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Why do Brazilians speak Portuguese Posted by on Aug 15, 2007 in Geography

People speak Portuguese in Brazil because Brazil was a Portuguese colony.

Though this fact is well-known in some circles (loyal blog readers and Portuguese language learners, for example), one may be surprised how many well-educated people either don’t know that Portuguese is spoken in Brazil, or don’t know why! It is actually pretty common to hear “Oh, you are going to Brazil? How great! Do you speak Spanish?”, even from relatively wordly individuals; I certainly have heard this one many times!

In any case, on to the task at hand, which is to provide a useful summary of the events leading to Brazilians speaking Portuguese…


European discovery of Brazil occurred at the beginning of the 16th century, common era. The Portuguese court became interested in exporing the natural resources of Brazil beginning around 1530. Early efforts to find precious metals were unsuccessful, but agriculture (particularly sugar) became a valuable Brazilian export for the Portuguese crown. By the end of the 18th century, private explorers had located vast mineral reserves in Minas Gerais (Uai!) much the the crown’s delight.

The colonial period came to an end around this time, and the arrival of the Portuguese royal family in 1808, as they fleed Napolean and his army, marked the beginning of the age of the Brazilian Empire. When the King of Portugal, João VI, left Brazil in 1821, he left his son, Dom Pedro I in charge. Through a serious series of events, Dom Pedro I and others were able to secure independence from Portugal in 1822.

Dom Pedro I reigned as emperor until 1831, when he was forced to step down and return to Portugal. His son, Dom Pedro II (pictured above) was left behind to assume the throne. The only problem was that Pedro Segundo (as he was known) was only 5 years old at the time. A tumultuous period followed until Pedro Segundo was old enough to rule; he was crowned emperor in 1840.

This is a very simplified summary of only one period in Brazil’s history. I encourage you to look further and read more about Brazilian history if it interests you. The 20th century was particularly eventful, and it wasn’t until 1985 that the country was truly a modern democratic republic.

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Comments:

  1. kayleigh:

    why do brazil spesk in portuguese because i cant understand a word in this piece of writing

  2. Thais:

    Oi eu falo português!

    • Felipe:

      @Thais Eu sou brasileiro, também falo portugues e estou tentando aprender ingles.

  3. alicia regis:

    thanks for the blog…i was actually helping my son with his homework… the question was what language do Brazilians speak and i told him “spanish”, then i decided to google it and make sure, it’s a good thing i did, i was really shocked to read that Brazilians speak Portuguese,,,, imagine that, you are never to old to learn

  4. Abigail:

    Um, I dont think this really helped. Did they speak Portuguese because there was Portuguese leader and rulers?

  5. Marcelo:

    Sou brasileiro, com muito orgulho, e comecei a rir….é inacreditável… é óbvio que falamos PORTUGÜÊS, fomos colonizados por Portugal.

  6. Margaret Nahmias:

    What worse is that people confuse Spanish with Portuguese. Yes some words and verb forms are similar, but they are completely different language It also show how little Portuguese is known compared to Spanish.

  7. Carlos:

    Nossa! Eu já sabia que algumas pessoas pensavam que a gente falava espanhol, mas poxa! Brasil foi colonizado por Portugal! E não pela Espanha! Tão sabendo bonito! YES, WE SPEAK PORTUGUESE!

  8. Monika:

    Hi, I just cannot understand how you can confuse Portugese with Spanish and not know what language is spoken in Brasil. In Poland , where I live, this knowledge is spread in grammar schools. Besides – Brasilian music – samba and bosssanova , which are so famous – are sung in Portugese. :))

  9. Ben:

    1st group: People whose descendants travelled from Africa to Asia then over the Bering Strait to North America and finally reached South America. Over 10,000 years ago.
    2nd group: Europeans (mostly Portuguese) (This group of people makes up most of the population of Brazil today so they still speak Portuguese because they come from people that spoke Portuguese.) Hundreds of years ago.
    3rd group: African slaves from the slave trade. A couple hundred years ago.
    4th group: Modern day workers from all around the world.

