If Spanish and Portuguese belong to the same language family, how ‘closely related’ are they? It’s a question learners often ask. But why is it a question worth asking?

Well, as a language learner, knowing how closely related two languages are can be extremely helpful when deciding which language to learn next. A language which is similar to one you already know is usually easier to learn. For example, if you’re a Spanish learner or speaker, knowing the similarities between Spanish and Portuguese may just give you a boost in your Portuguese learning journey. Vice versa for Portuguese speakers looking to learn Spanish.

Many people at SPEAK speak either Spanish or Portuguese. Sometimes they speak both. Because we want to encourage a deep cultural understanding in our community, we decided to highlight some similarities between different languages- Starting with Portuguese and Spanish.  

Siblings in the Romance Family

Spanish and Portuguese are both members of the Romance family of languages. Romance languages are languages which come from Latin. They include French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. 

Among all the Romance languages, Spanish and Portuguese are the most closely related. Perhaps you’re a Spanish speaker who’s heard a snippet of Portuguese and thought, ‘Wow, that sounds familiar.’ There’s a good reason for that. 90% of Spanish and Portuguese have an equivalent (or at least very similar) word in each language. Let’s look at some examples.

  • Spanish: Mundo
  • Portuguese: Mundo
  • English: World
  • Spanish: Gato
  • Portuguese: Gato
  • English: Cat
  • Spanish: Verde
  • Portuguese: Verde
  • English: Green

All of these words are exactly the same in both languages. They’re both spelt the same way and have the same meaning.  

But it’s also important to remember that Portuguese and Spanish words aren’t always exactly the same. For example:

  • Spanish: Tortuga
  • Portuguese: Tartaruga
  • English: Turtle
  • Spanish: Naranja
  • Portuguese: Laranja
  • English: Orange
  • Spanish: Pez
  • Portuguese: Peixe
  • English: Fish  

These words aren’t as obviously related, but they are still more similar in Portuguese and Spanish than a more distant language like English. The Latin root which binds these Romance languages together is clearly very strong.

Overall, the similarity between Spanish and Portuguese vocabulary is a huge advantage for learners. If you already speak one language, then the similarity in vocabulary will give you a massive head start when learning the other.  

There are differences in pronunciation which makes conversation between Spanish and Portuguese speakers a little difficult at first. But with a little listening practice Spanish and Portuguese speakers get used to one another’s languages remarkably quickly…and what better way to do that than at a language group with SPEAK?

False Friends

Despite the broad similarity between the two languages, some words have evolved over time to take on different meanings. This makes for some potentially embarrassing situations for learners who don’t know the difference between these words. 

Don’t worry, though. We’ve got you covered. Here’s a couple of the most common, and honestly, amusing language traps in Portuguese and Spanish so you can be sure you don’t fall into them.

  1. Let’s imagine you’re at a Spanish friend’s dinner party. You want to compliment the food so you say, ‘La comida es exquisita’. In Spanish, this means, ‘The food is exquisite.’ Who wouldn’t be happy to hear such high praise? Well…In Portuguese, ‘A comida e esquisita’ means ‘The food is weird’. In Portugal, suddenly that charming compliment you were planning gets turned into an insult!
Spanish and Portuguese
  1. Pelado is an example of a word which technically means the same thing in both languages- That is, ‘peeled.’ However, it has a very different colloquial meaning in either language. In Spanish, it means ‘to get a haircut’ but in Portuguese it means ‘to be naked.’ Only one is acceptable to ask your hairdresser for, though. 

Even though they’re slightly embarrassing, these kinds of mistakes also provide a memorable and hilarious learning experience. Most people are immensely kind and patient with people who are trying to learn their language. So, get out there and make a tonne of mistakes! 

Verb Conjugations

Portuguese and Spanish verbs follow a lot of the same basic rules and have the same features.

For example, whereas in English a personal pronoun is always needed for a sentence to make sense, both Spanish and Portuguese allow you to cut out the pronoun. Instead the pronoun is built into the verb ending itself. Sounds complicated? Let’s look at an example to make things a bit clearer.

English: We eat fruit.

Spanish: Comemos fruta.

Portuguese: Comemos fruta.

In the English version of this sentence, ‘we’ is an essential piece of information. We need it to know who is eating the fruit. In both Spanish and Portuguese, the equivalent of ‘we’ (‘nosotros’ and ‘nos’) isn’t needed, so it’s absent from the sentence. Both languages just conjugate the verb ‘comer’ (‘to eat’) into ‘comemos’ (‘we eat’) instead. 

This means that Portuguese and Spanish speakers are already familiar with the basic rules of verb conjugation. They know that the pronoun influences the verb. They know that the pronoun can be left out altogether. Therefore, it isn’t as big a transition for them to start learning the other language as someone who isn’t familiar with these concepts.    

Word Order in Spanish and Portuguese  

One of the trickiest things about learning a new language is getting used to the word order. Having to rearrange the words every time you make a sentence can slow down your speaking and understanding. At times, it can feel like rearranging the furniture in your brain- frustrating and exhausting. 

Luckily, Portuguese and Spanish speakers don’t have to think about that. Both languages follow the same basic word order. For example:

  • English: Portuguese and Spanish are sister languages.
  • Spanish: El portugues es una lengua hermana del español.
  • Portuguese: O portugues e uma língua irmã do espanhol.

While there are some differences in the actual words in the Spanish and Portuguese sentences above, they follow exactly the same order. 

The English sentence, on the other hand, doesn’t. In fact, if it followed the same word order as Spanish or Portuguese it would sound less natural.

  • English sentence following Spanish word order: The Portuguese is a language sister of Spanish.

That’s because words need to be rearranged to accommodate for differences between Spanish and English word order. That isn’t a problem between Spanish and Portuguese. Ultimately, it means that people who know one of these languages will have greater fluency from day one in the other. 

Spanish and Portuguese

So, How Similar are Spanish and Portuguese?

There are more similarities and differences between Portuguese and Spanish than this blog post can adequately explain. However, we can think of them as being sisters. They’re very similar but they aren’t 100% the same. 

There are small differences, such as pronunciation, between them which might slow learning progress at the beginning. But overall they seem to have more in common which will definitely help learners of one pick-up the other.

If you want to start your Spanish or Portuguese learning journey, SPEAK has frequent Spanish and Portuguese groups and a vibrant, friendly and supportive community to help you every step of the way.    

Don't stop here! If you would like to discover more about language learning, you might also like "Juggling two or more Latin Languages at once"

Author: Peter Gaches-Tooley

Peter is a marketer and writer at SPEAK London. He has 3 passions in life: Learning languages, storytelling and eating far too much food.

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