Portugal is a land to make you dream. The Portuguese language, fado, saudade, port wine… a whole identity centred around Portuguese language and culture. Many consider it the most welcoming country in the world.

From Rio de Janeiro in Brasil to the Alentejo region of Portugal, from the Azores Islands to Oporto, from Macau to the Douro Valley, from Madeira to Mozambique - the Portuguese language spans the world. Let’s take a peek and explore the different aspects of Portuguese culture - from music to the cinema to famous Portuguese people.

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What Are Some of the Most Famous Portuguese Films?

Learn Portuguese with Portuguese movies.
Portuguese cinema is an excellent way to learn the Portuguese language. Photo credit: Oscar F. Hevia on Visualhunt

Culture is an important tool when learning to speak Portuguese - or indeed any foreign language. If you’re seeking to become a true lusophone, what better way to improve your understanding than with Portuguese-speaking cinema? There you will find situations from everyday life, dialogue that is spoken naturally (not like the stilted way they speak in your Portuguese lesson audio files) - a perfect introduction to Portuguese or Brazilian culture.

Among the most famous Portuguese films are Franco-Portuguese productions such as The Gilded Cage (2013), featuring an immigrant couple living in France who inherit a very large sum of money. The film traces their journey back to Portugal to claim their wealth and takes on the question of identity that any national having lived abroad for a long time has to face.

You might also enjoy Lines of Wellington, a drama told through the lens of individuals caught up in the events of the Napoleonic Wars on the Iberian Peninsula. You can learn your Portuguese vocabulary and find out more about the history of Portugal in a single film!

The Ornithologist (2016) is a fair example of the new Portuguese cinema, following the trials and tribulations of a young ornithologist who goes alone on an expedition and gets thrown out of his canoe. Rescued by two young Chinese Catholic women, he soon finds out that their intentions are not what they seem… A critical success, this film is a true celebration of the cinematic genre.

In addition, you might want to look into Tabu (2012), a story of a decades-old romance in one of Portugal’s colonies that echoes back into modern-day Lisbon, or To Die Like a Man (2009) which offers a new and refreshing look into Portuguese filmmaking - and a wonderful way to learn to speak Portuguese!

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A Guide to the Most Beautiful Portuguese Music

Portuguese music to learn Portuguese.
Traditional Portuguese music has influenced many modern musicians of Portugal. Photo credit: jaime.silva on VisualHunt.com

Whether Portuguese fado or the Latin music of Brazil, Portuguese music has its own rhythms and styles.

They say that music will soothe a savage breast, but if it also helps you learn Portuguese in a pleasant and exciting way! The nicest Portuguese songs are hard to choose - Portuguese is a lyrical language that adapts well to song. Whether in Coimbra or Faro, Lisboa or Cape Verde - music is the true Portuguese language!

It’s impossible to talk about Portuguese music without mentioning the Queen of Fado, Amalia Rodrigues. A true icon of Portuguese traditional songs, she has become the reference for anything musical throughout the Iberian peninsula. Her song Fado Portugues is a practically a world heritage treasure in of itself!

More recently, the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest was Portuguese! Salvador Vilar Braamcamp Sobral’s voice resonated through television speakers throughout the European countries with the song Amar pelos dois.

On another level, Amalia Hoje is another symbol of Portugal’s musical heritage. With her Gaivota, Hoje takes on Amalia Rodrigues with a dash of pop, modernising it and setting it to different instruments, but keeping the melody and emotion that remain at the core of the song’s resonance. A wonderful way to learn about Portugal’s musical tradition even if you prefer contemporary music!

A few other monuments of Portuguese music are:

  • Beijo by the famous singer Pedro Abrunhosa
  • Mentira, an emotional song by João Pedro Pais
  • Canção do Mar by Dulce Pontes

Portuguese Celebrities and Other Famous Portuguese People

As in any other country, there are a number of famous Portuguese people known in and outside of the country. Famous historical figures and cultural icons help to introduce foreigners to the Portuguese culture and interest them in learning Portuguese. Sports, and especially football, are an integral part of Portuguese culture and has brought forth many international celebrities.

When you think of Portuguese stars, who else comes to mind but Ronaldo? An international personality, this football player has frequently been named Best Player and has won several Ballons d’Or. He has raised every club he has played for in the rankings.

Maria de Medeiros, a Portuguese actress, has found her place among Portugal’s celebrities. She can be admired, among other films, in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, but also in TV films and plays. With her grace and charm, she is the best ambassador for Portuguese culture abroad.

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Amalia Rodrigues is an icon of Portuguese Music
When Amalia Rodrigues died in 1999, all of Portugal went into mourning. Photo credit: Piano Piano! on VisualHunt

In addition to well-known musicians such as Amalia Rodrigues, Portugal has its own share of famous historical figures. The Age of Discovery from the 15th century onward brought forth a slew of explorers and cartographers who pioneered naval exploration and helped establish Portugal’s colonial empire:

  • Henry the Navigator was a member of the Portuguese royal family who financed expeditions that expanded the influence of Portugal beyond the Mediterranean, opening up Africa’s coastal regions to trade, including discoveries such as the Atlantic islands of Cape Verde, the Azares and Madeira.
  • Bartolomeu Dias discovered the Cape of Good Hope and the trade winds that would facilitate navigation in the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Vasco da Gama opened Portugal’s trade routes to the Indian continent by being the first to reach it by sea, eliminating the middlemen of the overland spice trade.
  • Fernando Magellan led the first expedition to circumnavigate the globe - an undertaking that took its toll in men and material, setting out with five ships and returning with only one.

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The Best Portuguese Quotes to Learn the Portuguese Language

All languages are propagated overseas by their native culture, whether it be films, music or celebrities. But expressions and quotes fill another need - providing those already interested and ready to learn Portuguese with some quick-and-easy ways to express themselves and have the feeling they are talking like a native. A great motivation to continue learning Portuguese and daring to have conversations with native speakers!

Some idiomatic expressions that frequently come up in casual conversation is a good place to start:

  • Como cú e calça: “like arse and trousers”, thick as thieves
  • Jogar merda no ventilador: to make the shit hit the fan
  • Se contentar com pouco: to be content with little
  • Colhe-se o que se planta: you reap what you sow
  • Meio pedra, meio tijolo: “half-rock, half-brick”, neither fish nor fowl
Portuguese idioms and Portuguese quotes
The Portuguese idiom "half-brick, half stone" means "neither fish nor fowl." Photo credit: timabbott on Visualhunt

Other citations are more lyrical and philosophical - aphorisms covering themes such as hope, love or friendship:

  • Não éporque uma andorinha morre que acaba e primavera: A swallow’s death doesn’t mean the end of spring
  • Amar é a inoncência eterna, e a unica inocência é de nõa pensar: to love is eternal innocence; and the only true innocence is not to think (Fernando Pessoa)
  • Quem não pouca a agua ou a lenha, não poupa nada quen tenha: he who is thrifty with neither water nor wood will soon lose all that he has
  • As nossas desgraças entram spempre por portas que nós abrimos: Our misfortunes enter by the doors we open for them.

These quotes show that Portuguese is more than simply the national language of Portugal, Brazil and several other nations, but also a language rich in history and steeped in culture, with idiomatic expressions that allow the Portuguese mentality to come to life.

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A student by trade, Daniel spends most of his time working on that essay that's due in a couple of days' time. When he's not working, he can be found working on his salsa steps, or in bed.