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Five Things You Need to Know About Brazilian Portuguese

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In many respects, South America is a fairly homogenous continent. Of its 13 mainland member nations, 12 speak Spanish as a legacy of colonialism, and all of these countries have populations below 50 million. While there are obvious cultural differences between, say, Paraguay and Bolivia, marketing products and services in these two landlocked neighbours can be undertaken with relatively little variation.

Yet South America contains a notable anomaly. With a population of over 200 million people, Brazil is a giant compared to its neighbours. As the world’s fifth-largest country, almost half of South America’s population lives inside Brazil’s borders. And as one of the oft-discussed BRIC nations, the burgeoning Brazilian market is simply too big to ignore. The country’s GDP continues to increase, importing $181 billion of goods last year – a 20% rise on 2017’s figures. Brazil now accounts for 1% of the world’s imports, and a quarter of these came from European trade partners.

Speaking a different language

Uniquely among South American nations, the primary language of Brazil isn’t Spanish. It’s Portuguese – established as the official language in the 1750s, 250 years after a Portuguese diplomat first ‘discovered’ Brazil. While both dialects retain far more similarities than differences, speaking strictly European Portuguese in Brazil signifies a lack of local understanding and isn’t enough to communicate effectively with audiences. This makes trading in Brazil uniquely challenging, underlining the importance of finding a translation service capable of respecting the unique nature of Brazilian Portuguese.

These are five notable aspects of the Brazilian dialect of Portuguese, which any firm or enterprise planning to target Brazil should be aware of:

1. The same words have different meanings

If you visited Portugal and called a young woman a “rapariga” (girl), she probably wouldn’t mind. Yet the same term in Brazil is in fact a derogatory insult, and would likely elicit a very different reaction. Equally, Brazilians often co-opt nouns into verbs, so the Portuguese phrase “dar os parabéns” (meaning “to congratulate”) becomes the verb “parabenizar” in Brazil. It’s easy to see how confusion might arise from using a word in the wrong context, potentially derailing a marketing or social media campaign.

2. Vowels are markedly different

If you’re planning any form of broadcast advert, voiceover, YouTube video or podcast, it’s crucial to recognise that the same words are pronounced differently in Brazilian Portuguese. Most accents and dialects around the world are influenced by the pronunciation of verbs rather than consonants, and Brazilians extend their vowels while adding greater emphasis to them. They’re also more likely to follow more formal and precise methods of pronouncing words. European Portuguese speakers tend to miss out middle vowels in the same way British speakers ignore silent Ks – knowledge, know, etc.

3. Pronunciation varies across the country

As you might expect in a country which extends across four time zones, pronunciation of certain terms changes from one region to the next. Residents of north-eastern cities like Belém and São Luís are more likely to replicate European mannerisms than southerners. In a nation of this size, it’s often advisable to consider regional translation services, rather than assuming one solution will please residents at opposite ends of a country. Brazil also hosts one of the world’s most multicultural populations, particularly in its larger cities, where Spanish and even French terms may be seen on signs or heard in casual conversation.

4. Brazilian Portuguese is less formal

Rather like France, Portugal has waged war on imported terminology in an attempt to keep its language pure. The retention of Latin roots is considered important here. By contrast, as a more multicultural, magpie culture, Brazilians are less concerned about linguistic appropriation from the English language. Increasing American influences among younger Brazilians in particular has led to terms like “media” and “self-serve” becoming widely understood. Equally, technological words like “internet” and “online” are used confidently in Brazil, whereas in Portugal, the correct word for “online” is generally still the Portuguese “conectados”.

5. Efforts have been made to standardise the language

The clumsily-titled ‘Portuguese Language Orthographic Agreement of 1990’ was an international treaty designed to standardise the language in all Portuguese-speaking countries. Specifically, it aimed to close the gap between European and Brazilian Portuguese. The Agreement met with varying degrees of resistance, and disagreements raged for decades, but it was officially adopted by the Portuguese and Brazilian governments in 2014 and 2016 respectively. Three times as many words were changed in the European language as in the Brazilian one – 1.6 and 0.5% respectively. Adhering to the new orthography is now regarded as obligatory in Brazil, so older textbooks or translation guides may be out of date.

Even with this Agreement in place, targeting the Brazilian market still requires a degree of expertise and familiarity with the nuances of Brazilian Portuguese. Speak to one of our experts today, to see how Language Connect can help to localise your business in South America’s largest market.



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