February 27, 2023 by J.A. García Hispanic Culture 0 comments
Today, we invite you to travel with us and learn everything you can about the languages of Brazil. Are you ready?
You might be thinking, “Well, Brazilians speak Portuguese.”
Well, the answer is not that simple. For example, did you know that during the 19th century, lots of Germans emigrated to Brazil? Or that more than 200 indigenous languages are spoken in this amazing subcontinent? Well, Brazil is full of surprises and languages!
So, pack your suitcase and a light book, because it’s time to board!
A Quick Introduction
Brazil is the largest country in South America and the fifth largest nation in the world. It’s located on the eastern side of the continent, and it’s 3,286,470 square miles.
It borders every South American country except Chile and Ecuador.
According to The World Factbook, the current population is 217,240,060 (2022 est.).
In this article, you will find interesting facts and important information about what the main language of Brazil is, as well as the most commonly used languages, just in time for your next vacation!
Official Language of Brazil
Portuguese is the official language of Brazil, and the majority of the population speaks it.
On the Ethnologue website, they detail that 201,000,000 of the Brazilian population speak Portuguese as their first or mother tongue, then 10,200,000 speak it as a second language, and 6,000,000 of the inhabitants do not speak it at all.
Researchers at Britannica say that “Brazilian Portuguese is different from European Portuguese in a number of ways, including some changes in sound and some differences in the way verbs are conjugated and how sentences are put together.”
But how did Portuguese come to Brazil? It didn’t grow on trees like their famous passion fruit!
The Portuguese language arrived in 1500 with the colonization. Tupi was the main language of Brazil’s native people, and Portuguese missionaries and traders used it to communicate with Indians.
According to the Brazil-Help website, in 1757, Tupi was banned by royal decree. However, Portuguese speakers kept words from Tupi and other local languages. Words like abacaxi (pineapple), caju (cashew), tatu (armadillo), piranha (the fish) are originally Tupi words.
In the following years, Brazilian Portuguese received African influence, and at the same time, people in Portugal started adding French to their variation.
These exchanges made the differences between the two languages more notorious.
Brazil gained its independence in 1822, and from that moment on, other European languages kept making changes to it.
Finally, at the beginning of the 21st century, people began to promote the creation of a linguistic norm based on the Brazilian version of the Portuguese language.
That’s quite the ride, huh? Brazilian Portuguese, in fact, keeps changing, mainly due to competition, as we’ll see next!
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Other Widely Spoken Languages in Brazil
At the beginning of the 19th century, the immigration wave from Europe and Asia changed the local landscape of Brazil.
People from Spain, Germany, Italy, Japan, and China, began settling around Brazil, and locals added more foreign words to Portuguese.
Let’s look at the influence these languages had on Brazilian Portuguese!
According to the 2020 National Migratory Registry in Brazil, there are 6,342,000 Spanish speakers in Brazil, but it’s the mother tongue of only 742,000 of them.
By the way, in 2005, Brazilian president Lula Da Silva approved a bill promoted by Congress to make Spanish the country’s second language.
In addition, as we mentioned, Brazil has borders with almost all the countries of South America except Chile and Ecuador.
Understandably, Spanish is so important for the country’s development.
English is another language that Brazilians have adopted as a common language. In 2020, there were 10,921,000 English speakers in Brazil, but only 121,000 Brazilians used it as their first language.
According to a study by the British Council in Brazil, the main objectives for studying English are expanding knowledge and getting a job. The people polled thought English was necessary for entering the job market and that English speakers were better paid.
Tourism is one of Brazil’s most important sources of income. According to a Business Intriper article, in 2022, Brazil got more than 3 million foreign tourists from these countries:
- Argentina (883,008)
- United States (373,382)
- Paraguay (256,598)
- Chile (169,671)
- Uruguay (158,705)
- Portugal (121,542)
- France (115,795)
- Germany (104,640)
- United Kingdom (76,335)
- Colombia (74,732)
We can easily understand why foreign languages are so important in Brazil. But what about local languages? Well, Brazilians have hundreds of indigenous languages.
