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Portuguese vs. Spanish: What’s the Difference?

Are you considering learning a new Romance language but can’t decide between Portuguese and Spanish? Belonging to the same language family, they have a lot in common. Having said that, Portuguese and Spanish have their unique characteristics as well. 

In this article, I will run you through the main differences between Portuguese and Spanish to help you make an informed decision on which one to learn.

Pronunciation

The main noticeable difference between Portuguese and Spanish is, undoubtedly, their pronunciation. 

Portuguese has far more vowel sounds than Spanish, including nasal vowel sounds. Spanish, on the other hand, has a simpler sound system as well as more consistent pronunciation-spelling patterns.

In sum, Portuguese has a more intricate sound system than Spanish, which makes it more challenging to learn. If you ask anyone that has learned both languages, they will confirm it right away.

Read this one if you want to take a closer look at the European Portuguese sound system: European Portuguese Pronunciation – Main Features.

Vocabulary

Being both Romance languages, Portuguese and Spanish share a great deal of their vocabulary. In fact, in the written form, Portuguese and Spanish are to a great extent mutually intelligible.

However, they also have distinct words that set them apart. Actually, high-frequency words – words that we tend to use a lot in everyday life – are often those that look and sound differently on either side.

And then… There’s a fair amount of false friends between Portuguese and Spanish. False friends, in case you don’t know, are words that look and sound alike but mean different things. Here’s a read for you on this particular topic: Spanish-Portuguese False Friends to Keep an Eye Out For.

All in all, Portuguese and Spanish are very close to each other concerning their vocabulary. Despite some words being different on either side, native speakers can pretty much read and comprehend text written in the other language.

Grammar

Both Portuguese and Spanish have similar grammar structures due to their Latin roots. There are of course a few small differences, but you’d have to dive a little deeper to find them. If you want to do so, read this: Portuguese vs. Spanish: How Similar Are They Actually?

Traveling and job opportunities 

Another factor you may want to consider when choosing between Portuguese and Spanish is what they have to offer concerning traveling and job opportunities.

With little over 220 million native speakers, Portuguese ranks as the sixth most spoken language in the world. Spanish on the other hand has 460 million native speakers worldwide and is the second most spoken language in the world (only second to Mandarin). 

(Additionally, either language is widely spoken by millions of people as a second language).

If you learn Portuguese, you can speak it in Angola, Brazil, Mozambique, Portugal, and a few other countries in Africa and Asia – Portuguese is an official language in 9 countries. Read this one to learn more about where Portuguese is spoken exactly: Portuguese Speaking Countries around the World.

With Spanish, on the other hand, you can pretty much use it in all parts of Central and South America (apart from Brazil) – Spanish is an official language in 21 countries.

Thus, when it comes to traveling and job opportunities, either language has a great deal to offer. Spanish, nonetheless, clearly takes the lead in both the number of native speakers and countries where it is spoken.

Conclusion

Unless you have a particular reason to learn Portuguese – a specific interest, job opportunity, family, friends, or partner in the country where Portuguese is spoken (or a genuine interest for the language alone) –  you might want to consider Spanish instead – it is easier to learn (due to more straightforward pronunciation) and arguably offers more traveling and job opportunities.

That being said, both languages are beautiful and worthwhile to learn. Whichever one you end up choosing, you won’t be disappointed. Just make sure to read this one before you start your learning journey: The One Strategy You Need to Succeed as a Language Learner.

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