Self-Access Centre - Portuguese

Welcome to the Self-Access Centre materials database. Here you can find out about the Portuguese materials available in the SAC.

If you are interested in studying Portuguese at UCL, please click here.

The SAC is here to provide you with opportunities to study Portuguese outside class time. You may feel extra study is necessary in order to achieve the exam score you want, or you may just enjoy studying Portuguese. Either way, the SAC could be useful for you.

If you have a very clear idea of what you need to study in Portuguese, use the Resources menu above to look for the study topics which are of importance to you. If you need advice and guidance on what to study, you should talk to your class tutor, who will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses and make recommendations on what to study.

We have a wide range of resources to help you study Portuguese on your own. In the Self-Access Centre you can find course books and dictionaries. There are links to BBC Languages programmes, which will allow you to learn Portuguese by watching interactive videos. You can also watch films in Portuguese, TV recordings, or course videos.

A bit about the language

Portuguese (português) is a Romance language that originated in what is now Galicia and northern Portugal. It is derived from the Latin spoken by the Romanised pre-Roman peoples of the Iberian Peninsula around 2000 years ago. It spread worldwide in the 15th and 16th centuries as Portugal established a colonial and commercial empire (1415–1999) which spanned from Brazil in the Americas to Goa and other parts of India, Macau in China, Timor (north of Australia) and Angola in Africa. It was used as the exclusive lingua franca on the island of Sri Lanka for almost 350 years. During that time, many creole languages based on Portuguese also appeared around the world, especially in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.

Today it is one of the world's major languages, ranked seventh according to number of native speakers (between 205 and 230 million). It is the language of about half of South America's population, even though Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking nation in the Americas. It is also a major lingua franca in Portugal's former colonial possessions in Africa. It is an official language in nine countries, also being co-official with Cantonese Chinese in Macau and Tetum in East Timor. There are sizeable communities of Portuguese speakers in various regions of North America, notably in the United States (New Jersey, New England, California and south Florida) and in Ontario, Canada.

In various aspects, the system of sounds in Portuguese is more similar to the phonologies of Catalan or French than, say, those of Spanish or Italian. Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes once called Portuguese "the sweet language", Lope de Vega referred to it as "sweet", while Brazilian writer Olavo Bilac poetically described it as última flor do Lácio, inculta e bela: "the last flower of Latium, wild and beautiful". Portuguese is also termed "the language of Camões", after one of Portugal's best known literary figures, Luís Vaz de Camões.

Geographic distribution

  • Members of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries

Today, Portuguese is the official language of Angola, Brazil (190.6 million), Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal (10.6 million), São Tomé and Príncipe and Mozambique. It is also one of the official languages of the special administrative region of Macau  and East Timor. It is the language of most of the population in Portugal, Brazil, São Tomé and Príncipe and Angola, and is the most widely spoken language in Mozambique, though only 6.5% are native speakers. No data is available for Cape Verde, but almost all the population is bilingual, and the monolingual population speaks Cape Verdean Creole.

Small Portuguese-speaking communities subsist in former overseas colonies of Portugal such as Macau, where it is spoken by 7% of the population, and East Timor (13.6%). Uruguay gave Portuguese an equal status to Spanish in its educational system at the north border with Brazil. In the rest of the country, it is taught as an obligatory subject beginning in the 6th grade.

It is also spoken by substantial immigrant communities, though not official, in Andorra, Australia, France, Luxembourg, Paraguay, Namibia, South Africa, Switzerland, Venezuela, Japan and the U.S. states of California, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. In some parts of India, such as Goa and Daman and Diu, Portuguese is still spoken. There are also significant populations of Portuguese speakers in Canada (mainly concentrated in and around Toronto), Bermuda and the Netherlands Antilles.

Portuguese is an official language of several international organizations. The Community of Portuguese Language Countries consists of the eight independent countries that have Portuguese as an official language. It is also an official language of the European Union, accounting for 3% of its population, Mercosul, the Organization of American States, the Organization of Ibero-American States, the Union of South American Nations, and the African Union (one of the working languages) and one of the official languages of other organizations. The Portuguese language is gaining popularity in Africa, Asia, and South America as a second language for study.

