10 Interesting Facts About the Portuguese Language ~ Midlife Expat Learning

Portugal continues to be at the top of best-places-to-retire-abroad lists. This got my attention when I retired three years ago as a midlife woman of 59. I was intrigued by the thought of lowering my living expenses and the possibility of being able to afford to live on the ocean as a single retiree. The month I spent living in Portugal in 2019 convinced me it’s the country for me to move to in retirement. After returning home, I planned to save money and move to Portugal at 65. But when my house sold unexpectedly late last year, I realized I could move this fall, three years ahead of plan. Each month I will share a Midlife Expat Learning post here as I navigate the complex process of immigrating to Portugal.

May 5 was World Portuguese Language Day so this month’s Midlife Expat Learning post is about the Portuguese language, which is spoken by more than 255 million people around the world.

Source: UNESCO

I’ve been studying Portuguese for nearly two years using the free Duolingo app. It was only four months ago, however, that I found out I’d been learning the wrong Portuguese. Because I’m moving to Portugal I need to learn European Portuguese. Duolingo teaches Brazilian Portuguese. There is a difference.

Brazilian Portuguese is easier to learn, speak, and understand because it is a syllable-timed language and therefore more clearly pronounced. European Portuguese is, like English, a stress-timed language where vowel sounds are swallowed (reduced) and pronunciation is not explicit. There are differences in consonant pronunciations too.

Potentially most problematic are the differing word meanings. For example, the word rapiga is a European Portuguese word for girl. In Brazilian Portuguese, though, rapiga means whore or bitch. Pica is European Portuguese for injection, but in Brazilian Portuguese it means prick and is used as slang for penis.

In studying European Portuguese, I’ve already made the mistake of thinking preservativos meant preservatives, when it actually means condoms. I also assumed foda meant lamb or sheep when I first saw images of this annual festival that features a traditional lamb dish called foda. Nope. It’s Portuguese (European and Brazilian) for fuck. Oh boy. Thank goodness I didn’t try asking for lamb without preservatives in Portuguese.

Translation: “The Fuck Fair is back”
Images: https://ncultura.pt/feira-da-foda-origem-e-historia/
The lamb dish that does not use the Portuguese word for lamb.

There are other surprising discoveries I’ve made about this rich language. Here are 10 interesting facts about Portuguese:


There are about 232 million native Portuguese speakers and approximately 258 million speakers total.


It is the fifth most spoken language in the world.


Portuguese is the second most spoken romance language in the world after Spanish.


It is the third most used language on the Internet.


Portuguese is the official language in 10 countries and territories: Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Portugal, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Macau, Cape Verde, and the Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe.

Click here to watch the YouTube video on World Portuguese Language Day from UNESCO’s website.


Only 5 percent of the world’s Portuguese speakers live in Portugal.


Brazil has the largest population of Portuguese speakers in the world at 211 million.


The United States has 693,000 Portuguese speakers, primarily concentrated in New England, where the 106-year-old Feast of the Blessed Sacrament in Massachusetts is the largest Portuguese festival in the world, according to the New England Historical Society.


There are nearly 300,000 Portuguese speakers in both India and Japan, and about 49,000 in Australia. Canada has 222,000.


Approximately 60,000 people make up Portugal’s deaf community and they use Portuguese Sign Language.

Don’t speak Portuguese? In Portugal, English is the second most common language. There are more English speakers in Portugal than in Spain.

Stay Tuned

Moving to another country is a complex process and information can change quickly and without notice. Everyone’s experience can be different. I’m remembering to take it all in stride, stay flexible, prepared, pivot-ready, and positive. Stay tuned. June’s MEL will be about healthcare in Portugal. Thank you for reading!

Midlife Expat Learning Posts

February: Residency visa requirements

March: Finding housing in Portugal

April: Taxes & Money in Portugal

May: World Portuguese Language Day

June: Healthcare in Portugal

July: Expatriate is not ex-patriot

August: Immigration appointment tips

September: Moving logistics

October: Meeting folks, making friends

November: Food, shopping in Portugal

December: Christmas in Portugal

Solo traveler and soon-to-be expat in Portugal (2019)

Information sources: Babbel, World Atlas

The Hot Goddess

Instagram: retired_rewired_inspired

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  1. Fun facts Natalie. Good thing you figured out the right version of Portuguese to learn. I noticed similar with Spanish. I learned classical Spanish in school but Mexican spanish is spoken here. viva la foda!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Holy cow! I had no idea there were two versions of Portuguese! And hilarious the different interpretations between the two. I assume that if you have some linguistic challenges once you move, you’ll treat us with the story? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ha omg this is hysterical. Although I’m sooo sorry you’ve been learning the wrong kind of Portuguese and now have to backtrack ugh! I feel like this happened for a reason though, although I’m not sure why 🤔 But I’m loving all this, it’s gonna be so great!

    Liked by 1 person

      • I forgot to include in my article that my new Portuguese practice includes watching Disney+ in European Portuguese. They let you set audio and subtitles to either European or Brazilian Portuguese. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried to follow 101 Dalmations in European Portuguese while drinking bourbon 😜. I’m using Practice Portuguese online and on YouTube. They recommend some other translation apps that use European Portuguese. Really, though, now that I know how to say my fave swear word I’m so happy!

        Liked by 1 person

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