If you are a native speaker of Spanish or Portuguese, or have heard someone speak one of these languages, you have probably noticed the similarity between the two of them. This has aroused great curiosity in people who have visited Brazil or Portugal along with a Spanish-speaking country and have been amazed by the similarities between these languages.
However, to think that there is no reason behind this would be to underestimate the evolution of languages, which have been changing for millennia to make our lives easier.
Why are the two languages so similar?
Despite many of their many differences, it is undeniable that both languages sound very similar, which is not to say that they sound exactly the same. This is due to a lot of reasons, which we will be analyzing in depth in the article.
The first of these is the language from which they derive. As you probably know, Spanish and Portuguese are Romance languages, which means that they derive from Latin, the language used throughout the Roman Empire.
While Latin has fallen into disuse, the reality is that many of our modern cultures and countries have adapted Latin grammar and dialect to create their own languages, as is the case in France and Italy, making our vocabularies so similar, especially when compared to Eastern cultures.
However, the similarity between Portuguese and Spanish is a rather peculiar case due to another highly influential factor. They have a 90% similar lexicon, making many of the words used in Portuguese and Spanish similar as well.
Can you identify Portuguese words by speaking Spanish?
After all I’ve told you above, you’ve probably assumed that you can identify some Portuguese or Spanish words if you speak the opposite language. And the truth is that you can. For example, there are words that sound exactly the same, such as “familia” which means family, or expressions like “você” or “vos” which literally means you.Obviously, it is much easier to identify them in writing than in a live conversation, due to other factors such as accent.
Does this mean that you can interchange them? Absolutely not. Believe me, if you try to speak to a Portuguese person in Spanish, they might be able to interpret some words, but they won’t understand them without a context.Context is the king of languages. It’s what gives meaning to sentences.
Think about it for a second. If you were only able to interpret the word “spy” from a conversation, you wouldn’t know if the person who said it is trying to tell you that he is a spy; that he thinks you are a spy or that there is a spy in the room, trying to get rid of you. You get the idea.
Languages are a living thing that change over time. They are not just a jumble of words. If you have a business and you want to communicate with both communities, you should definitely hire a translation company specialized in the language you are interested in selling your products and services in, because of this reason and the next one I am about to tell you.
While it is true that Spanish and Portuguese are similar, we cannot forget something even more important when trying to communicate effectively with people from any country. Regional differences.
You see, Spanish and Portuguese not only have similarities because of the language from which they derive, but because of the proximity of the countries that speak both languages, and their close relationship over time.
While Portugal is located next to Spain, Brazil is surrounded by practically all the Spanish-speaking countries of South America, except for Ecuador and Chile.
It is for this reason that Latin Americans find it easier to understand Brazilian Portuguese than the Portuguese spoken in Portugal, as the original language has changed over time. If you were to send an Argentinean to Portugal, he would probably not understand half a word compared to a Spaniard.
The problem with not mastering the local vocabulary, especially if you are a translatoror are planning to hire a non-specialized professional, is that translations can end up losing their original meaning.
You can’t expect the 20 Latin American countries that have Spanish as their official language to speak exactly the same Spanish, having such different and unique cultures and histories. Languages are only the first step in getting to know a culture. There are local traditions and practices that only make sense to people who have grown up in their countries.
Who are better at understanding their neighbors?
This is a question that could generate a lot of debate, but I couldn’t avoid mentioning it in the article. If we go by common sense, it all depends on the person playing the role of listener and their ability to interpret other languages.
For example, a young Spaniard who has been studying English since the age of 5 might have an easier time understanding Portuguese than someone who has not, due to a unique ability that we develop from a very young age. The ability to associate several names to the same idea or object. If you learn that there are several ways to say “table” from a very early age, it is very likely that a few decades later you will have an easier time both learning and understanding other languages than someone who has grown up thinking that objects can only be called by one name.
But if we were to rely on two speakers of Spanish and Portuguese chosen at random off the street, then it would undoubtedly be the Portuguese speakers who would have an easier time understanding their neighbors than those who practice Spanish.At least, based on the experiences reported by native speakers of both languages.
Can learning both languages at the same time be confusing?
If you speak either of these two languages natively, it’s virtually impossible to get confused. But what if you find yourself learning them?
The reality is that learning Spanish and Portuguese at the same time can be confusing, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t try to learn them. It all depends on how willing you are to improve your command of both languages, along with how often you practice them. However, it is quite common to end up mixing up Portuguese words trying to speak Spanish and vice versa.
The best thing to do is to focus on mastering one of these languages even before jumping to the next, to avoid getting confused. Because of the lexical similarity between the two, you will find it easier to learn Spanish or Portuguese when you have already mastered the opposite language.
Why is Portuguese spoken in Brazil even though the predominant language of the region is Spanish?
If we take into account everything discussed in the article so far, you have probably realized that there is something that doesn’t make sense. The use of Portuguese in Brazil. Unlike the rest of South America, which speaks Spanish, Brazil seems to be a country that is quite isolated in the region compared to the rest of the countries. And being the only country in the whole continent to speak Portuguese cannot be easy.
This is due to the era of imperialism, which has determined the language of so many regions. As indicated in a previous article, a few centuries ago, it was very common for the great powers of the world to have colonies to obtain raw materials and sell their own products. These conquests were not only military, but also cultural, making the conquered countries end up adapting the customs and language of their conquerors.
However, the case of Brazil is quite peculiar and completely different from the rest of the region. You see, Brazil was not only a Portuguese colony, but it ended up becoming the refuge of Portuguese royalty after Napoleon took action in Europe.
For obvious reasons, if imperialist countries had an interest in having their colonies learn their languages for economic and practical reasons, you can imagine the widespread interest Portugal’s royalty had in creating a second home for themselves, where they wouldn’t feel like complete strangers.
Eventually, Brazil would become independent and adapt its own customs, making its differences with Portugal more and more noticeable.
So why hasn’t Brazil changed its language to this day? Obviously it is due to the hundreds of years in which the inhabitants of the region have practiced Portuguese, making it their own language.
Brazil is no longer an extension of Portugal. It is an independent country, with its own practices and differences, despite its many similarities with the country that has given them the most precious thing they could have learned. Language, something that makes us so similar and so different at the same time.