Snickers — Portuguese Pronunciation Mistakes to Avoid
Those are true stories of Portuguese pronunciation mistakes some of my friends and students made…
And they blushed.
(I changed their names and one of the stories had to be modified and might sound contrived)
You see, they didn’t mean to make those mistakes. They didn’t even know they were making those mistakes.
And they were.
And Brazilians don’t usually tell people that what they’re saying is wrong. They usually snicker and laugh and only then do they explain what was wrong.
While it might be a great deal of fun, making embarrassing Portuguese pronunciation mistakes can be discouraging, too.
Most Brazilians don’t have any linguistic training.
Heck, many of them are not even acquainted with their own language.
So, they might even tell you what was wrong with what you said but they wouldn’t be able to offer a solution.
Not usually. So, don’t count on that.
Here, you’ll see five of the most common pronunciation mistakes my students and my friends make when they are at the intermediate level.
“I Want Water of S***.”
Jeffrey went to the beach with his friends. Brazilian beaches welcome everybody and — when there is no epidemic to worry about — are a good place to be.
But it can get appallingly hot. So, Jeffrey naturally wants to drink some water.
He saunters up to a stand, sees some bottles of coconut water sweating on a table, and asks:
“Eu quero água de cocô.”
The seller and everyone around bursts into laughter. Jeffrey doesn’t understand. Some of his friends joke about his wanting to drink s*** water.
He said it right. How come?
Put the Stress Where It Belongs
The vowels being the same, the difference between s*** and coconut lies in syllable stress.
You must pay close attention to words that sound similar but have different syllable stress.
Here are some examples for your benefit.
You learn more by repeating out loud than just looking at it.
- Eu quero água de coco. I want coconut water.
- Coco e cocô. Coconut and crap.
- Bolo e bolou. Cake and (s)he had a plan.
- Soco e socou. Punch and (s)he punched.
- Falo e falou. I speak and (s)he spoke.
“Give Me a D***, Please”
Jemima likes Brazilian pastries. Empadas, pastéis, bolos… But what she loves is bread.
Brazilian bread has a rich texture, smells so good, and goes very well with anything you put inside of it. It’s just amazing.
So, in the bakery section of the pastry shop, she chooses a beautiful loaf of bread and says:
“Me dá um pau, por favor.”
The server holds a burst of laughter behind a grin. Jemima understands what is going on — she said something — but she can’t put her finger on it.
At home with her friends, she learns that she has made a pornographic request.
Do Pay Attention to Your Nasal Sounds
It so occurs because many words that have nasal sounds happen to have non-nasal counterparts.
Again, some examples for you. And you’ll learn more by doing than by just listening to it.
- Me dá um pão, por favor. Give me a loaf of bread, please.
- Eles são brasileiros. They are Brazilians.
- O Patrício é meu irmão. Patrick is my brother.
- Esses são os potes de sal? Are these the salt jars?
- Minhas mãos estão mal. My hands are bad.
“It’s from the Time I Used to Listen to the D*** Tapes.”
George goes to his in-laws’ house. Married to a Brazilian, he got used to the culture — including the fact that many Brazilians love listening to old American sounds on the radio.
Upon hearing an old tune he used to listen to using cassette tapes, he remarks:
“É do tempo que eu ouvia fita cacete.”
His mother-in-law gasps. His father-in-law peers at him from behind his glasses. His wife smiles knowingly.
The Letter E Has Different Sounds
The letter E has two main different sounds that are significant.
And significant here means, they make a difference in what you are saying.
To a native English-speaking person, pé and pê sound the same. But they don’t. Sorry.
The vowel in the earlier word sounds like the E in pet. (I mean, in most of the United States it’s pronounced like that.)
The E with a little hat in the latter word sounds a bit like the combination AY in the word day. But make it shorter, please.
And here are some examples.
And… Practice, baby.
- Isso era do tempo que eu ouvia fita cassete. This was from the time I used to listen to cassette tapes.
- Este é o meu pé. E aquele é o pé do José. This is my foot. And that’s Joseph’s foot.
- Na casa do Barnabé tem um pé de ipê. At Barbabé’s house there is a Tabebuia tree.
- Eu nego tudo isso. I deny all that.
- Eu estou aqui na sede da empresa e com muita sede. I am here at the company headquarters and I’m very thirsty.
“She Is My Grandfather.”
When introducing his grandmother, John said to his partner:
“Ela é minha avô.”
And his partner looked back at his grandmother and commented, “she doesn’t look like it.”
John gave her a quizzical look. His partner was making a joke. But why?
The Letter O (Also) Has Different Sounds
That’s a common mistake from the get-go.
In many varieties of English, you don’t have the open “o” that we do in Portuguese.
We have two.
One sounds closer to the combination AW found in the word law. It’s usually spelled “ó”. But not always.
The other is like the O in “open” but shorter. It’s not a diphthong. It’s a simple vowel.
Some examples for you to practice.
And the keyword here is practice.
- O meu vovô era engenheiro. My grandpa was an engineer.
- Minha avó é contadora. My grandmother is an accountant.
- O boto cor-de-rosa; eu boto o livro na mesa. The Amazon River dolphin. I put the book on the table.
- Ele é novo no pedaço; essa é minha saia nova. He is the new kid in the block. This is my new skirt.
- Eu como bolo de dia; ela joga bola no campo. I eat cake during the day. She plays soccer in the field.
“Can You Tell Me Where Santos Street Is?”
This pronunciation mistake is so tricky — especially for beginners and lower intermediate level students of Portuguese.
Casey decided to take a walk on the streets of the little town she is living in.
Looking at her GPS, she finds out that she has to go to this Santos Street to check a new café in town.
She stops a passerby and asks:
“Você pode me dizer onde fica a rua Santos.”
Smiling kindly, the passerby says, “yes I can,” and goes on with his walking.
Casey then asks again and this time she gets the answer.
Okay, this might be a bit contrived. But Brazilians do pretend to misunderstand your “questions” if you don’t use the right intonation.
Intonation Is the Only Distinctive Mark of a Question
When asking questions in English, usually have two clues that it’s a question.
First, you reverse the subject and object. Can you? You can.
Then, often there also is a rise in intonation. But not always.
Usually, if the subject-object reversion is present you can tell it’s a question.
Not so in Portuguese.
Intonation is the only thing that tells whether it’s a question or a statement.
Check out the examples below.
- Você pode me dizer onde fica a rua Santos. You can tell me where the Santos Street is.
- Você pode me dizer onde fica a rua Santos? Can you tell me whether Santos Street is?
- Você fala alemão também. You also speak German.
- Você fala alemão também? Do you speak German, too?
Now It’s Your Turn
Tell me in the comments below: what are the common Portuguese pronunciation mistakes that you make when speaking with friends or family? Or, if you use to make one of the mistakes listed here, and you still have questions, ask away!
And for tips on vocabulary, head over to our vocabulary section.