The most common description of the Portuguese language, which is spoken in relatively few countries but has a huge population footprint thanks to Brazil’s influence, is that it’s a mix between “Spanish” and “French.” That’s not entirely untrue – Portuguese and Spanish are sister languages and share many words, while Portuguese and French both share the presence of ‘nasal’ sounds.
But Portuguese is a unique and complex language with unique and complex pronunciations that will come off as foreign to even speakers of other Romance languages. Portuguese has a very different vowel system – and a much more complex one with 9 vowel sounds, 5 nasal vowels, and diphthongs amok.
The biggest hallmark that you’re looking at Portuguese and not another language is the “nasalized A,” written as (Ã, ã), such as in São Paulo. Here’s how to pronounce the name of Brazil’s biggest city (and the biggest city in both the southern and western hemispheres.
The video at the top of the page, produced by the Rio2016 organizers, features a British gentleman named Patrick on a brief linguistic tour of Rio with a local guide.