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One of the most common misconceptions about languages is about language variants and how transferable they are. Language variants are the varieties of a language that develop in a specific place, such as US and UK English, and Brazilian and European Portuguese.
Businesses sometimes choose one variety of Portuguese to speak to Portuguese speakers around the globe. But, as we explain below, there are significant differences between the two main variants, and we recommend making the distinction.
Where is Portuguese spoken?
Portugal, of course! And Brazil, as we’ve mentioned. But that’s not all.
Portuguese is also an official language in many former Portuguese colonies. For example, in Cape Verde, Portuguese is the official language, while Cape Verdean Creole is the dominant language in the country.
Angola*, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and São Tomé and Príncipe all use a Portuguese that is most similar to European Portuguese. Find out more about Portuguese speakers around the world and how the language spread.
Differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese
How different are they really?
Brazilian and European Portuguese are considered mutually intelligible. This means that when speaking or writing about general topics, Brazilian and Portuguese people can normally understand each other.
That said, there are quite a few aspects that set them apart, including:
There are significant differences in pronunciation between Brazilian and European Portuguese. Specific letters such as “l”, “r”, “s”, and “t” are pronounced differently. European Portuguese often reduces or drops vowels, while Brazilian Portuguese will tend to pronounce them more fully. Where the two variants place stress in a word or sentence even varies.
All of this means that even people who don’t speak a word of Portuguese can hear a difference between the two. Keen to give it a try yourself? This video has some great examples.
The two variants have been influenced by different languages and cultures. So while European Portuguese has been influenced by other romance languages spoken nearby such as French or Italian, Portuguese in Brazil has benefited from the influence of the Amerindian languages as well as US English. As a result, there are lots of words that are used by the Brazilians in their English form, such as “mouse” in a hardware context or “esporte” or “mídia”, which were borrowed from the English words “sports” and “media”.
Some words are completely different between the two varieties, as you can see in the following examples.
|cartão de cidadão
|carteira de identidade
There are also several spelling differences, for instance, with the use of accents, as shown here:
In fact, there were even more differences, with Brazilian Portuguese removing mute consonants from spelling and European Portuguese retaining them. But in 2015, a new Portuguese spelling agreement came into force in almost* all Portuguese-speaking countries. And as a result, among other changes, these mute consonants were officially removed from European Portuguese too.
One of the biggest grammatical differences relates to the way speakers of each variety use the present tense. Brazilians tend to use the gerund form (in English, the gerund is the verb form with “-ing”) a lot more than the Portuguese.
So, to say “I am working”:
Brazilians would say: Eu estou trabalhando
While Portuguese people would say: Eu estou a trabalhar
Syntax (how a sentence is constructed)
They also differ when it comes to syntax, or the way a sentence is constructed. In Brazilian Portuguese, the object pronoun is preferably placed before the verb, while in European Portuguese it’s usually placed after the verb.
So, to say “He bought me coffee”:
Brazilians would say: Ele me ofereceu um café.
Portuguese people would say: Ele ofereceu-me um café.
Why invest in European Portuguese?
Yes, there are more speakers of Brazilian Portuguese in the world than European Portuguese.
And yes, Brazilian Portuguese is generally understood by speakers of European Portuguese.
But, as we’ve seen, there are significant differences.
And no, it’s not a good idea to use Brazilian Portuguese to speak to Portuguese customers.
Especially when it comes to marketing and creative content. Content that needs to entertain, convince and convert.
Translating your content into European Portuguese makes Portuguese consumers feel as though:
- you’ve made the effort to adapt content to them
- you care about them
- you understand them, the context they live in and the challenges they face
- you probably provide good customer service
Find out why Portugal is a fantastic place to do business, and how quality European Portuguese content can help you break into the market.
*Angola is the only Portuguese-speaking country that hasn’t yet accepted the new spelling agreement, so texts targeting the Angolan market need to take this into account.