English in Brazil - Do Brazilians Speak English? (2023)

English in Brazil - Do Brazilians Speak English? (1)

Brazil is the largest country in South America and the fifth largest country in the world in terms of both land area and population, a country of great cultural and linguistic diversity, populated by over 210 million speakers of Portuguese.

However, despite its size and growing global relevance, Brazil has very low levels of English proficiency compared to most countries. If you travel to some of the world’s most popular touristic destinations, such as Spain, Malaysia, India, or Greece, you will likely have an easy time communicating with the locals in English. However, this isn’t the case in Brazil. In fact, according to the British Council, only about 5% of Brazilians can speak English to some degree, and a measly 1% can speak it fluently.

These staggeringly low rates of English proficiency may come as a shock to some, given Brazil’s notoriety on the global stage, from both a financial and geopolitical standpoint. However, English is only spoken by a small minority of the population, mainly outside of the main urban centers such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Manaus, and Brasilia. It is even common to find that staff in restaurants and hotels, as well as Uber and taxi drivers, are mostly only able to communicate in Portuguese, despite Brazil welcoming around 7 million tourists annually. Given that the incidence of English is so low, even in touristy areas, it’s really important that you can speak, or at least have a basic understanding of Portuguese before you arrive if you wish to form deep connections with the locals and enjoy what Pindorama (as the natives used to call it) has to offer in its fullest.

To try and explain this phenomenon, we have compiled and dissected the four main reasons why few Brazilians speak English:

(Video) Can Brazilians speak English? (in São Paulo)

Limited access to education

The first reason is also the most obvious. The low number of English speakers in the country and the uneven distribution across the population is symbolic of the greater issue of inequality and subpar education quality in Brazil. However, this has been improving in recent years, as evidenced by improvements in education metrics.

The vast majority of English speakers in the country are younger middle and upper-class individuals who have had access to good private education.The country’s mass of public school attendees is mostly unable to speak a second language.Even though English is a mandatory discipline in every school in the country, “school English” is not enough for these students to reach full proficiency in the language, only allowing them a very limited understanding of its basic concepts.

Another factor that contributes to the poor quality of English education in Brazil is the lack of continuity in the curriculum. This discipline is often taught sporadically, with little or no coordination between teachers and between different levels of education (e.g. primary, secondary, and tertiary education). This can result in a fragmented approach to the learning process, with students not receiving a consistent and comprehensive education in the language. Another problem is that the focus on English education is often geared toward passing exams instead of developing communicative proficiency. This means that students may be forced to mindlessly memorize grammar rules and vocabulary lists, rather than develop the ability to use English to communicate effectively in real-world situations. This can lead to a lack of confidence and motivation when it comes to using English outside of the classroom.

Although there are many high-quality private language schools and courses available, their costs can be prohibitive for most, particularly those from lower-income families. The inequality also makes itself present on a regional level, with the richer Southern and Southeastern states such as Rio de Janeiro, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul having higher levels of English education while Northern and Northeastern states such as Amazonas, Piauí, and Bahia have lower levels, as shown in the map below. São Paulo is the only state in the entire country with “moderate” levels of proficiency in English, while the other 25 states and the Federal District have either low or very low levels.

(Video) English Pronunciation for Brazilians

English in Brazil - Do Brazilians Speak English? (2)

Limited exposure to English

Most Brazilians are not exposed to English in their daily lives, mainly because they do not have access to English-language media and materials. Unlike other developing countries, with higher rates of English proficiency, such as the Philippines or India, which were colonized by English-speaking countries (the US and the UK respectively), English is not widely spoken in Brazil, as the country was colonized by Portugal. This means that Brazilians have limited opportunities to practice their English in real-world settings, which can be a major barrier to language acquisition. Additionally, Brazil is geographically isolated from many English-speaking countries.

