4 reasons not to mix Brazilian translations with its European counterpart

November 3, 2011

Referring to a woman as a rapariga might get you a sweet smile in Portugal, but a slap in the face in Brazil. As speakers of English, we know that vocabulary and pronunciation can change across the varieties of a language.

However, the technical differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese are so vast that many consider them two separate languages.

With the demand for Portuguese language services on the rise, particularly of technical translations for the Brazilian market, localization managers must now decide whether to use the same text for both the Brazilian and Portuguese markets.

In this post, we have compiled a list of the reasons that suggest that mixing Brazilian and European Portuguese translations is usually not a good idea.

 

1. Vocabulary

When a package of Portuguese films was sent to celebrate Brazil’s 500 years as a nation they could only be shown to Brazilians with subtitles. Whilst this may seem extreme as in theory the two nations speak the same language, it illustrates the extent of the differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese. An estimated 15% of words differ between the two. Some are completely different:

 

English Brazilian Portuguese European Portuguese
Train Trem  Comboio
Fridge Geladeira  Frigorífico
Screen  Tela  Ecrã

 

Others have a completely different meaning. Ask for a ‘banheiro’ in Brazil and you’ll be directed to the restroom. In some parts of Portugal you might get a lifeguard. Recognizing these differences is vital for marketing your products effectively.

 

2. Spelling: Mind your Cs and Ps

As well as differences in accents and capitalization, there are many differences in spelling between Brazilian and European Portuguese.

 

English Brazilian Portuguese European Portuguese
Fact Fato Facto
Action Ação Acção
Selections Seleções Selecções

 

An orthographic agreement was established on January 1 2009 aimed at eliminating some of the spelling differences and hyphenation. Differences are allowed until the end of the transition period (December 12 2012). However as Fabres notes “we’d rather forget our colonial past. We will continue to resist those regulations, it is psychological.” Popular protest surrounded the agreement (and a petition was submitted to the Brazilian government) against it.  In day to day life in modern Brazil differences remain pronounced.

 

3. Syntax and Punctuation

Sentences are constructed differently in Brazilian and European Portuguese, most notably when it comes to pronouns.

English Brazilian Portuguese European Portuguese
We get along well Nós nos damos muito bem Damo-nos muito bem
Someone told me Alguém me disse Alguém disse-me
My car Meu carro O meu carro

 

Brazilian translation text also normally uses “” for quotes whereas in European and African texts, << and >> are still used. The European or Brazilian syntax of your text will be very apparent to your readers.

 

4. Grammar

The most obvious difference between Brazilian and European Portuguese is the use of polite ‘você’ (Bz) rather than ‘tu’ (Pt) for ‘you’. Brazilians also use the continuous verbal form or gerund (such as ‘doing’ or ‘walking’) as in the following example:

 

English Brazilian Portuguese European Portuguese
You were walking along the river Você estava caminhando pelo rio Tu estavas a caminhar pelo Rio.

 

Question: How many differences can you spot between these two texts?

“Com 200 jornalistas a trabalhar  em permanência e 80 a colaborar numa base regular ou eventual, […] a LUSA cobre sobre a hora os acontecimentos relevantes e divulga-os no preciso momento em que estão a ocorrer.” (Pt)

“Com 200 jornalistas trabalhando permanentamente e 80 colaborando regular ou eventualmente, […] a LUSA cobre em tempo real Os acontecimentos relevantes,  divulgando-os no preciso momento em que estão ocorrendo.” (Bz)

Answer: There are eight – and that’s just in 1 paragraph!

 

Helpful Resources

Here are some helpful resources:

 

 Starbacks  A dictionary of words that differ between Brazil and Portugal
 Microsoft Style Guides  Provide style guides for both Brazilian and Portuguese
 Sonia Portuguese  A list of the more commonly occurring vocabulary differences
 Brazil Help Good for general information about Portuguese

 

We would like to thank our Portuguese translation team, and particularly to Adriana de Araujo, Sonia Gomes, Naomi Sutcliffe de Moraes, Laura Frazer and Daniela Kantika. Photos provided by Marcos Fernandes and Urtinxa.

What experience have you had when dealing with Brazilian versus European Portuguese? We welcome your opinion in the comments section.

If you would like additional information on this topic or have questions on planning and executing your next translation or multilingual initiative, contact us today for a free 30-minute consultation or call us at (800) 413-7838.

15 Comments on “4 reasons not to mix Brazilian translations with its European counterpart”

  1. Suzi Senna says:

    Another key difference—Brazilian Portuguese sounds better spoken. It flows from the tongue like song lyrics. Whereas it’s less musical counterpart is more like smoker’s cough.
    Note: This may be a biased comment since I’m Brazilian.

    • Camilo says:

      Thanks for your comment. I guess the issue of sound is quite subjective. As a non-native Portuguese speaker, I have to say any type of Portuguese sounds beatiful.

      • Horacio says:

        I agree with Danilo. Both the sounds of the Portuguese from Portugal or Brazil (Brasil) or for that matter, from Angola, Cape Verde and Mozambique and many others spots around the world… Portuguese has to be – along with French – one of the most beautiful languages in the world! It think it is even more romantic to the ear.
        It feels to me that Brazilians want to create more differences than they really exist. I find that the Spanish from Spain is very different from the one spoken in The Americas. It was a language that kept evolving in Spain like the Portuguese of Portugal and the English of England. All three use LESS WORDS to say the same thing. And even among Spanish speaking countries… each country has a different accent and words that have other meanings – sometimes sexual – in others. The English from Australia is so hard for Americans to understand but you DON’T find them constantly trying to create this atmosphere of differences that exist. Portuguese and Brazilians would be better off by embracing their common language… one that has the potential to grow even more in importance as the economies of Brazil and Angola keep growing. And Portugal for being a part of the EU will remain always an important language that cannot be confused with the Spanish next door.

