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June 08, 2009





Wow! What a great post!
I find that I can only concentrate really on either speaking Spanish or Portuguese. I can not talk to a friend in Mexico on the phone, and then call someone in Brazil right after. Often times, I wish the languages had more distinct differences so I would not always be mixing them up.
Thanks for the great insight into these 2 languages!


This is an excellent and entertaining post and it offers solid examples of how Portuguese and Spanish are different, and also of how those differences can be glaring. As a native Brazilian who studied Spanish for 4 years in high school and for a few in college, and who has further enhanced his command of Spanish by reading Spanish-language online newspapers almost daily for several years, I would qualify myself not as fluent but as pretty close.

Phonology is key when comparing both languages. In my experience and in those of other Brazilians, we who speak Portuguese can usually understand most of what a speaker of Spanish says, barring the use of regional slangs. I’ve been told by Argentines and Colombians that they can barely understand spoken Portuguese, although they have also said that written Portuguese is entirely intelligible to them.

There are some other funny false synonyms. “Embaraçada” means embarrassed in Portuguese, but its Spanish equivalent, “embarazada,” means pregnant.

But I must also say that the everyday spoken Spanish of any Hispanic nation, whether Spain, Mexico, or Chile, can be difficult for Brazilians to understand. Hispanics often speak fast, and because they often use phrases whose structures differ from those seen in Brazilian Portuguese, it’s not uncommon for Brazilians to get confused. I have been to Argentina and while I was able to communicate without problems thanks to my Spanish, I’ve also been some Argentines whose use of slangs and idioms confused me, even though I knew what they literally meant.

In short, there is no language easier to learn for Brazilians than Spanish and there is nothing easier for Spanish speakers to learn than Portuguese. But a traditional course w/ textbooks, a focus on grammar and vocabulary, and lots of conversational practice and even immersion will make the learning even easier, and much more enjoyable.

Caique Mateus

I had my share of experiences like this too.

We had a lady from Argentina in late 80,early 90 that bought ALL her furniture in Brazil bargaining with sales people saying: "Por menos de 15%, yo no transo contigo". She WANTED to say: "If you don't give me at least 15% discount, I won't do business with you". But instead, she was saying: "If you don't give me at least 15% discuont, I won't make sex with you".

Actually, if you look at it at the dictionary, "transar" does mean "to negociate". But is also slang for "make sex".


I have the same problem as Maris. I cannot speak French then go to Spanish class I start pronouncing certain things a french way like "tr"
And my Portuguese.. oh let's not go there D:
And English.. my family has some peculiar phrases that my Brazilian boyfriend has picked up on. Currently his favorite one is "glass fart and a hammer to crack it with" as in..
"what are you getting for so and so?"
"a glass fart and a hammer to crack it with."
And recently I found a translation book that said "English-Australian/Australian-English" in a bookstore, and nearly died laughing.
Basically, great post!It is the little things that will hurt you the most, like preposition uses (if my bf doesn't know what preposition to use it's just "on") and differences in the usage of certain tenses. French imperfect has very different rules from Spanish and my bf can't even remember the rules for Portuguese to tell me XD


This was an interesting post Tiago. In the last paragraph it seems like you've interjected that we shouldn't judge which language is better but rather appreciate each language for the unique qualities that it possesses.

Do you think that this same logic applies to dialects within a language? I learned Spanish in Uruguay just because that is where my high school offered a direct exchange program. I've since been to many Spanish speaking countries including Colombia and have met many Colombians and Spanish speakers/students. In many circles I've noticed that Colombian Spanish always comes up as the most "educated" Spanish of Latin America, with Costa Rica coming in second. I feel like the people I've spoken with, the movies I've seen, and the novels and poetry I've read affirm this. Does anyone think I'm way off base here? Just curious.

Similarly, is there a version of Portuguese that is considered the "best?" I would vote that Portuguese from Rio is the best but that is based purely on personal bias and love for the city. I have however, noticed that paulistas and cariocas seem to make fun of each other's accents even more than we do between regions here in the U.S.