Indigenous Languages in Brazil
When Europeans first came to Brazil, people there spoke between 600 and 1,000 different languages. Today, a total of 238 languages are spoken in the country. A demographic census conducted in 2010 by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics indicates that the largest ethnic group in Brazil is the Tikúna, which represents 6.8% of the indigenous population.
However, despite their wide variety, many of Brazil’s indigenous languages are in danger. In fact, of the 238 languages spoken in the country, 217 are living, 21 are extinct, 200 are indigenous, and 17 are non-indigenous.
One of the main threats to Brazilian languages is the invasion of indigenous territories.
Some native groups have been persecuted throughout history, and the only records we have of their languages are from researchers who went to the country many years ago.
This is inadmissible! As the linguist, Angel Corbera Mori from Unicamp’s Institute for Language Studies explains, “If a language is lost, then medicine, ancestral food, stories, and traditions are lost.”
Brazil: A Country of Immigrants
Brazil is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world!
According to the 2010 World Factbook, Brazil’s ethnic groups are divided into the following percentages:
- White: 47.7%
- Mixed: 43.1%
- Black: 7.6%
- Asian: 1.1%
- Indigenous: 0.4%
Brazil remains a very popular country to visit. Its lush landscapes, colorful parades and carnivals, spellbinding music, and unique culture are like magnets for people around the world!
You definitely want to add this destination to your list!
Let Your Trip to Brazil Begin!
I’m thrilled to have shared this travel guide with you, exploring the vibrant and diverse languages spoken throughout Brazil! As you now know, Portuguese is the official language, and I’ve shared fascinating insights into its rich history, from the African and Tupi influences to its modern-day usage.
Additionally, we’ve explored other widely spoken languages like Spanish and English, highlighting the vital role of foreign languages in Brazil’s thriving tourism industry.
Lastly, we delved into the endangered indigenous languages of Brazil, shedding light on their cultural significance and the need to preserve them.
I hope this guide has left you feeling inspired to explore the fascinating linguistic landscape of Brazil further!
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I am a Guatemalan bilingual fiction writer, translator, and journalist. In my spare time I like to read, play video games, and do sports. I’m a fan of historical fiction, family sagas, and graphic novels. I’m left-handed, a failed drummer, an amateur goalkeeper, and I drive a 1988 Subaru J10.
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What are the top 3 languages spoken in Brazil? ›
The biggest languages present in Brazil include: Portuguese – 208.31 million speakers. Spanish – 6.38 million speakers. English – 8.50 million speakers.How many languages does Brazil speak? ›
There are about 228 languages spoken in Brazil. These include Portuguese and 11 other foreign or immigrant languages, as well as 217 indigenous languages. In the following article, you can learn more about what languages people speak in Brazil.What is the 2nd language in Brazil? ›
However, German is Brazil's second most spoken language after Portuguese. It's spoken by around 1.9% of the population, and just like the local Portuguese, Brazilian German differs from European German. In fact, there's a much more significant different in the German dialects that there is in the Portuguese dialects.Is Brazil like Spanish? ›
Brazilians speak Portuguese and not Spanish. As the only country in South America to officially speak the language, there's an intriguing story behind that unique piece of cultural heritage.How do you say hello in Brazil? ›
If you'd like to say “hello” in Brazilian Portuguese, you would generally use “Olá”. You can also use “Oí"—which is often considered more informal. Here are a few other basic phrases you'll find useful: Bom dia. / Good morning.Can Brazilians speak Spanish well? ›
In fact, around 460,000 Brazilians speak Spanish, according to Ethnologue. The two languages are similar in many ways, though more in their written form than their pronunciation. As such, many Brazilians are able to understand Spanish, though they may not speak it fluently.Is Brazil more Portuguese or Spanish? ›
Though Spanish is the primary language in most South American countries, Portuguese is actually what's spoken most in South America, and that's all thanks to Brazil.Do most Brazilians speak Spanish as well? ›
Portuguese is the official language of Brazil, and the majority of the population speaks it.Can you speak English in Brazil? ›
Do people in Brazil speak fluent English? Nope ! The average Brazilian does NOT speak ANY level of English. However you would find that people at hotels and restaurants and major touristic attractions might speak English, ranging from basic English to mid level proficiency.Are Portuguese and Spanish the same? ›
This is probably one of the most common language-related misconceptions. No, Portuguese is not Spanish, but they were both born in the Iberian Peninsula somehow isolated from the rest of the land by the Pyrenees so it's only natural for them to resemble in a lot of ways.
