You’ve decided to study Portuguese but you’re stuck between two options: Brazilian Portuguese? Or European Portuguese? There are vast differences between the two: the languages differ in pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary, and the cultures are unique. Some people say that the Portuguese and Brazilians can even have difficulty understanding each other! This may be an exaggeration, but it is important to think through your decision.
Here are a few questions to guide you through the decision-making process:
What will you use the language for?
If you are looking to study Portuguese primarily for business, consider Brazilian Portuguese unless you specifically plan to do business in the European Union. Why? Despite the fact that it is currently heading into recession, Brazil’s economy has become a huge world player, and the country’s massive population makes it an important global force.
If you are learning Portuguese for travel, the question is fairly obvious: where do you want to travel? Portugal is the place to go for old-world European architecture, good wine, and close proximity to other countries in the EU. Travel to Portugal (as of this writing) is also a better bargain than travel to Brazil. Brazil offers a chaotic and vibrant Latin American vibe, big cities, big nature (think beach and jungle), and ethnic diversity.
If you aren’t really sure about your intended use and are just looking to learn the language for fun, try Brazilian Portuguese. The Brazilian accent and open pronunciation of vowels makes it easier to understand for foreigners.
Do you know Latin American Spanish?
If you have a good level of Latin American Spanish knowledge, consider Brazilian Portuguese. There are many similarities in grammatical structure and vocabulary that will help you learn Portuguese faster. For example, in Latin America, both Spanish and Portuguese use only the third person plural (ustedes in Spanish / voces in Portuguese) and not the second person plural, which is used in Europe. There is also a good amount of shared vocabulary between Latin American Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese.
What materials can you access?
Media, music, and movies are more prevalent and widely available in Brazilian Portuguese, so unless you have specific access to materials in European Portuguese, Brazilian is the better choice. Most digital applications are also available in Brazilian Portuguese.
Do you have a personal preference?
Sometimes our reasons for learning a language are not practical at all! Do you like the sound of Brazilian Portuguese or do you prefer the European accent? Perhaps you feel more affinity with one culture over the other. Perhaps you would like to read Fernando Pessoa’s poetry in it’s native language, or you want to learn to sing Bossa Nova like Jobim. Learning a language is hard work, so if you can find a way to feel passionate about it, you will stay more engaged and motivated.
Whatever you decide, know that you are not limiting yourself. You will be able to understand and be understood in both Portugal and Brazil as long as you master the basics of the language. Portuguese is a language with rich culture, history, and tradition on both sides of the Atlantic, so enjoy the learning process!