European Portuguese for Beginners: 7 DEADLY Mistakes & How to Fix Them

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Written by: | Last updated on November 20, 2023 | Est. Reading Time: 7 minutes
European Portuguese for Beginners | 7 DEADLY Mistakes (& How to Fix Them)

If you are at the beginning of your journey learning European Portuguese… taking your first steps like Bambi on ice… it is highly, highly likely that you are making some big mistakes that are very easy to make, which will hold you back from making serious progress.

But don’t panic! 

My name is Liz and I help people who are moving to Portugal build their confidence and conversation in European Portuguese so they can live Portugal at its best. In this article, I’m going to walk you through 7 of these deadly mistakes beginners make and what you can do to correct them quickly and easily.

I cover this and a whole lot more in my free one-hour lesson for beginners – so if you’re ready to get the ultimate quick-start guide to Portuguese conversation go ahead and register for the session!

Let’s dive in…

1. Using Duolingo

The first deadly mistake I see people fall for time and time again is downloading Duolingo to learn Portuguese. The app makes you think you are learning a language but really you will just end up with a really long vocabulary list that you can’t actually use in a conversation.

Furthermore, if you are moving to Portugal and want to learn the way the locals speak Duolingo is not going to help you because it teaches Portuguese from Brazil. How different are the two? Long story short, we have different pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary in Portugal so do yourself a favour and don’t confuse yourself at this early stage.

The alternative? Memrise. This app focuses on Portuguese as it is spoken in Portugal and it includes some really fun features to play around with!

2. Pronouncing the M sound

This is a classic and pretty much every student I’ve ever taught has had a hard time getting around this one – when a word ends in M in Portuguese, we are not going to pronounce the M, OK? Forget it, it is not there!

The M at the end of the word is a signal to nasalise the vowel that comes before it. So we need to screw up our noses and make that “nasal” sound. This always throws people for a loop because we don’t have this sound in English, but the closest thing we have is when words end in -NG. For example: 

sinG, thinG.

We aren’t pronouncing the G, right?

Similarly, the word “bem” can be thought of as “beng” to help you grasp the correct sound in Portuguese.

This is one of the tips I dive into in detail in my free pronunciation guide that will help you master the 7 most difficult sounds in European Portuguese, you can download it here

3. Using a Spanish pronunciation

Think you can get away with your Spanish pronunciation?

Think again!

Yes, a lot of the words are more or less identical – Spanish and Portuguese are said to share around 80% of their vocabulary but even so, using your Spanish pronunciation won’t cut it. Watch the video linked in this blog post to hear me compare some words that are written in the exact same way in Spanish and Portuguese, but that sound completely different!

If you want to learn more about the differences between Spanish and Portuguese I have several more videos on this topic on my channel!

Are you guilty of any of these mistakes yet? Tell us which ones in the comments below!

4. Trying to learn too many new words at a time

Vocabulary is super important when you are learning any language but do yourself a favour and start with the most frequent words first. This is the number one hack loved by language learners and polyglots everywhere because it works! 

Do not try to stuff your head with tons of words you are never going to use, focus on the ones that you need in your day-to-day life. Words like quando (when), amanhā (tomorrow), or roupa (clothes). It’s said that with just 100 of the most common words under our belt, we can understand up to 50% of everyday conversation. Result!

5. Failing to focus on listening practice

European Portuguese is very difficult to tune your ear into because it is a stress-timed language. I’ll cover this concept in detail in another blog, but long story short, we stress sounds at regular intervals and swallow up the rest of the sounds, so that’s why it sounds like words and sounds are being dropped off. So you need to tune your ear in by doing lots of listening practice. 

But where will we find that content, I hear you cry! Check out these resources:

  • The app “Lingoclip” (for Portuguese music with lyrics)
  • Netflix and DisneyPlus (both have lots of content aimed at children with subtitles that you can use to start with)
  • My YouTube playlist of listening exercises that have subtitles to help you if you are just getting started

6. Using “Você”

Another mistake is using the word você to mean you, especially if you are trying to be polite.

In Brazil, this is totally acceptable but, if you are trying to be polite in Portugal, using the word você isn’t going to work. No one really knows why this word became the opposite of polite, and it’s important to say it is still used by a lot of people in Portugal but for you as beginners, it is better to avoid the word você. You can simply conjugate verbs in the third person if you want to be polite or use the TU form if you are talking to a friend or someone younger than you.

7. Failing to do speaking practice

Last but not least, the seventh deadly sin when learning Portuguese is failing to practice with real people.

It seems crazy but so many people come to me saying they can’t actually speak – and often it’s not because they don’t know how to form sentences or pronounce things, it’s because they haven’t forced themselves to do that super uncomfortable thing and actually use their Portuguese in day to day life, or set aside time to speak with a native speaker. 

This is the only way you are going to overcome your fears. I was there once too! I lived with six Portuguese girls and DREADED opening my mouth, but once I did and realised that I didn’t die if I made a mistake, they would quickly correct me and the new information would be burned in my brain… that’s when I totally threw myself into it and started making massive improvements. So get yourself a conversation partner, set aside time once or twice a week to speak, fail, repeat and improve. 

So there you have it, the 7 deadliest mistakes beginners make when learning European Portuguese! 

If this has left you wanting more, you MUST come to my hour-long free lesson for beginners. If you want to stop wasting your time on things that don’t work and get straight to the good stuff, sign up for that and I will be more than happy to help you take your very first steps in Portuguese!

Boa sorte! 

Liz Sharma

Written by

Olá pessoal, sou a Liz! I help professionals relocating or retiring to Portugal to get confident and conversational in European Portuguese so they can experience this beautiful country at its best.

I hold a first-class degree in Spanish & Portuguese from the University of Manchester and have lived in both Brazil and Portugal.

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There are 3 comments on this article. Join the conversation and add your own thoughts, reviews, and stories of life in Portugal. However, please remember to be civil.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this interesting article. I was expecting one of them to be the distinction between estar and ser since that is something we don’t have in English. #6 intrigued me and I would love to know more about that (WRT Portugal). I’m confident that I have got beyond the other six now but I must have used você inappropriately many times I am sure. Regards, Matthew.

    Reply
  2. Hi Liz – Excellent video! I discontinued Babbel after discovering that I was learning Brazilian Portuguese. Babbel doesn’t offer European Portuguese which I found out after only a week or so. Fortunately, they did process a full refund. I’m exploring the possibility relocating to Portugal and am planning a trip there in 2024. I’m a 65 year old retired American and I’m interested in finding a new platform that offers European Portuguese. Being a bit older than most, I’m interested to know if there are options suitable to people my age or if age is really even an issue. I’ve heard that the older you become, the more difficult it is to learn a new language. Outside of a few words in Mexican Spanish, I have zero experience with languages other than English. So I am starting from scratch. Thanks for any advice/suggestions/recommendations you may have to offer. Cheers!

    Reply
  3. Very informative, thank you. I am guilty of 4 of them, I will do better!! Although I know Duolingo is not the right one I have come this far. I promised myself I would cease when I got to day 1000, I’m on day 976 now. I will download Memrise straight way as suggested.

    Reply

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