Unlike the rest of South America, Brazil doesn’t benefit from a language that is widely spoken as a second language across the English-speaking world. As beautiful as it is, Portuguese is rarely a part of school or college curriculums, and can be an extremely tricky language to get your tongue round – full of grammatical quirks and tricksy pronunciation as it is.
If you speak some Spanish you will have a head start in reading menus and so on, but be aware that while similar in appearance, spoken Spanish and Portuguese are very different indeed. You may well find that, while locals understand your Spanish up to a point, you will struggle to understand their response.
However, don’t let a lack of lingo put you off visiting Rio de Janeiro. The locals are fully accustomed to foreigners who don’t speak the language, and are extremely helpful and patient in understanding and helping visitors to understand. Many locals speak at least a little English, and relish the opportunity to practice, and any attempts to speak Portuguese will be hugely appreciated. Don’t worry about pronouncing things incorrectly, nobody will laugh at your efforts and your foreign accent will be considered quite charming.
The basics are relatively easy to learn, although be aware that ‘thank you’ in Portuguese varies according to gender. Females say ‘obrigada’, while males say ‘obrigado’. This is unaffected by whether you are speaking to a man or a woman, so guys, just remember it’s always obrigado, girls, it’s obrigada all the way.
‘Hello’ and ‘hi’ are both simple – ‘Ola’ and ‘oi’ respectively. The latter, when used with a questioning intonation ‘oi?’ is used in place of the more formal ‘como’ to signify that you haven’t heard or understoon something.
‘Please’ is another simple one, ‘por favor’, while sorry is ‘desculpa’ and excuse me is ‘com licensa’. To ask someone’s name you can ask ‘como se chama?’ (literally, ‘how do you call yourself’) and if asked your name you can reply ‘me chama…’.
Nationalities again vary according to gender. For example Americano/Ingles/Australiano for males, Americana/Inglesa/Australiana for females. To state your nationalitysimply say ‘sou (pronounced ‘so’) Inglesa/Francesa’ as appropriate.
While body language and gesturing will get you a long way, perhaps the most useful phrase for most travelers is ‘Nao falo Portugues’ (I don’t speak Portuguese).