About Brazil - Language


The national language of Brazil is Portuguese. Due to the influence of the many other languages already existing or brought over by immigrant groups, Brazilian Portuguese differs from that spoken in Portugal in the same way that Australian and American English differ from that of England. Until the mid 18th century a version of Tupi-Guarani (the main Indian language of the time), which had been simplified and written down by the Jesuits, was widely spoken.

Today, however, this language is only remembered in words that have become part of the Brazilian vocabulary. These words are generally names of places (Guanabara, Ipanema, Niteroi), plants (abacaxi, guarana) or animals (piranha, capivara, urubu). African languages, especially from Nigeria and Angola, have survived in religious rituals, cooking and some general words, the most well-known example being samba. Accents and slang vary widely within Brazil but are, in general, mutually comprehensible. English is often spoken in large cities and tourist centres.

Spanish is generally understood but a knowledge of Spanish does not always enable you to understand spoken Portuguese, except perhaps in the South. If thinking of buying a dictionary or phrasebook, it's important to make sure it is for Brazilian Portuguese.

Body Language

Brazilians are very energetic when speaking and body language plays an important role in everyday communication. Generally people stand a lot closer than in many cultures and punctuate their conversation with pats, slaps and jabs. Greetings are very physical and include kisses (generally only between women or women and men), handshakes, hugs and backslapping. Gestures are important and widely used.

Thumbs up means OK, hello, or thanks. Finger shaking to emphasize 'no' is vigorous but not a threat. To indicate speed or haste, the first finger and thumb are loosely touching and the wrist shaken vigorously. It is important to note that the common sign of the finger and thumb joining to form a circle, generally taken to mean OK, has a quite different meaning in Brazil. This sign is to be avoided as it will only land you in a difficult situation.