Painless Brazilian Portuguese Pronunciation Guide
In this Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation guide, we had to make some choices.
First, when we think of pronunciation, we usually associate it with the alphabet.
Although that’s not wrong, sticking to the alphabet is limiting.
Some letters have more than one sound — the letter S comes to mind — while others fight any attempt at systematization — for example, the letter X.
So, what you’re going to learn in this Portuguese pronunciation guide is the sound system of the Portuguese language.
It’s just a sample of what you would have if you went to college to take a specialized course on Portuguese phonology.
And because of that, we need to make some distinctions before we dive deep into the Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation.
Difference between Portuguese consonants and vowels.
When we talk about vowels, we mean those sounds that we produce without blocking the air from going out.
Just imagine when the dentist asks you to say AH. You open your mouth; the lips don’t touch. The air flows unrestricted.
But when we talk about consonants, it’s a different matter.
There is always a restriction of some kind. The air doesn’t flow freely. There is even some friction.
When learning Portuguese pronunciation, you should spend a great deal of your investable time on mastering the vowels.
Imagine you are throwing darts at a target. You don’t always hit the target — but you might come closer and closer at each throw.
That’s how reproducing foreign language vowels works. Native speakers have an edge — they were born throwing darts.
Your goal is to come as close to the target as you can.
Having a degree of body awareness is also important.
And no, mindfulness and body awareness are not exclusive to meditation.
Many muscles and body parts are involved in producing sounds. Your lungs, your lips, your tongue, your throat…
You might not feel that, but you mobilize a veritable army to help you pronounce words.
And in this course, we will raise your awareness of those parts.
If you know where a particular sound is produced — even if you are not able to reproduce it — you are independent.
You’ll eventually come round to saying it properly. Trust your brain. It’ll do its job. And you’ll be independent.
And that’s my goal — that you become an independent learner. Independence brings freedom which in turn produces happiness.
But you might want to focus on the alphabet instead.
That’s not a problem. And it’s actually a natural segue to everything you’re going to pick up in here.
And you can do it either way — you can start from the alphabet and then move on to the sounds or vice versa.
Portuguese Pronunciation Course Modules
The sound [ɛ] exists in English in the words "egg" and "pet".
But some people might pronounce it differently.
When you produce this sound, you should lower your jaw a bit while keeping a smile. It's a more tense sound.
It's not as open as the sound in the word "Hat" but it comes very close.
And just a fun fact.
Brazilians can't tell the difference between "bad" and "bed".
That's why most of them will say they like watching "Breaking Bed".
A very funny watch.
Down below you'll see some of the common spellings for this sound.
Listen to them carefully and repeat aloud.
O José bebe café.
Ele nega. He denies.
You don't have this sound in isolation in English.
It is the sound that occurs in the first vowel part of the word "day" (the whole diphthong is [ej]).
If you stretch the pronunciation of this word you'll see that your lips gradually close and that your jaw gradually goes up.
You should not let that happen.
Watch the video for a more visual instruction.
This is not a sound as tense as [ɛ].
And here are some common spellings for this sound.
- Cometer um erro.
- Cadê o bambolê da TV? Me dê, por favor.
- Eu gosto de comer gelo.
And just a quick note — you'll see sometimes the combination EI. When in careful speech — that is, when Brazilians speak very slowly — they will sound out each vowel in this combination.
But when in relaxed speech — whenever Brazilians speak without any concerns regarding their pronunciation — it just means it's a long [e] sound.
You'll find this sound in words like "law" and "jaw".
But just a quick note, not every American English speaker will reproduce the sound the way I'm telling you about in here.
Sometimes they don't round their lips so much.
And it's important. You have to round your lips when saying [ɔ].
You lower your jaw. It's a bit tense sound.
You can also find it in the first part of the word "all".
Again, I am using TV American English as my foundation. Speakers of other variants should heed to that fact.
The common spellings for this sound are:
Avó > vovó.
Again, this sound doesn't exist in isolation. In English, you find it in the first vowel part of the word "know".
If you pay close attention to your pronunciation of that word, you'll see that there is a glide. You move your jaw gradually up and your lips close.
You should not let that happen.
When compared to the sound [ɔ], this one is relaxed and you protrude your lips a bit more. It's almost as if you were whistling.
And here are some common spellings.
- Eu dou.
- Eu sou.
- Que dor.
- Te dou meu apoio.
But Portuguese also has the combination [ow] you have in English.
Unlike English, however, this difference changes the meaning of the word as you'll see in the example below.
- A colcha da cama. Bed-spread.
- A coxa de frango. Thigh; chicken legs.
- Você votou? Did you vote?
- Você voltou? Did you come back?
I don't have much to say about each sound individually.
They are sounds — you must hear and reproduce them.
But I have a very important thing for you to carry along with you at all times.
A nasal vowel in Portuguese is a nasal vowel.
When you finish saying it, your lips don't close into an M.
If you do, you might end up blending words that don't need any blending.
Worse still, you might say words you didn't intend to.
And a final M or N is not a consonant.
