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Spanish fluency can go a long way towards helping you learn Portuguese. Here’s how.

So, you have mastered Spanish and are ready for the next linguistic challenge. Do you learn Chinese, Arabic, or Pashtun? Language acquisition (LA) is like any other skill, the more you practice, the better you get.

Before committing to a thousand hours of Chinese classes, try honing your skills with a smaller step towards Portuguese. This way, when you do commit to some of the more complex languages, your language learning ability will be well-practiced and streamlined.

Portuguese is a logical next step. It is different enough from Spanish that you will learn new LA skills, but so similar that you will be fluent extremely fast.

Not convinced about learning Portuguese? Read the following paragraph in Portuguese from the Brazilian magazine Veja, edition 2120, Year 42, No. 27, Panorama Section. Then read the Spanish.


Condenado a 150 anos de prisão o financista americano Bernard Madoff. Aos 71 anos, ele é o autor confesso de um dos maiores golpes da história. Madoff montou um esquema de pirâmide, no qual remunerava clientes antigos com o dinheiro dos novos, sem produzir rendimento reais. A eclosão de crise econômica no fim de 2008, revelou a fraude.


Condenado a 150 años de prisión el finaciero americano Bernard Madoff. A los 71 años, el es el autor confesado de uno de los mayores golpes en la historia. Madoff montó un esquema pirámide, el cual remuneraba clientes antiguos con el dinero de los nuevos, sin producir rendimiento real. Al comienzo de la crisis económica al fin de 2008, reveló la fraude.

See how close they are to each other? About 30% of the words are the exact same in spelling and/or pronunciation. Another 25% are close to each other. Without knowing any Portuguese, you can probably read 50% of this paragraph. It helps to read it out loud, since some Portuguese words may look a bit different but sound close to Spanish. Imagine what a few hours of focused study, applying the following suggestions, could achieve for your Portuguese fluency.

The tips here are broken into vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation comparisons between the two languages. Before moving further there is a quick hint to keep in mind. When looking at Portuguese, new, funky letters like ç ã â à õ may confuse you. Normally these symbols are extremely important and may change the meaning of a word. However, at the beginning, ignore them.

That’s right, Portuguese teachers the world over just cringed. But we want rapid language acquisition, not perfect fluency. Ignoring these letters at the beginning will not greatly affect your reading comprehension and only slightly your speaking and listening skills. Just remember that the letter Ç has the same sound as the English S in SALE.


The first area to compare between Spanish and Portuguese is vocabulary. Since with some simple hints your Portuguese comprehension will increase dramatically, most of this article is about vocabulary. These hints are divided into sections on word endings, false friends and true friends.

Word Endings

Here are word endings (followed by a sample word) in Spanish and their Portuguese equivalent. You will see the close similarities in both words, once you understand the ending equivalents.

Spanish Portuguese

-ción, sección -ção, seção

-sión, prisión -são, prisão

-able, saludable -avel, saudável

-dad, universidad -dade, universidade

-miento, descubrimiento -mento, descubrimento

-gia, tecnología -gia, tecnologia

Look for these and other word ending similarities as you learn Portuguese. Understanding these word ending equivalents will help you make the connection between the Spanish words you already know and their Portuguese counterparts, increasing your vocabulary immediately.

False Friends

False friends are words that look the same or similar, BUT have different meanings. As an example, in Spanish the word años means years, but the word anos, without the tilde, means anuses. The Portuguese word for years is anos, exactly like the Spanish “anuses”. You can see where confusing the words may be embarrassing. Other examples follow:

* Dos in Spanish is the number “two”. For Portuguese dos is a contraction of de and os, or “of the” (de los in Spanish).
* Mudar in Portuguese may mean “to change” while in Spanish it is only “to move”.
* Estufa in Portuguese may mean “greenhouse”, but in Spanish it is always a “stove”.
* Graça is “grace” or “free” (de graça) in Portuguese but “grease” or “fat” in Spanish with the word grasa.
* Conosco in Portuguese is “with us”, but in Spanish conozco is “I know”.

There are also false friends between Portuguese and English. The Portuguese word time is written exactly like the English time but the meaning is completely different. In Portuguese time means team. Looking for false friends will help you avoid common errors as you transition to Portuguese fluency.

