Brazilians speak Portuguese (not Spanish!) and are responsible for the fact that Portuguese is the 6th most spoken language in the world. Since it crossed the Atlantic from Portugal, Brazilian Portuguese has undergone various modifications. The differences between the Portuguese written and spoken in Portugal and that of Brazil are similar to the differences between American and British English.
Brazilian Portuguese is a constantly evolving, dynamic, and very melodic language. Like the country itself, it is a colorful hybrid that has absorbed words and expressions from all the major groups that make up Brazilian society. Early on, Portuguese settlers were quick to incorporate indigenous terms from Tupi and Guarani languages, in particular, terms used to designate the vast compendium of exotica for which no Portuguese words existed.
To this day, most names of places (Ipanema, Ibirapuera, Paraná, Caruaru) are Tupi-Guarani, as are names of many foods (pipoca is popcorn, mandioca is manioc, abacaxi is a pineapple), animals (tatu is an armadillo, a jacaré is a cayman, tucano is a toucan), and trees (ipê, jacaranda).
A legacy of slavery was the inclusion of words from African languages (primarily Bantu, and to a lesser extent Yoruba, which is spoken in the region of Benin and Nigeria and used in Candomblé rituals), ranging from specific terms such as samba and capoeira to colloquial expressions such as cafuné (a caress on the head) and caçula (the youngest born).
Later on, the arrival of European immigrants in the 19th and 20th century introduced new expressions, especially in French—chaise longue, Réveillon (New Year’s Eve), the expression bom apetite—and English: trem (train), outdoor (billboard), jeans, and email.
Written Portuguese tends to be more formal (although less so than in Portugal), but spoken Portuguese is extremely casual with a fabulous array of slang and idiomatic expressions that vary wildly depending on regions and even city neighborhoods (and which you’ll be hard-pressed to understand). There is some difference in terms of regional accents, but as a foreigner you’ll find it difficult to pick up on most of them. The most detectable of regional accents include those of the city of Rio de Janeiro (exaggerated and slightly nasal), the interior of São Paulo (flat with Anglo-Saxon retroflex r’s), Rio Grande do Sul’s (with a very strong Spanish influence), and Bahia’s (which is slow and melodic).
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition