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Portuguese and Spanish are two of the most widely spoken Romance languages in the world and both are considered relatively easy for English speakers to learn.
However, language learners often find Portuguese more challenging than Spanish. Let’s look at a few possible reasons why this may be the case.
Let’s start by acknowledging that Portuguese and Spanish have many similarities, namely similar grammar structure and vocabulary.
That said, there are also a few key differences that make Portuguese harder to learn.
One major difference between the two languages is their pronunciation. The Portuguese sound system is in general more complex than the Spanish.
For example, Portuguese has a number of sounds that do not exist in Spanish, such as postalveolar fricatives (as in sheet and version) or nasal vowels and diphthongs. Even considering oral vowels alone, there are nine of them in Portuguese but only five in Spanish!
Additionally, word stress patterns are more salient in Portuguese than in Spanish. In short, word stress is clearly marked in Portuguese (either on the last, next-to-last or third-to-last syllable), whereas in Spanish the word stress is discreet (almost as if all syllables in a word were all equally stressed).
This makes it more challenging for language learners to learn and reproduce the correct word stress patterns when speaking Portuguese.
What’s more, Portuguese also has a slightly more complex verb system than Spanish. An example would be the Portuguese “Personal Infinitive” which finds no equivalent in Spanish.
Still concerning verbs, the number of irregular conjugations is somewhat greater in Portuguese than in Spanish, which of course trips up language learners.
Yet another challenge that language learners may encounter when learning Portuguese is the difference in regional variations.
While Spanish is relatively uniform across the different countries and regions where it is spoken, Portuguese has more pronounced variations across Lusophone countries. This makes it challenging for language learners to communicate with native Portuguese speakers from different regions around the world.
In conclusion, Portuguese and Spanish are both considered “easy” languages for English speakers to learn, but there are a few key differences that may make Portuguese somewhat harder to learn.
These differences include more complex pronunciation and nuanced verb conjugations. Apparent regional variations across Lusophone countries also add to it.
If you want a more in-depth comparison between Spanish and Portuguese, I encourage you to read this article: Portuguese vs. Spanish: How Similar Are They Actually?
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