Can You Learn European Portuguese with Duolingo?

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Written by: | Last updated on December 20, 2023 | Est. Reading Time: 4 minutes

Duolingo is one of the most popular language learning apps and so it isn’t surprising that many people download it when they decide to learn Portuguese. But after a while, some people end up realising that Duolingo teaches Brazilian Portuguese and not European Portuguese. 

This might not seem like a big deal. After all, many people learn American English and get by in the UK just fine (and vice versa). Unfortunately, the differences between European and Brazilian Portuguese are a bit more significant than British and American English. More importantly, if you speak Brazilian Portuguese in Portugal, you will probably get corrected by a Portuguese person. That can be a bit soul-destroying, particularly if you’ve put a lot of effort into studying. 

“I just flew into Lisbon, and started talking to people at restaurants with an accent I learned from Duolingo, and I literally got laughed at…I’ve wound up just speaking in Spanish or English, since nobody has any idea what I’m saying in Portuguese.” – /u/SageEel (source: reddit.com/r/DuoLingo

So if you want to come to Portugal and increase your chances of having a non-corrected conversation, learn European Portuguese instead. Don’t worry, there are a few apps that you can use. 

Practice Portuguese

From around €12.75 per month

The units section of Practice Portuguese feels a lot like Duolingo, so if you’re looking for a similar app to Duolingo, this is definitely one to check out. There’s a lot more to Practice Portuguese than this though: as well as these grammar and vocab units, there is also the ‘shorties’ which are short audio conversations, complete with transcripts and explanations. Because spoken European Portuguese can be so challenging to understand, particularly at first, these audio clips are an absolute godsend to anyone learning European Portuguese. 

There are lots of great European Portuguese courses out there, but this is the only one with an app for both Android and iOS.

Check out Practice Portuguese

Memrise

Free or from around €2 per month

Memrise is a flashcard app so you can learn anything that requires flashcards, but most people use it for learning languages. As well as adding your own flashcards, you can also view publically available flashcards and there are quite a few that cover European Portuguese verbs, grammar, and vocabulary. If you’re looking for the type of app that’ll teach you the top 5,000 words and phrases, Memrise is definitely one to download. 

Check out Memrise

Deepl

Free

While we’re on the subject of apps that focus on Brazilian Portuguese and not European Portuguese, it’s also worth switching from Google Translate to Deepl. While Google Translate offers the ability to translate to ‘Portuguese’ it’s technically Brazilian Portuguese. Will people notice? Yes. While you might get away with translating a word or two here and there, once you start translating entire sentences or emails, it’s likely that you’ll end up with Brazilian words and grammar in there. 

Check out Deepl

Drops

Free or around €6 per month (lifetime plan available)

Drops is a popular language learning app and good news: you can choose to study either European or Brazilian Portuguese. Like Duolingo, this app is useful when you have a few minutes spare – while you’re on the bus or lazing on the couch, for example. Drops has both a free and premium version. The main difference between the two is that the free version has a 5-minute time limit every 10 hours as well as ads whereas the premium version doesn’t have those restrictions. 

Check out Drops

So is there any value in using Duolingo if you’re planning to mainly speak Portuguese in Portugal? According to Mia Esmeriz who teaches European Portuguese online (and offers courses covering A1-B2 Portuguese), “I understand why students end up in Duolingo. It is an easy app, super engaging and PLUS finding good resources in European Portuguese is not easy. Also, Brazilian Portuguese is actually super cute too. She also doesn’t think that learning Brazilian Portuguese will “completely kill your progress with European Portuguese.” However, “you should not continue down that path if you are serious about learning European Portuguese.”

So there’s your answer: if you’re planning to move to Portugal or spend the majority of your time here, learn European Portuguese. Otherwise, if you’re planning to spend more time in Brazil, consider Brazilian Portuguese. And if you’re learning European Portuguese, it’s best to avoid Duolingo.

Alternatively, you could try to force Duolingo to add European Portuguese to its app by signing this petition. But given that they haven’t made any attempts to add Portuguese from Portugal yet, you could be waiting a while.

