When you start learning Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation can be the most challenging part. You get tongue-tied and feel like you’ll never learn how to make the correct sounds.
Portuguese pronunciation can seem difficult to master, but with some patience, persistence and practice, anyone can learn to speak Brazilian Portuguese like an almost-native☺
The good news is that you picked the absolute best language to learn as a non-native speaker. That’s because Brazilians are so friendly and welcoming that even if you’re not able to pronounce things perfectly, they will be so appreciative that you tried!
Whether you’re planning a vacation on some of Brazil’s famous beaches, looking to learn some business Portuguese for a meeting in Sao Paulo or just love the language and want to enjoy it from the comfort of home, pronunciation is an important, and often a bit tricky part of any language learning process.
In this article, you'll learn how to get your tongue around the different sounds of Portuguese and you'll learn how accent marks affect pronunciation. My focus here is Brazilian Portuguese which can sound quite different to European Portuguese.
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Brazilian Portuguese Alphabet
When learning pronunciation in a new language, it’s always a good idea to start with the alphabet. Even though it may seem basic, the letters of the alphabet are the building blocks on which a language is based. When you learn how to pronounce a language’s alphabet, you gain a glimpse into the different sounds of that language.
So, without further ado, let’s take a first look at how you pronounce the letters of the alphabet in Brazilian Portuguese.
A – ah
B – bay
C – say
D – day
E – Ay
F – efe
G – zhay
H – agah
I – Ee
J – jota
K – kah
M – eme
N – ene
O – o
P – pay
Q – kay
R – ere
S – ese
T – tay
U – oo
V – vay
W – dable-u
X – sheez
Y – ipsilon
Z – zay
Did you notice the differences between how you pronounce the letters in the Brazilian Portuguese alphabet vs. the English alphabet?
Portuguese Pronunciation Tip
Now that you understand how to pronounce the individual letters in Brazilian Portuguese, let’s break things down into categories. You’ll learn about consonant combinations, accents and special letters and how to pronounce them in Brazilian Portuguese.
Portuguese Pronunciation: Consonant Combinations
In Brazilian Portuguese, it’s rare to see double consonants the way we often see them in English in words like assure, will, little, address, abbreviation. When in doubt while spelling something in Brazilian Portuguese, use just one consonant where in English you would use two.
While English also has many consonant combinations where the two consonants together create a different sound (knife, phone, laugh, this), Brazilian Portuguese is blessedly much more straightforward, and you stand a good chance of getting the pronunciation right by making an educated guess.
Though not as many as in English, there are some Brazilian Portuguese consonant combinations that produce unique sounds.
- ch- In words like chacara (farm), the ch sounds like the English “sh”: sha-ka-ra.
- lh – In words like milho (corn), the lh sounds like the English “ly”: mee-lee-yo.
- nh – In words like amanhã (tomorrow), the nh makes the sound of nya (like the Spanish ñ): ah-man-yan.
While for the most part, what you see is what you get in terms of Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation, there are also cases where the consonant pronunciation changes depending on the vowel that follows it. For example:
In words like dente (tooth), frente (in front of), quente (hot), the te makes the sound of the English “tch”: dentch, frentch, quentch.
Brazilian Portuguese Vowels
The pronunciation of accent-less Brazilian Portuguese vowels has a more closed sound than their English counterparts, which has a very open sound in comparison. When pronouncing Brazilian Portuguese vowels as they are pronounced in the alphabet, keep the mouth slightly closed for correct pronunciation.
- A – ah (as in father)
- E – eh (as in beg)
- I – ee (as in beet)
- O – o (as in no)
- U – oo (as in food)
Accents Marks In Brazilian Portuguese
One of the great things about Brazilian Portuguese is that, like all Romance languages (Portuguese, Spanish, French and Italian), it has accents.
While it may seem annoying at first to have to learn a whole other written skill set such as adding the correct accents on the correct letters, once you understand the sounds they make, you’ll see accents as useful guides for your pronunciation.
Believe me, foreigners learning English as a second language often wish English had accents so they could have an easier time with the pronunciation.
Agudo And Grave (Acute And Grave) Accents
Acute and grave accents are placed over vowels and their effect is that they make that vowel have a more open sound and place the stress on that vowel. The accented vowel pronunciation is very similar to the unaccented vowel pronunciation, but the sound is made with a more open mouth.
