Portuguese is a beautiful, sensual language that is also one of the top 10 most-spoken languages in the world. Translation from Portuguese to English is a great tool to help bridge the gap between cultures and reach out to a globalized, English-speaking audience.
We’ve spoken at some length about why it’s so important to localize content, a practice that includes translation from English into the native language of your target audience. It helps you appear so much more sincere and likable and it is an important step to tailoring your content to speak to a global audience. When you can achieve content that looks and feels local, you’re opening up your market and broadening your reach, which is never not a good thing.
Translation from Portuguese to English is important as well as it helps introduce the world to the creations of artists who write in Portuguese. Translation to English helps disseminate culture and information, keeps ideas alive and flowing and helps local brands find exposure in bigger markets.
Portuguese shares a similar alphabet and punctuation to English. The similar writing system means that Portuguese is not as difficult to translate as an idiomatic language like Chinese and Japanese.
However, it would be a mistake to assume that translating from Portuguese to English is a simple walk in the park. So, what are some of the hurdles typically faced when doing a Portuguese to English translation?
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This post was updated on March 2021
With 220 million native speakers, Portuguese is spoken in ten different territories on four continents. These include Portugal, Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Macau, East Timor, Cape Verde and Sao Tome and Principe.
Portuguese is a Romance language that is part of the Indo-European language family. It’s closely related to Spanish; in fact, it originated from Galicia in Northwest Spain. It is also strongly influenced by Arabic, as Portugal and Spain were conquered by the Islamic Moors from North Africa and the Middle East in the 8th Century.
It spread around the world during the 15th and 16th Century, during the Discoveries Era when adventurous Portuguese sailors went looking for new territories.
One curious thing to note about Portuguese is that there isn’t a “standard” Portuguese that is spoken around the world. In fact, the Portuguese spoken in Europe and the Portuguese spoken in Brazil are further apart in terms of pronunciation, vocabulary and even spelling than the English spoken in the United States and the English spoken in England!
But why is Brazilian Portuguese so different from European Portuguese?
While many former Portuguese territories speak a similar version of Portuguese to their former European masters, the Brazilian version stands apart with many differences.
This is courtesy of something interesting called the “Colonial Lag”.
It’s a concept created by Albert Marckwardt, an American linguist who posits that colonial varieties of a language (such as Brazilian Portuguese) changes less than the language originally spoken in the mother country (Portugal).
Colonies are theorized to follow the linguistic advances of the mother country with some delay due to geographical distance. It was also much harder to get around back in the days before airplanes and budget airlines!
Contact with various different groups like the indigenous people of Brazil, slaves, and immigrants from Europe and Asia further changed the way Brazilians spoke Portuguese.
Contact with various different cultures is one reason for the evolution of Portuguese in Brazil.
The second reason is that many of the other countries achieved independence much later than Brazil (which gained independence in 1822), and therefore had much more contact with Portugal during their historical development.
And it’s important to note Brazil itself contains more Portuguese speakers than any of the other territories.
Check out this statistic: There are 12 million citizens in Rio de Janeiro alone while in the whole of Portugal there are 10 million people.
What are some differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese?
When you’re working on a translation of Portuguese to English, one of the first hurdles is to identify: Which Portuguese are you working with? While it may feel like the differences between Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese are nominal; assuredly they are not.
So if you’re paying a professional to carry out the task for you, it is well worth to find someone who is an expert in the particular Portuguese your text is written in.
1. ‘Tu’ or ‘você’
These are the words for “you” in Portuguese. Brazilians will use the word “voce” for both formal and informal situations. Whereas in Portugal, the word “tu” is used in informal situations and “você” is used for more formal situations. While some regions in the north of Brazil will use “tu” as well, “você” is far more widely accepted as the singular second-person pronoun. Fun fact: while você, along with the rest of Brazilian Portuguese, is regarded as more modern and less formal, the opposite is actually the case. Você is a contraction of vossa mercê (your mercy) which is an archaic formal deferential greeting. This and other differences between the two versions of Portuguese actually has to do with Brazilian Portuguese’s tendency to use words from 18th and 19th-century Portuguese!
Putting aside the matter of accent, when it comes to pronunciations, there are a fair bit of differences as well. Brazilians will pronounce every vowel in the word whereas in Portugal, people will cut their vowels out a fair bit. For the word “telephone”, a Brazilian would say “teh-le-fon-ee”. All the vowels are pronounced. A Portuguese will say “tlefone”.
The “t” has different pronunciations in both languages as well. In Brazil, “t” is pronounced “tch”. For example, the word “quente” (hot) is pronounced “quentchy”. In Portugal you would only say “kent”.
