Portuguese is a valuable language to learn for its own sake: for some of the many reasons to learn Portuguese, from business to tourism, see our post on the subject. Portuguese also gives you a headstart with several other languages, so the time you spend learning with a tutor isn’t just teaching you Portuguese, it’s also a valuable investment in your general development as a linguist. In this post, we’ll take a look at the various different languages you can understand if you learn Portuguese.
The Romance Languages
Portuguese is one of the Romance languages descended from the vulgar Latin that was spoken across the Roman Empire at the time of its collapse in the fifth century. Over the past 1,500 years, Latin has evolved into several modern languages that are spoken widely in Europe, Latin America, and parts of Africa. If you learn Portuguese, you will pick up vocabulary and grammar that will help you learn all of these languages. However, to exactly what extent depends on the individual language and the other influences that have shaped it over the centuries.
The closest Romance language to Portuguese is relatively little-known: Galician is spoken mainly in the autonomous region of Galicia in Northwestern Spain. Portuguese and Galician have common roots; they only began diverging in the 14th century and are mutually intelligible. With 2.4 million native speakers, Galician may not be an international language, but if you learn Portuguese and find yourself traveling to Galicia, you should be able to make yourself understood.
Spanish shares many characteristics with Portuguese, having also evolved on the Iberian Peninsula. The two languages are distinct but share a lot of vocabulary and grammar—if you learn Portuguese to a good level, you’ll probably find that you can already read Spanish, although the significant differences in pronunciation make speaking and listening more of a challenge. The two languages have asymmetric intelligibility—it’s easier for Portuguese speakers to understand Spanish than vice versa. So, if you’re thinking of learning both languages, it might make sense to learn Portuguese first.
Italian, although more distant than the other Iberian Romance languages, shares several characteristics that give Portuguese speakers an advantage. In fact, there’s one important respect in which it resembles Portuguese more than Spanish does: pronunciation. Italian doesn’t have the Arabic influence that affects the pronunciation of many Spanish letters and words, and there are many Portuguese-Italian cognates, so if you learn Portuguese, you might find you understand spoken Italian quite well.
The historical contact of French with the Central European languages (among other influences) means that its grammar is more distant from Portuguese than that of Spanish or Italian. However, the Latin roots in French are still strong, and there are a number of French-Portuguese cognates that will help you understand French if you learn Portuguese first.
Other Romance Languages
Learning Portuguese can also help you understand other Romance languages, particularly the other Iberian Romance languages: Catalan, Asturian, and the other regional languages and dialects spoken in the Kingdom of Spain. The other major Romance language is Romanian, but this has been heavily influenced by its neighbors in Eastern Europe, and the spoken language sounds very different, although you’ll still find cognates and grammatical similarities.
Learn Portuguese with a Tutor
As you can see, in addition to all the intrinsic advantages of learning Portuguese, it’s also an excellent starting point for the Romance languages. The best way to learn Portuguese is with a tutor who can provide you with expert feedback and support throughout your learning process. As your Portuguese improves, so too will your comprehension of the Romance languages.