top of page
  • Writer's pictureSpanishWithDaniel

Portuñol: 5 Difficulties of Portuguese Speakers Learning Spanish

Updated: May 28, 2020

Spanish and Portuguese have Latin origins in common, and as a result both their vocabularies are very similar as well as their grammatical structures. It is said that it is easier for Portuguese speakers to understand and speak Spanish than it would be for Spanish speakers to follow Portuguese. Why is that?

That may be due in part to the sounds, or phonemes, in Spanish vs. Portuguese. Portuguese has more phonemes than Spanish. Brazilian Portuguese in particular has between 31 and 34 phonemes while Spanish has 22-24 phonemes. To put this in context with other languages, English has 38-45 phonemes, and it is in part because of this that English is considered more phonetically complex than Spanish. I go further into this topic in my post, "Spanish or English? Which is more difficult to learn?”.

While the sounds may be easier to grasp, there are still problems many Portuguese speakers encounter when learning Spanish. Here are the top 5 I have encountered in teaching:

1. There are many false cognates between the languages, as well as words that are very similar but have different meanings between the two languages. Below are some examples, with Spanish on the left.

* Desabrochar Desabotoar

* Embarazada Grávida

* Faro Farol

* Fecha Data

* Garrafa Jarro

* Goma Borracha

* Novela Romance

2. Another difficultly for Portuguese speakers is the confusion over the article el vs lo (used with abstract concepts). In Portuguese all masculine nouns use the article “o”. Below are a few examples:

* El Hombre O homem

* El coche O carro

* Lo bueno O bom

* Lo mejor O melhor

* Lo mejor here is a noun of neutral gender, having an abstract meaning of "the best thing". Lo is used as a determinant to change an adjective into an abstract noun. Lo mejor de las vacaciones es no ver a mi jefe. On the other hand, el mejor means "the best one", something that we know is masculine. Para mí, diciembre es el mejor mes del año.

3. Other difficulties are the gender assignments of nouns that can be different in either language. Some examples are:

* La sangre O sangue

* La leche O leite

* La sonrisa O sorriso

* La miel O mel

* El agua A água

* El árbol A árvore

4. The use of tampoco, neither, or more precisely a negative version of also in English. For many Portuguese speakers, like for English speakers as well, it can be difficult to use tampoco instead of también no, as it would be in Portuguese –também não.

5. The fifth and final reason is the “r” sound in Spanish. Portuguese speakers sometimes have difficulty learning the “r” as in ratón, the hard “r” sound which is less common in Portuguese and difficult for speakers to grasp.

In conclusion, the biggest difficulty for most Portuguese speakers is avoiding speaking Portuñol, or Portunhol. Assuming that words are the same in both languages can result in miscommunication.

Para todos os meus falantes de português, o que vocês acham do meu conhecimento do tema?

~ If you enjoyed this article please share it with friends and give my page a like on Facebook! I’m a Spanish teacher based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Since 2007 I have been exclusively teaching Spanish to people from all over the world. Whether looking for an online Spanish tutor, or in person while visiting Buenos Aires, please reach out to me with any questions you might have!~
367 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Post: Blog2 Post
bottom of page