Posted in:

Portuguese vs. Spanish: The Important Differences Between the Two Languages

© by

Spanish and Portuguese are both extremely popular to learn as second (or third!) languages, and if you’re trying to decide which one to opt for, you may be wondering what the differences are between the two. Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered! Read on to find out everything you need to know about how Spanish and Portuguese differ.

Who Speaks Them?

Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world; it’s the official tongue of over twenty countries and is spoken by a significant number of the population in fifty more territories. In total, there are about 489 million native Spanish speakers globally, and the number is rising fast.

Portuguese is the sixth most widely spoken language in the world and has about 250 million indigenous speakers, and is the official language of nine countries.

Both Spanish and Portuguese, then, are extremely widely spoken, so if you’re looking to learn a new language, either one of them offers many advantages, in terms of career opportunities or travel, for example. 

However, the fact that nearly twice as many people speak Spanish as their first language as compared to Portuguese means that if you’re learning a language to progress your climb a few rungs of the career ladder, then Spanish could well be the better option, as there’s a greater likelihood that being fluent in this tongue will be helpful in communication with international contacts. 

Picking Up The Pronunciation 

Many people believe that Spanish and Portuguese are similar languages to the point of one being barely distinguishable from the other. This isn’t the case, however – although they’re both derived from ancient Vulgar Latin (spread throughout Europe by the legions of Rome), Spanish and Portuguese are entirely distinct languages. The differences in pronunciation are the first clue that supports this.

Many learners describe Spanish as having a smooth sound with musical nuances, while those studying Portuguese often note how the accents and flow of this language have resonances with those found in Russian.

The best way to get a handle on pronunciation when learning a new language is to listen to and speak it as much as possible, ideally by immersing yourself in its sounds and vocabulary as often as you can. One of the best – and most fun – ways to do this is by watching subtitled tv in the target language; those who choose to learn Portuguese with Lingopie, for example, can choose from a huge library of Portuguese language tv shows and movies. Listening to music or radio stations in the new language are other great ways to learn pronunciation – as is making sure to get plenty of practice using your new skills by having conversations with other learners or native speakers, and repeating back words and phrases regularly to get used to the new sounds.

Varying Vocabulary

Again, there’s a common misconception that Spanish and Portuguese share swathes of vocabulary. As well as having a different vocabulary, some words are so far removed in the two languages that it’s difficult to believe that the tongues share a common heritage.

For example, the word ‘dessert’ is ‘postre’ in Spanish, while it’s ‘sobremesa’ in Portuguese; while to say ‘dinner’ in Spanish, you’d say ‘cena,’ but it’s ‘jantar’ in Portuguese. This leads us nicely onto…

The Dangers Of False Cognates

A false cognate is a word that looks similar in two languages but has very different meanings – often the source of much hilarity in the classroom! Spanish and Portuguese have lots of these tricksters. 

If you want to order a salad in Portuguese you’d ask for ‘salada.’ But try to use this word to make an order in a Spanish cafe, and you may be surprised at what gets delivered to your table, as you’ve just asked for something ‘salty.’

Another example is the word ‘polvo.’ It’s the same word, but in Spanish, it translates as ‘powder,’ but in Portuguese, it means ‘octopus.’ You want to get this one right when you’re at the shop looking for blush.

Getting To Know ‘You’

Expressing ‘you’ is another key way that Spanish and Portuguese differ. In Portuguese conversation, ‘voce’ or ‘senhor/a’ are used to denote ‘you’ when speaking formally, while the more casual ‘tu’ is used in regards to family and friends.

There isn’t this difference in Spanish, however, where ‘tu’ is acceptable to use when speaking to either a stranger or a close family member.

Sneaky Substitutions

Spanish and Portuguese share some words that are pronounced identically and have the same meanings but are spelled differently. For example, the word for ‘and’ is ‘y’ in Spanish and ‘’e’ in Portuguese. They sound and mean the same. 

Getting To Grips With The Grammar

There are also some important differences in grammar when it comes to Spanish Vs. Portuguese. In Spanish, there are three forms, masculine, feminine, and neutral, whereas, in Portuguese, there are only two: masculine and feminine.

And to make things trickier, some words that are masculine in Spanish are feminine in Portuguese – and vice versa!

Differences In Definite Articles

And finally – the definite article. Putting a definite article before somebody’s name is necessary for Portuguese, whereas it’s not in Spanish. The Portuguese language also requires speakers to add a definite article before possessive adjectives and pronouns, whereas in Spanish, you will only need to do so in the case of possessive pronouns. An example of a possessive pronoun in Spanish is ‘a tua’, which translates as ‘yours.’

Rounding It All Up

So there you have it: some of the key differences between Spanish and Portuguese. While it’s clear that these two languages are distant cousins, they are beautifully distinct in their own rights, with their own unique characteristics, personalities, and foibles.

If you’re thinking of learning one of these as a new language, then bear in mind that research consistently proves that picking up another language after mastering a second is relatively easy, so – maybe – there’s no need to choose between them!