What Language do They Speak in Brazil? (It’s Not Spanish)


Have you ever wondered what language do they speak in Brazil? Even being located in South America where most part of the country’s official language is Spanish, this is not the case for Brazil. That’s a common mistake from people that are not aware of the cultural differences between Brazil and other Latin countries.

Portuguese is the official language in Brazil, the only country in Latin America that does not have Spanish as the first idiom. It happens because the country was colonized by Portugal, not Spain. Even though the languages are similar, the Brazilian version of Portuguese is not the same spoken in Europe.

To understand why most part of Latin America speaks Spanish and Brazil don’t, we need to dig a little deeper into the origins of the country and an old treaty signed up between Spain and Portugal. After reading a little bit of history, don’t forget to check this amazing infographic.

Why do Brazilians speak Portuguese?

why-brazilians-speak-portuguese

A little bit of History

Brazil was colonized by Portugal, back in 1500, when an expedition led by Pedro Alvares Cabral got here. The expedition arrived in Brazil on April 22, 1500, as a result of the great navigations promoted by Portugal during the 15th century.

On the other side of the continent, since Columbus discovered America, Spain started to colonize part of South America. With both shores of the lands of Latin America being explored by different forces, there’s was only two possible ways to solve future issues regarding ownership of the land: a war or some kind of agreement.

The Treaty of Tordesillas

Surprisingly, the way out was relying on an agreement made some years before, in 1494: the Treaty of Tordesillas. This treaty from 1494 drew a north-to-south line through South America. Spain gained territory west of the line, while Portugal retained the lands east of the line, including the east coast of Brazil.

But this is not the end. If you have already seen the current Brazilian map, you probably noticed that it does not follow the division determined by the treaty. It happened because through the years Brazil extended its territory some portion to the west. Spain noticed this fact, and in 1750, a new treaty was signed: the Treaty of Madrid.

The Treaty of Madrid

In this document, Brazil (Portugal back then) gave up some lands that were a huge interest for Spain (the territory that is Uruguay today). It happened in exchange for lands that gave Brazil a shape very similar to what It is now. Portugal got the “ownership” over the side of the line that became Brazil, so the official language around here became the same one from the colonizers. Through the years the language passed through a lot of changes and became the Brazilian variation of Portuguese spoken today.

Brazilian Portuguese Through The Years

Brazilian Portuguese and the Portuguese spoken in Europe are not the same. There are a lot of differences between the languages as a result of cultural adaptation through the years. It does not mean that the languages are totally different, as they came from the same source, but there are important differences in the structure of the idiom and the meaning of some words.

The biggest difference between the idioms is the accent. Also, there are more than a dozen cases where a word is a regular day-to-day use in Brazilian Portuguese but It’s a dirty word in Europe. You gotta be careful to don’t find yourself in an embarrassing situation because of it. Even so, It’s funny how the languages evolved differently through the years.

Does Brazilian speak Spanish?

As a Brazilian born and bred, I can assure you that one of the most frequent questions that I receive when I’m outside of Brazil is if I speak Spanish (I don’t). That’s normal, considering that Brazil is the only country in Latin America that has Portuguese as its official language.

Brazilians do not speak Spanish. As the country was colonized by Portugal the official language in Brazil is Portuguese. As the languages are very similar, most Brazilians can understand Spanish, especially the ones living in the borders, close to Spanish-speaking cities.

Brazilians are very friendly and they try hard to communicate with Spanish speakers. That’s why It’s very common to find in Brazil a mixed language between Spanish and Portuguese. This mixed language is popularly called “Portuñol” (Portuguese + Espanhol, the Portuguese word for Spanish).

What Are The Top 3 Languages Spoken in Brazil?

Even though the official language spoken in Brazil is Portuguese, there are other languages spoken in the country, especially immigrant and indigenous languages.

  • Portuguese

The official language in the country, Portuguese is widely spoken in Brazil. According to the data provided by the World Atlas about 97,9% of the Brazilian population speaks Portuguese.

These data are in line with my personal experiences as a native Brazilian and traveler. In the absolute majority of cities in Brazil the only language spoken is our good old Portuguese.

  • German

Brazil is well known for being a mixed country, which received immigrants from many places in the world, especially from Europe.

One of the main immigrant communities in Brazil is the German one. It is estimated that the German language is the second most spoken language in Brazil, with about 1.9% of the population knowing the language, according to World Atlas data.

A fun fact is that in the city where I live, called Guarapuava, is located one of the biggest German Colonies in Brazil: Entre Rios. The community was formed by Donauschwaben immigrants.

Over there they speak a specific dialect of the German language called Schwowisch (Standard German: “Schwäbisch”).

  • Indigenous Languages

It is estimated that there are more than 180 indigenous languages in Brazil spoken by around 160,000 people. Most notable are the Tucuna language, with 40,000 speakers, Embiá, with 10,000, and Nheengatu, with approximately 3000 speakers. Even though they are very important for the history of Brazil, roughly 0.2% of the population speaks an Indigenous language.

RankLanguageSpeakers (% of Population)
1Portuguese97.9
2German1.9
3Indigenous Languages0.2
Data from worldatlas.com

Is it possible to visit Brazil without knowing the language?

It is possible to travel without knowing the language, but this is not ideal. English as a second language is not so common in Brazil. It means that studying a little bit of Portuguese or even Spanish before traveling to Brazil is a good idea.

Even so, not knowing the language does not mean you can’t travel. You just need to be more careful and give preference to bigger cities.

There are some worries that you need to have, so pay attention to the following tips:

  • When you’re traveling to a place that you don’t know well you need to use common sense. Avoid attracting too much attention and staying in places that have not received a good rate on booking websites. Doing so and using some translation apps will do for you.
  • If you know some Spanish it’ll help you a lot. I mean, a lot. As long as Spanish is not the official language in Brazil, the language is very similar to Brazilian Portuguese. So, If you took your Spanish classes seriously back in school you can handle most of the daily situations in Brazil. Brazilians are very receptive and I guarantee that everyone will make a large effort to help you to communicate if they see that you can understand some words.

Conclusion

Now you know exactly What Language Is Spoken in Brazil 🙂

Also, you’ve learned about some old treaties and a plus content explaining that you can travel to Brazil without knowing Portuguese.

Awesome, right?

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Also, you can read more posts with helpful tips and facts about Brazil, including travel and food! 🙂

André

What’s up! I’m André, a Brazilian born and bred living in the South of Brazil in a little city called Guarapuava. I’m passionate about traveling and knowing different cultures and that’s why I love to share useful information about the Food, Travel, Facts, and Culture of my beloved country, Brazil.

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