Peak Translations

What to expect from Portuguese to English translation and vice versa

“To speak … means above all to assume a culture” ― Frantz Fanon

Beautiful image of the traditional yellow trams in Lisbon, Portugal. HDR

Like any language, Portuguese is so much more than words on a page; it is a country’s culture. Therefore, if you are a business that exports to a Portuguese-speaking country, it would be useful to understand why it is important to make sure that the language being communicated is not only the correct version, but that it also reads accurately and appropriately in the target market. Being aware of the differences between English and Portuguese should help guide you in your approach to having any documents translated between the two languages. Here are a handful of tips to get you started:-

  • Portuguese is not only the sixth most spoken language in the world, but it is also the second most spoken Romance language, after Spanish, and is spoken by more than 200 million people across 4 different continents, Europe (Portugal), South America (Brazil), Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe) and Asia (East Timor and Macau). It is therefore important to know your target country. If your business dealings are with Portugal then you would require your documentation to be translated into European Portuguese, whereas if you export to Brazil for example, you would need the language to be Brazilian Portuguese. Having the correct version of Portuguese ensures that your target market is completely understood as there are many variations between these two languages.


  1. For instance, as is the case with many Indo-European languages like French, Spanish and German, there is an informal and formal word for ‘you’. In European Portuguese ‘tu’ and ‘vós’ are commonly used, whereas Brazilians use você and vocês. With regards to translation, this would also mean that the English ‘you’ would require context so that the appropriate formality or informality is reflected in the translation, as it can be translated in various ways depending on the framework of the text and additional varying factors. Similarly, the Portuguese words would need to be adapted in English to also replicate these differences.

  2. There are also certain terms that are used in Brazil and not in Portugal. For example if the text for translation was a transport website based in Rio de Janeiro, it would be better to use a native Brazilian translator to translate the text, rather than a Portuguese native translator, because for example ‘trem’ is the Brazilian word for ‘train’, whereas ‘comboio’ is its European Portuguese equivalent. The same applies to the English word ‘bus’; in Brazil you would catch an ‘onibus’, but in Portugal you would hop on to an ‘autocarro’. Although either is technically correct in Portuguese, you want the text to reflect the language used in the appropriate country. The same goes if translating into English as there are several versions of English e.g. U.S. English has many terms that differ to UK English and therefore it would be prudent to also know your target English market.

flags of Brazil and Portugal painted on cracked wall

  • As with many of the Romance languages, the length of text varies between English and Portuguese, the latter resulting in longer sentences (as much as 30% longer). This can have a direct impact on the likes of calls to action in sales driven text, app store descriptions, interface texts or just simply increasing the number of pages in a brochure resulting in increased costs. It might be useful therefore to adapt the original source text before translation to ensure the translated text fits the allocated space and doesn’t cause issues with DTP. This works both ways because if the text were being translated from Portuguese into English, there is a likelihood that the length of the text would shrink, which in turn would mean there would be an empty space where text would have originally sat in the Portuguese. If this option was not possible, it would be the job of the translator to be skilled in adapting the target text to fit the space, whilst at the same time ensuring that the original message is kept.


  • Certain nuances within both languages also need to be considered so that the resulting document truly reflects the target language. For example, in Portuguese-speaking countries the 24-hour clock is used to express the time, whereas the UK tends towards the 12-hour time format using am and pm. It is also often the case that headings in English capitalise each word in the title, unlike in Portuguese where the only word that finds itself with a capital letter is the first letter of the first word within the heading. These may seem trivial, but these subtleties make up each and every language and should therefore be respected.


  • Lastly, there was a spelling reform in 2015 (updated from the 1990 standardisation), which has made the spelling of Portuguese words more uniform across the various Portuguese-speaking countries. Originally, the Portuguese alphabet did not include the letters ‘k’, ‘w’ and ‘y’, the letter ‘k’ for example being replaced by ‘qu’ in relation to words like ‘kilogram’, which became ‘quilograma’. However, with the increase of borrowed English words finding their way into the Portuguese language, it seems that certain businesses like newspapers and other media establishments felt it made sense to introduce these letters, thus increasing the alphabet from 23 to 26 letters. Certain consonants have also been removed such as ‘p’ and ‘c’ e.g. ‘optimo’ (great) is now ‘otimo’ and ‘direccao’ (direction) is now ‘direcao’. This could therefore have an impact on any documents translated prior to this spelling reform, which could mean that translation updates would be required.


By Madeline Prusmann, Project Manager, August 2018


Beautiful Landscape of the Douro river region in Portugal - Vineyards




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