When you say the English word "him" you pronounce the M clearly.
After all, it's a nasal consonant.
But in Portuguese pronunciation, that's not the case.
A final M or N is only an indication that the previous vowel is nasal.
Just check the examples in the following modules to see what I mean.
And sometimes, when you have the letters M or N in the middle of a word they contaminate the previous syllable. You'll see more about that in the video.
In the handouts, you'll find all examples used throughout this unit + their audio recordings.
Handouts - Download all the nasal vowel examples and audios.
Handout — Example Words - Nasal Sounds
- Caçar. To hunt.
- Cansar. To tire, to get tired.
- Laçar. To lace, to tie.
- Lançar. To throw, to launch.
- Matar. To kill.
- Manter. To keep.
And pay attention to the til ("~") in the last two examples. It's an indication that they are nasal vowels as well.
- Vedar. To block.
- Vendar. To blindfold.
- Lida. Drudgery, daily life.
- Linda. Beautiful.
- Vim, vi e venci. I came, I saw, and I won.
- Sim. Yes.
- Se. If.
- Mim. Me (indirect object pronoun)
- Me. Me (direct object pronoun)
- Um leite.
- O leite.
- Mundo. World.
- Mudo. Mute.
- Alguma pergunta.
How to Pronounce ão In Portuguese
You should strive to reproduce that as naturally as you can if you want to avoid blunders like pau for pão.
In this video, you'll see a little sound Brazilians usually insert in words that and in EM.
This is a sound we share with Spanish speakers. But unlike their pronunciation, we don't thrill our R's.
It's just the flap — the tip of the tongue touches lightly the upper teeth ridge — it's the same place where you put the tip of the tongue when pronouncing the letter L as in Lolita.
And the common spellings for that are as follows.
(Of course, if you want to have more details about spellings you can check my article on the Portuguese alphabet.)
- A beira-mar é linda.
- Sobrar um pouquinho de camarão.
In the video, I talk in detail about linking the flap [ɾ] with the next word. You’ll understand if you see how I do it.
These sounds will flag you as a gringo as fast as you can say hiccup.
And I'm not kidding.
In all varieties of English, there is a big difference between the words "bear" and "pair".
There is a strong puff of air in the latter word. Don't believe me? Pick a sheet of paper, place it in front of your mouth, and say the word "pair" repeatedly.
The paper will move — a lot or a little depending on how loudly you say it but it will move anyway.
Now, do the same thing but this time using the word "bear".
Did it move?
I guess it didn't.
It's because of the puff of air.
And the puff of air exists in the sounds [p], [t], and [k] because they are unvoiced sounds.
If you're curious about voiced and unvoiced sounds, you can watch this private video I made for my teacher training students on the topic.
And really, this written introduction is just that — an introduction. You should watch the video and practice along with me if you want to get the best results.
Tá. It is. Okay. Dá. It’s possible. It gives.
Par. Pair. Bar. Bar.
Gole. Gulp. Swallow. Cole. Glue it.
Papai. Daddy. Babá. Nanny.
Gagá. Senile. Cacá. A person’s nickname.
Bodega. Joint, small shop. Peteca. Badminton ball.
Maca. Stretcher. Mago. Magician.
Jaca. Jackfruit. Jogo. Game.
Pata. Female duck. Bata. White coat, lab coat, overall.
The sound [ʎ]
Only a select club of languages share this sound — and unfortunately, English hasn't been invited.
It is a very weak sound. By that I mean it changes a lot in everyday conversations. (I talk about that in the video.)
A close approximation of this sound is the combination LEE (make it short) + another vowel (leea, for example). But you have to say it very quickly.
You will feel this sound around your tongue. The "belly" of your tongue touches the roof of the mouth — but not completely — while you feel that the sound comes out through the sides.
I know, I know. A written explanation of a sound is like mimicking a color with your hands.
The best you can do is repeat the words aloud and watch the video carefully.
The inserted [i]
I once had a tutor tell me the Brazilian Portuguese accent in English was cute.
I asked her why. She replied that we added new sounds to every single word, and it made them sound cute.
For example, the word hot dog is pronounced "hotchie doggie".
And if you have a Brazilian friend who has this kind of pronunciation, please bear in mind they insert that extra sound unknowingly.
In Portuguese, we have words with consonant clusters.
But in Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation, the natural set-up for syllables is always consonant plus vowel or at least a vowel must be there.
When two consonants are clustered as in the words you'll see below we add an extra [i] — where applicable — to make it easy to pronounce.
- Hot[i] Dog[i].
Is that socially acceptable?
Some purists, grammarians, and people with a lot of free time will tell you it isn't.
But they are going against the current here.
If you want to go with them, be my guest. But if you do so keep in mind that the pronunciation you'll hear will be wildly different from what you pronounce.
If you’ve followed all modules in order, it means you were able to pick up a lot. Congratulations are in order!
Now, what should you do?
Practice, practice, and practice.
That’s the only way to get better.
Do you have any questions about the pronunciation?
Leave them in the comments section below.
And thank you!