There is a common misconception that Portuguese is not widely spoken across the world. Most people think that is spoken no further than Portugal and Brazil.

It might surprise you to know, therefore, that Portuguese is an official language in 9 countries (plus the autonomous Chinese territory of Macau) across 4 continents.

Therefore, by learning this language, you can visit countries such as Portugal, Brazil, Angola, and East Timor.

It is a language that is in constant evolution, and therefore you can expect to find certain differences in the language depending on where you are in the world.

Let's go on a language trip and learn to speak Portuguese in all 4 corners of the Earth...

Reasons to Learn Portuguese: It Is One of the Most Spoken Languages in the World

Of course, if one brings up which foreign language should be learned from an early age, the first to cross everyone's mind may not be Portuguese. People may talk about learning English, learning Arabic, learning German, learning Spanish, and learning Mandarin Chinese in language schools.

However there are many reasons to learn Portuguese, one of which being that Portuguese is one of the top 10 languages spoken worldwide, spoken much further and wider than the border of the Iberian country.

This Latin language will be, according to an UNESCO prediction, spoken by around 335 million people by 2050.

Portuguese navigators explored the globe during the 15th and 16th centuries
Portuguese led expeditions discovered the islands of Cape Verde in the 15th century

The spread of Portuguese globally can be attributed to the Portugal's colonial history, meaning that today it ranks in 7th place as of the most spoken languages in the world. The fact that it uses the Latin alphabet just like English does makes it an easier prospect than Japanese, Arabic or Chinese.

Also, Portuguese occupies a prominent place in international organizations such as:

  • the European Union (EU).
  • Organization of African Unity (OAU).
  • Organization of American States (OAS).
  • The Common Market of South America (MERCOSUL).
  • Organization of Ibero-American States (OEI).
  • The Southern African Development Community (SADC).
  • The Latin Union (LU).

Finally, what some journalists call "a peculiar language", it is very popular in terms of new media, since it is the 5th most used language on the web, with nearly 83 million Internet users.

Why and How Has Portuguese Spread All Over the World?

The Portuguese language celebrated its 800th anniversary in 2015. But first, let's have a look at what has contributed to the spread of this language out from Portuguese territory since its very first appearance in written documents towards the end of the 12th century.

No need to keep quiet any fine readers may have already guessed that it is indeed through its conquests and great expeditions that the Portuguese language imposed itself outside of its country.

It was during the time of the Great Discoveries, which extended from the early fifteenth century to the beginning of the seventeenth century, that the Portuguese - alongside other European countries such as France, Spain, and England in particular - indulged in the intense exploration of our planet Earth.

The Portuguese language is almost 1000 years old
The Portuguese language was officially born in 1215 when King Afonso had his will written down in Portuguese.

The Portuguese, led by great explorers like Ferdinand Magellan and the famous Vasco de Gama, left Lisbon and navigated to the Cape of Good Hope, subsequently discovering the Sea Route to India. In the process they reached:

  • Africa
  • America
  • Asia
  • and Oceania.

The extent of where the Portuguese language reached would have been quite different if the Portuguese empire - which had begun its conquest of the world long before Spain and France - had not died down following Portugal's relinquishing of the crown to Spain (1580-1640).

When Portugal left its place to other colonizing countries - particularly those in the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, and the seas of China and Japan - it focused exclusively on the colonization of Brazil.  This was in the seventeenth century, and an important turning point for Portugal and Portuguese. 

It was not until the nineteenth century that the Portuguese navigators  burst into Africa. Countries we now know to still speak Portuguese, such as:

  • Angola,
  • Mozambique,
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • and on the islands of Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe.

The Benefits of Learning Portuguese: To Travel to Portugal

If you are studying Portuguese, you will no doubt be lured to its birthplace: Portugal! After our little history revision session, you will be familiar with Portuguese history and culture to a point that you will see its vital importance across the world. You will definitely want to continue your adventure by discovering Portugal.

In this country, the sun shines 300 days a year, and, thanks to your new language skills, you will now be able to go to the lands of Cristiano Ronaldo with the possibility to express yourself in Portuguese and make yourself understood when speaking to the local population.

It will also be a way to awaken your five senses; those cultural elements found in your textbook during those summer courses or Portuguese classes London - those senses linked to Portuguese gastronomy, architecture, or fauna and flora.

Search for a Brazilian Portuguese online course here.

Portuguese cultural is very vibrant
Portugal is a hotbed for culture!

Also take a look at our article on job opportunities after learning Portuguese!

Learning Portuguese in Lisbon

In general, the first leg of a trip to Portugal takes place in Lisbon, the Portuguese capital. It is a beautiful city, and easily compares to the beauty of Paris, in terms of architecture and natural landscapes.

Armed with your newly learned Portuguese skills, you will be able to improve your abilities as you stroll through the streets and have a look at the incredible features the city has to offer:

  • Historical Monuments: Belém Tower, Jerónimos Monastery, Saint Jorge Castle
  • The district of Alfama, Baixa, or the district of Bairro Alto. The latter is the most popular, with restaurants and bars that are open until sunrise.
  • Transportation, which includes tram 28, famous for being the oldest in the city, and its route down very old streets.
  • The Santa Justa lift, built by a student of Gustave Eiffel in the early years of the twentieth century and which offers an incredible panorama of the city.
  • Gastronomy, with the "pasteis de Belem" and famous grilled octopus.

