Ten facts about Portuguese
Where is Portuguese spoken?
There are eight members in the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa (CPLP): Portugal, Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde, The Republic of Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome and East Timor. It also shares official language status with Mandarin Chinese in Macau, a former Portuguese territory which was handed over to China in 1999.
How hard is it to learn?
If you know Spanish, Italian or French, you’ll notice some similarities with Portuguese. For example, each tense has six different endings. Some sounds can be harder to pronounce, but generally, pronunciation mistakes won’t change what you actually meant!
What you already know about Portuguese
You’ll find many familiar words in Portuguese: televisão, estudante, universidade, mapa, problema and bicicleta. There are also many loan words from Arabic, French and, more recently, English. During the times of Portuguese exploration some words entered the English, such as cobra, flamingo and piranha. More recent imports include the Brazilian Bossa Nova and the Brazilian cocktail caipirinha. Or try this headline: Brasil vai negociar subsídios à agricultura com União Europeia (Brazil will negotiate agricultural subsidies with the European Union).
The most difficult words or tonguetwisters
O rato roeu a ropa do rei de Roma (The rat gnawed the king of Rome’s clothes). This is arguably the most famous tongue twister.
A aranha arranha a rã. A rã arranha a aranha (The spider scratches the frog. The frog scratches the spider).
Anticonstitucionalissimamente is a long adverb meaning in a very unconstitutional way.
Know any good jokes in Portuguese?
Mother-in-laws, blondes, lawyers or corrupt politicians are often the butt of jokes:
A sogra chega para uma visita surpresa. O genro abre a porta:
"Olà! Não nos vemos há tanto tempo! Quanto vais ficar conosco desta vez?"
A sogra sorri, querendo ser gentil:
"Até vocês se cansarem de mim."
"A sério? Não vais nem tomar um cafezinho?"
(The mother-in-law comes for a surprise visit. The son-in-law opens the door:
"Hi! Long time no see! How long are you staying this time?"
The mother-in-law smiles, trying to be polite:
"Until you get tired of me."
"Really? You’re not even staying for a coffee?")
Joãozinho, Little John, is the most mentioned character in Portuguese jokes:
Tia Lídia pergunta ao Joãozinho:
"O que vais fazer quando for grande como a titia?"
O Joãozinho responde:
(Aunt Lidia asks Joãozinho:
"What are you going to do when you are big like Aunty?"
"Go on a diet!" he replies.)
If I learn Portuguese, will it help me with any other languages?
Many words and aspects of Portuguese are shared with all the Romance languages (languages that came from Latin) such as Spanish, Italian and French
Head to the Spanish region of Galicia, on the other side of Portugal’s Northern border, and you’ll also hear galego, which is the closest language to Portuguese and which shares the same origins.
Beware of so-called false friends which can cause confusion. Pretender means "to intend" and not "to pretend" which is fingir.
In a job interview you may be asked: Você pretende se dedicar ao trabalho? (Do you intend to show dedication?). You may feel tempted to answer: não, (no), wrongly assuming the question was about what you pretend rather than intend.
Famous quotations to impress the locals
Se podes olhar, vê. Se podes ver, repara. (If you can look, see. If you can see, notice.)
José Saramago, Nobel Prize in Literature 1998.
Nenhuma ideia brilhante consegue entrar em circulação se não agregando a si qualquer elemento de estupidez . (No intelligent idea can gain general acceptance unless some element of stupidity is mixed in with it.)
Fernando Pessoa, Portuguese poet and writer, 1888-1935
Following the fall of the Roman Empire, Portuguese gradually developed into a language in what’s now northern Portugal and the Spanish region of Galicia. The first known documents written in Portuguese appeared in the 12th century. A lender's notice from 1175 is commonly, although not unanimously, quoted as the first Portuguese document.
How to be polite
There are different ways of saying you: tu, for people you can be on first-name terms with, and você, in other cases, although the latter is more widely used in Brazil. In both cases the plural is vocês.
The polite way to address older people and adults you don’t know is senhor (male) or senhora (female).
Men greet other men with a handshake. In informal situations, women meeting men or other women will kiss them on the cheek, although it’s more of a quick touch of the cheeks.