I was familiar with the phrase “Spanglish,” in fact I would say that I am quite fluent in it, that and I’ve seen the movie a few times so that counts right? However the first time I heard the word Portuñol/Portunhol it made me smile. Just as Spanglish is a mixture of Spanish and English, Portuñol/Portunhol is a mixture of Portugués/Português and Español/Espanhol (Spanish). So why is this important? Well if you are traveling to Brazil it may help you out a bit.
A first and common mistake I heard before I first went to Brazil was, “Oh you speak a little Spanish, you should be able to communicate while you are down there.” Well, yes and no. Firstly, Brazil’s language is Portuguese (which in itself is distinguishable from Portuguese from Portugal). However, Portuguese is a Latin based language, and was the last of them to develop so it borrows a little from Spanish, French and Italian. Also, as I’ve been told by Brazilians and other Latin Americans alike, it is easier for someone who speaks Portuguese to understand Spanish than it is for a Spanish speaker to understand Portuguese. However, from my experience Aiko (A Perusian herself) can usually follow about 50% of what is being said to us.
One of the first things many people learn how to ask in a foreign language, outside of where the bathroom is, is how to find someone who speaks your native language. In our case we have two to select from, yet we repeatedly are turned down when we ask if someone “falas Espanhol o Ingles.” Yet, more often than not if we ask if they “falas Portunhol” we get a smile and a yes which helps with trying to communicate.
Brazilians, like many other cultures, are proud of their language. More often than not they will push for your to try and communicate to the best of your ability in their language instead of just spitting out something in Spanish and expecting them to understand you. Laughter though, is a great first line to break the ice between two strangers who do not share a common language. Thus, I’ve found people a bit more willing to speak slowly and take time to try and understand us when we ask if they speak Portunhol.
Happy travels and “boa suerte”