- á – aah
- é – ehh
- í – ee
- ó – ohh
- ú – ooh
To give you a clearer picture, imagine you were exaggerating the vowel sounds on the following English words:
- á – father pronounced like faather
- é – better pronounced like behhtter
- í – disease pronounced like diseeease
- ó – yogurt pronounced like yohhgurt
- ú – Uber pronounced like Ooober
Now, let’s look at those accents with Portuguese words so you can apply what you learned in Brazilian Portuguese:
- á – máscara (mask) sounds like: maah-skah-rah
- é – médico/a (doctor) sounds like: mehh-djee-co
- í – país (country) sounds like: pie-eesz
- ó – óculos (glasses) sounds like ohh-coo-los
- ú – público/a (public) sounds like: poob-lee-co
The grave accent actually has the same sound as the acute accent. But you use it in specific instances:
à – is pronounced aah and is used in very few words. Most commonly, you’ll see it used in the word à/às which means “to”, “on”, “at”, depending on the context.
- A aula comece às 9h. (The class starts at 9:00.)
The important thing to remember is to pronounce it with an open sound and to place emphasis on the syllable with the à.
The acento circunflexo (circumflex accent) looks like a little pointy hat that sits on top of an â, ê, or ô in Brazilian Portuguese. It has the effect of shortening the sound of the vowel, making the sound quite sharp and abrupt and also placing the emphasis on that vowel.
Some examples of the acento circunflexo:
- â – âncora (anchor) is pronounced: ahn-cor-ah, with the ahn having a nasal sound that is also pronounced quickly and sharply with the emphasis on this first syllable.
- ê – bebê (baby) is pronounced: be-beh, with the second “beh” being pronounced more quickly and sharply and the emphasis being placed on this second syllable.
- ô – avô (grandfather) is pronounced: a-voh, with the voh being pronounced quickly and sharply and the emphasis being placed on the second syllable.
The til (tilde) will be familiar to Spanish speakers. It’s the wavy line that sits over the ñ in Spanish, making the famous nya sound. However, in Brazilian Portuguese, you won’t see the tilde over the n. Instead, it plays an important role with the ã and õ vowels.
The tilde is the accent that produces the biggest change in the sound of the vowel, even changing the pronunciation completely. It produces a very nasal sound, kind of like when you have a head cold.
Here are some examples of the tilde in Brazilian Portuguese:
- pão (bread) is pronounced like: powhn with a nasal sound on the vowel and a very subtle “n” sound to close the word. (Note: if you pronounce this word without the accent, it will come out with the sound of “pow” which is the Portuguese word “pau” which means wood or stick).
- pães (plural of bread) is pronounced like: pie-ns with a nasal sound on the vowel and a very subtle “n” sound to close the word.
- maçã (apple) is pronounced like: ma-ssan, with a nasal sound on the ã.
- decorações (decorations) is pronounced like: de-cor-a-soins with a nasal vowel sound on the last syllable and a subtle “n” sound to close the word.
For those familiar with the French language, the cedilha (cedilla) is no stranger. It’s the little hook you'll find under the letter ç to make the sound of “s”.
You'll come across it a lot in Brazilian Portuguese, so it’s important to recognize it when you see it.
Here are some examples of the use of the cedilha in Brazilian Portuguese:
- faça (the command form of the word “to do”/ “Do it”) is pronounced like: fas-sa. (Note: if you pronounced this word without the “s” sound of the ç, you would be pronouncing the Brazilian Portuguese word for “knife” which is faca, pronounced like: faka.)
- cachaça (Brazilian sugar cane rum) is pronounced like: ca-sha-ssa.
Tips To Improve Your Portuguese Pronunciation
- Make voice recordings of yourself speaking in Brazilian Portuguese. Even if it’s just starting with reciting the alphabet, it’s easier to hear yourself and assess your pronunciation weaknesses from a recording rather than while you’re speaking. Also, it helps you keep track of how much you’ve improved when you go back to listen to your recordings in the future.
- Join a conversation group with native speakers. This is a great way to have fun while learning a language and gives you great insight into how native Brazilian Portuguese speakers express themselves. Pay attention to their pronunciation and ask them to correct you when you make mistakes. This is how I perfected my Portuguese accent.
- Immerse yourself in the Portuguese language every day. You could read a short story in Portuguese and listen to the audio book. You could also listen to podcasts in Portuguese, watch Portuguese movies and more. As you listen, you ear will adapt to the rhythms and sounds of Brazilian Portuguese.
Taking The Next Steps: Portuguese Pronunciation
Learning the correct pronunciation in Brazilian Portuguese can be challenging, but it can also be fun! If you feel tongue-tied and frustrated, just breath and relax and try again.
Remember that practice really does make perfect and the more you train your Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation, the closer you’ll be to fluency.