Tips for Your Portuguese – Rio 2016

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.

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Stay Human

It’s actually got a lot in common with Italian, too, especially when you’re reading it. And some R’s are pronounced like H’s, so Rio is actually pronounced “Hio”.

Coach Mike 1952

They are all part of the “Romance” family of languages, starting with Latin. “Also called Romanic, they are spoken by about 670 million people in many parts of the world, but chiefly in Europe and the Western Hemisphere. Among the more important Romance languages are Catalan, French, Italian, Portuguese, Occitan, Rhaeto-Romanic, Romanian, and Spanish.”


Humm…no!If you are an American, that correct pronounce would be Hee-yo.In Portuguese, the word meaning from “Hio” is raio, meaning bolt in English.

Miguel Vaz

Nope, It isn’t like that. In the words starting by a “r” like Rio we pronounce it like “RRio”.


I was told once that if you’re in a real hurry, you can hop into a cab, speak the words in very rapid Spanish with what you think might be a Portuguese accent, and you’ll get most of what you mean across. Just as in American, Australian, or British English, there are variations on accent and vocabulary. In the Northeast, in the state of Pernambuco, Portuguese is influenced by Dutch and African rhythms, accent, and vocabulary. Pernambuco was a huge sugar cane producer in the 17th-19th centuries, and millions of African slaves were brought to that region (more than to any other part of the the Americas). Influences are words like “bunda (backside)” and “samba,” as well as the slightly… Read more »

José Silva

“I was told once that if you’re in a real hurry, you can hop into a cab, speak the words in very rapid Spanish with what you think might be a Portuguese accent, and you’ll get most of what you mean across.” HMM…No! To start with if you speak castilian it will come as offensive, then, it is exactly the contrary of what you say. The faster you speak in castilian the less you will get across. The easiest thing about castilian to a native portuguese is exactly it’s open vowels and therefore if you through “what you think might be a Portuguese accent” you will make things worse. Finally, the Southern accent is indeed the closest to European Portuguese… Read more »

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Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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