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Learning Brazilian Portuguese if you already speak Spanish

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I had the chance to attend one of the world’s most famous parties; Brazil’s Carnival. While most visitors would check it out in Rio, which I have lived in, my experience of the Carnival in Olinda in the Northeast was incredible!

Some ‘gringos’ (note: in Brazil that word is used affectionately, not derogatively, and describes all foreigners, even Argentines! You’ll almost never hear “estrangeiro” in social situations even though that is the “correct” term) might be passing through Brazil briefly, and others may already be living there for a long time. After many years on the road, Brazilians remain my favourite people on the planet, so I’d understand if you end up staying in Brazil much longer than you originally planned 🙂

While some of you might be learning Portuguese as your first foreign language, quite a lot of you might have already learned Spanish before. So rather than dismissively (and inaccurately) say “they’re almost the same, you’ll be fine,” I’d like to actually write about how to leverage and transition your Spanish towards (Brazilian) Portuguese.
Starting point – European or Latin American Spanish?

I’m presuming here that you already have a fluent level of Spanish. The only thing is, which Spanish you are starting from will influence how easy it is. American variants such as Argentine or Colombian Spanish have several features in common with Brazilian Portuguese that European Spanish does not.

This includes the second person plural (you guys / Y’all) simply adopting the same conjugation as the third person (They). Luckily unlearning this from Peninsular Spanish (vosotros) is not hard as you would already be used to “ustedes” in formal studies. In both non-European Spanish and in Brazilian Portuguese, you will always use the ustedes / vocês conjugation (ustedes saben / vocês sabem) when addressing more than one person, even in the most informal of situations.

Even the pronunciation would be more similar away from Spain. The distinctive Spanish “c” is pronounced as “s” before e & i (rather than like “th”) all across South America, and South Americans general speak slower and opening their mouth wider to pronounce words clearer (depending of course on where you are and who you talk to) compared to Spaniards.

But what really makes a difference in South American Spanish compared to European Spanish as a starting point to Portuguese is the extra vocabulary. This is one of the many reasons I don’t like the “they’re the same” dismissal – it’s too simplified! It really depends on precisely where you are coming from. Uruguayan Spanish is way more similar to southern Brazilian Portuguese compared to Mexican Spanish, and definitely compared to Spanish from Sevilla, for example.

Learning Portuguese actually helped me with later living in Spanish speaking South American countries, thanks to the extra “Spanish” vocabulary I had acquired and never seen in Spain, such as Bacán/Bacano (Sp) –> Bacana (Pt) meaning cool/awesome.

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