While there are certainly opportunities for Brazilians to travel abroad to English-speaking countries, this can be prohibitively expensive for many people, particularly those from lower-income backgrounds. As a result, many Brazilians may not have the chance to experience immersion in an English-speaking environment. There are certainly English-language films, TV shows, and music available that reach the country mainly via streaming services, but they aren’t as widely accessible or popular as more established Portuguese-language media such as novelas and music such as pagode and funk, which are an integral and solidified part of Brazilian culture. This has the positive impact of solidifying the position of these immaterial goods as cultural landmarks and preserving national identity. The downside; however, is that it limits exposure to English. As most language learners know, constant exposure is essential for the learning of any language, and any given skill as a matter of fact, so a lesser exposure due to a preference for national media has the negative impact of hindering the learning of a new language.

English in Brazil - Do Brazilians Speak English? (3)
(Video) The Brazilian Accent | Brazilian English

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Cultural factors

Brazil has a strong cultural identity that is tied to the Portuguese language and Portuguese-speaking countries due to its colonial ties to Lisbon. This has contributed to an obvious preference for Portuguese over English in many areas of life, including literature, music, and film. Brazilian music is famous for its distinctive rhythms and Portuguese lyrics, which reinforce the importance of Portuguese in the country’s cultural heritage.

Some Brazilians may be resistant to learning and utilizing English on a daily basis because they may see it as a threat to the Portuguese language and Brazilian culture. Evidently, with the evergrowing influence of globalization and mass media, a myriad of English words have found their way into the Brazilian Portuguese vocabulary and even the dictionary such as “self-service”, “smartphone”, “drive-thru” and hundreds of others, especially words associated with new technologies. This resistance goes as far as popular movements that aim to combat the use of Anglicisms in Portuguese. Indeed, this relatively new phenomenon of large-scale vocabulary replacement leaves many outraged. This group of language patriots fight for the prevalence of Portuguese over foreign words. For example, they suggest that “correio eletrônico” be used instead of “e-mail” and “entrega” be used instead of “delivery”. This resistance may go further, with whole groups of people considering that learning English is of secondary importance in comparison with other subjects such as math or science.

(Video) Why Brazilians Don't Speak Spanish

English is hard!

Adequate pronunciation and phonetics can be a real challenge to most Brazilians. The reason for this is that Portuguese has a relatively limited set of vowel and consonant sounds, while English has a wide range of sounds that can be quite tricky to reproduce for non-natives. This is mainly because English stress patterns are different from those in Portuguese, which can also contribute to difficulties with pronunciation. One thing that can be particularly challenging for Brazilians is the production of certain sounds in English that do not exist in Portuguese, such as the “th” sound in words like “thick” and “thought”. These difficulties may discourage many from pursuing a deeper understanding of the language.

English in Brazil - Do Brazilians Speak English? (4)
English in Brazil - Do Brazilians Speak English? (5)

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The low levels of English proficiency in Brazil can be attributed to restricted access to education by most, limited exposure to English, learning difficulties, and lack of motivation. While social and educational improvements have been made in recent years, there is still a long way to go to bridge the language gap. In the meantime, for travelers planning on going to Brazil, having at least a basic understanding of Portuguese will go a long way to make the trip a lot more enjoyable and meaningful. Brazil is an amazing country with a multitude of beauties and sceneries, but to enjoy those wonders to their fullest, speaking Portuguese is a must.

English in Brazil - Do Brazilians Speak English? (6)

Written by Vinícius Lutterbach and Ryan Chindavong


Is English enough in Brazil? ›

The more affluent in Brazil have had access to English learning for many years. However, overall English proficiency levels in Brazil are still very low, with only around 5% of Brazilians stating they have some knowledge of English.

What do 99% of Brazilians speak? ›

To put things in perspective, there are approximately 207 million people living in Brazil today, which means 99 percent of the population speaks Portuguese.

What language do most people speak in Brazil answer? ›

Portuguese is the first language of the vast majority of Brazilians, but numerous foreign words have expanded the national lexicon.

How many people know how do you speak English in Brazil? ›

CountryEligible populationTotal English speakers
51 more rows

Is it OK to speak English in Brazil? ›

While many English tourists assume their native language can be used anywhere in the world, English won't actually get you very far in Brazil. It's not a language that's widely spoken in the country. In fact, the British Council reports that a mere 5% of the Brazilian population speaks English fluently.