True Friends

True friends are words that look or sound the same or similar, AND have the same meaning. An example of a true friend between Spanish and Portuguese is the Spanish word comenzar. In Portuguese it is almost the exact same, começar. When you say them out loud, the similarity is even more obvious. Other examples, this time between written English and Portuguese, are crime=crime, film=filme and present=presente (as in a birthday present).

Here are a few other True Friends between Spanish and Portuguese:

Spanish Portuguese

un, una um, uma

ciudad cidade

cada cada

frecuentar frequentar

cabello cabelo

Comparing the two languages, as in our magazine excerpt above, you will find that true friends are extremely common.


Reviewing Pronunciation differences between Portuguese and Spanish is the next step in rapid Portuguese fluency. By learning just a few Portuguese sounds, your listening comprehension will increase drastically, as will your spoken Portuguese.

Here they are:

o R at the beginning of a word is an English H sound, as in Hat
o words ending in a vowel and M, as is viagem are really closer to an N sound in pronunciation, like viagen
o The Portuguese ganhou has a similar pronunciation to the Spanish ganó, and both mean the same.

Spend a couple hours learning other pronunciation differences between the two languages. This will drastically raise your level of listening comprehension and spoken fluency.


For Grammar, much of the Spanish Grammar is again the same or similar in Portuguese. Sentence structures are close enough that in the beginning you may assume they are the same.

The usage of verb tenses is almost always the same. Written verb tenses are similar, as for example with the Spanish Imperfect tense ending in -aba for AR verbs, like compraba or pintaban. In Portuguese, this tense is written -ava or avam (pronounced similar to -avaN). Compare other Spanish and Portuguese verb tenses to find similarities. You will learn verb tenses much quicker this way than by studying each verb tense alone in Portuguese.

In Spanish the articles un and una have the same gender as the noun. For instance un zapato or una casa. In Portuguese, with um and uma, the rule is exactly the same. For two of something, dos in Spanish, there is no gender difference, dos gatos or dos casas. However, for Portuguese, there is a difference. The number adjective is “conjugated.” For example, dois sapatos or duas casas. Fortunately this only applies to the first and second numbers. After that, there is no gender differences for numerical adjectives.

As you continue to learn Portuguese, keep looking for more examples to add to the above sections. Within a couple months you should be mastering your third language. Once you are fluent in Portuguese and are ready for language number four, think about Italian. You are already 20% fluent, I bet.

Language Learning


About The Author

Jared Romey

Jared has lived outside of the U.S. since 1998. He currently runs his own company, is the author of four books on Spanish slang, and travels constantly. Most importantly, he will never turn down a glass of wine. Follow him at

  • eileen

    Great! I love the idea of using one language to springboard into another. My Portuguese comprehension is pretty good, having followed some of these steps at one point or another, but I still have the social anxiety of accidentally speaking Portuñol, and mostly stay silent in Brazil, or just speak Spanish (bad traveler!)

    Keep ‘em coming. I’m a language geek from way back, and love this stuff!


    psst, mudar in Chile means to change a baby’s diaper, and an estufa is a portable heater! (but Chile has always been problematic that way!)

  • Julie


    Happy to see your byline here. Thanks for this article; it motivates me to recommit to learning Portuguese.

  • Michelle

    I’m actually doing this backwards – I learned Portuguese with no knowledge of Spanish, and now find I can read quite a bit of Spanish.

    The accent is the part that trips people up the most, from what I’ve seen. I can (somewhat) understand Spanish when I hear it now. But Spanish-fluent folks have told me they can’t understand a word of Portuguese when they hear it – particularly Brazilian Portuguese, which has its own unique accent.

    • Jared Romey


      I think you’re probably even better off by going from Portuguese to Spanish. In my opnion, exactly because of the pronunciation, Portuguese is a bit harder. Hopefully, you will be able to transition easily to Spanish.

      Please let me know how things advance for you,


  • Vinny

    It’d be great if the inverse of this was also put together (from Portuguese to Spanish)

  • Ernesto

    I’ll put aside the discussion about what “fluent” means, because that’s just a dead end. Some people like to call themselves fluent after a few months even if the reality is otherwise. Learning a language and a culture, especially in a country as big as Brazil, is a lifelong process.

