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Spanish? Portuguese?

We explain the differences!

Read this article in: Català, Deutsch, English, Español, Português

Estimated reading time:2minutes

There are many myths about the differences between Spanish and Portuguese. But what exactly are they? And what’s equally important, what do these languages have in common? Alugha sorts things out. 

Hard facts 

Spanish. Spanish is the most common mother tongue in North and South America. 400 million people are native Spanish speakers, about 100 million speak Spanish as a second language. Spanish is written in Latin letters. 

Portuguese. Portuguese, as well as Spanish, is a world language. Over 240 million people are native Portuguese speakers, about 30 million speak Portuguese as a second language. It must also be mentioned here that Portuguese has the the highest growth rate of speakers. Most Portuguese speak French as a second language. Hence, Spanish and Portuguese are, together with English, Chinese, Bengali (Indonesia and India) and Hindi the most spoken languages in the world. 

What is identical

Spanish and Portuguese are closely related. The Spanish and Portuguese vocabulary has a lot of words that are similar or even identical in their spelling. However, their pronunciation is usually very different. 

According to several linguists, it is guaranteed that Portuguese and Spaniards understand each other effortlessly, even after 500 years of individual development. Others claim that every Portuguese understands Spanish, but not every Spaniard understands Portuguese. Which brings us to the differences. 

What makes the difference

The differences between Spanish and Portuguese can be found on several language levels, among others in the alphabet. The Spanish alphabet consists of 28 letters, the Portuguese one of 23. One shouldn’t be deceived by that, because Portuguese has an incredible high number of phonetic sounds. The mere letter “a” is related to 13 vowel sounds. Due to the the size of the phonemic inventory, Portuguese seems to be a lot more complicated and difficult to understand than Spanish. Additionally, both alphabets have digraphs, which are a pair of letters that stand for a single sound. 

The word endings of both languages are different as well. While those words that end in the letter “n” in Spanish, the Portuguese development shows these words ending in the letter “m”. Further grammatical differences can be seen in articles. Some words are masculine in Spanish but feminine in Portuguese and vice versa. Articles are used differently in both languages, too. 

There are also different explanatory approaches regarding the origin of the deviations in vocabulary. According to linguists, the Spanish language was influenced by Arabic whereas Portuguese was influenced more by French. There is also much evidence that points to a change of meaning. So called cognates imply that several words derive from one and the same original word. 

So the conclusion for those of you who like it plain and simple: Spanish and Portuguese are similar but not identical. Several factors contributed to the different and individual development of the two world languages. 

Well then: We hope you are all a little bit smarter in this regard now! 

We wish you a nice weekend!




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