Language lessons across Australia & New Zealand

Call us! +61 (03) 8652 1381

The Most Difficult Things About Learning Portuguese

Learning Portuguese is not without its challenges, particularly if you are not familiar with another Latin language. The melodic sound of Portuguese is beautiful but full of challenges to trip up your tongue and frustrate you as you try to connect the sounds to their written equivalents. Here are some of the obstacles you may encounter as you master the Portuguese language:

1. Inanimate objects have a gender

If English is your primary language, one of the big adjustments of learning Portuguese is that all nouns are gendered. Watch out if you already speak Spanish or French: the gender is not necessarily the same across languages. A tree in Portuguese (árvore) is feminine, while the Spanish (árbol) is masculine. Don’t expect it to make sense, but it is important that you learn the correct gender of every new word you incorporate into your vocabulary.

Oh, and did we mention that the adjectives also have to agree with the gender of the noun?

readPhoto by Pedro Ribeiro Simões/Flickr

2. Conjugations upon conjugations

Like its romance language counterparts, Portuguese has different verb conjugations for each person. The average verb has over fifty conjugations in the different tenses. In addition, Portuguese has six grammatical tenses and three grammatical moods. What makes it even more complicated than the other language counterparts is that Portuguese has an additional two forms: the future subjunctive (technically also a feature of Spanish although rarely used in its modern form) and the personal infinitive.

3. Prickly pronunciation

When it comes to pronunciation, Portuguese is a lot harder than its sister language, Spanish. Unlike Spanish, where there is a very clear link between how words are written and how they’re pronounced, Portuguese shares the difficulties of French or Catalan. Portuguese has two types of vowel sounds: oral (a,e,i,o,u) and nasal (with tildes on the vowels).

The problems are also with the consonants. An example is “R” at the beginning of a word. In Portuguese, this sounds is pronounced as an “H”. Hard consonants at the end of a word are rare, particularly in Brazilian Portuguese.

Portuguese also has more phonemes (basic units of a language’s phonology, or sounds) than Italian and Spanish, although is similar to French and English.


Photo by Scott Ogle/Flickr

4. European Vs Brazilian Portuguese

Another issue you might encounter with pronunciation is the difference between European Portuguese from Portugal and Brazilian Portuguese, as well as African Portuguese. One major difference is that European Portuguese uses stress-timed pronunciation (like English), while Brazilian Portuguese is syllable-timed.

Besides some notable differences in pronunciation, there are also words in Portuguese that mean something else in Brazil, similar to the difference between American and British English. Keep this in mind when choosing which dialect to study.

While Portuguese has a number of quirks that will challenge you as you learn the language, the work will pay off! Portuguese is one of the most spoken languages in the world making it worth the effort. Contact us at Listen & Learn today to find Portuguese tutors in your area!