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Are Spanish and Portuguese (almost) the same?

Agustín Heinberg

In the beginning of 2020, I moved to Almada, Portugal, with my girlfriend Cynthia. Me, an Argentinian, born and raised, and her, a Portuguese that after years of traveling around was finally returning home to be close to her family. This meant very different situations and expectations for each one of us.

Among the new things that this decision would bring into my life, the biggest one was that I was moving to a place where I wouldn’t be able to express myself in my own language; there would be a communication challenge ahead. I just didn’t know its true dimension yet.

I recognize now three stages in this process of adaptation. I call the first one: The Naive man.

During the prior months to the move, I made little to no effort to learn the Portuguese language. I thought the minor differences, as I used to call them back then, between Spanish and Portuguese, wouldn’t be hard to learn. I underestimated the Portuguese language, its unicity, richness and identity.

Of course, as soon as I got there, I hit a wall. It is true that Spanish and Portuguese have the same origins, and that 80 or 90% of the words are similar (this is called lexical similarity), but still, there are differences in the middle. Lots of them.

I wish to clarify that it is indeed possible to relate to others using a mixture of both languages and asking people to talk slowly to you, but my poor grammar and syntax were very evident and frustrating. I'm very thankful that there are only rare cases where words between the languages have a completely different meaning: for instance the word “rato” (in Spanish: a short period of time), means "mouse" in Portuguese. This one caused me some awkward moments on the road.

All of this was part of my second stage, the one I called: The caveman.

Whenever I talked, I felt like a fool, conjugating verbs incorrectly, arranging words in a wrong way, and placing accents where they didn’t belong. Ela habia invitadonos… (meaning “she had invited us”) is one example out of a thousand more. The correct form would be Ela tinha-nos convidado. And this example not only shows word variations but also the occasional change in the actual verb.

I ended up accepting that even though I was able to talk to others "just fine" (I successfully gave guitar lessons in Portuguese so, trust me, it is possible), in order for me to feel truly comfortable I would have to make a bigger effort.

This took me to my third and current stage which I call: The Serious man.

In this stage I’m actually studying and striving to get better at the language. At this point, my personal journey has made me realize that the commitment I have taken is, also, out of respect for others. I can say now that there is nothing nicer than to put our minds to work, especially if it is to try to communicate better.


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