Portuguese vs Spanish: Which Language Should You Learn?
Find out whether you should learn Spanish or Portuguese in this detailed language guide
Learning a new language is a big decision and choosing which one to learn is even more so. Once you choose, you’ll dedicate many hours and a great deal of brain power to the task so you want to make sure that you’re choosing the one that will be most beneficial, possibly the easiest, and hopefully the most enjoyable. If you’re trying to decide between Portuguese and Spanish, this detailed guide will give you some food for thought.
Similarities Between The Portuguese & Spanish Languages
Both Spanish and Portuguese are Romance languages, closely related to Italian, Catalan, and French. More specifically, they are Ibero-Romance languages, with roots on the Iberian Peninsula. If you travel to this portion of Western Europe, you’ll find that you can often get away with speaking many of these languages in any of these countries.
Both Portuguese and Spanish are descended from Vulgar Latin, so they evolved when the Roman Empire was spreading across Europe. Plus, Portugal shares a border with Spain (Portugal’s only shared border, actually), so much of their vocabulary has been traded back and forth over the centuries. During the Colonial era, both languages took root all over the world.
These two languages follow the same grammatical structure and verb conjugation rules. If you speak one, the same logic applies to the other. Brazilian Portuguese is probably one of the most closely related to Spanish though, so fluent or native Spanish speakers can get an easy sense of the gist of a conversation or document in Brazilian Portuguese.
However, Portuguese has a few different letters and sounds that need extra attention. Furthermore, European Portuguese differs even further from Spanish than Brazilian Portuguese, even though it’s so close geographically.
Differences Between The Spanish & Portuguese Languages
Although the written forms of Spanish and Portuguese have almost 90% lexical similarity, the difference between the spoken forms of the languages is much greater.
Most people know that in Spanish if you’re writing a question or an exclamatory sentence, you use the upside-down form of punctuation at the beginning of the sentence. In Portuguese, though, you only use it at the end.
Another difference is that Portuguese uses a few different letters with new sounds that set it apart from Spanish.
Spanish and Portuguese contain plenty of cognates, or words that look, sound, and mean almost the same thing.
However, there are also plenty of “false friends,” or words that one would assume to be cognates but that are completely different. One of the most famous is that in Spanish, embarazada means pregnant. In Portuguese, however, embaraçada means embarrassed. It would be quite embarrassing to mix those up (see what I did there 😂).
Which Language Is Easier To Learn: Portuguese or Spanish?
Just as Spanish is an offshoot of Latin, Portuguese is an offshoot of Spanish. I know, mind blown, right?
As such, Spanish might be easier to learn right off, and then Portuguese can be picked up even more quickly as an additional foreign language.
However, both languages are (generally) fairly easy for native English speakers to pick up. In the States, though, Spanish resources might be more prevalent.
With that said, there are plenty of language learning apps like Babbel and Rosetta Stone, for example, that offer courses for both languages. Language apps like these make it even easier to learn Spanish and Portuguese, and are available to people all over the world.
Reasons To Learn Spanish As Opposed To Portuguese
If you’ll be spending plenty of time in and around Western and Southern Europe, then Spanish might be more beneficial.
Furthermore, if you live in or plan on communicating with people in Mexico and Central America, then Spanish will broaden your horizons immensely.
Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world. Of course, it’s also widely spoken in the United States, especially in states and communities near the Mexican border.
Learning Spanish is even easier with the wealth of Spanish-language resources available, too. Almost any channel or movie has Spanish subtitles and Spanish radio stations are almost as prevalent as English ones in the US.
Getting a Spanish translation of your favorite book is easy, too. Thus, you can choose from a range of enticing activities to help you pick up Spanish proficiency faster.
These apps offer lessons that will quickly expand your Spanish vocabulary. Some, like the Spanish course from Pimsleur, even offer simulated mock conversations with fluent Spanish speakers so you can can really improve your verbal skills.
Reasons To Learn Portuguese As Opposed To Spanish
If you or your family hail from Portugal or Brazil, then you’ll probably have more opportunities or reasons to learn Portuguese. Portuguese is spoken all over South America since it’s the main language of Brazil, and Brazil is the largest country on the South American continent.
There are plenty of other countries in which a large portion of the population speaks Portuguese, too, including Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Mozambique, East Timor, and São Tomé and Príncipe.
Another great reason to pick up Portuguese is if you already speak another Romance language, such as French, Italian, or—yes—Spanish. Even if you speak these just conversationally, the foundational knowledge will help you pick up Portuguese even more quickly. Again, language apps such as Pimsleur or Duolingo, will help you pick up the language even faster.
Although Spanish is highly prized in the US for jobs, social, and educational purposes, being fluent in Portuguese will set you apart from the crowd. Plus, speaking Portuguese will bolster your business connections in many countries, including Brazil, which is the world’s 8th largest economy that is continuing to grow.
Learning Portuguese will also open you up to plenty of cultural opportunities, such as the huge portion of soccer fans that speak this exciting, beautiful language. The Portuguese people have also contributed great works of literature and art that you can understand better if you speak the language.
When deciding whether to learn Spanish or Portuguese, the decision should be based on where your passions and direction lie. Choose the language which will give you the most opportunity for immersion and practice as well as the one that you think you’ll get the most enjoyment out of learning.
One of the best factors for successful proficiency is one’s excitement and dedication to a linguistic adventure. So, choose the one that sparks joy and enjoy the journey.
Is Portuguese or Spanish harder to learn?
Most people think Spanish is easier to learn than Portuguese. With that said, the two languages have nearly 90% lexical similarity, so the two are very close.
Which language is more useful, Spanish or Portuguese?
Most people would agree that Spanish is likely the more useful language since it is the second most common language in the entire world. This is especially true if you are American.