Part of what makes it a challenging language is the vowel pronunciation. Brazilian Portuguese is more open and has more even stress on each syllable. European Portuguese, on the other hand, features reduced/closed vowels, which become barely noticeable in unstressed syllables. It’s almost as if words get swallowed!

Keep in mind that there can be more than one sound associated with each letter, so context matters. For example, the letter S is pronounced more like “sh” at the end of a word, but more like “z” between two vowel sounds. The letter X and the letter R are also notoriously complicated, so it’s important to get lots of listening practice and take note of the variations. Luckily, most of the other Portuguese consonants sound quite similar to English, but there are also a few that don’t exist in English at all, such as lh and nh.

To really perfect your pronunciation, studying Portuguese minimal pairs can be an excellent challenge. These are words that sound exactly the same, except for one sound. For example, do you know the difference between these words: sé, se, sei, sim, só, sou? What about mão and mau? Or queixo and queijo?

When you hear something that’s not in your native language, it often sounds like it’s too fast, or even like complete gibberish! This just means you need more practice to train your ears on the patterns. Listening to short dialogues and following along with a written transcript is a great way to get started. At first, you may only pick up a few words here and there, but the more you listen, the more you’ll understand over time.

When it comes to producing these sounds yourself, the best way to get more comfortable is simply to speak as much as possible. We don’t always have in-person opportunities, or patient listeners, available when we need them, so just remember that talking to yourself is not crazy! Speak out loud as much as possible to help train your muscle memory. The Smart Review flashcards on are perfect for at-home practice. See a prompt in English, say it out loud in Portuguese, and flip the card to check yourself. With a little help, you’ll discover more and more secrets of European Portuguese pronunciation!