About Learning Portuguese with Berlitz
Portuguese is the national language of both Portugal and Brazil. In the former it is spoken by the entire population of 10 million people, including those in the Azores and on the island of Madeira. In Brazil it is spoken by virtually everyone save the country’s few hundred thousand Indians. As Brazil’s population continues to soar, so does the number of speakers of Portuguese. The figure for Brazil in the year 2000 was approximately 165 million, up from only 100 million 25 years earlier.
Portuguese is also spoken in countries and territories that were once colonies of Portugal. It is the official language of five countries in Africa: Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe. It is also spoken by small communities in Goa (western India), in East Timor (in Indonesia), and in Macao, which is now part of China.
Portuguese is a Romance language, closely related to, and yet distinctly different from, Spanish. It is softer and less emphatic than Spanish, with a greater variety of vowel sounds, and it contains a number of nasal sounds that do not exist in Spanish. Words beginning with h in Spanish frequently begin with f in Portuguese (e.g., hijo/filho – son), while words ending in -ción in Spanish generally end in -ção in Portuguese (nación/nação – nation). There are a number of words from Arabic in both languages (algodón/algodão – cotton) plus a few peculiar to Portuguese (alfaiate – tailor). Many words are identical in the two languages (mesa – table, flor – flower, lago – lake), but others are completely different (perro/cão – dog, gracias/obrigado – thank you).
The Portuguese of Brazil is slower and more measured than that of Portugal, but the Brazilians and Portuguese communicate with each other without the slightest difficulty. As in British and American English there are occasional differences in vocabulary. The word for “boy” is rapaz in Portugal but moço in Brazil; “girl” is rapariga in Portugal and moça in Brazil. Some Brazilian words are of Indian origin (e.g., abacaxi – pineapple).
The Portuguese nasal vowels are indicated by the letters ãand õ. The ç functions as in French, while the combinations lh and nh correspond to the Spanish ll and ñ respectively. The letters k, w, and y are used only in foreign words. The letter j is pronounced as in French (not as in Spanish), as is the letter g before e and i. The h is always silent. Words ending in a (but not ã), e, o, m, or s generally stress the next-to-last syllable, while those ending in other letters stress the final syllable. Exceptions to this rule are indicated by an acute accent if the vowel has an open sound (açúcar – sugar), and by a circumflex if the vowel has a closed sound (relâmpago – lightning). The accent marks are also used to distinguish between words that would otherwise have the same spelling, as for example e, meaning “and,” but é, meaning “is,” and por, meaning “by,” but pôr, meaning “to put.”
José Saramago won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998.