Back in the 1990’s, I lived in Brazil and learnt Brazilian Portuguese. From December 2015 – March 2017, I lived in Portugal and would like to share my experiences with those two variations of the same language.

Was it easy to get along in Portugal speaking Brazilian Portuguese? Short answer: Everyone understood me but the problems started when Portuguese people answered back. In the beginning, I was really frustrated. When Brazilians speak, I understand almost everything and that was not the case at all in Portugal. It certainly improved over the months but in the beginning, I often felt like an idiot.

Making telephone calls was my worst nightmare, especially when I first had to find my way through computer instructions. Those computer voices normally spoke a very pronounced European Portuguese. Unfortunately, I couldn’t ask them to slow down or repeat something, so I often had to guess.

So what makes European Portuguese so difficult when you got started with Brazilian Portuguese? Well, the intonation is totally different and unlike Brazilians, native speakers from Portugal often sound as if they were mumbling, they swallow up letters or the endings of the words and this can drive you crazy. I’ve met Brazilians in Portugal who faced the same problems and found it embarrassing having to ask Portuguese people to repeat something. Brazilian Portuguese with its open vowels is much easier to understand.

Torre de Belém – Lisboa, Portugal

There are differences in grammar and vocabulary, too but this is something you can learn if you decide to stay and get settled there. To be honest, I knew that my time in Portugal would be limited and didn’t make any real efforts to use European words or grammar.

Well, let’s have a look at some of those differences.

Adressing people

In Brazil (in most parts at least), everyone is addressed with “você”, used with the 3rd person singular. In very formal settings, you address people with “a senhora/o senhor”. In Portugal on the other hand, the “você” is only used in its plural form. For example, you go to a store and would like to know if they have a certain kind of product: “Vocês têm esse produto?”. In this case, the “vocês” refers to the company, not to real people.  In informal settings, Portuguese people use “tu”, like in Spanish.

Although I speak Spanish and use the “tu” then, it felt weird to me, doing the same with Portuguese. The fact that I had never really learnt the 2nd person singular forms of the verbs because I didn’t need them in Brazil didn’t make things easier.  So I stuck to “você” all the time. However, over the months, I learnt to avoid saying “você” explicitly. When dealing with people in more formal settings like cafés, shops etc this works pretty well. You just omit the “você” and stick to the 3rd person singular but don’t add “a senhora/o senhor”. Makes you sound less impolite.

Nós / a gente

Both means “we”. Well, literally “a gente” means “people” but in Brazil, it’s absolutely common to say something like “A gente vai pra praia”. In Portugal, they say “Nós vamos para a praia”. And just like with the “você/tu”,  the “nós” always felt strange for me.

Progressive forms

Here, Brazilian Portuguese has more in common with Spanish: “Estou falando/Estoy hablando” = “I’m speaking”. In Portugal, they still use an older form: “Estou a falar”. Perhaps even easier because you just have to combine “a” with the infinitive but weird for me, too.

Different words

Some words that you really need in your everyday life are different in Brazil and Portugal. As there are quite a few Brazilians living in Portugal, Portuguese people normally understand the Brazilian words but a couple of them are so common that even I got used to using them during my time in Portugal. So here’s a short list of words you will really need and which are different in both countries:

Brazilian PortugueseEuropean PortugueseEnglish
o tremo comboiotrain
o ônibuso autocarrobus
o banheiroa casa-de-banhobathroom
o café da manhão pequeno-almoçobreakfast
o sorveteo geladoice-cream
o celularo telemóvelmobile phone
o ponto de ônibusa paragembus stop
o sucoo sumojuice
a geladeirao frigoríficofridge
o resfriadoa constipaçãocold (illness)
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


It’s possible to survive with Brazilian Portuguese in Portugal. I suspect that it’s more difficult the other way round because Brazilians are definitively much less used to European Portuguese than vice-versa.

If you want to learn Portuguese because you plan to travel or even live in Portugal and you don’t have any previous knowledge, go for the European version.

If you are interested in Brazil and Portugal, then learn Brazilian Portuguese. In my opinion, the pronunciation and intonation are easier to learn and you will be more or less understood by Spanish native speakers in Latin America, too. The differences between European Portuguese and European Spanish are much bigger than the differences between Brazilian Portuguese and Latin American Spanish. Perhaps because there’s not as much contact between Spain and Portugal as one would expect between neighbouring countries.

European Portuguese is also more resistant to change and doesn’t assimiliate as many words and expressions from other languages (English, in particular) than Brazilian Portuguese does.

If you’re looking for a good online teacher, here are my two recommendations for Brazilian Portuguese. I’ve studied with both of them, so I know they’re great.

1. Luciana Pegoraro

(Read my interview with Luciana here).

Portuguese Teacher Luciana

Luciana’s teacher profile on italki (If you don’t have an italki account yet, use this link to register and receive US$10.00 after you’ve taken your first lesson with Luciana.)

2. Murillo Costa

Portuguese Teacher Murillo

Murillo’s teacher profile on italki (If you don’t have an italki account yet, use this link to register and receive US$10.00 after you’ve taken your first lesson with Murillo.)

Are you learning Portuguese? Brazilian or European one? Tell me about your experiences in the comments. 

Author: Daniela

Hi! I'm Daniela - a native German who's currently living in Lima, Peru. Besides making a living teaching German and English, I'm constantly trying to improve my Spanish and Portuguese. On my blog, I write articles for (aspiring) language teachers to help them get started and for people who want to travel the world and make some extra cash teaching their native language.

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