On a slightly different note, I also noticed that a lot of English students in Brazil were obligated to learn Spanish as well and really looked down on the language with much disdain, calling it "ugly" and "sharp sounding," and even implying that it was a class below Portuguese. They seemed far more interested in English from a business and travel perspective. On the other hand, I haven't heard as much disdain from Spanish speakers who talk about Brazil and Portuguese. They seem to have no disdain for the language and many even show a lot of interest in learning it, often mentioning how "fun" the country is and how "beautiful" the women are. I find this dichotomy kind of ironic in light of what you've just said about appreciating the two languages. I'm just throwing some thoughts, questions, and observations out there.




OMG, I laughed really hard with the hair cutting part.

I studied Spanish but I agree, it's hard to communicate in a daily basis since people don't speak like in the books. I guess it's true for every language. I found it harder with Spanish due to the fact people I met were from different South-American countries and each had a different accent. I found Chileans and Venezuelans easier to talk to. The Argentinians I met spoke too fast.

CCAA course had some great commercials making fun of Brazilians who thought they spoke Spanish when they started teaching Spanish in the mid-90s


@Rachel: first of all, I want to tell you what you already know, that the community you've created here is quite remarkable for its intelligence and involvement. It's rare to find a blog anywhere with informed readers contributing to the discussion, and it makes me think wistfully of the empty echo chambers that are the comment sections on my posts. Oh well, it gives me something to work toward ;)

@Carlos: I have heard this many times and I agree; it is easier for Portuguese speakers to learn Spanish than the other way around. A linguist and speech therapist told me that it was because whereas Spanish has 5 vowels and 5 corresponding vowel sounds, Portuguese has (according to him) 14, although I think the number varies depending on what you count, not to mention the fact that even some consonants in Portuguese are pronounced like vowels ("m" and "l" at the ends of words). This is especially important because the Latin languages are vowel-rich, as opposed to consonant-rich germanic and slavic languages. Fun experiment: try explaining to a Spanish speaker the difference in pronunciation between "avó" and "avô" or between "ovo" and "ovos." Always a good laugh.

I also agree that that is in theory, and in practice who knows what can happen. I can't tell you how many times I've misunderstood even nearly identical phrases.

@Caique: it's amazing how many misunderstandings relate to sex. I think it's because of the tendency to invent as many euphemisms as possible to avoid being explicit. I taught English at a language school in Curitiba and the most awkward moments were when my students mixed their love of American rap and hip-hop music with their difficulties with prepositions: try explaining what it means to "put out," "go down" "give it up," or "pull out" when they don't even get the literal meaning. I tried telling them to ask their parents but found that it was often their parents who had asked the student to ask me. Sem vergonhas.

@Dani: the issue of mixing languages is very interesting to me, since I grew up in a multilingual household. I've found it's much more complicated than just a random soup of everything all together. What I've found is that there is one place in my brain that stores native languages (for me English and Portuguese) and a very different part that stores learned languages, sometimes regardless of the relationships between any two languages.

Let me explain. I don't mix Spanish and Portuguese hardly at all, because when I want to speak Portuguese my brain goes into kind of a primal state where it feels like I turn off higher brain functions. Then I just open my mouth and Portuguese comes out because I've spoken it since childhood. What does happen is I've completely lost the ability to speak French, which I studied for 5 years in high school and college and then spent 3 months there. Every time I try to think of the French word the Spanish one pops in, because it is occupying the "learned" area. Make sense?

Another example, one that drives me up the wall. I teach Portuguese to 2 Spanish speakers at my work, who already speak English very well. You would think they would just make short jumps from Spanish to Port right? Nope, they actually translate INTO English and then into Port, can you believe it? They'll need to go from "y" in Spanish to "e" in Port (identical pronunciation) but instead "and" will pop out. This happens with individual words and sentence structures and expressions. I might as well be teaching English speakers for god's sake! I think it's because English is occupying the "learned" spot, and therefore forces all other learned languages to go through it. Just a theory.

