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Differences and Similarities Between Portuguese and Spanish

March 16, 2017

With Portugal and Spain being so close together, and sharing a common language ancestor, there are a number of similarities between their official languages. Portuguese and Spanish are both Ibero-Romance languages which share the common "Vulgar Latin" ancestor along with French, Catalan, and Italian.

Portuguese and Spanish share an 89% lexical similarity, meaning that there are equivalent forms of words in both languages. While many of the words in both languages have similar sounds and meanings, there are definitely a plethora of words which are spelled and pronounced exactly the same but with extremely different meanings. Take the word pelado for example. In Spanish it means to have a shaved bald head but in Portuguese it means to be skinned, or without skin. The same goes for polvo which means dust in Spanish but octopus in Portuguese.

The written forms of Portuguese and Spanish are extremely similar. Typically native readers of either language can read both quite easily. However when it comes to the spoken language, Portuguese speakers generally have a much easier time understanding Spanish speakers than the other way around. This is in part because Portuguese has a more complex phonology than Spanish and these differences can make pronunciations and meanings drastically different.

Many of the sounds don't correspond directly between Portuguese and Spanish. For example the hard "v" and "z" sounds are missing from Spanish but prevalent in Portuguese. This also applies to vowels. While Spanish has 5 vowels, Portuguese has the same 5 along with an additional 7, five of which are nasal vowels.

Both languages are beautiful, unique, and worth learning by speakers in the United States. Spanish is the second-most widely spoken language in the world with 400 million native speakers. It is also the official language of 21 countries spanning several continents. Though Portuguese has just over half as many native speakers as Spanish, it is still a valuable language to learn for anyone living in the western hemisphere. And with several similarities between the two, a native speaker of one should be able to pick up the other quite easily.

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