Setting sail on the vast ocean of languages, we often find ourselves navigating between islands of familiarity and continents of complexity. In the voyage of discovering new tongues, Portuguese vs Spanish emerge like twin stars in the Romance language constellation—radiating similar light yet distinct in their celestial paths.
Our linguistic expedition today takes us on a journey to explore these two luminous beacons, unraveling the mysteries of their kinship and the secrets of their individuality. First, let’s check the 7 most important facts about Spanish. This video is brought to you by Spring Spanish, a project I’m a co-founder:
So, after crafting this beautiful intro (haha!), I only want to help you answer this burning question: How similar are Portuguese vs Spanish, and which language might resonate more profoundly with your soul’s desire for connection and understanding?
1. Why Portuguese is similar to Spanish?
The similarities between Portuguese vs Spanish are significant enough that speakers of either language can often understand the other to a certain degree.
This mutual similarity mainly stems from the vast number of cognates, or words with a common etymological origin, that the two languages share.
Some of the most common cognates in both languages
These cognates often have similar spellings, with predictable phonetic and orthographic shifts.
For example, the Spanish “ll” often corresponds to the Portuguese “lh”, as seen in the words:
Spanish “ll” vs Portuguese “lh”
Below is a table comparing words with the palatal nasal sound /ɲ/ in Spanish, which uses the “ñ”, and Portuguese, which uses “nh”.
Spanish “ñ” vs Portuguese “nh”
But keep this in mind: Portuguese and Spanish are not identical.
Beyond similarities, the two languages exhibit unique characteristics and linguistic nuances that distinguish them from one another.
Let’s see these differences!
2. What is the difference between Spanish and Portuguese?
Spanish is primarily spoken in Spain and Latin America, whereas Portuguese is the official language of Portugal and Brazil, as well as several African nations such as Angola and Mozambique.
Spanish has approximately 460 million native speakers, making it the second most-spoken language in the world by native speakers and Mexico is the country where the most speakers speak it.
Portuguese has about 220 million native speakers, which is less than half of Spanish speakers, but still places it among the top ten most spoken languages globally – according to Middlebury Language Schools research on the most spoken languages in the world.
TOP 10 most spoken languages worldwide
|Native Speakers (Estimate)
|1. Mandarin Chinese
|Over 900 million
|Approximately 460 million
|Around 380 million
|Over 340 million
|About 230 million
|Around 220 million
|Over 150 million
|Around 128 million
|9. Yue Chinese
|Approximately 86 million
|About 85 million
This estimate is based on Wikipedia’s list of languages by number of native speakers.
Grammar differences between Portuguese vs Spanish
The differences between grammar in Portuguese vs Spanish can sometimes lead to misunderstandings.
In terms of verb conjugations, Portuguese utilizes mesoclisis and proclisis, which are infix and prefix forms attached to verbs, respectively.
Mesoclisis is a grammatical feature used in Portuguese that involves the infixing of clitic pronouns within a verb, specifically in the future indicative and conditional tenses.
|I will love you
|We will sell it
|He/She will write to us
Mesoclisis is typically used in very formal or literary contexts in Portuguese and is not common in everyday speech.
Proclisis is a grammatical term referring to the placement of a clitic pronoun before the verb with which it is associated.
|I love you
|I will give him/her
|He/She told us
Proclisis is more commonly used in Portuguese than mesoclisis and is often found in everyday language as well as in written texts.
Verbal tenses and moods can also differ.
Portuguese uses the personal infinitive, which means the infinitive form of the verb can change according to the subject.
In the sentence “É melhor eles fazerem isso” (It’s better for them to do that), the verb “fazer” (to do) is conjugated according to “eles” (them).
In Spanish, the infinitive is not affected by the subject: “Es mejor que ellos hagan eso” (It’s better for them to do that).
These examples illustrate that while the two languages resemble each other in many ways, the nuances in grammar can make learning each language a distinct process.
3. Portuguese vs Spanish pronunciation
When it comes to pronunciation, Portuguese vs Spanish speakers may notice both similarities and differences in how words are spoken. Both languages have a set of vowels and a rhythm that can sound familiar, but there are certain sounds that are quite different. You can read more Spanish pronunciation on our site.
One of the most notable pronunciation differences is the Portuguese nasal vowels, which do not have a direct equivalence in Spanish.
