native or L2 speaker, however, you must adjust to the Portuguese rule that all nouns are assigned gender. For French and Spanish speakers, gender placement isn’t always the same. For example, the gender assigned to 'tree' (árvore) in Portuguese is feminine while the masculine gender is assigned in Spanish (árbol).
Brazilian Portuguese vs European Portuguese
If you’re a beginner, you should know that there are variants of the Portuguese language and they are European Portuguese, African Portuguese, and Brazilian Portuguese. These variants often cause pronunciation issues for learners because while European Portuguese pronunciation is stress-timed, the Brazilian variant is syllable-timed. Just like British and American English, certain words in European Portuguese differ in meaning from their Brazilian variant.
If you wish to speak Portuguese, then you should know that pronouncing Portuguese words is more difficult than articulating Spanish words. In the Spanish language, words are written how they are pronounced, unlike Portuguese. Consonants, for instance, can be sometimes confusing e.g. the letter “R” in Portuguese is pronounced as /h/.
Once you are aware of the aforementioned difficulties, adapting to the rules should be easy.
Portuguese Language Basics – Beginning with the Alphabet
Starting with pronunciation as a learner isn’t advisable. This is because a thorough understanding and mastery of the alphabet should be your aim. While the alphabet may sound elementary and non-motivating to an over-ambitious and zealous learner, this foundational knowledge would set you for greatness.
Do you remember starting English classes at a tender age by writing the 26 letters of the language? If so, you’ll know that without mastering the letters, you can’t form words; without words, you’ll be unable to pronounce words accurately. Portuguese and English language share the same 26 letters in their respective alphabet. Initially, Portuguese excluded the letters K, W, and Y for being foreign. By 2009, they were incorporated into the alphabet, thereby making the letters 26.
Being an English speaker, it may be reassuring to know that there are no new letters to learn. While this might be a relief, know that sounds are pronounced differently from words. This is because Portuguese, like English, is a phonemic language whose words are spelt differently from how they are pronounced.
Take the following English words for instance:
Although there are only a few similarities in the English and Portuguese languages, L2 speakers of Portuguese struggle with articulating Portuguese sounds correctly. Below are some tips on how to better articulate your sounds and improve pronunciation.
Want to Learn How to Speak Portuguese Fluently?
As discussed earlier, your journey to attaining Portuguese fluency begins with the mastery of the alphabet and how diphthongs are pronounced. Some common diphthongs include the following:
- /õe/; and
Learning how to pronounce the sounds alone isn’t going to make you a fluent speaker but constant practise would. This is because, without constant practice, you would lose touch with the sounds and how to pronounce them.
As a child, you learn your native language easily and quickly because the hemisphere responsible for language learning is still very plastic. But as you age, you discover that learning a new language is somewhat difficult as you have to master words, tweak your speech organs to match the new language and deal with accent issues. Don’t bother too much about how your accent affects how you pronounce foreign words because it’s normal with L2 speakers. The linguistic terminology used for this is interference. Here are tips on how to speak Portuguese fluently:
Shadow Native Podcasts
Shadowing is the process of repeating utterances while the speaker is articulating them. More simply, picture your shadow following you during movement. Your aim with this technique is to copy the pronunciation, tone, pitch, and speech rate of the speaker. Podcasts improve your auditory skill, as well as, eliminate distraction from visual cues. In addition to listening to how words are pronounced, you can attempt transcribing the speech for additional writing and listening practice.
Have Frequent Conversations with Native Portuguese Speakers
What better way to learn a language than from an L1 speaker himself. First, determine the Portuguese variant you wish to learn and surround yourself with its speakers. If you’re learning Brazilian Portuguese for instance, having frequent conversations with a European Portuguese can affect or completely change how you speak. If you’re learning a stress-timed language like European Portuguese, you don’t want to copy the pace, pronunciation, or pitch of a syllable-timed Brazilian Portuguese speaker.
Don’t Speak Very Fast
Like the English language that has stress-timed rhythm, European Portuguese sounds are often reduced to the schwa sound or deleted completely, thus speeding up utterances. While a native speaker does this effortlessly, it’s difficult for an L2 speaker to stress and unstress sounds correctly while speaking. So, take your time while pronouncing words as this will make it less difficult for a native speaker to hear you. Mincing and rushing your words is a bad speaking habit. The first example shows where two sounds are reduced to schwa and the second shows where schwa is deleted:
Orinda - /ər'in-də/
memory - /memri/ - Ø
Pick up any Portuguese text, be it a magazine, novel, or whatever book, and read it out loud. Read daily to improve how to speak. By reading different genres, you’ll get used to Portuguese stylistics, from formal newspaper articles to the slangy and vulgar dialogue of a pop-fiction novel.
More Tips? Here You Go
If you think Portuguese is easy to learn, try pronouncing the following words:
It’s a known fact that Portuguese is not easy to learn and a major difficulty L2 speakers have is with its pronunciation. The reason for the difficulty in pronunciation is the phonemic nature of the language; its words are pronounced differently from how they are spelt. Thus, for a non-native speaker to pronounce Portuguese words fluently, s/he must know the acceptable letter combinations and have an understanding of the rhythmic nature of the language. While European Portuguese has a stress-timed rhythm, Brazilian Portuguese has a syllable-timed rhythm.
Furthermore, paying attention to how a native speaker articulates his words is very effective as well. Having a native Portuguese as a friend will put you light years ahead of any other average learner out there. S/he would call your attention to poor pronunciations and you’ll learn faster by mimicking them.
You would only learn by making mistakes, so don’t fret or feel ashamed when you pronounce words wrongly despite countless attempts. Show me one good drawing by an artist and I’ll show you a couple of bad ones in his closet. Aiming for perfection is good, but recall that humans always make mistakes. Believe in yourself and don’t give up.
If you don’t have a native Portuguese speaking friend who can teach you often, you should consider hiring a professional Portuguese tutor from Superprof. With a Portuguese tutor to guide your learning, you’ll take reading, writing, speaking, and listening lessons that would improve your language proficiency.
You may also discover that employing a Portuguese tutor might further motivate you to learn the language. Use the filter and search commands to find tutors offering remote Portuguese lessons. The commendable thing about Superprof is the number of language tutors on the platform, so whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or native learner, there are pro tutors capable of improving your competence level.