Learning Portuguese from Spanish: An Overview

By OptiLingo

Learning Portuguese as a Spanish speaker should be a cinch, right? Well, it is and it isn’t. It definitely gives you an advantage. Both are romance languages with Latin origins and share a lot of vocabulary. Additionally, their sentence structure and grammar are similar. Although they say Portuguese speakers have more of an advantage in learning Spanish than their Spanish-speaking counterparts, it still remains an advantage for Spanish speakers. Don’t be intimidated if you’re researching how to learn Portuguese from Spanish.

The vocabulary is so similar! There are numerous cognates that allow you to understand the language right off the bat. Cuidad is cidade. Habilidad is habilidade. Invisible is invisivel. So on. Sometimes all you really do is learn the endings.

However, sometimes you have some Portuguese words that look completely alien. For example, la ventana in Spanish is a janela in Portuguese. Also, be on the lookout for falsos amigos. False friends are words that appear similar but have completely different meanings. Always keep a dictionary or a dictionary APP handy to ensure you’re using your new vocabulary as intended.

I want to note a few concerns going in. Since you already speak Spanish you may decide to take a shortcut and just speak Spanish with a Portuguese accent. This may work for the short term, however, you are not properly learning Portuguese if you choose to do this. It is important to take the time to learn the differences between the two languages so you can truly become a fluent speaker.

Being a Spanish speaker gives you the benefit of having a foundation of vocabulary and basic grammar rules. You will be able to read Portuguese, but when speaking you will face difficulties.


The biggest differences between the languages are found when you speak them

The pronunciation in Portuguese greatly differs from Spanish. Grammar also sees changes in how personal pronouns are used.

Portuguese speakers will pronounce the letter e at the ends of words, unlike in Spanish. This is vowel raising. This typically happens when the word has unstressed syllables. Portuguese also has more vowels than Spanish. The language contains nasal vowels, diphthongs, and triphthongs. When you nasalize a word in Portuguese, you can actually change its meaning. These nasal sounds are in French, but not Spanish. This is why sometimes it is said that Portuguese is a mix of Spanish and French. This can further complicate pronunciation.

Also, the accent marks have a different meaning in Portuguese. In Portuguese, they are used to differentiate vowel qualities.

Consonants also contain some differences. The sound ‘lh’, isn’t in Spanish. Another example is the letter x. In Spanish, it’s pronounced ‘h’, but in Portuguese, it’s either ‘sh’, ‘s’, or ‘z’.

The Portuguese ‘r’ is also very different. The way it is pronounced varies from dialect to dialect. You can typically get away with using the alveolar tap, which as a Spanish speaker you’re familiar with. But, whenever you see the ‘rr’, a trill is not expected. This sound is also made whenever an ‘r’ is present at the beginning or end of the word. It is actually more common to pronounce the ‘rr’ as an ‘x’ or ‘h’. You can hear this in the word “falar”.



For Spanish speakers, Portuguese pronouns can be pretty easy. Yo becomes eu, tu is tu, el/ella/usted is ele/ela/você, nosotros is nós, vosotros is vós and ellos/ellas/ustedes is eles/elas/vocês. Você is more commonly used in place of tu in Brazilian Portuguese.

The formality in language is different in Portuguese. It is not nearly as formal as Spanish and the distinction between você and tu is not made as much as tu and usted. Tu is hardly used in Portuguese. Instead, you’ll find it mainly in literature such as poetry or song lyrics. Você is the default tu for Brazilians, and those of you who learned Spanish in a country that uses voseo will find this advantageous.

Another small difference is in how Brazilians use nós, the equivalent of nosotros. You’ll find it common to hear many Brazilians using the pronoun ‘a gente’. ‘A gente’ means “the people” but in when used as a pronoun by a speaker it means “us” or “we”. Although it is not something native speakers use in formal language, it is definitely not slang. Take a listen. You will find ‘a gente’ being used in daily speech.

Vós is way too formal in Portuguese. Unlike in Spanish, vós is only saved for incredibly formal speech. This kind of speech is found in sermons and old literature. Don’t confuse the two or you’ll sound out of place.

The formal way to use ‘you’ in Portuguese is to use ‘o senhor’ or ‘a senhora’. This is conjugated in the third person singular. This way to say “you” is for the most part used in very formal settings or when speaking with one’s elders.

Now, these are just a few of the many differences you’ll find when you’re learning Portuguese as a Spanish speaker. Next, I’ll take a look at some of the better resources out there for Portuguese-learners.



There are a number of resources online to learn Portuguese for Spanish speakers. An excellent podcast is Ta Falado. The podcast teaches you the differences between the languages and focuses on some of the more complicated pronunciation used in Portuguese. The lessons are designed to teach you using Brazilian Portuguese and Venezuelan Spanish dialogue. They even give explanations in English!

There’s also an excellent textbook titled Pois Nao: Brazilian Portuguese Course for Spanish Speakers.

You’ll want to engage and communicate with native speakers as much as possible. Have them pick out your mistakes. Don’t feel insecure about this. Make an effort to listen for the details that make Portuguese really stand out. It’s also an excellent idea to watch Portuguese media without subtitles. Since you already speak Spanish, you’ll already be able to understand a lot of what is said based on context and your foundational knowledge.

Learning Portuguese should not be a chore, but a thoroughly enjoyable experience. This is just a simple overview of how to learn Portuguese from Spanish. Why not learn when you already have a concrete advantage as a Spanish speaker. Portuguese culture is as rich as Spanish and you may find yourself liking the language’s differences more than you anticipated. Learning Portuguese after learning Spanish will allow you to communicate with almost an entire continent!