Then there’s the “s” at the end of words. In Portugal, the “s” at the end is read “sh” while in Brazil it is read as “ss”. Take the word “português”. In Portugal, you would say “portuguêsh” while in Brazil you would say “portuguêss”.
If you were to look closely, even the way a Brazilians and Portuguese speak are different. Brazilians will speak with their mouths more open, while the Portuguese will speak with their mouths more closed.
A very easy way to spot the difference is to find gerunds in a piece of text. Brazilians tend to use gerunds, while the Europeans would consider it unusual.
For example, to say “I’m making dinner”, a Brazilian would say “estou fazendo o jantar” (auxiliary verb + gerund + noun). While the European Portuguese would say “estou a fazer o jantar” (auxiliary verb + preposition + verb in the infinitive + noun)
4. Vocabulary & False friends
Brazilians and Europeans tend to use many different words to mean the same things. Examples include the words for bus – in Brazil it is “Ônibus” while in Portugal it is “Autocarro”. Juice is “suco” in Brazil and “sumo” in Portugal. The fridge is “geladeira” in Brazil and “frigorifico” in Portugal. Pineapple is “abacaxi” in Brazil and “ananas” in Portugal.
There are also cases of false friends, wherein the same words have different, and sometimes unflattering meanings. Take the word “rapariga”. It means girl in European Portuguese, but in Brazil “rapariga” can also be another word for “prostitute”. “Propina” is the fee students pay in university in Portugal. But in Brazil, referring to a payment as a “propina” can also mean “bribe”. “Apelido” is a word that refers to a name in both versions of Portuguese. However, in Brazil people know “apelido” as a nickname while in Portugal it refers to a surname.
Now, what are some differences between English and Portuguese?
While Portuguese and English share the same alphabet, there are significant differences in grammar, which can trip up your Portuguese to English translation:
- Gendered words. Generally, words in Portuguese are gendered. Masculine words mostly end with -o and feminine words end with -a. This is not so with English.
- Articles. The gender and number of the noun will inform the article used. In English the main articles are “a”, “the” and “some”. In Portuguese, these are the articles:o/a — the masculine/feminine versions of “the”um/uma — masculine/feminine forms of “a”uns/umas — masculine/feminine for “some”
- Adjective placement. Portuguese uses a subject-verb-object structure like English. But unlike English, Portuguese tends to have the adjective appear after the noun instead of before. For instance, if you were to talk about “a red house” you’d say uma casa vermelho (literally: “a house red”).
- Verb conjugation. This is probably the toughest part of Portuguese. Each verb tense has six different endings, which can indicate mood, whether or not something is ongoing or when something has happened. The verbs pack a lot of information but conjugation of the verb is a headache especially considering that this is not something that happens for English. An example: the English verb “to write” has two conjugations in the present tense – I/you/we/they write, he/she/it writes. In Portuguese, the verb would be conjugated like this: eu escrevo, tu escreves, ele/ela/voce escreve, nos escrevemos, cos escreveis, elas/eles/voces escrevem.
- Vocabulary. Some words in Portuguese have no direct translation in English. “Saudade” is an oft-cited example; a pretty word, it means a feeling of longing or nostalgia for a person or a place or a situation you once experienced. “Passear” is another: it means to go for a walk or a stroll with no clear intention. You can find more examples here.
Machine Translation: Can you trust it?
The answer to this is really: what do you need your translation for?
Machine translation has improved by leaps and bounds, and Google Translate actually works pretty well for Portuguese to English translation. However, we would never recommend that you use it exclusively, especially for professional content.
However, machines are quicker and more cost-efficient; and in the case of Portuguese to English, machine translation has actually shown to be reasonably adequate. If you wanted to try out the machine translation route for personal use, we’ve talked a bit here about reliable apps you can opt for. Of course, you’ll always want to have a human go through the final product, just to make sure that the result is acceptably fool-proof.
Remember that a human translator has to be, first, a good writer. They should know how to create a clear, accurate text that flows well without sacrificing any of the original text’s meaning. They have to understand subtle and overt nuances, and when something proves impossible to convert one-to-one, they should be able to provide a good substitute. This could mean abandoning any attempt at being faithful and simply creating a new phrase that suits the work better.
Who Can Handle Portuguese to English Translation?
Portuguese is a lovely language. To do a piece of text justice, a translator should first identify which Portuguese the text is in – European or Brazilian, as there are some differences.
An expert in both English and Portuguese should also be used to achieve the best results. If you’re in need of a quality translation, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at the Bunny Studio. Our team of experts is always ready!