  • Macau bilingual sign

Portuguese and Spanish are the fastest-growing European languages (with the exception of English, being the world lingua franca), and, according to estimates by UNESCO, the Portuguese language has the highest potential for growth as an international language in southern Africa and South America. The Portuguese-speaking African countries are expected to have a combined population of 83 million by 2050. In total, the Portuguese-speaking countries will have 335 million people by the same year. Since 1991, when Brazil signed into the economic market of Mercosul with other South American nations, such as Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, there has been an increase in interest in the study of Portuguese in those South American countries. The demographic weight of Brazil in the continent will continue to strengthen the presence of the language in the region. Although in the early 21st century, after Macau was ceded to China in 1999, the use of Portuguese was in decline in Asia, it is becoming a language of opportunity there; mostly because of East Timor's boost in the number of speakers in the last five years but also because of increased Chinese diplomatic and financial ties with Portuguese-speaking countries.

In March 1994 the Bosque de Portugal (Portugal's Woods) was founded in the Brazilian city of Curitiba. The park houses the Portuguese Language Memorial, which honours the Portuguese immigrants and the countries that adopted the Portuguese language. Originally there were seven nations represented with pillars, but the independence of East Timor brought yet another pillar for that nation in 2007. In March 2006, the Museum of the Portuguese Language, an interactive museum about the Portuguese language, was founded in São Paulo, Brazil, the city with the greatest number of Portuguese speakers in the world.

Portuguese dialects

Portuguese is a pluricentric language with two main groups of dialects, those of Brazil and those of the Old World. Portuguese dialects are variants of the Portuguese language that are shared by a substantial number of speakers over several generations, but are not sufficiently distinct from the official norms to be considered separate languages. The differences between Portuguese dialects are mostly in phonology, in the frequency of usage of certain grammatical forms, and especially in the distance between the formal and informal levels of speech. Lexical differences are numerous but largely confined to "peripheral" words such as plants, animals, and other local items, with little impact in the core lexicon. Dialectal deviations from the official grammar are relatively few. As a consequence, all Portuguese dialects are mutually intelligible; although for some of the most extremely divergent pairs the phonological changes may make it difficult for speakers to understand rapid speech.

Portuguese, unlike Spanish, does not have an internationally unified body of language regulators comparable to the Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española. The two main language regulators, the Academia Brasileira de Letras (Brazil) and the Academia das Ciências de Lisboa, Classe de Letras (Portugal), work separately from each other, and on a national level only.

Africa and Asia

For historical reasons, the dialects of Africa and Asia are generally closer to those of Portugal than the Brazilian dialects, although in some aspects of their phonology, especially the pronunciation of unstressed vowels, resemble Brazilian Portuguese more than European Portuguese. They have not been studied as exhaustively as European and Brazilian Portuguese.

  • Estação da Luz is a train station is Sao Paulo,which hosts the Portuguese Language Museum

South America


Brazilian dialects are divided into a northern and southern group. Due to the economic and cultural dominance of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, their dialects end up having some influence on the rest of the country. However, thanks to the migration from the Northern to the Southern states, this influence can be seen as a two-way phenomenon. Cultural issues also play their role and speakers of the Gaúcho accent, for example, usually have strong feelings about their own way of speaking and are largely uninfluenced by the other accents. Also, people of inner cities of Santa Catarina state usually spell with a very notable German, Italian or Polish accent. Between Brazilian Portuguese, particularly in its most informal varieties, and European Portuguese, there can be considerable differences in grammar, aside from the differences in pronunciation and vocabulary.


Uruguay recently adopted Portuguese as obligatory by the 6th grade at public schools. Some public schools along the Brazilian border provide classes both in Portuguese and Spanish. Besides the official status of Portuguese in Uruguay, there's also the Portunhol Riverense, spoken in the region between Uruguay and Brazil, particularly in the twin cities of Rivera and Santana do Livramento, where the border is open and a street is the only line dividing the two countries. This language must not be confused with Portuñol, since it's not a mixing of Spanish and Portuguese, but a variety of Portuguese language developed in Uruguay back in the time of its first settlers. It has since received some input from Uruguayan Spanish language and also Brazilian Portuguese language used on television and literature. In academic circles, the Portuguese used by the northern population of Uruguay received the name "Dialectos Portugueses del Uruguay" (Uruguayan Portuguese Dialects). There is still no consensus if the language(s) is (are) a dialect or a creole, although the name given by linguists uses the term "dialect"; there is even no consensus on how many varieties it has (studies point out to at least two variations, an urban one and a rural one, although other sources says there are even six varieties—Riverense Portuñol being one of these varieties). This Portuguese spoken in Uruguay is also referred by its speakers, depending on the region that they live, as Bayano, Riverense, Fronterizo, Brasilero or simply Portuñol.



