Surprise surprise!

Do you know what constipado means in Portuguese? Probably not what you are thinking...

Get a list of 50+ Must-Know English-Portuguese False Friends and be surprised.

Are you struggling with your pronunciation?

That's because you have yet to learn the Sounds of Portuguese.

Learn more

This article is brought to you by StoryLift

Let the Power of Stories Lift Your Portuguese.

Learn more

Portuguese Speaking Countries around the World

With over 220 million native speakers, Portuguese often ranks as the sixth most spoken language in the world. If we add up those speaking it as a second language (L2), we reach a grand total of roughly 270 million speakers.

So, where in the world is Portuguese spoken?

Portuguese is an official language in nine countries across four continents. It is the sole official language in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, and S. Tomé e Príncipe.

Additionally, it is a co-official language in Equatorial Guinea and East Timor, as well as in the autonomous region of Macau in China. There are even several Portuguese-speaking communities scattered around the world where Portuguese is spoken in daily life.

Let’s look into these figures in greater detail on a country basis.

Portuguese-speaking countries

By Portuguese-speaking countries I mean those countries in which Portuguese is, at least, one of the official languages. That fact alone, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that the language is widely spoken by the population.

* The figures below were taken from either the World Bank, Encyclopedia Britannica, The World Factbook, or Wikipedia.

Angola

Population (World Bank – 2019)Portuguese language statusMother tongue of the majority?
31.3 mOfficialYes

The use of Portuguese in nowadays Angola, previously the Kingdom of Kongo, goes back hundreds of years to the late fifteenth century when Portuguese explorers arrived in the region.

The Portuguese language is widely spoken in Luanda and in most regions of the country. Indigenous languages are nonetheless used in daily life in a few rural areas.

The most widely spoken native languages are Umbundu, Kimbundu, and Kikongo. 

Brazil

Population (World Bank – 2019)Portuguese language statusMother tongue of the majority?
211.0 mOfficialYes

Brazil is, by far, the largest Portuguese-speaking country, both in area and population. It stands for the lion’s share of those 220 million people that speak Portuguese as a first language.  

Portuguese was first introduced in the region by Portuguese explorers and missionaries in the sixteenth century to become the most widely spoken language in the country.

Since then, the language has evolved significantly, both in Portugal and in Brazil, giving rise to two variants of Portuguese: European and Brazilian Portuguese.

As mentioned before, these variants of Portuguese differ in pronunciation, vocabulary, and idiomatically.  

Cape Verde

Population (World Bank – 2019)Portuguese language statusMother tongue of the majority?
0.55 mOfficialNo 

The Portuguese language was brought to Cape Verde by Portuguese settlers in the fifteenth century.

Despite the fact that it’s the country’s official language, the use of Portuguese is limited to the political and administration sectors, the press, and schools. 

It is Crioulo, a Portuguese-based creole language, that is the most widely spoken language in Cape Verde. Local activist movements have been demanding co-official status for Crioulo.

East Timor

Population (World Bank – 2019)Portuguese language statusMother tongue of the majority?
1.3mCo-officialNo

There are two official languages in East Timor: Portuguese and Tetum. The Portuguese language is mostly limited to the financial and administrative sectors. 

Estimates indicate that around 70% of the population speak Portuguese as a second language, especially people living in urban areas. However, only a smaller percentage would use Portuguese in daily life. 

Tetum Prasa is by far the most widely spoken tongue: 30.6% of the population has it as their first language. Other indigenous dialects are Mambai, Makasai, Tetum Terik and Baikenu.  

Equatorial Guinea

Population (World Bank – 2019)Portuguese language statusMother tongue of the majority?
1.36 mCo-officialNo

The Portuguese language was, in addition to French and Spanish, adopted as an official language by Equatorial Guinea in 2010. 

Guineas’ government justified this move as an attempt to improve the country’s bilateral relations with other Portuguese-speaking countries, honoring, at the same time, its historical ties with Brazil, Cape Verde, and S. Tomé e Príncipe. 

It has been used as a liturgical language among the Catholic community, but, apart from that, Portuguese has little or no expression in the country when compared, for instance, with Spanish. 

Guinea-Bissau

Population (World Bank – 2019)Portuguese language statusMother tongue of the majority?
1.92 mOfficialNo

Portuguese settlers and traders arrived in this African region in the first half of the fifteenth century.

Although being the sole official language of present Guinea-Bissau, Portuguese is limited to the intellectual and political elites of the country. 

Only a small minority, under 3%, speaks Portuguese natively. As a second language, though, Portuguese is spoken by one-third of the population. 

Crioulo, on the other hand, is the national language and is used widely by the population in daily life.

Mozambique

Population (World Bank – 2019)Portuguese language statusMother tongue of the majority?
30.4 mOfficialNo

The Portuguese arrived in Mozambique after Vasco da Gama and his fleet had rounded the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean in 1948. 

