Brazil is a country of 210 million inhabitants and they almost all speak Brazilian Portuguese (98%). In fact, Brazil is the reason that Portuguese is the most spoken language in South America even though most of its neighboring countries speak Spanish.
But is the Spanish language spoken in Brazil at all?
It is, but not as much as you might think. After Portuguese, English is in fact the most widespread foreign language in Brazil. 7 % of the Brazilian population speak English as a second language. The percentage of Brazilians who speak Spanish is even less significant at 4% (and some figures put it much lower) and you’ll probably have to go to the regions close to borders to neighboring Spanish-speaking countries to find them!
Can I get by in Brazil if I speak Spanish?
When people try using their Spanish to get by in Brazil they usually experience a lot of strange looks and not a lot of success. In regions bordering to Spanish-speaking neighbors, it’s sometimes possible to communicate in some sort of Portuguese-Spanish pidgin language that you make up as you go, called Portuñol or Portunhol. But chances are that people will have a hard time understanding you – and that you’ll have an even harder time figuring out what the Brazilians are saying!
Generally, speaking Spanish in Brazil isn’t that well received. Many Brazilians have experienced foreigners assume that Brazilians speak Spanish, which isn’t the case, and it’s perceived as a lack of cultural understanding. When you address people in English, at least you won’t offend them.
Get a phrasebook, or lean just a minimum of basic Brazilian Portuguese
If you already know Spanish, you do have the advantage of knowing a language that’s relatively close to Portuguese. Even though the two languages aren’t mutually intelligible, they’re close grammatically and share some features in terms of pronunciation and vocabulary.
This means that you could learn the basics of Portuguese relatively quickly.
You actually don’t need a lot to get by in Brazil. I recommend picking up a phrasebook (like this one on amazon) and leafing through it before you go to Brazil. Keep it with you as you interact with people, and you’ll be sure to find it useful.
Even though you won’t be speaking Brazilian Portuguese fluently after leafing through a phrasebook, you’ll be communicating with people in their language. Not that of the neighboring country. And that’ll make a much better impression. (And you’re a 1000 times more likely to be understood).
What other languages can I speak in Brazil?
As mentioned before, in Brazil you won’t get far without at least a bit of Brazilian Portuguese. That being said, there are other minority languages that are spoken in Brazil. Some might surprise you. For others, like the Native American languages of Brazil, it’s surprising (and quite sad) that they aren’t more common.
People say that over 1000 different indigenous languages were spoken in what we call Brazil today before Portuguese colonization. Today, that number is closer to 160 and sadly only getting smaller. The majority of those languages have less than 5000 native speakers. It’s estimated that less than 0.02% of the Brazilian population speak an indigenous language.
Among other languages that might surprise you to be spoken in Brazil are Italian and German. There are (many) more German speakers in Brazil than those who are fluent in the country’s original languages. This is mainly because of the surge of German immigration that happened in the 1940’s. German (and to some extent Italian and even Japanese, Ukrainian and Korean) has since been an important heritage language in Brazil, and it’s not impossible to meet native German speakers there.
So, to sum up on Spanish in Brazil
Some people wrongfully assume that Spanish is the language spoken in Brazil. While Spanish is the main language of the majority of South American countries, it’s not very common in Brazil.
I hope this article answered your question!
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