Also, Portuguese has a more complex phonetic system, which includes sounds like the voiced postalveolar fricative [ʒ] (as in “janela” – window) and the unvoiced [ʃ] (as in “chato” – boring or flat), which are not found in Spanish.
Key pronunciation differences between Portuguese vs Spanish
|Common (e.g., “mão“)
|Can be phonemic
|Includes [ʒ] and [ʃ]
|More complex clusters
|Varied by region
These pronunciation differences can pose challenges for speakers when trying to understand one another, especially in a fast-paced conversation.
4. What would be more beneficial: Portuguese or Spanish?
When deciding which language, Portuguese or Spanish, would be more beneficial to learn, it’s important to consider the number of speakers and where the languages are used.
As mentioned earlier, Spanish is one of the most-spoken languages in the world, and it’s influential in international business, diplomacy, and American demographics. Portuguese is the official language of Brazil – a major emerging economy – and several countries in Africa, making it significant for those interested in these regions.
The main similarities and differences between Portuguese vs Spanish should be weighed based on personal circumstances.
If you expect to interact frequently with Spanish speakers or travel extensively in Latin America or Spain, Spanish is definitely more advantageous. But if your interests align more with Brazil or Portuguese-speaking parts of Africa, learning Portuguese will be more beneficial.
5. Should you learn Portuguese?
If you’re a language enthusiast with a penchant for Romance languages, learning Portuguese is a delightful challenge.
The language’s rich literary tradition and the cultural depth of Lusophone countries make it an intriguing choice. You should look out for difficulties with Portuguese’s complex phonology, including its nasal vowels and certain consonant clusters that are not found in other Romance languages…
Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese also have notable differences, which might require additional focus depending on the learner’s objectives. There are variations in pronunciation, vocabulary, and sometimes even grammar. Ugh.
Differences between Brazilian Portuguese vs European Portuguese
|Generally softer sounds, open vowels, less nasal intonation.
|Crisper sounds, more closed vowels, stronger nasal quality.
|Some words are unique to Brazil due to cultural influences.
|Different words for certain objects and concepts.
|Post-reform, Brazilian Portuguese has minor differences.
|Pre-reform spellings retained in some cases.
|Tendency to avoid second-person conjugations in the plural.
|Uses second-person conjugations regularly.
|Use of pronouns
|“Você” is commonly used for second-person singular.
|“Tu” is more frequently used, alongside corresponding verb forms.
|Generally more informal in day-to-day use.
|Tends to be more formal, especially in written language.
|“Tu” forms are often replaced with “Você” forms, even in regions where “tu” is common.
|Strong use of the “Tu” conjugations with the correct verb forms.
|More flexible, with pronouns often placed before or after verbs.
|Stricter rules for clitic placement, often using mesoclisis and proclisis.
|Use of gerund
|Widespread use of gerund (“-ndo” forms for continuous actions).
|Preference for using the infinitive or verb constructions with “a” for continuous actions.
6. Should you learn Spanish?
Spanish is widely regarded as one of the easier languages for English speakers to learn, due to its relatively straightforward pronunciation and grammar.
The efforts of the Effortless Conversations website can help you in this process, especially with our dedicated Spanish masterclasses, lessons and practice worksheets centered around Conversation Based Chunking.
However, challenges may arise, particularly in mastering various verb conjugations, the subjunctive mood, and understanding the different dialects and slangs of Spanish spoken across different countries.
Latin American Spanish and Castilian Spanish (from Spain) also have some distinct vocabulary and pronunciation features.
7. Learn Spanish or Portuguese language: it doesn’t matter if you use Conversation Based Chunking
Whether you choose to learn Spanish or Portuguese, the technique of Conversation Based Chunking can help you acquire either language effectively. This method involves learning languages by understanding and practicing chunks of language as they are used in conversation, which helps you think in the language rather than translating from your native tongue.
By focusing on how natives express themselves, including the natural rhythm, intonation, and phraseology of the language, learners can become fluent more quickly and intuitively. If you’re interested in this approach to language learning, the Spanish Conversation Based Chunking Starter Pack, filled with valuable resources, is an excellent place to begin your journey.
In conclusion, the decision between Spanish and Portuguese should reflect your personal goals, interests, and the cultural connections you wish to forge. Both languages offer a rich linguistic experience with their own unique challenges and rewards. Regardless of your choice, adopting effective learning strategies like Conversation Based Chunking can make your language learning journey both enjoyable and successful.