What is the status of English in Brazil? ›

Only three percent of Brazilians are estimated to speak English despite the status of this language as a mandatory subject in grades 10 to 12 of basic education and preferred foreign language in grades 5 to 9.

Are Brazilians big drinkers? ›

Heavy episodic drinking is higher among men in all countries. Likewise, the National Health Survey of Brazil shows that heavy episodic drinking among Brazilians aged 18 and more has almost tripled, from 5.9% in 2013 to 17.1% in 2019.

Do Brazilians have free speech? ›

Article 5 of the Constitution of Brazil encodes freedom of speech as a constitutional right. The Article was approved along with the Constitution of Brazil in 1988.

What does the color black mean in Brazil? ›

Latin America/South America: Black indicates masculinity, and is also used for mourning. Middle East: In the Middle East, black indicates evil, mystery, and mourning. However, it may also indicate rebirth. Africa: Black indicates maturity and masculinity in some African cultures.

Is Brazil more Spanish or Portuguese? ›

Portuguese is by far the most widely spoken language in Brazil with 97.9% of the population speaking it as their primary language. Brazil is the only predominantly Portuguese-speaking country in South America.

Do most Brazilians speak Spanish as well? ›

Spanish. According to the 2020 National Migratory Registry in Brazil, there are 6,342,000 Spanish speakers in Brazil, but it's the mother tongue of only 742,000 of them. By the way, in 2005, Brazilian president Lula Da Silva approved a bill promoted by Congress to make Spanish the country's second language.

How do you say mother in Brazil? ›

Here are a few ways Brazilians can call their family members: Mother: mamãe, mamãezinha, mainha, mãezinha, mãezoca, mami, mamis.

Do US citizens need visa to enter Brazil? ›

A valid U.S. passport. U.S. citizens do not need a visa if they are traveling to Brazil for tourism, business, transit, artistic or sport activities, with no intention of establishing residence.

Do people in Rio speak English? ›

English isn't spoken widely

As Portuguese speakers on a Spanish continent far from the English-speaking world, Brazilians have been a linguistic universe unto themselves. Not many Brazilians speak English, particularly outside Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo.

Do Brazilians learn English in school? ›

34.7 million in Elementary School and 9.1 million in High School. During this period, Brazilian students learn English and Spanish in Public and Private Schools. Because of this, Brazil has one of the largest numbers of non-native English students in the world.

Is Brazil friendly to foreigners? ›

Brazilians are very warm, friendly people. If you are staying with a local, within days the whole neighborhood will know everything about you. Don't be alarmed, Brazilians love meeting new people, and having a visitor is a novelty for them, especially if you visit a small town.

Do you need to speak Portuguese to teach English in Brazil? ›

You can enroll on a TEFL or other certification course either in-country or prior to arrival. If you don't have time to attend a course in person, then it is also possible to take an Online TEFL Course. In Brazil, it is unlikely that you will need to speak Portuguese to find work.

Are English teachers needed in Brazil? ›

The largest country in South America, Brazil has emerged as an international economic powerhouse, creating unprecedented demand for certified English language teachers. English teachers typically find work between March and August.

What part of Brazil speaks the most English? ›

Your best bets for English-speaking communities in Brazil are São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

What are the citizens of Brazil called in English? ›

Brazilians (Portuguese: Brasileiros, IPA: [bɾaziˈlejɾus]) are the citizens of Brazil.

Why is the level of English so low in Brazil? ›

1 – Low quality of education. Just for you to have an idea, 30% of Brazilians between the age of 16 and 64 are functional illiterate. 2 – English taught in private and public schools is a disaster. English is just another subject and it's far of being a priority.

What is the drinking age in Brazil? ›

The consumption of alcoholic beverages in Brazil is only legally authorized to people above 18. However, adolescents can easily buy and drink alcohol.

Do Brazilians drink a lot of coffee? ›

Coffee in Brazil is consumed very regularly. From waking up to going to sleep, coffee is drank at any opportunity possible, so much so that the word cafezinho, which means 'small coffee' is almost used as a welcome phrase. Cafezinho is the most common type of coffee style served in Brazil.