Although Portuguese is the only official language of Mozambique, it is mostly spoken as a lingua franca by the population.

Those who speak Portuguese as a first language are a small minority, living either in Maputo or in other urban areas.

The majority of Mozambicans speak Bantu languages: Makua, Lomwe, Tsonga, Sena, and Shone are among the most widespread.

Portugal

Population (World Bank – 2019)Portuguese language statusMother tongue of the majority?
10.3 mOfficialYes

Portuguese is the official language of Portugal where it originated, and it is spoken natively by virtually the whole population.

Mirandese, part of the Astur-Leonese group of languages, is also recognized as a regional language in some municipalities of North-Eastern Portugal. 

S. Tomé e Príncipe

Population (World Bank – 2019)Portuguese language statusMother tongue of the majority?
0.22 mOfficialYes

The islands of São Tomé e Príncipe were uninhabited when the Portuguese explorers first arrived there in 1470. In addition to the Portuguese settlers, African slaves were brought in to work on sugar plantations.   

Portuguese is both the official and national language of São Tomé e Príncipe – virtually all islanders speak Portuguese in daily life. 

Also, there are a few Portuguese-based creoles that are spoken, namely, São Tomense which has by far the largest number of speakers. 

Portuguese-speaking communities around the world 

Beyond those countries where Portuguese is an official language, there are several other places scattered around the world where the language is spoken in daily life. 

Portugal’s maritime and colonial expansion of the past left a legacy of Portuguese-speaking communities that have survived until the present day.

These communities can be found in places such as the city of Malacca in Western Malaysia, Goa in western India, and Macau in southeast China. 

Also, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there have been waves of Portuguese emigration to either European countries or to the Americas.

These emigrants were trying to escape poverty, political instability, and the twentieth century’s longest dictatorship in Europe.

Likewise, in Brazil, there has been massive emigration during the second half of the last century. Brazilian people, like the Portuguese, emigrated to escape widespread poverty as well as political unrest. 

As a result, the Portuguese language is, nowadays, spoken by large communities, either of Portuguese or Brazilian descent, all around the globe:

CountryPop. of Portuguese descent (millions)Pop. of Brazilian descent (millions)
North America
USA1,47 m1,32 m
Canada0,43 m0,04 m
South America
Venezuela0,30 m 
Paraguay0,33 m
Europe
France1,72 m0,11 m
Luxembourg0,12 m (16% of total pop.)
Switzerland0,34 m0,08 m
UK0,26 m0,12 m
Germany0,17 m0,11 m
Spain0,09 m0,13 m
Africa
South Africa0,30 m
Asia
Japan0,17 m
Macau0,15 m

Origins of Portuguese and its present-day variants

Throughout the Middle Ages, the colloquial Latin spoken by Roman soldiers and traders in the Iberian peninsula, together with other local dialects, evolved into several Romance languages. 

One of those Romance languages was Galician-Portuguese which was spoken in what is today the territory of Portugal and the region of Galicia in Spain. 

In the meantime, Portugal proclaimed its independence in 1143, and that initiated a process of cultural separation from its regional neighbors.

By the fourteenth century, there is evidence that the language spoken in Portugal was already significantly different from that spoken in the region of Galicia in the north – the Portuguese language had been born.

There are two main standards of Portuguese: European and Brazilian Portuguese. These variants differ in pronunciation, vocabulary, and idiomatically.  

Different factors account for the fact that Brazilian Portuguese has diverged from its European parent spoken in Portugal. 

Firstly, the influence of the indigenous languages of Brazil as well as the influence of African languages that found their way to Brazil via African slaves bound to work on sugar plantations.

Also, the influence of other languages brought by Europeans who, mostly throughout the 19th century, emigrated to Brazil.

More recently (1990), in an effort to standardize the spelling on both sides of the Atlantic, the two countries have undergone an orthographic reform. 

The Portuguese spoken in the African countries – Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Cape Verde, and S. Tomé e Príncipe – is closer to the European standard. 

To a considerable extent, this fact can be explained by the colonial presence of Portugal in those territories up until the mid-1970s when its African colonies became independent. 

Needless to say that the development of African variants of Portuguese influenced by African dialects and culture is well underway towards standards of their own.

Reading tips! Learn more about how Brazilian and European Portuguese compare: European vs. Brazilian Portuguese – How Different Are They Really?

Portuguese Language Retreats

Lift your Portuguese to a new level in a peaceful, language-immersive environment. 

Learn more

Intensive Courses in Portugal

Get right on track towards fluency 

Learn more

Stay tuned for upcoming online courses and other learning materials.

Your opinion matters

Olá! Is there any topic you'd like me to cover in future posts? Feel free to suggest. I'm all ears.

Thank you for using Portuguesepedia. Até já, p

Share me