Speaking Portuguese in Madeira

If the beauty of a country could be summed up in the splendor of its natural world, Portugal could count on the island of Madeira to perfect its reputation...

Nicknamed the island of flowers, this pearl of the Atlantic is located off the coast of Morocco and never ceases to amaze with the landscapes it offers and the activities it is brimming with, such as swimming with dolphins in the wild.

This island is beautiful, mainly due to its colourful array of flowers. Madeira is a combination of roads, city, gardens, beaches, the mountains Pico de Arieiro, Pico Ruivo, and the incredible subtropical wet Laurisylve forest located on the heights of the island.

Here, knowing how to speak, write, and understand the Portuguese language will brighten up the language stay of any foreigner and help him or her to quickly befriend the inhabitants of the island.

Learning Portuguese to Travel to Brazil

Far from being a unique "lingua," Portuguese is spoken in several countries around the world with major differences in the tonic accents, grammar, and personal pronouns. These differences are sure to amaze speakers who have learned only one version of the language.

In Brazil - a Portuguese colony from 1494 until 1822 - the official language spoken by Brazilians is Portuguese, but we could rename it Brazilian it is so unique.

Throughout its history, its population, and its independence, the largest country in Latin America has created a Portuguese language which certainly has the structure of European Portuguese, but differs in several points from that of its old motherland.

Indeed, in Brazil, Portuguese has a sing-song character, a softened tone, and warmer accent. The largest Lusophone country in the world - with a population of over 200 million - has reinvented the language of Vasco de Gama.

That is why, despite a common official language, you may witness scenes where a Portuguese person from Portugal does not understand a Brazilian and vice versa!

Here are some of the differences in the vocabulary:

Speaking Portuguese in Rio de Janeiro

When first traveling to Brazil, you will probably go to Rio de Janeiro. Students who have learned Portuguese in the national education classroom, at a language school, or through tutoring private lessons will quickly be able to follow the Rio accent.

In addition to a more "guttural" pronunciation, it is important to remember that:

  • The "r" is pronounced as an "h"
  • The "s" is pronounced "ch" at the end of the word or at the end of the syllable, and is followed by a mute consonant (t, c, f, p). For example, meus pais (my country) becomes "mi-ouch paich"

We could continue on and on but you probably get the point. You will have to adapt if you want to understand the first language of South America and of the southern hemisphere in its Brazilian version. There are other differences of course, such as:

  • Formal and informal language with the use of "você," which would sound inappropriate in Portugal.
  • The way certain words are written.
  • The simplification of conjugation. To greet someone you would use the word "parabens" in Brazilian Portuguese, while you would use two verbs in European Portuguese.

Find the best Portuguese lessons on Superprof.

Learning Portuguese to Travel to Africa

Portuguese is spoken in various countries in Africa
Explore Angola and part of Africa with the Magellanic language!

If you needed more convincing as to why you should learn Portuguese, then you should know that it is a language spoken in various countries across Africa, too!

Composed primarily of English speakers in the East and South, and French speakers in the West and North, the presence of the Portuguese language is often neglected on the African continent.

Traveling to Africa is a unique opportunity for learners who want the opportunity to practice their Portuguese close to Mother Earth.

But which of these countries have Portuguese as their official language?

Speak Portuguese in Angola

Before its independence on 11th November 1975, this great African country was supposed to become the Brazil of Africa.

Located at the junction of Central Africa and Southern Africa, Angola is the second largest Portuguese-speaking country (after Brazil) and the third largest in terms of population (after Brazil and Mozambique)!

There are, however, 42 other ethnic languages spoken in this country bordering the Atlantic Ocean.

It should be noted that, in view of the financial crisis in Europe, Portuguese workers headed to Angola in search of job opportunities.

Learn the Portuguese Language in Cape-Verde

Long considered Portuguese citizens in their own right, the population of the Cape Verde Islands became their own citizens on 5th July 1975 when the country became independent.

Located off the coast of Senegal, the archipelago of Cape Verde (or "Little Country" which is what it was nicknamed by Cesaria Evora...) is a destination unknown to most tourists. A result of the hybridization of Portuguese settlers and African slaves, Cape Verde is a unique destination not to miss out on.

Portuguese Guinea and the Portuguese Language

Far from Kenya's safaris is Guinea-Bissau. With very little tourism (particularly because of its lack of facilities and tourist services) this small West African country is a former Portuguese colony since 1500.

Located between Guinea and Senegal, this small coastal country located in western Africa is one of the poorest countries in the world.

Independent since 24th September 1973, the official language of Guinea-Bissau has remained Portuguese. However, it is the Creole Bissau-Guinean - one of the oldest Creole Portuguese - which is the main language of the country.

Speaking Portuguese in Mozambique

Mozambique has the second largest Portuguese speaking population
An ex-Portuguese colony, Mozambique was used as a place for crafts.

On 25th June, 1975, the day of Mozambique's independence, Portuguese was adopted as an official language for the sake of national unity.

For those of you who intend to travel to Mozambique alone, note that only 30% of the population speaks Portuguese and studies consider that only 5% of Mozambiquans have Portuguese as their mother tongue.

Sao Tomé-and-Principe

Composed of two small islands and located in the Gulf of Guinea near the coast of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe is one of the smallest countries in Africa.

This former colony of Portugal, which has been independent since 1975, has Portuguese as its official language.

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As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.