    Most people I know who are fluent in Spanish (native or not) absolutely murder Portuguese. Understanding the accents and getting the pronounciation correct are tough roadblocks to overcome; people become lazy in separating the two.

    Spanish helps? Of course, but the key to master a language is simply time and effort.

  • Jared Romey


    I had a friend of mine point something out to me and wanted to share his insight. My article is based on personal experiences with Brazilian Portuguese. My friend pointed out that in Portugal, Cape Verde, and perhaps other Portuguese speaking places, they may not be as forgiving about pronunciation and grammar as I imply in my article. Please keep this in mind.

    I can say that with my limited Portuguese (at the time), fluent Spanish and native English I traveled through Portugal last year without any communication problems.

    If anyone has personal experiences to share, I would appreciate hearing about them here in the comments.



  • Abbie

    I always thought it would be too difficult to learn the subtle differences between Spanish and Portuguese, but I guess it’s not so hard :)

  • http://none Philip

    Portuguese and Spanish are to this day by far the closest Romance languages. In terms of lexicon alone they are 89% the same. Grammar and sentence structure is remarkably similar between them as well. Spanish and Portuguese are brother Iberian languages forever. Speakers of Portuguese and Spanish really can communicate easily with one another – I see it all the time. Fluency in one of these languages is the the very quick springboard to the other for sure.

    • Pilar Narváez

      Portuguese and Gallego are closer, Gallego is also a Romance language spoken in Galicia, the north of Spain. Written Portuguese and Spanish are very close but spoken they are very different.

  • Cathey

    It’s such a shame that I haven’t totally jumped into learning Portuguese using my Spanish. I took a Portuguese class once, leveraging off the Spanish, and it was a lot easier than expected. We have numerous Portuguese-speaking friends, and we get by with speaking in our native languages, understanding each other just fine. But I’d much rather improve my skills than stay lazy. I also leveraged Spanish with French, another romance language. Fun to note the similarities but a trilingual nightmare when it came time to keep my terms straight. Fascinating article!

    • Jared Romey


      Don’t give up!! I went through the same thing. I did a 5-week intensive course, back in 1996. And then nothing for the next 13 years! I felt the same way as you that it was a shame I hadn’t followed up again.

      But then last year I said enough’s enough and I took another class. Everything cameback quickly, with the added benefit that my Spanish is fluent now, when in 1996, not so much. While I don’t have opportunities to practice my Portuguese often, I know that after a couple days in Brasil or Portugal, everything will come back to me.

      Good luck!

  • leo

    Se queres aprender a lingua vai viver no pais por uns tempos e convive com portugueses. Nao ha maneira melhor. O resto e uma perca de tempo. p.s. note, o Brazileiro e o Portugues proprio nao sao a mesma coisa.

    • Andre

      No dia em que os brasileiros seguirem o conselho dos portugueses de denominar o vernáculo de “brasileiro”, a língua portuguesa vai ser jogada para o oblívio. Mas o respeito do Brasil pelos grandes portugueses do passado e do presente nos ajudam a ignorar os pequenos.

  • senem

    i like your article a lot..
    i would like to ask ..
    where in brasil you think that a person could learn good brasilian portughese?
    in Rio,in Salvador??
    i heard that they all have different strong accents.
    for example if you wanna learn italian in italy,everybody suggest florance,tuscany area..(although it has its own accents)
    thanks for your article
    best regards..:)

    • Jared Romey


      Unfortunately my Portuguese isn’t good enough to give you a suggestion. Try to find a native speaker that works in something related to languages (like a translator), if possible. Sorry I can’t help much!


    • rcastro0

      One cannot avoid catching an accent — the question is which?  Judging from TV networks/number of speakers a toned down Rio de Janeiro accent, or a São Paulo accent are considered the most neutral. Paraná, Minas Gerais, and the Midwest (the area around Brasília and further west) should also be ok.  The northeast has the most peculiar regional accent, followed by the extreme south, followed by the amazonic region.

  • Roberto Rocha

    What’s important for those making this jump to understand is this: Spanish is a phonetic language, Portuguese is not. Spanish is read the way it’s written. Portuguese is full of exceptions.

    The letter ‘x’ for instance, has four different sounds. No rules, you have to remember it.