  10. Joao:

    It’s only in Western Europe and North America (the biggest spoilers) that Portuguese is little known. In Africa or Asia, Portuguese is a little more known – even today – than Spanish.

    In the US, obviously, the Spanish influence is great, so many people don’t even dream of another largely spoken language in the Americas.

    Add the fact that there are some little differences between Brazilian Portuguese and the European one. These differences in pronunciation as well as a few different words are comparable to the differences between American English and British English.
    No Brazilian Portuguese is not a diferent language as some claim. There are little dialectal differences though.

  11. ooplalah yapstar ,jr.:

    the reason that portuguese is spoken in portugal is the same reason that english is spoken in england.and spanish in spain.and so 4th.there is an untrue folklore that states that portuguese was born the day that a man in the fishing village was seen dancing with a pig.embarrassed (mispelled?);a peculiar sound erupted the night.from wence vocals the sound emitted,no one knew.and thus the legend was begotten….

  12. Dan:

    Portuguese is spoken in Brazil as a result of the Pope’s actions. Spain and Portugual were engaged in exploring and conquering the New World. Spain and Portugual were contemplating War to decide and settle upon territory. They went to the Pope who drew a line in the then know New World and said everything east belongs to Portugual and west belongs to Spain. Brazil was East.

    • Bruce:

      @Dan Bingo! THIS is the TRUE reason, not the above article!

    • Abner:

      @Dan This is not true. In Brazil we speak Portuguese simply because we were colonized by Portugal.And the Brazilian territorial expansion went far beyond the tordesillas treaty line for several reasons, such as the action of the bandeirantes and cattle ranching.
      Come visit our country and know our history.

  13. DuFF:

    It’s very important to add that the portuguese we speak here in Brazil is waaaaaaaaaay different from what you’ll hear in Portugal.
    Languages are always changing, and after so many years of independence from Portugal, our language is now totally different, even though, I find it way easier to comunicate with someone from Portugal than with someone from a spanish speaking country like Mexico or Argentina.

    • Rodolfo Piskorski:

      @DuFF DuFF
      That’s a common misconception. Yes, languages do change constantly, but Brazilian Portuguese is actually quite archaic.
      If European Portuguese sounds different nowadays it is because THEIR language changed quickly after they colonised us, and our (Brazilian) Portuguese conserved the language spoken in the 16th century.

  14. GJJ:

    I had no idea that the people of Brazil spoke to Portuguese until l became fascinated with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu mainly Gracie jiu jitsu.I’ve begab to study about Rio de Janeiro a place where my father visited when he was a teenager 60 years ago. Royce Gracieis one of my heroes and a legend. Through him I have been able to study the art Gracie jiu jitsu. Royce Gracie proved that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Gracie Jiu Jitsu is the best form of self defense. He did this by winning the first UFC and 2 more UFC tournaments. He beat several different styles of martial artist that outweighed him by well over a hundred pounds in some cases. He is the reason there is a UFC today. This has created MMA otherwise known as mixed martial arts where other martial arts are combined with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

    • Bjj:

      @GJJ Absolutely! You need to learn Portuguese in bjj so you can keep up with your team mates and competitors.

  15. Katy:

    Even if the Portugese colonised Brazil it still doesn’t explain why they speak portugese. Didnt they have a language before the portugese arrived? Spain colonised Philippines around the same time and the Philippines still retained their own national language, Filipino, plus 70 dialects.

    • Renato:

      @Katy Well, the Portuguese who first arrived made sure to kill everyone who refused to speak their language or believe their God. That explains a lot about how Portuguese killed almost all the other languages that were previously here.

