Looking to do business in Brazil? Don’t let language catch you out

If you are hoping to expand your business into Brazil, language is something that you will have to pay a great deal of attention to. With a population of roughly 200 million, Brazil has the highest number of native Portuguese speakers in all of the Lusophone countries. Due to Brazil’s status as a growing economy, those on the outside looking in need to take care when it comes to localisation, i.e. making sure that when marketing is carried out, it is done so in ‘the local lingo’.

A common mistake many marketers make when dealing with Brazil is assuming that Portuguese means the Portuguese spoken in Portugal. It is vital that people understand the variations in Portuguese, and in this case, how Brazilian Portuguese needs its special care and attention.

Translations carried out into European Portuguese simply will not do. Why? While the Portuguese spoken in Brazil, Portugal or Mozambique is similar, there are still important differences that need be taken into consideration.

Meanings differ

The most common differences in the language are those related to vocabulary. There are words that only exist in European Portuguese and words that only exist in Brazilian Portuguese. There are some words that are similar-looking and similar-sounding in both languages but are written in a different way. There are also words that, while looking and sounding the same in both variations, have very different meanings.

Here are some examples of everyday terms that illustrates how different European and Brazilian Portuguese can look:

English European Portuguese Brazilian Portuguese
Flight attendant Assistente de bordo Aeromoça/o
Bus Autocarro Ônibus
Mobile phone Telemóvel Celular
Convertible Descapotável Conversível
Fridge Frigorífico Geladeira


And here’s a list of words that can become dangerous if used incorrectly!

Word Meaning in European PT Meaning in Brazilian PT
Rapariga Girl Prostitute
Bombeiro Firefighter Plumber
Privada Private Toilet


So as you can see, if you took your website, flyer, app or special offer into the Brazilian market having used the wrong language, you could find yourself getting some embarrassing PR!

Sounds differ

Differences are not limited to vocabulary. The spoken language also differs. European Portuguese sounds very different from Brazilian Portuguese and has, in fact, a wider range of sounds. Whereas Portuguese are accused of mumbling and “talking inside their mouths” (thus eliminating unstressed vowels), Brazilians have a slower and more open way of speaking, pronouncing every syllable clearly.

These are the reasons why it’s easy for most Portuguese people to understand Brazilians but Brazilians take some time to get used to the Portuguese accent. It’s also easier for Portuguese people to imitate the Brazilian accent, however poorly.

So should you deal with audio, be careful not to use a Portuguese speaker from Portugal – their accent and the way they speak the language will expose them as being non-Brazilian, not what you want as this will expose you as not knowing what you are doing.

Structure differs

Portuguese and Brazilians write, build and organise their sentences a little differently. Possessive pronouns often come before the verb in Brazilian Portuguese, while in European Portuguese they tend to come afterwards. The variations of the language also don’t always use the same propositions and have different propositions resulting of contractions.

Again, should the translation or language you use look and sound the wrong way around, your efforts will be in vain.

Planning ahead

If Brazil is on the cards regarding marketing activity, plan ahead. Outline all the marketing collateral you will be using and decide what needs translating or localising. Before rushing into the translation process sit down and think through some of the following questions:

  • Who is your audience? Demographically as well as geographically
  • What is the purpose of the text? Info? Call to action? What do you want to happen?
  • Are there any terms, words, phrases or even jokes that may get “lost in translation”?
  • What tone of voice do you want the Portuguese copy to have? Informal? Slang?

Once you have analysed your needs, you are then better able to relay these to your Brazilian translator, who will use this to tailor their language accordingly.  Through awareness, planning and collaboration, your Brazilian localisation efforts won’t get caught offside!

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