Best Practices

Translating Brazilian Portuguese to English: A Quick Guide

Brazilian Portuguese has growing political power. Check out the best tips for translating from this variant to English.
Thalita Lima
10 min
Table of Contents

Portuguese is currently the ninth most spoken language in the world. It’s a highly important language for global communication and it holds increasing political power, especially due to its presence on four continents: portuguese is spoken as an official language in South America (Brazil), Europe (Portugal), Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe), and Asia (East Timor and Macau).

The Success of the Brazilian Portuguese Variant

Knowing the language well is the key to being successful exploring the potentials of the Brazilian market. Within the context of Portuguese language variants, what sets Brazilian Portuguese apart?

The first, perhaps the most significant, contributing to the success of the Brazilian variant, is its cultural context. Brazilians have a strong digital presence in content production for the internet, especially social media. Additionally, Brazilian telenovelas and music have gained worldwide popularity, fueling an interest in understanding the language.

Another notable factor is the population size. Brazil is a populous country (the 7th most populous in the world and the 1st among Portuguese-speaking nations) with over 257 million Portuguese speakers.

A third point is the historical consolidation of Portuguese in the region, established through colonization in the 16th century. The language imposed by Portugal enriched itself with local indigenous languages (at the time, there were thousands, but now there are 274) and languages from the African diaspora (such as Kimbundu and Yoruba). While native indigenous languages still exist, the majority of the country communicates primarily in Portuguese for political, commercial, academic, and business activities, making it a firmly established language across the territory.

5 Tips for Translating Brazilian Portuguese to English with Excellence

1. Beware of False Friends

False friends, or false cognates, are words that look or sound similar in two languages but have different meanings. For example, the word "realize" in English means "to become aware of something," while in Portuguese, it is a conjugation of the verb "realizar”, which means "to carry out a task" or "to accomplish." Another example is "apology", which means "a statement of regret" in English but is used in Portuguese to represent a formal defense of an idea.

These small differences can significantly impact translation accuracy. To avoid errors due to false cognates, it's best to practice extensively by writing, reading, and listening in both languages. It's also helpful for translators to keep a list of common false cognates at hand, such as the one provided below:

2. Consider the Levels of Formality

Formality depends on two important contextual factors: hierarchy and the level of intimacy between interlocutors. In Brazilian Portuguese, "você" or "vocês" is used for lower formality levels, such as between people with greater intimacy or in hierarchical communication from superior to subordinate (e.g., from a boss to an intern). "Você" and "vocês" correspond to "you" in English.

For older individuals or in hierarchical communication from subordinate to superior (e.g., a student addressing a teacher), "senhor" (for males) and "senhora" (for females) are used. These correspond to "Mr" or "Mrs/Ms" in English.

In Brazilian Portuguese, there is also the term "senhorita," used for unmarried women, younger individuals, or teenage girls in more formal contexts, such as in fancy restaurants. "Senhorita" corresponds to "Miss" or "Lady" in English.

In Portuguese, there is no distinction in the use of honorifics for situations where you know the person's name or not, as there is in English. For example, in formal situations in English, "madam" or "gentleman" may be used for individuals whose names are unknown.

Additionally, "senhor" is used with the individual's first name rather than their surname, as in "senhor Antônio Oliveira", which corresponds to "Mr. Oliveira" in English.

Due to these subtle differences, it's crucial to adapt the context to maintain equivalent formality levels within linguistic diversity.

3. Consider Text Length Variation

Compared to English, Portuguese has a richer vocabulary. There are 250,000 words in the English vocabulary compared to 370,000 in Portuguese. While there are variations in words between Brazilian Portuguese and European, African and Asian Portuguese, in general, Portuguese sentences tend to be slightly longer than English, approximately 30% longer.

In translations of short and strategic texts, such as marketing contents, calls to action on websites, sales texts and app texts, the challenge is to create a message with an equivalent appeal in both languages that fits within the designated interface space.

4. Consider the Spelling Agreement

Image by Freepik

The Orthographic Agreement of the Portuguese Language (Acordo Ortográfico da Língua Portuguesa), signed in 1990 by seven countries, became mandatory in Brazil in 2016. This agreement introduced several changes that are important to be aware of, especially when translating documents from years preceding the agreement.

For instance, the alphabet expanded from 23 to 26 letters, with the official inclusion of "k," "w," and "y." The letter "k" was also replaced by "qu" in certain words (e.g., "kilograma" became "quilograma"). The letters "c" and "p" were removed from words where they were not pronounced, such as "actual" becoming "atual," "optimo" becoming "ótimo," or "adopção" becoming "adoção”.

5. Understand the Cultural Context

Understanding technical aspects of the language is important for any translation, such as knowing that Portuguese uses a 24-hour clock, while British English uses a 12-hour clock.

However, what is most critical for high-quality translation is cultural competence. It’s necessary to immerse in the culture of the country to expand the understanding of the language. Only by doing so can you provide a service, course, or content that sounds natural and resonates with your target audience.

Thalita Lima
Passionate about languages and the power of localization to connect minds. Journalist, writer, photographer, and ecology student
Translate twice as fast impeccably
Get Started
Our online Events!

Try Bureau Works Free for 14 days

ChatGPT Integration
Get started now
The first 14 days are on us
Free basic support