    • Abner:

      @Katy You have a reason. The Portuguese of Brazil is very different from the Portuguese of Portugal due to the junction between our native languages ​​(the main one is the Tupi), the language of the Africans brought here and Portuguese

  16. Julio:

    Katy: Basically Portugal forbade the use of native languages around here in the XVII century. Before that, the most widespread language was Tupi.

  17. Roxanna:

    Even with all of this explaining I still don’t know why do Brazilians speak Portuguese. I need to know the big WHY.

    • Rodolfo Piskorski:

      @Roxanna I don’t undertand what reason would satisfy you.
      We speak Portuguese for the same reason the USA speaks English, Argentina speaks Spanish, and Quebec speaks French.

    • luigi:

      @Roxanna Same here! Administration may have been in Portuguese (sure it was) but once the dependency was over would not they go back to their original language? Even if it was 300 years there was no such intention at all? Okay maybe there hadn’t been a uniform language, not even before the colonial times still I would think when you gain independence even if you don’t drop certain things at least you try to modify them just to mark that this is a different time now. Like Swiss German.

  18. Laura:

    People of Brazil are Portuquese. Brazil was founded by Pedro Cabral a portuquese explorer. The reason people mistake brail for a spanish speaking country is because the portuguese language is similar to spanish. there are alot of words that are similar to spanish that it sounds so much like spanish. There are some people in brazil that speak both spanish and brazilian portuguese. Singer Nelly Furtado is Azorean Portuguese and she speaks both Portuguese and spanish. I’m Spanish and Puerto Rican, but I have heard the portuguese language and alot of the words I hear sound spanish. I understand those words, but not the rest of what is being spoken

    • Abner:

      @Laura Brazil was not founded by Cabral but by Deodoro da Fonseca (I do not consider the Brazilian empire as real independence since the emperor was Portuguese).
      And Portuguese is very different from Spanish in terms of grammar rules.

  19. Gabriel:

    Portugal colonised Brazil, not Spain – it is as simple as that. Approximately 1/2 of South America ended up speaking Portuguese as a result – the other half ended up speaking Spanish.

    Both Spanish and Portuguese are very close and still have a considerable degree of mutual intelligibility though. For example, in terms of vocabulary, grammar and syntax, these two languages (Portuguese and Spanish) are 89% similar. As such, it is possible for a Portuguese and and Spanish speaker to have a fluid conversation each speaking in his own language.

    Anyway, Portugal also had colonies all over the world. In Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde Islands, Sao Tome and Principe Islands. In Asia, Macau, China, Goa, Damao, Diu, in India. In Oceania, East Timor. And of course, Brazil, in South America. There were many other trading outposts in Asia but I won’t list them now.

    So, the Portuguese language is today spoken officially by 260 million people, spread across 5 continents. Even the Spanish language doesn’t have this distinction, as it is 99% spoken officially in the western 1/3 of the world.

    This makes Portuguese truly a WORLD LANGUAGE!

  20. Shanna Brooks:

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I have clients that speak portugese. I wanted to learn more about the language and it’s origin. I wondered why it was spoken in Brazil. Thank you!

  21. Luiz:

    Why people in US don´t speak navajo or another native language? simple no?The people who win the lands, the britons, are speaking their language, ok perhaps the french almost get the lands… but not. Today we have Canada that speak english and french (a strange version). And of course you have one of the biggest countries in the world that´s speak portuguese… Brasil How can somebody think in bossa nova without the brazilian accent? Even in Portuguese from Portugal is not possible to sing like that ok! Brazilian Portuguese is a difficult and rich language as so complex than spanish and french and has about six times more words than english.

  22. Pedro:

    Although a thoughtful summary of Brazil’s history, the article falls short of explain why we speak Portuguese — that ain’t that different from Portuguese spoken in Portugal as some claim. There were various attempts to colonise the territories comprised by nowadays Brazil — by the French, the Dutch, the Spanish…

    The Spanish claim, however, was the strongest, and when with was posed to the Pope to peacefully resolve the quarrel between Portugal and Spain, he drew a line — Tortesilla treaty — separating Spanish territories from the Portuguese.

