The official language of Brazil is Portuguese, which is spoken by the entire population (with the exception of some very remote tribes). In fact, Brazil has been home to immigrants from all parts of the world for centuries, whose descendants now speak Portuguese as their mother tongue.
Brazilian Portuguese has a number of pronunciation differences from that spoken in Portugal (and within regions, between regions, there are quite extreme accent and slang differences), but speakers of both languages can understand each other. However, European Portuguese (Luso) is more difficult for Brazilians to understand than the other way round, as many Brazilian TV programmes are broadcast in Portugal. Note that some words can have completely different meanings in Brazil and Portugal, mainly slang words. For example, “rapariga”, which means “young girl” in Portugal and “prostitute” in Brazil.
English is not widely spoken, except in some tourist areas. Don’t expect bus or taxi drivers to understand English, so it may be a good idea to write down the address you are going to before you take a taxi. In most large luxury hotels, it is very likely that the taxi fleet speaks some English. If you really need to converse in English, look for younger people (under 30) as they usually have better language skills and will be happy to help you and practice their English.
Spanish speakers generally do well in Brazil, especially in the south. While written Portuguese may be quite similar to Spanish, spoken Portuguese differs considerably and is much more difficult to understand. Compare the number 20, which is veinte (BAYN-teh) in Spanish, with vinte (VEEN-chee) in Brazilian Portuguese. Even more different is gente (people), pronounced “HEN-teh” in Spanish and “ZHEN-chee” in Brazilian Portuguese. The letters CH, D, G, J, R, RR and T are particularly difficult for Spanish speakers to understand, even without considering the vowels. The pronunciation of the letter “R” at the beginning of most words is often confusing for Spanish and even English speakers. Common first names like Roberto, Ronaldo and Rolando are not pronounced the way you think: The “R” is pronounced like an “H”. This is how you say Hoberto, Honaldo, and Holando. If you address Ronaldo with a perfect Spanish pronunciation, he will most likely look at you with a puzzled look and wonder who or what you are addressing.
Brazilians use many gestures in informal communication, and the meaning of certain words or expressions can be influenced by these gestures.
- The thumbs up gesture is used to mean that everything is fine, yes, or even thank you. Avoid using the OK hand gesture for these meanings, as it may be considered obscene.
- If you wiggle your index finger back and forth and/or click your tongue behind your teeth two or three times, it means no…
- If you pull on one of your lower eyelids with your index finger, be careful.
- Running your thumb over your two largest fingers is a way of saying that something is expensive.
- Slamming a few times means it’s been a while.
- Touching the lips and then brushing them is delicious; pinching the earlobe is the same in some regions.
- Making a fist with the thumb between the index and middle fingers, called figa, is a sign of good or bad luck, depending on the region.
- If I touch my palm with my thumb and make a circular movement with my hand, it means that I am being robbed/robbed in certain areas.
- The gesture of silence is considered extremely impolite, a bit like shouting “Shut up!” at someone.
- An informal way to get someone’s attention, similar to a whistle, is to make a whistle, “Pssiu! It is not considered rude, but becomes very annoying if repeated too often.