What religion is in Brazil? ›
Two percent practice Afro-Brazilian religions, and 3 percent are Spiritists. According to the 2010 census, the most recently available data from official sources, 65 percent of the population is Catholic, 22 percent Protestant, 8 percent irreligious (including atheists, agnostics, and deists), and 2 percent Spiritist.Which language is most spoken in the world? ›
- English – 1,121 million speakers. ...
- Mandarin Chinese – 1,107 million speakers. ...
- Hindi – 698 million speakers. ...
- Spanish – 512 million speakers. ...
- French – 284 million speakers. ...
- Arabic – 273 million speakers. ...
- Bengali – 265 million inhabitants. ...
- Russian – 258 million speakers.
Portuguese and Spanish have a lexical similarity of almost 90%. This means that both languages have words that are found in equivalent forms. The 2 languages have a high proportion of cognates, which are words that have the same roots and correspond to each other. Much of the vocabulary is shared.Why does Brazil talk Portuguese? ›
As trade grew, Portugal increased its influence and political power in Brazil. Other European countries then established their own colonies in South America. Brazil became the central source of Portugal's entry into South America. As a result, Portuguese is now the main language of Brazil.Can a Portuguese person understand a Spanish person? ›
While there are some differences between the two languages, most native Spanish and Portuguese speakers can understand each other if each party speaks clearly.Is Brazil easier than Spanish? ›
Both languages are beautiful. Spanish has simpler grammar and is easier for English natives to pronounce than either Continental or Brazilian Portuguese. If you're new to language learning, that would be an argument for learning Spanish before Portuguese.Which is the smallest Spanish speaking country? ›
The smallest Spanish-speaking country shouldn't come as a surprise. It's by far Equatorial Guinea. With Around a third of the population in Equatorial Guinea speaking Spanish and being among the least-visited countries in the world it's no wonder that this Spanish-speaking country is the smallest on our list.How do Brazilians say thank you? ›
“Thank You” in Portuguese: Obrigado/Obrigada
The simplest way to say “thank you” in Portuguese is obrigado. You must change the ending to match your own gender; men say obrigado and women say obrigada.
The Kiss as a Greeting
If you are unsure of how many kisses to give, a single kiss with the right cheek touching the other person's is a good place to start. This is the greeting most common in Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais. In Rio, two kisses are customary. In Bahia, expect to receive three or more kisses!
Deus te/lhe ajude or Deus te abençoe
Like “Santinho”, "God bless you" was something you said to someone who let out a sneeze, because it meant they could possibly be affected by the disease. “Deus te ajude” or “Deus lhe ajude” literally means “God helps you”, but in reality, it's a wish for your health.
Is South America Spanish or Portuguese? ›
Spanish is the most widely spoken language in Latin America, and it is the primary language in every South American country except Brazil, Suriname and French Guyana, as well as Puerto Rico, Cuba and several other islands.Is Brazilian Portuguese harder than Spanish? ›
For most native English speakers, Spanish is slightly easier to learn than Portuguese. This is primarily a matter of access. Since Spanish is spoken by over 400 million people worldwide (compared to just over 200 million for Portuguese), it's easier to find Spanish resources and media for learning or practising.What's the difference between Brazilian and Portuguese? ›
Brazilians speak vowels longer and wider, while Portuguese pronounce the words with a more closed mouth, without pronouncing the vowels as much. The pronunciation of some consonants is also different, particularly the S at the end of a word.Why is Portuguese so much like Spanish? ›
Spanish and Portuguese originated on a small territory of the Iberian península, and their history was extremely tangled for centuries. That's why they are so closely related but with differences in vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.Why is Portuguese so different from Spanish? ›
However, Portuguese and Spanish differ mainly because of their different origins during the period following the Muslim conquest of Iberia and the advent of the Reconquista.
