At its roots, Portuguese is a Latin language, having several over-layers of nomadic influences as well as native ones from the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula. Of all the other Latin languages, Portuguese resembles Spanish the most, as the two languages have risen from similar cultures and had almost the same influences throughout their history. Actually, a Portuguese speaker can easily understand what a Spanish speaker is saying and vice versa, although there are some obvious differences between the two languages, especially in what regards pronunciation of words, spelling and so forth.
The similarities between Portuguese and Spanish don’t stop here. Both languages had their Golden Age during the colonization era, where explorers from both countries set foot in the new lands of Southern America and established large communities there. The Spanish colonized areas such as those that form up today’s Argentina or Mexico, whereas Portuguese colonists set foot in what is today’s Brazil. Therefore, Portuguese is still the official language of Brazil nowadays, making the language hold the title as the second largest Latin language worldwide, with approximately 180 million speakers in Portugal, Brazil and several other smaller areas.
Characteristics of the Portuguese language
Oftentimes Portuguese is regarded as a “melodic” language, due to its slightly funny pronunciation of words and sounds. As with most other Latin languages, Portuguese is less blunt as say, Germanic languages and its grammar rules are very similar to anything you’ve learnt in Spanish, French or Italian class. Most “Learn Portuguese” courses and books will emphasize on the fact that the language is an analytical one, having abandoned its declensions, at the same time remaining dynamic and soft. Vocabulary, grammar and orthography are easy to understand and grab a hold of even if you’re not very familiar with any other Latin language.
Actually, one of the main benefits of learning Portuguese is that it allows you to easily gain access to other languages from the Latin family tree. Once you got your Portuguese act together, there’s nothing stopping you to becoming a true polyglot, as you can easily pass on to Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian or any other language that has basic Latin roots.
So where do I start?
Like with most languages, when starting to learn Portuguese your first target will be to improve vocabulary. Find some translated texts and try reading both versions, trying to spot the similarities and use a dictionary if you’re uncertain of how a particular word got translated. Don’t start with any random text on the Internet though, they will prove too complicated for you. There are several free Portuguese lessons online that provide such texts for newcomers and that could be a possible starting point for you.
When you got to a point where you can parse a text and extract the main ideas from it, you can move on to more complicated issues such as grammar, orthography, pronunciation and such. However, don’t neglect your word base. Although a natural vocabulary increase will take place during the learning process, you can always enforce it by reading a lot in that language or by playing some fun and relaxing vocabulary games that can help you memorize certain words or phrases.