How Can You Learn Portuguese after Spanish?
by Eli Sousa
Say you have learned Spanish. You did so because you wanted to travel to Buenos Ayres, visit some friends.
You have now returned from your trip. You still have the lingering taste of success from learning Spanish.
But now you don’t need it as much. It is useless, or at least not as useful as it was. There is no point in continuing it.
You look at the textbooks, the dictionaries, and programs you bought… What can I learn next?
Portuguese, of course!
After all, Portuguese and Spanish are very similar. Bom and bueno sound almost the same if you have some goodwill. But…
When you start learning it, you realize that it’s not that similar. But at least that is convenient to learn.
That is the case with many of my students. They have learned Spanish before. They may even speak Spanish as a native language. And they want to learn Portuguese from Spanish.
I have nothing against that. If convenience and expediency help you learn, use that. But you have to know you are in for a lot of confusion if you don’t prepare for the road.
Spanish and Portuguese are ridiculously similar.
No, I mean it.
To the point that many Brazilians don’t think they need to learn Spanish. After all, they can get by with some “adaptations,” a simple -ção replacing -ción, and that’s it. “Perfeción.”
And I am told some Spanish-speaking people also think the same.
All I have to say about this is: don’t.
You have to know that, although they are very similar, they are not the same.
If there is one attitude that will change everything, then it is knowing Spanish and Portuguese are separate languages. Keep that in mind at all times. It will help you very much.
Leveraging your Spanish to learn Portuguese
But that doesn’t mean we cannot use similarities to help us boost our Portuguese right from the start.
If you have learned Spanish before, but Spanish is not your mother language, then you have to pay attention to the use of the subjunctive in Portuguese.
Portuguese loves it. Spanish, not so much.
In Portuguese, we have future subjunctive. It’s usually triggered by expressions and small words (conjunctions). The biggest problem is, most of the time this is optional in colloquial Portuguese. But in written Portuguese, it is not.
Another thing you have to learn about words is that Portuguese usually makes do with fewer syllables. Fewer consonants as well. Ofrezco becomes ofereço. Dolor becomes dor. Keep an eye for those differences. You can boost your vocabulary by memorizing some of them.
Some common, everyday words in Spanish may sound formal, lofty in Portuguese.
While Spanish prefers “buscar” for things like “look for,” Portuguese gives preference to “procurar.” Both are used in both languages, but in each one of those languages, one word is formal, whereas the other is informal.
A big stumbling block will be the conjunctions.
They are tiny words and expressions that help you connect sentences and thoughts. Words like “aún que,” “todavía,” etc. are likely to give you some headache. Both languages share some of them, but again it is not customary to use most of the Spanish conjunctions in Portuguese. You might be understood, but you would certainly sound like someone from the 1920s.
And the Most Important Note: Pronunciation
Spanish is spoken in many countries, and it reflects the local speech habits of the people. Some pronounce the letter “C” with a hissing sound, some do it by placing the tip of the tongue between the teeth. Vowels may change a little, but as a rule, there are fewer of them in Spanish than in Portuguese.
In Portuguese, we have what is called nasal vowels. In spelling, they are signaled with a funny diacritic (“~”) and sometimes are followed by a nasal consonant, such as N or M.
In Portuguese, nasal vowels are produced without closing the lips. If you said the word slam in Portuguese, you would not close your lips.
But you would do that if you were saying it in Spanish or English.
Try reading this out:
Vou sair com o meu amigo.
If you mispronounce it, what you’re actually saying is, “I will go out, I eat my friend.” See how dangerous this is?
This article has addressed people who are learning Portuguese after having learned Spanish successfully. If you are a native speaker of Spanish, you may glean some useful information from this, but this article isn’t for you – yet.
And if you fall into the category this article addresses, rest assured you can learn Portuguese very fast. Just pay attention to the pitfalls we mentioned here, and never, ever forget Spanish and Portuguese are two separate languages.
Do you have any tips or suggestions for learning Portuguese after having learned Spanish successfully? Leave it in the comments. I’m sure we all can benefit from your strategies and personal experience.