    This is why Portuguese speakers understand Spanish, but not the other way around.

    • Pilar Narváez

      completely agree with you.

  • Francisco

    As a Portuguese myself, I should give you a tip:

    The letter G, in a Portuguese word, followed by a vowel, is pronounced very differentelly than in Spanish.
    For example, ‘Gente’, for both languages means ‘people’, like a group of people, ‘Muita gente no restaurante’ — ‘Many people on the restaurant’.

    Portuguese – G sounds like a J, so its Jent (since we mute the last vowel)

    Spanish – G sounds like R, a heavy R, ‘rrrr’, so its RRRente

    What I mean by this is, if you ever go to a Portuguese speaking country, always remind the G, because it makes a lot of difference (its way important)! You can form a fully Portuguese conversation, but if you use Spanish pronounciations, you’re lost again…

    And believe me, the worst thing a tourist can do in Portugal is talking to any local in Spanish. Since I live in Lisbon (PTs capital) I get tourists asking me for directions quite a lot, and sometimes they thank me with a ‘Mucho Obrigado’ (gggrrrrrr). Next time I’ll forward a ‘Compra um mapa’ ^^

    • steph

      WTF lol the G does not sound like an R Gente does not in AAAANNNNYYYY way sound like Rente…

      • Juanes

        He says that because the R in Portuguese sounds like a G in Spanish, so its easy for a portuguese speaker to understand the sound of a G

    • Pilar Narváez

      not all Spanish G sounds like R… it has strong pronunciation or softer, it can be gato (strong pronunciation) or guasa (soft pronunciation). We have both, and sometimes to remark a softer pronunciation we have GU, like guitarra… I try my best to speak Portuguese when I go to Portugal but it’s very difficult for me. As Spanish speaker, I can try Italian quite easily but not Portuguese.

  • Pingback: How To Use Your Spanish To Learn Portuguese | Create Your World Book Series

  • nantia

    The similarities between spanish and portuguese vocabulary is 85% not just 50%. and between portuguese/spanish and italian is 60% not just 20%!!! obviously you do not speak any of these languages

    • Scandinavem

      You tell him!

  • http://none Yolanda

    Mutual intelligibility between Portuguese and Spanish is around 85% as Nantia rightly said. The Ethnologue of Languages puts the lexical similarity between Portuguese and Spanish at 89%. Italian and Spanish lexical similarity comes in at 82% – Italian and Spanish are not nearly as close to one another as people think.

    Portuguese and Spanish educated speakers can converse with one another almost perfectly when they speak a little slower. The vocabulary, structure and grammar between Portuguese and Spanish is very similar for sure – the two closest major romance languages in the world today.

    Spain and Portugal have always been very close historically, culturally, linguistically, and the ethnic makeup and names of the people are practically the same. Spanish and Portuguese speakers are neighbours in Europe, South America and even Africa. In South America they are partners in the Mercosul/sur economic trade pact. They already have a built-in knowledge of each others language because they are so remarkably similar to one another.

    • Pilar Narváez

      I’m sorry to disagree, I can understand if we speak slow Brazilian people but not Portuguese, it’s because of the pronunciation. I’ve been many times in Portugal and I didn’t understand. Same with Italians, if we speak slowly, we can understand quite easily. Grammar and written language can be closer but Portuguese pronunciation is very difficult for me as Spanish.

      My mother speaks Gallego and she understands very well Portuguese, both of them have the same origin.

      • Pedro Guimarães

        Portuguese speaking. I think portuguese and spanish people can understand mutually. I can easily understand spanish speakers and i have some spanish friends (that speak castellano, gallego and catalan, sorry i don’t know how to say it in english) and i could speak with then in my language and them in theirs.

  • Umer


    It was really good to read the co-relation between Spanish and Portuguese. Helped me to clarify a lot of linguistic concepts. I’ve recently learned Spanish and I’m now into Portuguese. Thanks for posting.

  • Ruby

    One of my professors used to say “el portugues es el espa~nol mal hablado.”

    • dagzballix

      You’re teacher is a moron then

    • rcastro0

      And vice versa.

