Every month this year, we will be turning our focus towards one of the core languages we love to teach – looking at the language’s potential for business, considering a few facts and figures to put its global prospects in context, plus sharing some tips to help you get started. This month we take a look at Portuguese, a European language that has a global presence.
Portuguese is spoken far beyond the borders of Portugal, where over 10 million people speak Portuguese. Globally, Portuguese is spoken by 234 million people around the world, from Europe and South America to Africa and Asia.
The vast majority of Portuguese speakers can be found in Brazil, which is the only Portuguese-speaking country in the Americas (although many neighbouring countries speak Spanish, the language of Portugal’s nearest neighbour). Factoring in the Brazilian population, Portuguese fits neatly into the top 10 most spoken languages in the world! While Portuguese may not have quite the same global business reach as Spanish, the combined economic power of Brazil and Portugal is worth exploring.
Learning Portuguese: Business Prospects and Opportunities
Portugal is not a huge global economy, it is true. Ranking well outside the top 20 global economies on most relevant measures, it is a service-based economy that is heavily tied to the success or failure of the European Union (furthermore, its imports and exports are predominantly traded with the EU). On paper, this is not the best start for Portugal – especially when over a quarter of Portugal’s population is living below the poverty line, creating challenging circumstances for a country that has never fully recovered from the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.
However, Brazil’s story paints a different picture. Brazil has the 9th largest economy in the world by GDP, and unlike Portugal it has a diverse economy that is well-placed to withstand economic disruption. Brazil’s main industries include agriculture, aircraft and car production, and mineral extraction – which can clash with Brazil’s astonishing biological diversity. While Brazil has hit the headlines in unfavourable ways due to reports of corruption, environmental degradation and political unrest (both pre-pandemic and during the COVID-19 pandemic), it is still the largest South American economy and one of the leading emerging economies in the world (as part of the BRICS group of emerging economies, which also includes Russia, India, China and South Africa – together, these countries represent 24% of global GDP).
The argument for learning Portuguese may seem a little rockier than that for other European languages, but the Brazilian twist – plus some additional prospects arising from African and Asian countries such as Cape Verde, Mozambique, East Timor and Macau, where Portuguese is a key local language – suggests Portuguese should be taken seriously on the global business stage.
Did You Know? A Few Facts about Portuguese
If your business sights are set upon trading with Brazil, Portuguese may be your go-to language to learn. Here are a few useful facts to know about Portuguese before you get started on your language-learning journey.
- Portuguese appeared in Brazil as a result of Portuguese explorers ‘discovering’ Brazil in the 1500s. By 1533, the Portuguese crown was starting to make its presence official, although French troops did attempt to intervene in 1555 when they occupied Rio de Janeiro’s harbour. The Portuguese forces promptly reclaimed the harbour and went on to colonise westwards. As the centuries progressed, Brazil’s borders became clearer – and in the early 1800s, Brazil became independent of Portugal.
- Portuguese is a ‘romance’ language, like its neighbouring Spanish (other romance languages include Italian, French and Romanian). So, if you already speak one of these other romance languages – or you would like to learn more in the future – then you have an automatic advantage because they have evolved along a similar path over time and share a common root.
- Portuguese can vary from country to country, depending on where you learn it. Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese dialects have evolved independently of each other since the language took hold in South America, and local cultural terms in one location may not easily translate in another location. Fortunately, if you speak one dialect or the other, the chances are you will be able to make sense of the language if you are visiting Portugal from Brazil (or vice versa) – even if some words seem a little different.
- In Portuguese-speaking African countries, local variations on European Portuguese have evolved into creole languages – for example in Cape Verde, where the creole is the mother tongue for much of the population (while Portuguese itself is an official language).
Click here to find out more about the differences between Portuguese creole languages and European and Brazilian Portuguese.
Tips to Help You Get Started
Whether you already have a romance language under your belt or not, Portuguese may feel like an achievable language to learn: it uses the Latin alphabet and it is a European language (plus, Portugal is a popular local holiday destination you can look forward to visiting for practice!). Here are a few tips to help you develop your Portuguese language skills.
- Ask yourself: what is your motivation? Learning Portuguese may tick all the boxes if you work for a company that is setting up in Portugal or looking to do more transatlantic business in Brazil, but if it is just a nice way to expand your mind and tackle a new challenge, you may find your interest wanes. Plus, you are less likely to encounter people to practise with unless you know some Portuguese speakers – less than 1% of the UK population can speak Portuguese. However, if you look at this from a different perspective, you can consider this as offering a professional advantage – the British Council has highlighted Portuguese as being the 6th most important language for people in the UK to learn because it is crucial to our future trading success. How about that for motivation!
- Brazilian and European Portuguese sound a little different to each other – the Brazilian version is thought to be more musical, while the European version may sound muffled in comparison. Keep this in mind when you are listening to language-learning resources (such as Brazilian or European films or television programmes) to familiarise yourself with the sound of the language – and that goes for some of the local words, too! You may be picking up on some vocabulary that does not translate well between these regions, especially for a beginner.
- If you are struggling to find people to practise your language skills with, consider joining a group course – or encouraging your company to set up some group classes for anyone likely to be using the language in their work. Taking the opportunity to converse in your new language can make all the difference to your vocabulary retention and to your confidence; plus, some more structured tuition can help you learn from your mistakes and learn from others around you, too.
If you would like to find out more about learning Portuguese to help you grow your business in Europe, Brazil, or parts of Africa and Asia, contact us today. We can work with you to develop a bespoke language-learning plan for your business, as well as provide cross-cultural training to help you connect with your global colleagues (whether virtually or in person). All our courses can be taught live online.