@BZgirl: your judgement of my interjection was correct :p Very interesting comments. I think that yes it must extend to different dialects. Every one is the way it is for a reason, and those reasons are always interesting, meaningful, informative, or all three. No dialect (except maybe pig-latin) was invented by someone just to annoy people and be difficult just for the sake of it. Any contrary examples? Maybe "California valley-girl-speak" too...

I have heard countless times from Colombians about how the international governing body of the Spanish language (I forget the name) named Colombian the most "correct" Spanish. You'll notice that in dictionaries and pronunciation guides there is very rarely an "exception" note for Colombian Spanish. What you see is normally what you get. But I'm EXTREMELY skeptical of this. Language is totally arbitrary, how can anyone say what is the best? Compared to what? Judging it "the best" implies there is some standard of perfection somewhere, which just the fact that they have to go through this award process proves there is not. In my opinion it's a giant pretense based on circular reasoning.

In Portuguese however there is definitely a standard of perfection and that is Paulista Portuguese. No discussion necessary here. Oh and cariocas have the worst accent ever. And they smell bad.

In response to the "looking down on Spanish" issue, I definitely agree. I wrote a whole post on exactly this: http://www.tiagoforte.com/2009/02/global-pecking-order.html

@all: Thanks everyone for the amazing comments, questions, exampels, etc.! I feel extremely encouraged to keep writing.


Um livro interessantíssimo pra ler, talvez já difícil de encontrar, chama-se "Schifaizfavoire", um dicionário de português de portugal - português "brasileiro". Dá uma idéia da diversidade e evolução da língua, já que é o mesmo português, ou foi a mesma língua há 500 anos. O título, na verdade, é uma brincadeira com a pronúncia portuguesa: "se faz favor", uma frase usada muito comumente lá. Outras histórias interessantes e significados diversos parecem muito com outra língua, e quase tão difícil de entender para falantes do "brasileiro" como o espanhol. Dentro do próprio país temos tanta diversidade que alguns regionalismos são quase-dialetos: quando fui estudar fora da minha região (sou de Minas Gerais, mas do norte do estado, com grande influência da Bahia), fiz certa vez uma frase comum pra mim: enricou ficou enxavido. "Enricou" quer dizer ficar rico; enxavido é exibido - mas só do norte de Minas pra cima, as pessoas ficaram me olhando sem entender... vários outros regionalismos podem ser encontrados assim, o que faz um gaúcho e um potiguar (do Rio Grande do Norte) poderem fazer duas dezenas de frases sem nenhum significado um para o outro. Certa vez um linguista daqui de Minas mapeou mais de trinta "quase-dialetos" nas diversas regiões brasileiras. Outro aspecto interessante: no sertão do nordeste, provavelmente a área mais pobre do país e a mais isolada, ainda se usam palavras e expressões como há trezentos, quatrocentos anos atrás - é como se o tempo tivesse parado lá. Fantástico isso, não? Imaginem dentro da américa espanhola, com a diversidade de interações entre o espanhol e tantas línguas nativas, como não deve haver uma multiplicidade de palavras, significados e expressões... entretanto, a globalização e o desenvolvimento tem acabado com muitos desses regionalismos, impondo uma cultura única, de cima pra baixo.


Citei o livro Schifaizfavoire, e ao procurá-lo para comprar (deu saudade) descobri que o texto completo está na net: http://www.marioprataonline.com.br/obra/literatura/adulto/dicionario/framegranda_a.htm. É do Mário Prata, um bom escritor brasileiro de entretenimento.


I spoke Spanish fluently before spending a summer is Sao Luis for an internship. When I came back, I had a great deal of trouble switching between Portuguese and Spanish, which I spoke often with my Dominican neighbors in New York.