The dialects of Portugal can be divided into two major groups:The southern and central dialects are broadly characterized by preserving the distinction between /b/ and /v/, and by the tendency to replace [ei] and [ou] with [e] and [o]. They include the dialect of the capital, Lisbon, which however has some peculiarities of its own. Although the dialects of the Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira have unique characteristics, as well, they can also be grouped with the southern dialects. It is usually believed that the dialects of Brazil, Africa and Asia derived mostly from those of central and southern Portugal. The second group are the northern dialects, which are characterized by preserving the pronunciation of [ei] and [ou], and by having merged /v/ with /b/ (like in Spanish). This includes the dialect of Porto, Portugal's second largest city. Within each of these regions, however, there is further variation, especially in pronunciation.


In the Portuguese town of Barrancos (in the border between Extremadura, Andalucia and Portugal), people speak a dialect a dialect of Portuguese heavily influenced by Extremaduran. This dialect is known as barranquenho.


The Galician Language, spoken in the region of Galicia, Spain, is considered by some of its speakers as a dialect of the Portuguese - or, precisely speaking, Galician-Portuguese (Galego-Português) language, while others believe it to be a different, if closely related, language.  Spain has recognized Galician as one of Spain's four "official languages" (lenguas españolas), the others being Castilian (also called Spanish), Catalan (or Valencian), and Basque. Galician is taught at primary and secondary school and used at the universities in Galicia. Further, it has been accepted orally as Portuguese in the European Parliament and used as such by, among others, the some Galician representatives.


Arriving in the Iberian Peninsula in 216 BC, the Romans brought with them the Latin language, from which all Romance languages descend. The language was spread by arriving Roman soldiers, settlers, and merchants, who built Roman cities mostly near the settlements of previous civilizations. Between 409 and 711 AD, as the Roman Empire collapsed in Western Europe, the Iberian Peninsula was conquered by Germanic peoples. The occupiers, mainly Suebi and Visigoths, quickly adopted late Roman culture and the Vulgar Latin dialects of the peninsula. After the Moorish invasion of 711, Arabic became the administrative language in the conquered regions, but most of the population continued to speak a form of Romance commonly known as Mozarabic. The influence exerted by Arabic on the Romance dialects spoken in the Christian kingdoms of the north was small, affecting mainly their lexicon.

The earliest surviving records of a distinctively Portuguese language are administrative documents of the 9th century, still interspersed with many Latin phrases. Today this phase is known as Proto-Portuguese (between the 9th and the 12th centuries). In the first period of Old Portuguese — Galician-Portuguese Period (from the 12th to the 14th century) — the language gradually came into general use. For some time, it was the language of preference for lyric poetry in Christian Hispania. Portugal became an independent kingdom from the Kingdom of Leon in 1139, under king Afonso I of Portugal. In 1290, king Denis of Portugal created the first Portuguese university in Lisbon and decreed that Portuguese, then simply called the "common language" should be known as the Portuguese language and used officially.

In the second period of Old Portuguese, from the 14th to the 16th centuries, with the Portuguese discoveries, the language was taken to many regions of Asia, Africa and the Americas (nowadays, the great majority of Portuguese speakers live in Brazil, in South America). By the 16th century, it had become a lingua franca in Asia and Africa, used not only for colonial administration and trade, but also for communication between local officials and Europeans of all nationalities. Its spread was helped by mixed marriages between Portuguese and local people, and by its association with Roman Catholic missionary efforts, which led to the formation of a creole language called Kristang in many parts of Asia (from the word cristão, "Christian"). The language continued to be popular in parts of Asia until the 19th century. Some Portuguese-speaking Christian communities in India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Indonesia preserved their language even after they were isolated from Portugal. The end of the Old Portuguese period was marked by the publication of the Cancioneiro Geral by Garcia de Resende, in 1516. The early times of Modern Portuguese, which spans a period from the 16th century to the present day, were characterized by an increase in the number of learned words borrowed from Classical Latin and Classical Greek since the Renaissance, which greatly enriched the lexicon.

Source: adapted from www.wikipedia.org