    • Duarte_godinho_12

      to me, “español es el portugués mal hablado”… es muy mas complejo que lo que dicen, en sonidos vocalicos tenemos mas que los españoles o ingleses…

  • Nan Vollbracht

    I am goiing to Portugal in May and am doing a self-taught intense Portugues study. I speak Spanish at the intermediate level. What confuses me more than anything is the difference between Brazilian Portugues and Portugal Portugues. What are the differences? Most language books just teach Brazilian Portugues. thanks

    • Athos Poltronieri

      Keep in your mind that both are the same language. The differences are not bigger than the ones you find in british english and american english for example. Of course there are many different expressions, some words etc…. After all, there´s an ocean that separates the countries. Like French, Portuguese is naturally a nasal and closed-spoken language and European Portuguese is more closed than Brazilian Portuguese, so it´s harder to pronounce and understand it. Moreover, Brazilian portuguese is spoken by 193.000.000, while European P. is spoken by 11.000.000. If you joined all the coutries that speak european portuguese, it wouldn´t reach half of the brazilian portuguese number. Another reason is that Brazil has a global importance a lot bigger than Portugal, the World Cup 2014 and Olympic Games will take place in Brazil, and so on. But if you want to learn the European standard, you´ll be able to understand brazilian one and vice-versa. Don´t worry about the differences and choose the one you like the most. Hope I helped you.

    • Laiscristinadasilvabrasil

      there is no difference between them just the accent. It’s just like English from the U.S.A and the English from England. Some words are different but is not a big deal.

  • Frederico

    The Portuguese verb “mudar” is used as “change” or “move”. 

    Mude seus pensamentos – change your thoughts.
    Eles se mudaram para uma nova cidade – They moved to a new city.

    A tip: who speaks Portuguese learns Spanish easily because Portuguese has more vocalic sounds than Spanish. Because of this, Spanish speaker does not listen the differences between some Portuguese words such as “vovó” (grandmother), vovô (grandfather), posso (I can) poço (well), ele pode (he can), ele pôde (he could).

    • Pilar Narváez

      I have the feeling that is easier for Portuguese speakers to learn Spanish than the opposite because of what you explain, Portuguese has more vocalic sounds than Spanish.

  • Willian Borderes

    I’m Brazilian and I’ve never stoped to learn some Spanish because for me  it is just so easy to understand that I end up not feeling like it. I can easily get by in a Spanish speaking country. But in January I went to  Bueno Aires, Argentina and I had a hard time trying to understand them. It’s really the hardest Spanish to understand. My English is still weak but I prefered to talk to them in English than in Spanish or “Portunhõl”. This would probably not happen if I were in Mexico for example, their Spanish is much easier I think. Anyway, I’ll start learning Spanish soon, at last it’ll be one more language for my list. ha

  • Ignacio Ocampo

    EL fraude

  • Anonymous

    This is one of the reasons for my currently studying Spanish – not only is it one of the world’s Great Languages, but it’s also a springboard to Portuguese, Catalan and Italian, (then onto Romanian…..)
    I find Chinese easier in many ways though, but I’m often told I’m odd!

  • Pilar Narváez

    The Spanish word ‘mudar’ can be used also as to change, is an old meaning and quite metaphoric (usually related to change your skin or your clothes), but it is another meaning of the word in Spanish. I’m from Spain and I love Portugal, I’ve being there many times and I just understood the basic (obrigado and not much more). I know written Portuguese is very close to Spanish (perhaps the closest one) but pronunciation is very, very different. I would love to learn Portuguese but for me it doesn’t seem that simple.

  • Pilar Narváez

    I don’t know in which Mussolinian school you learnt that but it’s nosense. Spanish and Portuguese comes directly from Latin, vulgar latin both of them, Portuguese has the same origin as Gallego, an Spanish language talked in Galicia, no direct relation with Spanish, so please don’t be so ignorant. Anyway, English was spoken as dialect while the kings spoke French but it’s far from stupid, you are talking no sense and talking as a fascist.

    Spanish is not an Stupid language, the phonetic of the language is easier than Portuguese and other languages but grammar, verbal tenses are quite complicated, in fact Spanish has much more verbal tenses than English and more than French… I mean, I know many brazilian people in Madrid and they had to learn Spanish, it’s not that easy. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world and it’s happening the same as with English, there is a simple Spanish for non-speakers and the real language, and there is a big difference among them. You have no idea of what you are talking.

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