Written by

James Cave is the founder of Portugalist and the author of the bestselling book, Moving to Portugal Made Simple. He has visited just about every part of Portugal, including Madeira and all nine islands of the Azores, and lived in several parts of Portugal including Lisbon, the Algarve, and Northern Portugal.

You can contact James by emailing james@portugalist.com or via the site's contact form.

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There are 8 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. Brazil is the 9th World’s economy, where Portugal is 49th (according to 2023 database). Also, Brazil has a population of 216+ million, whereas Portugal 10+ million (also according to 2023 database).

    The reason to why Brazilians move to Portugal is because most of Brazilians have dual citizenship due to Portugal’s colonization and there’s a smaller language barrier than other european countries.

    Portuguese kids are now also learning Brazilian portuguese through media exposure (youtube, series, music etc). Learning BR-PT is, overall, better unless someone wants to live specifically in Portugal. If the intention is simply learn portuguese, BR-PT is the go to.

    Reply
    • Correction to my previous post. Portugal and Brazil have moved to 16 (from 26) and 46 (from 43), respectively, in the rating of tourists per year. https://www.worlddata.info/tourism.php

      If the intention is to visit a country as a tourist or to move there to work then that country is almost certainly going to be Portugal and not Brazil. And if this is what you want to do then learning Brazilian Portuguese is as useful as learning Spanish – the Portuguese will still understand you but you won’t understand them.

      I think the only reason to learn Brazilian Portuguese is if you are into soap operas, can’t think of anything else.

      Reply
  2. To João Costa: The demand for the language app is not about how many people speak the language but how attractive the country is, for tourism and for work. There are Brazilians immigrating to Portugal but not the other way around. I think the reason that Duolingo picked Brazilian Portuguese is because at some point there was more tourism to Brazil from the US. This is no longer the case, check out entries 26 and 43: https://www.worlddata.info/tourism.php

    Reply
  3. I am beginner in Portuguese and I have learnt it from Duolinguo and actually I am doing great in Portugal; they understand all what I say and I am getting by very well. I recommend

    Reply
  4. Wish I had realized this before my trip to Portugal! Time spent on Duolingo was not totally useless, and I did notice pretty quickly that no one else was turning their D’s into G’s, but an app ought to specify which dialect it is teaching, no? (Actually had this conversation with some fellow Americans in the boarding line home, they were hipped to their Duolingo Brazilian accent by a Brazilian taxi driver.) Like another commenter pointed out, sometimes Spanish seemed just as recognizable to folks in Portugal(as my bad Brazilian Portuguese anyway:)

    Thanks for the additional resources, will definitely check them out!

    Reply
  5. Brazilian Portuguese is the most important and influent Portuguese speaked. Doesn’t make sense learn European Portuguese to talk with 10m people the also understand Brazilian language. Brazil have 220m of habitants. So much more people talk the correct one than Europeans.

    Reply
  6. For a long time I held off on learning Portuguese because I wanted to learn the European version like my mom’s family speaks. Finally I gave in and started learning the Brazilian version on Duolingo. What surprised me was how fun Brazilian Portuguese is to hear and speak. That was a nice gateway to the language for me, but now I’m switching to the European version.
    Drops is an awesome app! I am also using the Pimsleur app in conjunction with Drops. After progressing through both of these programs my plan is to sign up for live practice sessions with the italki app. It is really amazing how many resources there are today!

    Reply
  7. I can say from experience that you will have some issues if you learn Portuguese with Duolingo. I made lots of mistakes with pronunciation and was corrected a lot when in Portugal. Thankfully you don’t learn a lot with Duolingo, so it didn’t take long to correct it. There are better programs out there but you also need to check to see whether they cover European Portuguese or the dreaded Brazilian Portuguese.

    I don’t know why so many companies focus on Brazilian Portuguese. Yes there are more people living in Brazil so maybe it’s better for employment but how many people go live in Brazil versus Portugal? Also Portugal is a significantly safer country to visit.

    Reply

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