If you know something about language, you probably know that Portuguese and Spanish are two similar languages. This is a fact that makes many people think that someone who speaks Spanish is fluent in Portuguese (and vice-versa). 

The truth, however, is not that black and white. Yes, there are a number of similarities between these two languages, and yes, someone who speaks one of them is able to understand some of the other. Yet, a Spanish speaking person is not even near being fluent in Portuguese, as someone who speaks Portuguese is not fluent in Spanish if they do not study the language. Afterall, those are two different languages. 

How it all started

“If Portuguese and Spanish are different languages, how come they are so similar?”, is probably the question you are asking right now. 

Well, this happens because these two share the same origin. As other languages, such as Italian, Catalan and French, Portuguese and Spanish are derived from “Vulgar Latin”. To be more specific, these languages can be categorized as Ibero-Romance languages. This means that they developed in the geographic region of the Iberian Peninsula – the part where Spain and French are divided. 

In order to understand this, we need to go way back to history until the Roman Empire. The original Latin speakers were the people responsible for bringing the peninsula to Rome. Then, they dominated the region for almost 600 years. 


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But the Roman Empire is not the only one responsible for Spanish and Portuguese being so similar. Since Portugal and Spain are near each other and kind of isolated from the rest of Europe, it is no wonder how these two languages developed so much alike even after Rome’s domination. The two countries also share a number of economic and cultural affairs that goes back to the colonization era. This makes it even more understandable why their languages developed together. 

How similar are Spanish and Portuguese

If we are talking lexic, Portuguese and Spanish have around 89% of similarity. This means that there are almost 90% of equivalent forms of words in these two. Amazing, right? 

But it is not all good news. That is because, even if these two share equivalent forms of words, it does not necessarily mean the same thing in each language. 

False Friends

Words that are written the same but do not have the same meaning are what we call a “False Friend”. Or a “false cognate”, if we want to get technical. There are plenty of examples regarding Portuguese and Spanish that we will explore below. 

Embarazada x Embaraçada

This is a classical catch for speakers of Portuguese or Spanish. In Portuguese, “embaraçada” has the same meaning as embarrassed. However, in Spanish, “embarazada” means being pregnant. 

Salada

“Salada” is written the same in both languages. Nonetheless, it has different meanings in each one. While in Spanish “salada” means a dish has too much salt, in Portuguese it means salad. If you want to ask for a salad in a Spanish speaking region, you should go for “ensalada”. 

Exquisita x Esquisita

Exquisita is a Spanish word for “excellent” – much like the english word “exquisite”. This is not the same case in Portuguese though. “Esquisita” means “weird” in the language. 

Apellido x Apelido

If you need to fill a form in Spanish, you probably read the word “apellido” there. This raises many questions if you are fluent in Portuguese, since those two mean different things in each language. 

In Spanish, “apellido” refers to your surname, while in Portuguese, “apelido” is your nickname. Although the words are still close in meaning, it can bring many issues if someone fills out a document the wrong way. 

Crianza x Criança

“Crianza” and “criança” have a small difference in grammar and a bigger one in meaning. “Criança”, in Portuguese, means child. “Crianza” is the Spanish word for upbringing. The Spanish term for a child is “niño”. 

Borracha

Again, this is the case of a term that does exist in both languages but carry different meanings in each one. In Spanish speaking regions “Borracha” means drunk. Moreover, in Portuguese, “borracha” means rubber. 

Extrañar x Estranhar

Those two have completely opposite meanings in Portuguese and Spanish. While the first word is the Spanish term for missing someone, “estranhar”  means finding something strange or weird in Portuguese. 

If you want to say you are missing someone in Portuguese, you can use the word “saudade” to express the feeling. 

Other differences

There are other differences between Portuguese and Spanish that make it more difficult for one person to understand the other language. If we take the spoken language for instance, there are a plethora of differences in pronunciation and intonation. 

There are some letters that do not exist in both languages. It is the case of the Portuguese “ç”, as well as the Spanish “ñ”. As a result, many of the sounds in the languages do not exist in the other one. 

And not only that! There are also differences in the Spanish spoken in Spain and Latin American countries, as there are differences in Brazilian and Portugal’s Portuguese. In fact, many people think that the pace people talk in Brazil resembles more Spanish than Portugal. 

This can be easily understood if we think that almost all Brazil is the only country in South America that speaks Portuguese. Therefore, a Latin American person who speaks Spanish may find it easier to comprehend the Portuguese spoken in Brazil but not the one in Portugal. 

That is why, unless you are really versed in the language and the culture of a place, you can not really say you are fluent in any of these two. To be fluent means that you know not only all the grammar aspects of a language, but also the culture of the people who speak it. 

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Spanish vs Portuguese and its false friends

Published On: December 21st, 2021 / Categories: Tips & Trends, Translators /

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