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Portugal - Speaking the Language

Portuguese is a Romance language, fitting within the Indo-European language family. The language itself is the 6th most commonly spoken language in the world and is the official language of not only Portugal but East Timor, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Brazil, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, and Mozambique. Portuguese Sign Language is also an officially recognised language in Portugal.

There are many dialects of Portuguese spoken in different regions of Portugal and both the autonomous regions. The southern and central dialects are: Açoriano in the The Azores, Beirão in central Portugal (Alto-Alentejo and Baixo-Beirão is spoken in interior central Portugal), Algarvio in The Algarve, Estremenho in Lisbon and Coimbra, Madeirense in Madeira and Alentejano in Alentejo. Within the north of the country Oporto and Braga have the dialect of Nortenho, Trás-os-Montes has the dialect of Transmontano, Alto-Minhoto is spoken in North of Braga and close to the Spanish border in the town of Barrancos Barranquinho is spoken. Some refer to the dialectic categorisations as the Portuguese language, Galician-Portuguese language and Paleo Hispanic languages.

The top most commonly spoken languages in order are Portuguese, English, French, Spanish, Estonian, Czech, German, Italian, Danish and Croatian. Older (60+) Portuguese locals tend to speak only the local language for the most part with less than 5% speaking English in favour of French (7%) as their second language. English is more widely spoken by the younger Portuguese demographic such as those enrolled in education and graduates who have spoken the language at a higher level for some years. As there is a booming tourist industry in Portugal with a large number of English speaking tourists regularly present, places like the cities of Lisbon and Porto and tourist resorts like the Algarve see English being widely and frequently spoken. In urban areas it will not be hard to find someone with conversational English so a few occurrences like asking directions, ordering a drink or joining a medical centre should be ok when speaking English. Other tasks however, will require some level of Portuguese. In rural areas it becomes more difficult to find English speakers and the impetus is on the foreigner to learn the local language. Around 30% of the Portuguese speak English, to varying levels. Whilst it may be fair to assume given the overlapping of the Portuguese and Spanish language that there would be more Spanish speakers in Portugal, but this isn’t the case with less than 10% speaking Spanish.

In the work place, it is safe to say that if you are conducting local business then you will speak the local language. In this setting it should not be assumed that you need to speak the local language to communicate but being able to build personal professional relationships with clients and colleagues is very important in the Portuguese workplace. If you are working for a multinational company or international business you will find that English is frequently spoken. Colleagues who are locals will be bilingual in Portuguese and English and as a result more career options will be open to them on an international level, with the ability to communicate with both English and Portuguese speaking countries.

In the tourism sector, call centre work, IT and sales (namely real estate) roles which are expat client facing, will see a large amount of English spoken. If your work is international usually the communicative language of business is English. Whatever your job and however helpful the Portuguese are in trying to speak English to aid you, the best way to help yourself in the long term is to knuckle down and learn more of the language.

Realistically, in resort areas and more cosmopolitan cities like Lisbon and Oporto expats can just about get by learning the very basics of the local language. However, bills, contracts and many daily tasks will require an understanding of Portuguese so ideally, an individual should reach a competent level of Portuguese wherever they live or work. To make new friendships, understand cultural nuances and really enjoy the country for everything it is, speaking Portuguese is the greatest effort you could make in trying to fit in.

Language schools

Português Et Cetera - School for Portuguese Language and Culture
Offers classroom led Portuguese language courses from beginners to advanced plus classes for official certifications and diplomas. Option of intensive (2 weeks) and extensive (4 weeks) courses. Option of conversation courses and online Skype courses.
Address: Português et Cetera, Rua dos Douradores, 11, S/L, sala 3 e 6, 1100-203 Lisboa, Portugal
Tel: + (351) 96 905 60 67

Portuguese Connection
Offers a large range of individual, small group and large group Portuguese language classes, custom design classes, conversational classes and online classes.
Address: Praça do Príncipe Real 23, cv esq 1250-184 Lisboa
Tel: +351 211 944 364 / +351 966 740 960

Centro de Estudos Sabiamente
Group courses are available with course work and face to face lessons, courses for 1 to 1 learning or pairs. Leveled courses and training for CAPLE exam.
Address: Rua Damião de Góis, 31 Lj6, 4050-225 Porto
Tel: +351 225 508 349

CIAL Centro de Linguas Faro
Offers group courses at various levels from 25 hours a week to 35 hours plus CAPLE exam.
Address: Rua General Humberto Delgado, 5, Faro, 8000-355, Portugal
Tel: 351 289 807 611

CIAL Centro de Linguas Faro
Offers group courses at various levels from 25 hours a week to 35 hours plus CAPLE exam.
Address: Rua General Humberto Delgado, 5, Faro, 8000-355, Portugal
Tel: 351 289 807 611

The Academia de Línguas da Madeira
Group courses, small groups or one to one tuition, all year round.
Address: Rua do Ribeirinho de Baixo, 33-B 2º, 9050-447 Funchal, Madeira, Portugal
Tel:(+351) 291 231069

Private tutors

Book Skype lessons online. Able to book time slots and choose level of language desired.

University tutor
Qualified Portuguese tutors able to teach the Portuguese language to learners in Lisbon.

Lisbon language cafe
Private tuition (1 to 1) lessons or groups of up to 4. Informal setting in a coffee shop with your tutor for the lesson.

Learnissimo online tuition. A Private tutor teaches you Portuguese at your own pace. Lessons are 60 minutes.

In people's homes, children’s television programmes and films are dubbed in Portuguese. In the cinema children’s films come in two forms, one is subtitled with Portuguese and the other is dubbed in Portuguese. The rest of the films are shown in the original language with subtitles as do adult focused cartoons.

Expats commonly use their language skills as a means of employment. Some work within the education sector with TEFL roles in schools, language schools or as a private tutor. Roles in tourism/hospitality can exist from temporary summer jobs in bars and restaurants to full time sales work as an estate agent. With many call centres opening up and relocating to Portugal, there is a new call for English speaking workers, plus speakers of other European languages to work there. Generally, English/ Portuguese translating and interpreting is done by locals, unless the expat is fluent in both languages and more suitable than a native. Furthermore, other non-natives who speak Portuguese in their home country and are able to speak English add competition to such roles.

Read more about this country

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