Brazilian vs. European Portuguese

With over 200 million native speakers, Portuguese is the second most popular language in South America and the sixth most spoken language worldwide. The language originated from Latin and was developed two millennia ago.

Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese are the two main variants of the language. The former came as a result of Portugal’s colonization of Brazil, while the latter is the standard variant spoken in Portugal.

However, just how different is Brazilian Portuguese from European Portuguese? Can they be considered “dialects”? And what Portuguese variant will you learn at Middlebury Language Schools? 

We consulted Luis Gonçalves, Director of the Portuguese School, to answer all your questions about learning Portuguese at Middlebury. 


Can Brazilian and European Portuguese Be Considered “Dialects”?

According to Gonçalves, a dialect is a specific form of a language that is spoken in a specific region or by a particular group of people. 

“A dialect typically has its own unique vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation that may differ from the standard form of the language,” Gonçalves explains. “Standard form of the language is the key to this answer. Brazilian and European Portuguese have distinct differences. However, they are not dialects of each other because they are both “standard versions of Portuguese” that underwent different linguistic changes over time due to the geographic, cultural, and historical differences,” he adds. 

It is interesting to note, however, that a richness of dialects has emerged within these two standard Portuguese versions.

“For example, the Portuguese spoken in the Northeast region of Brazil has a distinct accent, while the Portuguese spoken in the Southeast region, specifically in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, each has very identifiable particularities,” says Gonçalves.

Differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese

5 Key Differences Between Brazilian And European Portuguese

European Portuguese itself has transformed over time and is no longer the same mother language introduced in Brazil during the colonial era. Moreover, Brazilian Portuguese followed its own evolutionary path, being influenced by the native indigenous population and foreigners such as German, Italian and Spanish-speaking immigrants.

These resulted in linguistic differences in several aspects. Can European Portuguese understand Brazilian Portuguese speakers and vice-versa? The answer is yes — but probably speakers will ask for clarification at times. Let’s look at some of the differences between these two variants. 


#1 Pronunciation

“One of the main differences between European and Brazilian Portuguese is the pronunciation,” Gonçalves explains. “In general, European Portuguese has a more guttural sound, while Brazilian Portuguese has a more nasal sound. European Portuguese tends to shorten vowels, while Brazilian Portuguese tends to elongate them,” he adds. 

Moreover, some of the consonants are pronounced differently. For instance, in some cases, the letter T is pronounced with a “ch” sound in Brazilian Portuguese, while in European Portuguese, it is pronounced similarly to English.

#2 Vocabulary

When it comes to vocabulary, both Portuguese variations have their own words for certain objects. For instance, the words train and bus are referred to as “trem” and “onibus” in Brazilian Portuguese, while they are called “comboio” and “autocarro” in European Portuguese. (Interestingly, both “trem” and “comboio” come from English, from “train” and “convoy.”)

The difference in vocabulary is a major reason why a European Portuguese speaker may have some degree of difficulty understanding Brazilian Portuguese and vice versa.

“Both forms of Portuguese have borrowed words from other languages, but the sources are different. For example Portugal borrowed “pulôver” from British English, while Brazil borrowed “suéter” from American English. European Portuguese has borrowed more from other Romance languages, while Brazilian Portuguese has borrowed more from indigenous and African languages,” says Gonçalves.

#3 Pronouns

There are some differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese in terms of grammar too. Generally, Brazilian Portuguese uses “você” as the informal second-person singular pronoun, while European Portuguese uses “tu.” However, some regions of Brazil use “tu” but conjugate the verb as “você.”

Alternatively, both variants use the second-person pronouns “o senhor” and “a senhora” in formal communication.

#4 Verbs

Brazilian Portuguese makes use of gerunds to describe actions taking place at the moment of interaction. This is done by ending verbs with “ndo,” similar to the English “ing.” On the other hand, European Portuguese frequently use the preposition “a” followed by an infinitive - the southern regions of Portugal and the islands also use the “ndo” form.  

If the sentence is “I’m reading the report,” Brazilian Portuguese speakers would say “Estou lendo o relatório,” while European Portuguese speakers would say “Estou a ler o relatório.”

#5 Intonation

Since Brazilian Portuguese requires its speakers to open their mouths more and produce fuller and wider sounds, this variant generally has more of a musical ring to it. 

This is contrasted by European Portuguese’s relatively flat pitch in unstressed syllables and a raised pitch in stressed syllables, with a slight falling intonation at the end of sentences, while rising intonation for questions.

Portuguese at Middlebury

How Is Portuguese Taught at Middlebury?

At Middlebury, “we have a diverse faculty, staff, and guest-speakers from different countries, regions, and backgrounds that provide support as students navigate the different variations of the Portuguese language,” explains Gonçalves. 

To facilitate fluency, we offer a seven-week Portuguese summer immersion program that is open to students of all levels, from beginner to advanced. 

Our immersion program makes use of the communicative approach. Aside from classroom learning, you will be immersed in a vibrant and supportive community in which you will get to participate in co-curricular activities while exclusively using the Portuguese language. This will allow you to practice using the language in real-life situations.

“From the moment students arrive to the moment they leave, students live in and through Portuguese, “ says Gonçalves. “Students sign the world-famous Middlebury’s Language Pledge in which they promise to speak only Portuguese. For 7 weeks, everything, academic and social, is designed to maximize the learning opportunities for the students at different levels of proficiency”, he adds. 


A Pluricentric Language

Teaching a pluricentric language effectively involves providing students with a comprehensive understanding of the different variations, including the grammatical, lexical, and phonological differences between the various standard forms of the language. 

“The Middlebury Portuguese School achieves this by using authentic materials, such as music, television, news, blogs, vlogs, films, etc., from different regions where the language is spoken. The school uses an online platform produced in-house to provide students with exposure to native speakers of the different standard and non-standard forms of the language,” says Gonçalves.

“We are also aware that many students may have different linguistic backgrounds or may have learned or are planning to learn a specific standard form of the language. This is why we developed this online tool that allows us to be flexible and adaptable in our teaching approach,” he explains.

Learn Portuguese at Middlebury in Only Seven Weeks

From pronunciation to grammar, various influences have made Brazilian and European Portuguese differ in multiple linguistic aspects. Depending on your goals and interests, you may choose to focus more on one or the other when learning the language. 

Middlebury’s summer immersion program is a great option if you are ready to take your Portuguese skills to the next level. Our flexible approach will allow you to customize your learning experience according to your own interests. 

Check out our need-based and merit-based funding opportunities (including our Portuguese Teachers Fellowship) and study in the most prestigious language school in the US.


Learn Portuguese with a big group of Portuguese students!