It's the second most widely spoken Romance language. Important Note: European Portuguese, which is spoken in Portugal, is very far from Spanish. Brazilian Portuguese, which is spoken in Brazil, sounds much closer to Spanish. Hence, these two are drastically different from each other.Is Portuguese friendlier than Spanish? ›
For example, although the Portuguese are generally a friendlier bunch than the Spaniards, the Portuguese are more reserved than the Spaniards.Who is more friendly Spanish or Portuguese? ›
Portuguese people are - by far - more polite than Spanish people. You can see it by simply going to a supermarket: in Portugal, the cashier will look at your eyes, smile and salute you; in Spain, sometimes they just point to the screen so that you know the price and don't even say a word.Do Brazilians speak Mexican? ›
In fact, 4% of Brazil's population is estimated to speak Spanish. Nevertheless, Brazilians who live closer to borders with Spanish-speaking countries are likely to speak it. Learning Spanish is also mandatory in the states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, so you might meet Brazilian Spanish speakers there, too!Is Brazil friendly to foreigners? ›
Brazilians love to party
Brazilians are very warm, friendly people. If you are staying with a local, within days the whole neighborhood will know everything about you. Don't be alarmed, Brazilians love meeting new people, and having a visitor is a novelty for them, especially if you visit a small town.
Can you live in Brazil without speaking Portuguese? ›
English may serve you well in particularly touristy places, however, if you want to really get to know Brazil and stray from the beaten path, Portuguese is a must. Even for simple acts such as booking a hotel or buying food, you will need to have some basic communication skills.What percentage of Brazil speak English? ›
|Country||Eligible population||Total English speakers|
- Norwegian. This may come as a surprise, but we have ranked Norwegian as the easiest language to learn for English speakers. ...
- Swedish. ...
- Spanish. ...
- Dutch. ...
- Portuguese. ...
- Indonesian. ...
- Italian. ...
Also a romance language, Portuguese is widely spoken around the world and relatively easy for English-speakers to learn.What is Portuguese a mix of? ›
In all aspects—phonology, morphology, lexicon and syntax—Portuguese is essentially the result of an organic evolution of Vulgar Latin with some influences from other languages, namely the native Gallaecian and Lusitanian languages spoken prior to the Roman domination.What is Brazil famous for? ›
Brazil is famous for its stunning beaches, rainforests, and diverse cities. It is known as the country of football with world-renowned footballers such as Pelé and Neymar born there.What is the national dish of Brazil? ›
Feijoada is a black bean stew that is brewed with a variety of salted and smoked pork and beef products from carne-seca to smoked pork spareribs. The more traditional feijoada also includes “cheaper” cuts such as pig's ears, feet and tails, and beef tongue.Can most Brazilians speak Spanish? ›
About 4% of Brazilians speak Spanish. This is equal to about 8.4 million Spanish speakers. However, people often confuse Spanish and Portuguese since these languages are closely related.What language did Jesus speak? ›
Most religious scholars and historians agree with Pope Francis that the historical Jesus principally spoke a Galilean dialect of Aramaic. Through trade, invasions and conquest, the Aramaic language had spread far afield by the 7th century B.C., and would become the lingua franca in much of the Middle East.What is the #1 language in the world? ›
1. English – 1,121 million speakers. It is the most widely spoken language in the world because of the global impact of England and the United States in the last three centuries.
What is the hardest language in the world? ›
Across multiple sources, Mandarin Chinese is the number one language listed as the most challenging to learn. The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center puts Mandarin in Category IV, which is the list of the most difficult languages to learn for English speakers.Is Portuguese almost like Spanish? ›
Portuguese and Spanish have a lexical similarity of almost 90%. This means that both languages have words that are found in equivalent forms. The 2 languages have a high proportion of cognates, which are words that have the same roots and correspond to each other. Much of the vocabulary is shared.Can you understand Spanish if you speak Portuguese? ›
The two languages are distinct but share a lot of vocabulary and grammar—if you learn Portuguese to a good level, you'll probably find that you can already read Spanish, although the significant differences in pronunciation make speaking and listening more of a challenge.Do Brazilians speak fast? ›
Do Brazilians speak fast? Of course, some Brazilians do speak fast. However, most of the time what actually happens is not that they speak fast, it's that students perceive them to speak fast.