So this is exactly what the title implies. Whether you are familiar with Portuguese, are learning Portuguese, work with Portuguese speakers, or are just looking to learn something about the language, I have complied a list of things that I believe are important and imperative to the successful learning of the Portuguese language that is spoken in Brazil.
These things are a mix of things you would learn in a class, as well as some minor things that you would learn just simply using the language and interacting with native speakers. I will say however this is more for the elementary learner than the more advanced learner. But nonetheless, vamos começar:
1. Teto? Teta?
Portuguese has two genders: masculine and feminine. Most of the time, nouns and adjetives with gender end in -o (masc.) and -a (feminine). It’s fairly easy to get the grasp of which words take on which gender, such as garoto (boy) and garota (girl), or even things like livro (book) or casa (house). Easy, right?
But make sure you learn your genders well, because there are some words that have forms in both genders. Take the words teto and teta, for example. Teto means roof. Teta means breast.
You do not want to be telling someone that you saw a sem-teta (literally: without boob) when you REALLY mean that you saw a sem-teto (literally: without roof = homeless person) trying to steal your bike.
2. Tô? Tá? Tava?
This is more like something you probably won’t learn in class, but something you will see a lot of Portuguese speakers using. One of the first things learners will learn are the “to be” forms–ser and estar. Here, I’ll be talking about estar.
Like in, I’m guessing, many languages, there’s formal writing, informal writing, and Internet speak. You might notice people saying “hoje tá frio” (It’s cold today) or “eu tô cansada” (I’m tired) or “ontem eu tava caminhando…” (Yesterday I was walking…) and you might think what are those things that are supposed to be conjugated estar verbs?
These are aphetic forms for their formal conjugated counterparts. The unstressed part of the word is reduced only to the part of the word that is more stressed. For example, we have the word estou which turns into tô or oftentimes just to, if you’re writing quickly.
3. Pau? Pão?
One thing that Portuguese has that English doesn’t really have (as well as Spanish) is contrastive nasalization in vowels. What’s that? It means there are similar words that exist in Portuguese, but the only difference between them is whether the air is passing through your through your mouth and your nose, or just your mouth.
Learning this nasalization can be hard for English speakers, because we don’t have this vowel nasalization feature in our language. So practice it!
You can have a word like pau (stick; oral) and pão (bread; nasal), but some English speakers can make the two sound incredibly similar, which might make for a funny situation. You do NOT want to mix up pão duro and pau duro…*snickers*
4. Meu, minha, nosso, nossa?
This can cause quite a ruckus if you’re a native English and/or Spanish speaker with no previous experience in any other foreign language. Portuguese has something called gendered possessive pronouns (as well as languages like French, Italian).
In Spanish, you use the possessive pronoun “mi” (my) no matter what the gender of the noun is. For example, you can say “mi libro, mi casa, mi amigo, mi amiga.” It never changes.
In English, you kind of have gendered pronouns, but this depends on the gender of the person. You can say “Oh, Bob? That’s his book!” or “Sally, can you give her this book back?”
In Portuguese, it is neither of those things. The gender of the pronoun relies on the noun that it modifies.
Let’s keep using the first person singular pronoun. For masculine nouns, it’s meu. For feminine, it’s minha.
I am a female, the one who is writing this sentence; I can say: Ele é meu namorado. Ela é minha irmã.
It doesn’t matter if I am a woman, a man, a boy, a girl, a writer, or an astronaut. I use both masculine and feminine pronouns because it doesn’t depend on the user’s gender, it depends on the gender of the noun that it is talking about.
*Hopefully I didn’t bash the subject on its head, I know some people that had a really hard time with the concept in French.
5. Avô ou Avó? (contrastive roundness?)
I have no idea what this is called, but there is some kind of contrastive feature (perhaps contrastive roundedness?) happening here! However, for the moment I can only think of one example and this kind of contrastive feature isn’t as profound as the other ones mentioned previously.
Instead of being marked by the typical -o and -a gender markers, the pair avô (grandfather) and avó (grandmother) are marked by this contrastive roundedness.
For you IPAers:
Grandfather: Avô [ɐvˈo]
Grandmother: Avó [ɐvˈɔ]
There is a slight difference where you will have to find the pronunciation somewhere online because I can’t attach audio, but for those of you that know IPA, you will know. To my surprise, many of my classmates could not hear the difference between the two words. It is a subtle feature, but these words are used quite often.
6. What time is your favorite?
This is just a minor point, but I wanted to bring it to your attention.
When I was first learning Portuguese, I would see so many English looking words, which got me really confused at times. One of those words is the word time. This one was easily cleared up because it’s a noun.
Time in English means, well, time. In Portuguese, this is tempo.
Time [tʃimi] in Portuguese means team. Like a futebol team.
So, to recap… Time (EN) = Tempo (PT) ; Time (PT) = Team (EN)
7. Quando eu for… (for for for)
This is the same type of thing that happened in number 6. When I was learning Portuguese, I was seeing the word for…for…for... everywhere! And I had no idea what it meant, what it was, and just kept ignoring it until my life was enlightened by its actual meaning and usage.
So to clear the air, I just want to say that for in Portuguese is the conjugated form of the verb IR in the future subjunctive. This conjugation indicates something that can be possible, to be completed in the future. It is mainly used with the words quando (when) or se (if).
For example: Quando eu for, eu quero visitar Tokyo. (When I go (in the future), I want to visit Tokyo.)
Se você for, eu vou esperar. (If you go (in the future), I’ll wait.)
These are really hard to express/translate into English, because we really don’t have an equivalent.
Another side note, IR is an irregular verb, so this is conjugated as for (i.e. they look totally different). However, importantly!!!! Take note of this for when you reach an advanced level of study: Regular verbs in the future-subjunctive are conjugated as if they were infinitive, but don’t get them confused!
Example: Quando eu chorar, eu vou sair da casa. (When I cry (in the future), I will leave the house).
Chorar is the infinitive to cry, but chorar is also the future-subjunctive form.
8. Don’t P there!
One last fun one that I’ve noticed.
In English, we have silent word-initial Ps everywhere! Think of psychology, pneumonia, pterodactyl, psychosis, etc. etc. etc. None of us say the P, and maybe if someone did, you would think that that person was a foreigner.
In Portuguese, say the P, say the P, say the P. Or I guess, pronounce the P.
Psychology = Psicologia
Pneumonia = Pneumonia
Psychosis = Psicose
Ptarmigan = Ptármiga
Pterodactyl = Pterodáctilo
Pneu = Tire (e.g. car tire) in English
So there you have it guys, some of my tips that I came across while learning Portuguese. Hopefully these helped/will help you 🙂 Leave any comments below!