Olá. Bem-vindo a Portugal. Você pode falar a minha língua?
Sadly, Portuguese is not an easy language to learn. Written down, some of it is very similar to Spanish. That’s because Portuguese is one of the family of Latin languages – apparently it’s the closest of the modern languages to the original.
However, Portuguese also contains a generous dash of Arabic, plus a few other imported words (like whisky and surfing!) just to confuse you.
Portuguese also sounds very different from Spanish. It has a lot of nasal sounds and dipthongs that are extremely hard for non-native speakers to get right. (Unlike Spanish, where you pronounce words as they are written and pronounce every letter, Portuguese is more like English in that there are plenty of words that sound nothing like the way they are written!)
However, it is really, really worth trying to learn just a few words. Portuguese people won’t expect you to speak their language but even if you only manage a few mangled phrases they will greatly appreciate the effort and try even harder to help you out.
Using other languages
In tourist resorts – particularly the Algarve – you’ll find plenty of English and other European languages spoken. (Although not everywhere so do learn a few words of Portuguese!)
Most young Portuguese people also speak at least some English – it’s taught in schools, plus a lot of films and TV are US productions shown in English with Portuguese subtitles.
You may find quite a lot of older people, even outside tourist areas, speak some German or French. That’s because many Portuguese go and work in these countries, or have relatives who’ve gone there.
Spanish speakers will also find the Portuguese can understand you – even if you’ve got no idea what they’re saying in reply!
My personal experience is that the Portuguese occasionally appear a little dour and suspicious-looking of strangers but as soon as you say ola, bom dia (hello, good day) they’re some of the friendliest people around.
Most Portuguese also have a great sense of humour and don’t take life too seriously. If you’re prepared to make an effort to communicate – even if it’s a combination of a few Portuguese words mixed up with some English, a bit of French and plenty of sign language – the Portuguese people will bend over backwards to help you.