By Jon Lemmens
April 22, 2014
The first couple months after I moved to Brazil I could barely understand people when they spoke to me. A conversation would typically involve me explaining that I couldn’t speak Portuguese very well and then attempting to ask my question or state my request. I did manage to get a haircut and buy bread by pointing and saying a couple of keywords.
I have now been in Brazil for a little over four months and still have trouble understanding people when they speak quickly or when I listen to someone address a crowd of people. However, if I speak to a person one-on-one and I understand the context of the topic, I can hold a lengthy conversation, which I did last weekend.
I will provide you with some common expressions, words, and actions that you should be aware of.
Remember that expressions and mannerisms will differ in different parts and different cities of Brazil so my experiences are only a partial representation of Brazil.
General Points about Brazilian Portuguese
Brazilian Portuguese is distinctly different from European (Portugal) or African Portuguese. Some people compare the language difference to be similar to the difference between England’s English (Portugal Portuguese) and the United States’ English (Brazilian Portuguese).
Depending on the city or region you visit in Brazil, you will encounter distinctly different accents and thereby affect your ability to understand Portuguese.
Brazil’s language has a number of rules that affect how you hear and understand the language.
Brazilian Portuguese uses articles to differentiate between male/masculine and female/feminine subjects, objects or nouns.
Example 1 – O João (John) may sound like Oi John” and A Lisa may sound like a Brazilian is calling you “Alisa.” The “O” indicates a masculine subject and the “A” designates a feminine subject.
Example 2 – Na cidade (In a city) or no pas (In a country)
Em (in) is neutral
Em (in) + o = No (masculine)
Em (in) + a = Na (feminine)
De (of) is neutral
De (of) + o = Do (masculine)
De (of) + a = Da (feminine)
Example 3 – A Caro = the expense. O cara = The guy.
Example 4 – Brasiliero/Brasiliera or Americano/Americana
Example 5 – Obrigado (said by a man) / Obrigada (said by a woman)
Commonly Used Pronouns
Eu = I = Sounds like “you” or “yew.”
Voc = You (singular) = Sounds like “vou say.”
El / Ela = Him / Her (singular) = “El” sounds like the letter “L” and “Ela” sounds like “ey la.”
Nós = Us = Sounds like “Noy shh.”
Vocs/Eles/Elas are the plural forms of the previously mentioned pronouns.
The Brazilian alphabet appears similar to the English alphabet with some distinct differences.
The phonetic translations below are how I hear the translations and interpret them into English and not the official interpretations.
“C” – The letter C can have a “ka” when the C stands alone or “sh” sound when written as CH.
Example – Cachaa (sugar cane brandy) sounds like “ka sha sa.”
“H” – The letter H is called an “ag.” The H is silent at the beginning of the word.
Example – História (a history or story) sounds like “is toe ree-ah.”
“R” – The letter pronunciation sounds like “eh he” (erre). When you have two “Rs” the sound will sound like an H.
Example 1 – “Correr” (to run) sounds like “ko haare.”
Example 2 – “Cachorro” (a dog) sounds like “ka show hoe.”
“” – The has an “S” sound.
Example 3 – Praa (a town square or plaza) sounds like “pra sah.”
Sounds In Portuguese
“O” – is a nasal sound that appears in the middle of the word and can be difficult to pronounce. I try to pronounce the similar to the word “OWN” but with the OW sitting over the letter N OW/Nnn. The sound should be made with your mouth in a smile and with your lips closed.
Example – Avião (An airplane) sounds similar to “A vee ow nnh”
“ES” – is the plural of “O” and sounds like “oynes.”
Example – Avies (airplanes) sounds likes “A vee oynes.”
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