How Hard Is It to Learn Portuguese?

So, you’ve decided to start learning Portuguese and want to find out how easy or hard of a time you have to look forward to? There’s some good news and bad news for you. The bad news is that no one can really tell you what you will find difficult about Portuguese or any other language. Most of language learning comes down to the learner’s motivation and perseverance, that’s what really decides whether you will become fluent, or give up.

The good news is that for English-speakers, Portuguese is actually widely considered to be one of the easiest languages to learn. The Foreign Service Institute lists Portuguese among its Category I languages – the easiest – along with Spanish, French, and Italian, to name a few. They estimate it should take around 600 hours to learn, but, again, all of this is completely subjective and really matters rather little for your personal experience.

But, in order to give you some idea of this exotic sounding language, let’s start by taking a look at the basics.

A Quick Introduction to Portuguese

Portuguese is a member of the Romance languages, which belongs to the Indo-European language family, together with the Germanic languages – meaning that English and Portuguese have a surprising amount in common. If you happen to already know a bit of French, Italian, or Spanish, even better! Those are other members of the Romance languages, and you’ll be sure to find even more similarities with Portuguese.

Portuguese today has a wide global reach- it has around 250 million native speakers, and is often considered to be the sixth most natively spoken language. Due to the expansionist activities of the Portuguese during colonial times, it is now an important and widely spoken language in Latin-America, areas of the Pacific, and parts of Africa.

Difference Between European and Brazilian Portuguese

Portugal and Brazil can arguably be considered the two most influential Portuguese-speaking countries. Portugal as the original exporter of the language, and Brazil due to its largest number of native speakers. There are also some differences in the way the language is used in either of the countries. If you’re thinking about starting your Portuguese lessons, it might be good to take a minute to consider these dialects before choosing which one to learn.
The good news is that both Brazilian and European Portuguese are still the same language. For example, while Arabic can have such stark differences between regional dialects as to make it unintelligible, two Portuguese speakers should still be able to understand each other, even though they’re from the opposite sides of the Atlantic. That said, there are some differences between the way Europeans and Brazilians pronounce their words.

Additionally, there are some irregularities in the formal and informal speech. While in Portugal, people use “tu” only in informal situations with their friends or family and “você” is reserved for more formal settings, Brazilians make more liberal use of “você”, mixing it in informal and formal settings.

There are also some differences in grammar and spelling, but in general, the two versions have more in common than apart. So, when you’re deciding which dialect to learn, take a moment to listen to both versions being spoken, consider which language or culture seems more appealing to you, and take it from there.

What You Might Find Difficult

The most common things English-speakers struggle with when learning Portuguese, are pronunciation and understanding what is being said by native speakers. Mind you, this is especially true for the European version, where speakers tend to swallow their vowels, and it might be difficult to distinguish between syllables.

Portuguese also has some sounds (think nasal vowels) that English-speakers are not used to. Additionally, some letters are pronounced different according to context (but when you compare “though”, “through, and “tough”, you see that even that can be learned), and the language also features some world-class tongue twisters.

But every language has its own tricky parts and you should definitely not let that hold you back!

Conclusion – Portuguese is a Fairly Simple Language to Learn

Although Portuguese has its own quirks that you will have to come accustomed to, it is still rather closely related to English, not to mention other Romance languages, making it a good language to learn. You might struggle with the pronunciation or understanding what is being said, but if you keep your motivation high and make learning Portuguese fun for yourself, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t succeed.