I consider a holiday in Brazil, especially Florianópolis. But I can't speak any Portuguese.

Can I get around there with English and a little Spanish?

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    I've yet to meet a Portuguese speaker who couldn't understand the Spanish of a foreigner who knows only "a little Spanish". And you might be surprised how much you understand them. Favela street slang would be another matter, but when they're trying to make themselves understood to you Spanish and Portuguese can be extremely close. Jan 3, 2014 at 17:11
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    Really? I live in Argentina now and learn Spanish. But on the flight with an Portuese Airline I did not understand a word of their Portuguese :O) Sounded like a mix of Spanish and Swedish to me.
    – juergen d
    Jan 3, 2014 at 17:17
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    European Portuguese sounds really different to a foreigner who learned some Spanish in Latin America or in Spain. But no matter where you learned it, Brazilian Portuguese sounds much more familiar. Unless as I say it's very fast or full of slang. The other way, native speakers from Brazil or Portugal will understand you, but to understand somebody fro Portugal takes much more getting used to. Jan 3, 2014 at 17:20
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    @juergend I watched a tennis match between an Argentine and Brazilian while I lived in Brazil, and at the end when the Argentine gave a speech to the audience, the Brazilians I was with said they could understand him. Perhaps it's easier for native speakers than us language learners. I'm with you; Brazilian Portuguese sounded like a mix between French and Klingon when I heard it for the first time. But you get accustomed to it. Jan 3, 2014 at 17:36
  • Two tips, if you speak spanish, try slowing it down - most people can understand some spanish, but if you flash someone with spanish like it's our native language you'll only startle and piss people. Learn some simple portuguese word, "aeroporto", "restaurante","hotel" they are not that diferent from english, and may be helpful - but be aware you might not understand them due to local accents, in Florianópolis some people speak much like Cariocas. Jul 7, 2014 at 11:38

4 Answers 4


I spent a few months in Brazil, I didn't speak any Portuguese and my Spanish is not that good either. So it didn't help me understanding people, but it helped a little reading signs, and they could almost always understand my basic Spanish.

Can I get around there with English and a little Spanish?

It really depends on where you are going and how deep you want to get into the local culture.

I've been to many countries where I did not speak the local language and hardly anybody spoke English, plus all signs were written in a different alphabet. And still, I got around just fine. In Brazil you can at least read the names of the places you want to go to. In most hotels/hostels there is someone speaking English, and if not it still works. Your food, accommodation and transport needs work out somehow. Where it gets a bit more tricky is when you have special needs, say you need to see a doctor.

Brazil was pretty easy and there are many people who speak English and could help out.

  • As a Brazillian I say: If you know some spanish, it will be really helpful here. You will find over the internet a lot of people saying we dont speak spanish, but portuguese. Its true, however, if you talk spanish to a brazillian, he will understand about 85% of the speech. I cant tell you about the opposite. English here is not common. Try communicate with people around 20-25 yo. Above this, its quite hard find someone who understand english. Nov 15, 2017 at 21:40

I managed to get around just fine when I moved there. English is more widely spoken in the larger cities than in smaller towns. Spanish is spoken some near the western borders. But in any case, a large smile and gestures along with using a phrase book will get you a very long way.


This question has had an accepted answer but considering that I just spent a month in Brazil, I think I can add a fresh perspective. Before going to Brazil, I spoke 5 languages, Spanish being one of them but not Portuguese.

Spanish is extremely helpful all over Brazil. When reading signs and texts, with Spanish one can get the gist, if not fully understand, at least 70% of Portuguese. Many words are pronounced completely differently even though they are written exactly the same way as in Spanish. Verb conjugation is not the same but most infinitives are, so you can at least know which verb by looking at the root of the verb, except for irregular ones. So if you cannot understand what is being said, ask for it to be written.

Between Rio de Janeiro and Salvador de Bahia, English is widely understood by people who work in the tourist trade such as hotels and restaurants. Brazilians are very kind and friendly people, so you can ask one to write you something in Portuguese to show the next one. For example, taxi drivers do no speak much English but if you have your the name of the hotel where you are going written down it is easy to go somewhere and back. If you know Spanish, you can often ask things in Spanish or, as I did, a few words of Portuguese that I picked up, mixed with Spanish ones.

North of Salvador, English becomes nearly useless and it is best to pick up as much Portuguese as you can and fill the gaps with Spanish. As I said, many words are identical or very similar any way. The further north you go, the more Portuguese you have to rely on. Since you know some Spanish, the biggest hurdle is pronunciation which I found terribly complicated because vowel sounds are often different depending on the position of the letter in the word. What is nice is that most Brazilians make sure you understand before moving on and they will try several times before giving up. Often when it was not clear that I understood their instructions, they would walk with me for several blocks until I got where I wanted to go. Again, they are some of the most friendly people I have ever met. It gets even better the further out from the big cities. I reach Recife on the main land and Fernando de Noronha where people gave me lifts, helped me found my way and told me countless stories about different parts of Brazil.

By the end of the month I had caught enough Portuguese that when I went to Portugal right after and did the entire immigration interview in Portuguese, the officer exclaimed "Você fala português!" which means "You speak Portuguese!". The main point is that, Brazilians are very social and if you listen, they will give you a great opportunity to catch the language. This is generally not the case.


Spanish and Portuguese are very similar.

I'd say it is more or less possible to cummunicate if one person speaks only Portuguese and the other only Spanish. I tried it and it worked out surprisingly good.

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