    • Horacio says:

      Suzi… obviously you are biased even when you are entitled to your opinion. However to describe the differences between the Portuguese spoken in Brazil versus Portugal in the way you it was very sad to read it. Where did you come up with that? The images are so grotesque in my opinion that I had to respond.
      It is true that the Portuguese spoken in Brazil sounds very nice to the ear, however, if you ever been to Lisboa and you hear them talk, the sound isn’t only beautiful but you hear how well spoken it is. Several people I know share this opinion: The Portuguese of Portugal sounds a bit more Slavic or Russian. If you hear both languages spoken… you actually think they must be the same. Now, I would never use the terms you used to describe the Russian language the way you did. Frankly, embracing unity and each other’s differences is key to great friendships.

  2. If your market is in Brazil, localized content is a good practice. Telling a potential customer that you understand their business and that your company is a good fit, then sending a technical proposal in a language that is close to there’s, sends mixed messages. It is also smart to localize Spanish for Latin America and for Spain. The extra efforts makes a difference, though creates some extra expenses maintaining documents.

  3. Mario Bendetson says:

    In number 1. Vocabulary there is a mismatch: “Ecrã” is PtPt and “Tela” is PtBr. I’m Brazilian, can’t make a good translation to Portugal, but to Angola I do, because they have a mix of the 2 languages- PtPt from colonization time and PtBr from TV shows and series.

  4. Yet the real “killer” is the different logic used to expressing ideas in Brazil and in Portugal, #6 in my article at http://www.lamensdorf.com.br/ptxbr.html

    This is the reason why fellow translators in Portugal prefer to communicate with me (Brazilian) in English, in order to avoid misunderstandings. Yet this is not industry-specific… my elder son is an IT professional in a global company, and his counterparts across the Atlantic do exactly the same when contacting him.

    • Typo: I meant “… to express ideas…”

    • Horacio says:

      I see your point and your point is well taken.
      But the same thing happens with Spanish and English. I have worked for 23 years in Hispanic advertising in the U.S. Back in 1987 the biggest challenge was to create a “UNIVERSAL SPANISH” that took the best of each country while avoiding words that had sexual connotations in particular. We also use or relied extensively on the Rules from LA ACADEMIA REAL ESPAÑOLA to unify the language to make it proper in advertising like Fútbol vs Futbol (Mexico) or “Por favor no bote basura” vs. “favor de no botar basura” (Mexico). The idea has always been to find “unity” versus differences. Of course, if you can advertise only in Venezuela for instance, you will use words like “cambur” for banana but Venezuelans also know that the word banana exists. So it comes to a neutral country like the U.S. with so many Latinos, finding the common ground was and is the best rule. For Portuguese, there has to be an effort on both parts of the Atlantic ocean to find the common ground versus the differences.

  5. Horacio says:

    Both the sounds of the Portuguese from Portugal or Brazil (Brasil) or for that matter, from Angola, Cape Verde and Mozambique and many others spots around the world… Portuguese has to be – along with French – one of the most beautiful languages in the world! It think it is even more romantic to the ear!!!
    It feels to me that Brazilians want to create more differences than they really exist. I find that the Spanish from Spain is very different from the one spoken in The Americas. It was a language that kept evolving in Spain like the Portuguese of Portugal and the English of England. All three languages use LESS WORDS to say or convey the same thing. And even among Spanish speaking countries… each country has a different accent and words that have other meanings – sometimes sexual – in others. The English from Australia is so hard for Americans to understand but you DON’T find them constantly trying to create this atmosphere of differences that exist. Portuguese and Brazilians would be better off by embracing their common language… one that has the potential to grow even more in importance as the economies of Brazil and Angola keep growing. And Portugal for being a part of the EU will remain always an important language that cannot be confused with the Spanish next door.

  6. Horacio says:

    It is a mistake to call the language spoken in Brazil… “Brazilian” in the same way that it would be a mistake to say “Mexican” or “Argentinean” or “Cuban.”

  7. s4ulanguages says:

    Brazil is famous with their languages every one should learn Brazilian the best and great way to learn the history of Brazil.

  8. Andy Erasmus says:

    This discussion reminds me of the difference between Standard French and Québécois French. I have heard stories of Québécois films needing subtitles when shown in France (although not the other way around). There are indeed many differences, perhaps more than between the variants of Portuguese, but I’m not an expert on the differences in Portuguese.

    One other thing I’m curious about:. there is a certain condescension from Europeans regarding the French we speak here in Canada, even though Canadians/Québécois don’t really see it that way. Is this true in the Portuguese-speaking world?

    One last thought: when I studied Spanish in college (in Canada), we were taught American Spanish, and never talked about Castilian at all. The differences in American and European Spanish don’t seem as many as between American and European Portuguese. Any thoughts? In that vein, French taught in America (the continents) is a Standard French, pretty much a watered down European French, while Spanish and Portuguese taught in America are the American variants. Is that what others have noticed as well? Thanks!