My buiding's super was Dominican, and neither he or his wife spoke English well enough to help their kids effectively with their homework, so I would often tutor them. When I came back from Brazil, the super's wife immediately tracked me down and asked to come by and help their son with his homework. I agreed, and said in a horrible Portunhol, "A que hora quiere que pegue a tu hijo?" Mixing the Brazilian "pegar" (to pick up) and the Spanish (to hit)- "What time do you want me to HIT your son?" She gave me this odd look and said, "Never mind." :)

Marcio E. Goncalves

"Portuguese (and I’m talking about the Brazilian version specifically here) has an African rhythm that is far more apparent than the corresponding indigenous influence in Spanish, owing mostly to Portugal’s greater reliance on (and mixing with) African slaves whereas Spain could count on larger numbers of European colonists and stricter rules against miscegenation."

Ate onde eu sei, a fala do Portugues Brasileiro eh resquicio do Portugues Medieval Tardio e nao por mistura com "ritmos" africanos

Nunca vi um linguista afirmar isso. Pode me passar a fonte?



Professor de Linguística e Lingua Portuguesa Paulo Hernandes


"Ate onde eu sei, a fala do Portugues Brasileiro eh resquicio do Portugues Medieval Tardio e nao por mistura com "ritmos" africanos
Nunca vi um linguista afirmar isso. Pode me passar a fonte?
Posted by: Marcio E. Goncalves "

Imagino que seja brasileiro, e sendo brasileiro acho que você deveria saber disso muito bem. Biju, mosquito, moleque e os exemplos que o Tiago deram foram ótimos, e não é necessário um linguista vir aqui pra dizer isso. Até professor de história sabe disso muito bem.

Ana Clara

I am brazilian and I teach spanish. Very interesting the post.
You are talking about portuguese form Brazil and spanish. I know you are talking in general, I just want to remind that since there are many countries that speak spanish, there are some differences among them. For example, as far as I know, not in all spanish speaking countries "pelos" means pubes, but the hair form the head. Cabellos means hair from other parts of the body (arms, legs...).
Besides that, another interesting difference portuguese vs spanish that is specially trick for english speaking natives is the gender. Some few words are feminine in portuguese and masculine in spanish or vice versa: salt, milk, tree, blood, art, sugar, soul, etc…
Ana Clara


Eu só estava passando, mas vi que ele confundiu tráfego com tráfico. Tráfego é de veículos, trânsito. Tráfico é de produtos ilegais, drogas, armas, contrabando. Parabéns pelo blog.


Liesel is 100% correct about "most correct spanish" there is no such thing. Honestly the most admired spanish is of the argentines and spanish (spain). Being fluent via family mexican and born in the USA. I understand completly these misunderstanding and difficulties in the languages. Pelos in mexican doesnt mean pubes. But pelitos thats when you are in hot water.

guanacaste costa rica real estate

One of the most common questions I get as a Brazilian-American living in Colombia is “What is the difference between Spanish and Portuguese?” I get this question from Colombians, Brazilians and Americans alike, and I can often hear a bit of skepticism in their voice, skepticism of my insistence on spending 6 months living in Colombia to learn Spanish after nearly a year in Brazil.


I know this post is over a year old, but I just found it and I love it. I was trying to find out which Spanish speakers say "pelo" and which say "cabello" for hair and this is what came up.

This was an excellent and funny read. I am currently learning Spanish since my husband is Puerto Rican. We aren't newlyweds or anything (it's been nearly 18 years we've been together! haha), but we have been visiting the island more often and I really want to be able to talk to people. Plus, I want the kids to learn the language and they will be more likely to do so if I am learning and speaking it.

I do find it hard to learn Spanish and then have to re-learn how they speak it in Puerto Rico. I'm afraid that even though I am learning it, I will STILL not be able to talk to anyone. haha.

Ana Maria

Hi nice post, im from Brazil, great post grande post continue assim!

Julio and Tamra Rivera

I truly respect non native Spanish speakers. Spanish is a very hard language to learn, especially with all the slang on each country and then within each region of those countries. whew!
That's too much!

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