Are you perplexed by how to pronounce Portuguese? If you know other Romance languages such as Spanish, Italian, or French, you’re likely to find Portuguese to be a bit more challenging in its pronunciation. At first, the language seems to be full of diacritics and with letters that do not always sound the same. But, with some knowledge of how to pronounce letters and a strategy to approach that new word, you’ll be well on your way to sounding like a local.
While this single article can’t teach you everything about Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation, it will show you a strategy to figure out how to pronounce those words you don’t know.
The first thing to do is to take a look at where the stress falls in the word. This is key in figuring out how to pronounce vowels because while there are five written vowels “a, e, i, o, u”, there are eight vowel sounds that can occur in the stressed syllable. The letters “i” and “u” will always have the same sound in the stressed position, but the letters “a, e, o” can have two different pronunciations depending on which diacritic it carries. The acute accent “Ã• ï¿½Ã• Â¡, Ã• ï¿½Ã• Â©, Ã• ï¿½Ã• Â³” denotes one pronunciation and the circumflex accent “Ã• ï¿½Ã• Â¢, Ã• ï¿½Ã• Âª, Ã• ï¿½Ã• Â´” denotes another.
If you don’t see an acute or circumflex accent on a vowel, then you need to follow the rules of determining natural stress in Portuguese. Remove any final “-s”, “-ns”, or “-m”. If what you have left ends in “-a”, “-o”, “-e”, the stress falls on the second-to-last syllable. But, if what remains is “-i”, “-u”, or any consonant, then the stress falls on the last syllable.
For example, the word coragem does not have an acute or circumflex accent. So, remove the “m” to leave you “corage-“. Since this ends in a “-e”, that means the stress will be on the second-to-last syllable and the word is stressed on the “ra” syllable as in co-RA-gem. However, if the word were amendoim, then after removing the “m” you will have “amendoi-” which means that the word is stressed on the last “im” syllable as in a-men-do-IM.
When you know where the stressed syllable is it’s simple to figure out the pronunciation of the other vowels. Because now you know that the other vowels are unstressed, you can predict their sound quite easily. The “i” and “u” again will sound the same in all positions. And, while the vowels “a, e, o” each have two possible pronunciations, you know which one it will be depending on whether or not it comes at the end of the word.
Afterwards, you should check to see if the vowel is nasalized. Look for the letters “m” or “n”. If there is either consonant, check to see if it followed by another vowel. If so, then generally the vowel before is not nasal such as the “e” in the word gemido. But, if the “m” or “n” has a consonant after it or comes at the end of the word, the vowel before it will become nasalized such as the “a” in ambos or the “e” in bem.
Once you have the vowels down, all that’s left is pronouncing the consonants correctly. While it’s beyond the scope of this article to discuss the pronunciation of all the consonants, note that some do change sound depending on context.
Here are a few noteworthy consonant sound changes that are unique to Brazilian Portuguese that we will discuss. The letter “l” changes at the end of a syllable or word to a sound similar to the “w” in the English word “wish”. For example, Brasil becomes something like bra-zeew. Additionally, Brazilians pronounce the “d” and “t” differently when they precede the letter “i”, or the letter “e” at the end of a word. The “d” changes to a sound like the “g” in the English word “gym”. So, balde sounds roughly like baw-jee. While, the “t” changes into a sound like the “ch” in the English word “chess”. For example, the word botina sounds like boe-chee-na.
Hopefully, this strategy to pronunciation will help you determine how to read any new Brazilian Portuguese words that you will see. To improve your pronunciation, there’s no need for classes. The best and most fun way to teach yourself Brazilian Portuguese is to practice your pronunciation with native speakers. Try reading aloud menu items or signs and see if your listener can understand you. Use tools like iPhone apps which integrate audio to help you refine your pronunciation. Finally, don’t be afraid to make mistakes! Have fun!
About the Author
PT Gardner is a nomadic polyglot who can entertain himself by reading a dictionary. Most recently, he has contributed to the Brazilian Portuguese iPhone app by Greenhorn Media.