Why Does Only Brazil Speak Portuguese? (With Infographic)

Brazil is the only country in America that speaks Portuguese, while most of its neighboring nations speak Spanish or English (in some specific cases). But, if most countries have adopted other languages, why do Brazilians speak Portuguese?

Only Brazil speaks Portuguese because it was the only country in South America colonized by Portugal, while most of the others were colonized by Spain. Brazil is the only country in America that speaks Portuguese, but in the entire world, 9 nations adopted Portuguese as their official language.

The colonization of South America is a long history, carried out mainly by two great powers of the past and two famous conquerors, respectively: Spain and Portugal, Colombo and Pedro Alvares Cabral.

Why Do Brazilians Speak Portuguese And Not Spanish?

Why Brazilians Speak Portuguese?

Brazil is the only country in South America that speaks Portuguese, in a region that most of the countries adopted Spanish as their first language. That’s a fact that generates a lot of doubts in people that are not familiarized with the history of the colonization of South America, more specifically, the region where Brazil is located.

Brazilians speak Portuguese because Brazil was colonized by Portugal. At that time, two nations were disputing control over this region of South America: Spain and Portugal. As the region that came to be Brazil was a Portugal domain, Brazilians speak Portuguese and not Spanish, as the other countries.

This dispute between Portugal and Spain lasted for many years, but fortunately, it did not end with wars, but with agreements.

Brazil Was Colonized By Portugal

In 1500 a Portuguese expedition led by Pedro Alvares Cabral arrived in the territory that became Brazil, the reason why he is considered as who “discovered” the country. This expedition arrived on our land on April 22, 1500, as a result of the great navigations promoted by Portugal during the 15th century. As Pedro was Portuguese on a mission sent by the crown, after noticing the potential of the land, Brazil was colonized by Portugal.

But Portugal was not the only nation interested in the lands that became the region known as South America. On the other side of the continent, since Columbus “discovered” America, Spain started to colonize part of South America. With both shores being explored by different forces, it was inevitable that at some moment they would end up facing each other interests. And usually, it means war. Fortunately, this had been decided even before Portugal arrived in Brazil.

The Treaty of Tordesillas

In 1492, after hearing the reports from Columbus, the Spanish monarchs sought help from the Pope to grant them control over the “New World”. They intended to prevent Portugal and other rivals from setting up in the area. In 1943, pope Alexander VI (that was Spanish) determined the demarcation of a line that would be located 100 leagues west of Cape Verde. Portuguese expeditions were to remain east of that line. All territories west of that line would belong to Spain.

After that, King Dom João II, from Portugal, was very angry with the decision of Pope Alexander VI because the demarcation proposed by him left almost no territory for Portugal in the New World. To resolve this conflict, Spanish and Portuguese ambassadors met in the village of Tordesillas, Spain, in 1494. A new agreement was signed and the line was moved, 370 leagues to the west of Cape Verde. This document became known as the Treaty of Tordesillas.

At that time, no one knew what the real extent of the western hemisphere was. It was the Treaty of Tordesillas that allowed Portugal to start colonizing Brazil by the coastal region where Pedro Álvares Cabral landed in 1500. 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.

The Treaty of Madrid

Through the years Portugal extended the limits defined by the Treaty of Tordesillas, expanding the territory that became Brazil some to the west of the line. Spain noticed this fact and in 1750 a new treaty was signed: the Treaty of Madrid. In this document, Brazil (Portugal back then) gave up some lands that were a huge interest for Spain in exchange for lands that gave Brazil a shape very similar to what It is now.

As Portugal got the “ownership” over the side of the line that became Brazil, the official language in Brazil the same as our colonizers: Portuguese. Through the years the language passed through a lot of changes and cultural adaptions, becoming the Brazilian variation of Portuguese spoken today. That’s the reason why only Brazil speaks Portuguese in South America while the majority of the other countries speak Spanish.

Is Brazil The Only Country That Speaks Portuguese?

In South America, there are a lot of countries that have adopted Spanish as their first language, but Brazil is the one that has Portuguese as the official language, the only in America, but not in the world.

Brazil is not the only country that speaks Portuguese. Altogether nine countries have Portuguese as their official language, according to the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries. In addition to Brazil, Portugal, East Timor, in Asia, and 6 countries in Africa adopt Portuguese as an official language.

