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You're not alone

Updated: Aug 28, 2021

Have you decided to learn how to speak Portuguese? Congratulations! You're now joining a team of more than 250 million people around the globe.

By the way, welcome to OWN ESL's blog post. You'll find language-related fun facts, pronunciation tips, grammar resources, and more. If you're an advanced learner, make sure to check our blog posts in Portuguese; just toggle the language tag on this website menu bar.

Whether you started learning Portuguese for work, school, travel, or even love, one of the first things that may surprise you is that there're a lot more people who speak the language than you may have initially thought of. More precisely, out of the 258 million Portuguese speakers worldwide, 232 million have learned it as a first language. It’s the ninth most spoken language in the world, and the second most spoken Romance language, after Spanish.

How it all started

All Romance languages, including Portuguese, evolved from Vulgar Latin, the language which was spoken by Roman soldiers who arrived at the Iberian Peninsula in 216 BCE (today's Portugal and Spain). After the Roman Empire collapse between 409 and 711 CE, the language spoken in the peninsula was influenced by German and Arabic invaders.

“If you already know Spanish, Portuguese will be easier for you to learn.”

In 1143, Portugal was recognized as an independent kingdom. In 1290, the king of Portugal, Denis, created the first university in Lisbon and declared that the spoken language of Vulgar Latin be used and that it should be called Portuguese. Modern Portuguese evolved from Old Portuguese, which is now two distinct languages: Galician and Portuguese. Some speakers describe the difference between them as akin to the difference between American and British English.

Where Is Portuguese Spoken?

Portuguese is an official language in ten countries and territories, including Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Portugal, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Macau, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

During the period of Portuguese colonialism of the 15th and 16th centuries, the Portuguese language was brought to many regions of Africa, Asia and the Americas. Local officials of all nationalities used Portuguese to facilitate communication. Portuguese was also used by Roman Catholic missionaries in Asia, and today there is a cultural presence of Portuguese in parts of India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Brazil has the largest population of Portuguese speakers in the world: 211.2 million. No other country in the Americas even comes close to that number, but there are a few places with significant Portuguese-speaking contingents.

It won’t come as a surprise that Portugal is the European country with the most Portuguese speakers — nearly 10 million. But to put that in perspective, the Brazilian city of São Paulo alone has a population of 12 million. There are populations of Portuguese speakers spread across Europe. In fact, France is not far behind Portugal with 959,000 Portuguese speakers.

There are quite a few Portuguese speakers in Africa, largely due to colonialism. Angola is home to around 18 million speakers and Mozambique has roughly 13 million. In Asia and Oceania, you can also find significant Portuguese-speaking populations.

Although there are some regional differences, there are no Portuguese dialects in Brazil...

Portuguese Words in English

There are many words in the English language with Portuguese origins, including “banana,” “breeze,” “embarrass” and “açai.” The word “cobra” comes from cobra-de-capelo, meaning “snake with a hood,” and “mosquito” is a Portuguese word meaning “little fly.”

Why Learn Portuguese?

“If you already know Spanish, Portuguese will be easier for you to learn,” says Vitor Shereiber, a project manager on the Didactics team at Babbel and a native Portuguese speaker from Brazil.

First, you should know that there are significant differences between the European and Brazilian Portuguese. The one you decide to learn will depend on your individual goals and interests. Although there are some regional differences, there are no Portuguese dialects in Brazil. That means that no matter where you go in the country, you’ll be able to understand everyone if you speak Portuguese.

Another reason to learn Portuguese is for a better travel experience. Planning an upcoming vacation to Brazil? Shereiber says that Brazilians don’t usually speak foreign languages, so if you speak Portuguese, it will make your trip easier. “Brazilians are usually very welcoming and will be very excited about that,” he says.

If you’re interested in learning Portuguese, Shereiber suggests listening to Brazilian music.

Some popular genres include bossa nova, which Shereiber mentions is great for Portuguese beginners to listen to because the lyrics are often short and simple. For more sophisticated lyrics, there’s “MPB,” which stands for Música Popular Brasileira. Finally, for musical genres that are commonly associated with the Brazilian celebration of Carnival, listen to axé and samba.

Adapted from a Babbel Magazine article.

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