European Portuguese is famous (notorious?) for being hard to understand when spoken. Having previous knowledge of French or even Spanish might help you with reading, but might shock you when trying to make sense of what we say.

Let me unveil the mystery for you.

While trying not to give you a lecture on Portuguese phonetics, I must tell you about three phenomena:

1. Assimilation: when sounds change; we get affected by people we hang out with, and so do letters!

a. M&N change the preceding [oral] vowel to a nasal one: sete /sEHt/ vs. sente /set/; sobra /sOHbra/ vs. sombra /sõbra/

b. zero /zEHr/ vs. talvez /talvesh/

c. sapato /saPAHt/ vs. sapatos /saPAHtush/

2. Elision: when sounds are lost (aka swallowed), normally at the end of words, and mainly this happens with vowels; we don’t do it to confuse you; it’s the most practical aspect of Portuguese culture

a. -e and -o are classic ones: que /k/; comigo /kumeeg/

b. -i- and -u- can sometimes also “disappear”: piscina /pshshina/; popular /puplar/

c. We never swallow the letter A, unless we’ll see you in a bit: até já /tEH jAH/

3. Liaison/Intrusion: when a sound is added in between two words. Now you know why it sounds like we speak in long words, instead of sentences. I’ll say we’re lazy (and don’t see the need for taking a break), but you better say we’re pragmatic!

a. que eu saiba /kew/ or /kiew/

b. estou a analisar /AAHnaleezar/

Very logical, isn’t it?

If you have enjoyed this quick lesson and would like to learn more Portuguese outside of the box, then please contact Catarina from The Language Unschool -