The language is also spoken by a part of the population in other territories, such as in Macau, some places in India, Flores Island in Indonesia, Batticaloa in Sri Lanka, and the ABC Islands, in the Caribbean. In some South American countries, such as Uruguay, Venezuela, Paraguay, and Guyana, some communities speak Portuguese, however, it is not an official language.

AngolaAfrica29,310,273 inhabitants
BrasilAmerica208,494,900 inhabitants
Cabo VerdeAfrica560,999 inhabitants
Guiné-BissauAfrica1,792,338 inhabitants
Guiné-EquatorialAfrica1,221,490 inhabitants
MoçambiqueAfrica27,909,798 inhabitants
PortugalEurope10,374,822 inhabitants
São Tomé e PríncipeAfrica204,454 inhabitants
Timor-LesteAsia1,291,358 inhabitants

Does Everyone in Brazil Speak Portuguese?

The official language of Brazil is Portuguese, but in a country that is absolutely gigantic in territorial extension (continental measures, fifth-largest country in area in the entire planet), does everyone speak the same language? In a place so full of diversity and different cultures depending on the region, it’s normal that some people doubt if everyone in the country speaks Portuguese.

As a general rule, all Brazilians speak Portuguese, as it’s the country’s official language. There are some regions of the country with immigrant colonies where people speak German or Japanese and some places with Native Indigenous languages. But that represents less than 2% of the population.

This data consider people fluent in the language as their mother tongue. If we also consider people fluent in more than one language, there are several other languages spoken in Brazil. In some regions of the country, it is very common to find people fluent in English, mainly in the city Curitiba, 7th place in the world at the level of English proficiency (not considering cities where English is the official language).

RankLanguageSpeakers (% of Population)
3Indigenous Languages0.2
Data from worldatlas.com

Can I Speak Spanish in Brazil?

A lot of people intend to travel and get to know Brazil but are afraid of not being able to communicate in the country because they are not fluent in Portuguese. Many of these potential tourists speak Spanish and barely know that this is more than necessary to travel to Brazil without having to worry about the language barrier.

As a general rule, it’s possible to speak Spanish in Brazil, since the vast majority of the population can understand and even talk in a mixed language between Portuguese and Spanish: the Portuñol, very popular in Brazil. It’s not perfect, but good enough for speakers of both languages to communicate.

In addition, in many regions of the country, it is possible to find people fluent in Spanish. Especially in cities close to the country’s land borders, such as Foz do Iguaçu, one of the main tourist destinations in the country (home to the Iguaçu Falls). There it is quite common to find Spanish speakers.

Can Spanish Speakers Understand Portuguese?

Every year Brazil receives thousands of tourists and also new residents, people who fall in love by the culture and move to the country searching for new adventures. Still, many suffer (or fear) the language barrier, since Portuguese is very difficult to learn. But if you speak Spanish, there is great news for you.

Spanish speakers can understand some Portuguese, not in its entirety, but enough to somehow communicate with Brazilians. In Brazil it’s also common to see Portuguese speakers talking with Spanish speakers in a mixed language between both called Portuñol (Portuguese + Espanhol). It’s not perfect, but works.

In general, despite different languages, there are similarities between Portuguese and Spanish. It is obvious that each language has its complexity and there are more differences than things in common (otherwise it would be the same language), but anyone fluent in Spanish is much closer to speaking Portuguese than a person who speaks English, for example.

Is Brazilian Portuguese Difficult To Learn?

Portuguese is the fifth most spoken language in the world. A world-known language, it’s estimated that around the world it’s spoken by more than 250 million people. Among the countries that officially use the language are Brazil, Portugal, Mozambique and Angola, and many others. Not surprisingly the interest in learning Portuguese spiked in recent years, but is Brazilian Portuguese hard to learn?

As a general rule, Brazilian Portuguese is considered very difficult to learn. The grammar of the Portuguese language is considered one of the most difficult that exists, because it is full of rules and, also, exceptions to those rules. This makes the language very complex to learn in its entirety.

Still, the large number of immigrants arriving in Brazil every year and learning the language in a few months shows that it is possible. Mainly because of the great language courses available on the Internet, some even for free on YouTube. If you really want to learn Portuguese I truly believe that you can reach a good level in about 12 to 18 months studying the language.


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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