    And although there were numerous indigenous population, they didn’t formed a homogenous bunch and neither were homogeneously interested in preventing the colonialists as somewhere else. To that, add up the fact that the natives were the ones taught the ways and language of the colonial power, not the other way around.

  23. Bruno:

    Actually was a portuguese that found the Philippines lol not a Spanish and that was a Philippine man that told me I can’t actually remember I never finished school back home in portugal yes they have the jungle people language and who says that because you use some different words and sound words a bit different don’t make you speak a different language what you speak different from us is slang not actually a different portuguese lol that’s why you have portuguese archaic and corrent portuguese they ain’t different languages one is old and the other is what people use now days. How the fu ck can’t you understand English is so simple like one plus one the Portuguese colonised with actually portuguese people wasn’t that many natives they didn’t killed of the natives even in places where the Portuguese were horrible the had to bring portuguese translators to deal with the Dutch because the Portuguese were the first European people the ever met so even tho the native didn’t wanted to deal with the Portuguese the couldn’t speak Dutch but could communicate with the Portuguese.

  24. Cida:

    I agree with Laura in some things. I’m a Brazilian .In Brazil we speak Portuguese because the founded was a Portuguese.
    People get confused about Portuguese and Spanish it is true because we are the only country in South America that speaks Portuguese, all the other countries speak Spanish. Tho the Portuguese spoken in Brazil is different than Portugal but very easy for us Brazilian to understand them. Just like British English and American English.
    And before Portuguese it was Indian colony
    And they spoke” Tupi.”

  25. Lucas:

    We speak portuguese, by the same reason US speaks english, or the great part of America speaks spanish: the european settlers came and killed or enslaved the people that live here before.
    After that, the great part os people that lived here were portuguese! It changed after they started to enslave Africans… in the end of slavery era, there were 3 africans to 1 europens (that explains why great part of brazilian people are “pardo” ~ a mix of black and white ~) so they started encouraging immigration to “get the population whitier”.
    About portuguese being similar to spanish, Spain and Portugal are side by side, it makes sense their idiom being similar…
    besides that those two idioms came from latin… portuguese, spanish, italian, french… all of them is a mix of latin with the language the people that lived there spoke before the romans arrived.

  26. Frank:

    The line of demarcation.

  27. Pedro:

    Maybe they think Brazil speaks Spanish because Portuguese and Spanish are almost the same language, just like American and British English. I’m Brazilian and I’ve watched many movies in Spanish and I’ve read many books in Spanish and I understood nearly everything.

    I agree with Katy. Just because Portugal colonized Brazil doesn’t explain why we speak Portuguese. The Netherlands colonized Indonesia and they don’t speak Dutch. France colonized Vietnam and they don’t speak French. Spain colonized the Philippines and they don’t speak Spanish. England colonized India and today only 10% of Indians speak English. The main reason why Portuguese is the native language of all Brazilians and it’s the only spoken language in Brazil is because the Portuguese actually killed people living in Brazil and immigrants learned Portuguese as well. It’s a shame that Brazil doesn’t have the linguistic diversity other countries have…

  28. Louis Bouchet:

    What language did the Brazilians speak before they were colonized by the Portuguese?

  29. Luis:

    It is amazing how lttle people know about history. Portuguese is the 5th most spoken language in the world because the now little Portugal was an empire with colonies in Africa, America and Asia. These colonies are now independent nations and speak Portuguese: Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, São Tomé e Principe, Timor and Brasil.
    It is this simple!!
    Obrigado.

  30. Ochuba michael:

    Brazil is a very big country indeed I am learning Spanish language now but I don’t really cover up as language 70 or 80% percent of Brazilian speakss

  31. Wyndrum Ralph:

    There was a 16 C Pope who ruled the line between Spain and Portugal that gave Brazil to Portugal. Who was that pope?
    Ralph wyndrum