What is Brazil dry law? ›

Brazil's 'Dry Law' stipulates that drivers must have a blood-alcohol content of zero. It empowers police to administer breathalyzer tests if drivers behave erratically.

Is kissing in public allowed in Brazil? ›

Non-Verbal. Physical Contact: Brazilians tend to be quite tactile people. The touching of arms and backs is a common and widely accepted practice. Generally, public displays of affection such as holding hands and kissing are acceptable.

Can we kiss in public in Brazil? ›

One of the things that took me by surprise living in Rio de Janeiro and traveling around Brazil was how openly people kiss each other. Everywhere you look, there are people giving kisses out like candy on Halloween. Cheek kisses, mouth kisses, air kisses…all kinds of affection are fair game here.

Do Brazilians kiss when they meet? ›

Brazilians will often greet with a kiss or a hug, and both men and women will frequently touch you when speaking, either patting your shoulder or placing their hand on your hand or arm to make a point.

Why do people wear white in Brazil? ›

For New Year's Eve in Brazil, dress in white. A tradition that originated from the Candomblé religion of Brazil, where people would wear white during rituals to seek peace and spiritual purification.

Why do Brazilians have one name? ›

Why do so many Brazilian players go by one name? The reason why many Seleção players stick to one name is pretty straightforward -- to avoid confusion.. While shortening the name makes it easier for fans to cheer players on, it also makes athletes more recognizable by international fans.

What is the blackest city in Brazil? ›

Bahia's capital city on the coast has the largest population of Afro Brazilians, where more than 80 percent of its population reportedly identifies as Black. In addition to being the cradle of Afro-Brazilian Heritage, Salvador is known as the “Black Mecca of Brazil” and so much more.

What is Brazil's religion? ›

Since the Portuguese colonized Brazil in the 16th century, it has been overwhelmingly Catholic. And today Brazil has more Roman Catholics than any other country in the world – an estimated 123 million.

Does Brazil have 2 capitals? ›

The current capital of Brazil, since its construction in 1960, is Brasilia. Rio de Janeiro was the country's capital between 1763 and 1960. The city of Salvador served as the seat for the Portuguese colonial administration in Brazil for its first two centuries and is usually called the "first capital of Brazil."

Is Brazilian Portuguese a pretty language? ›

Portuguese, both Brazilian and European, is a beautiful and romantic language. But what is the difference between the two and which one should you learn? Portuguese is one of the world's most widely spoken languages, placing sixth behind Chinese, Spanish, English, Hindi, and Arabic.

Can Brazilians understand Portuguese people? ›

Brazilian and European Portuguese are considered mutually intelligible. This means that when speaking or writing about general topics, Brazilian and Portuguese people can normally understand each other.

Is Brazil language hard to learn even if you know Spanish? ›

If you already know Spanish, learning Portuguese will probably be much easier than it was for you to learn Spanish initially. This is because the languages share a lexical similarity of almost 90%, meaning that a very high number of the words in Spanish and Portuguese are similar.

What does Prego mean in Brazil? ›

[ˈprɛɡu ] masculine noun. nail. informal: casa de penhor) pawn shop.

What does Bobo mean in Brazil? ›

adjective. silly , daft. masculine noun, feminine noun. fool.

What does Baba mean in Brazil? ›

babá [baˈba ] feminine noun. nanny. Copyright © 2014 by HarperCollins Publishers.

What can I not take to Brazil? ›

Travelers cannot bring the following items into Brazil, among others, as they are forbidden:
  • cigarettes and drinks manufactured in Brazil exclusively intended for sale abroad;
  • cigarettes of brands that are not sold in the country of origin;
  • toys, replicas and imitations of firearms;
Jul 20, 2022

How long can a US citizen stay in Brazil? ›

Travelers can enter in Brazil for a stay of up to 90 days, which can be extended for an additional 90 days. Please keep in mind that even if staying less than 90 days, you must: Stay less than 180 days within a 12-month period. Hold a passport valid at least six months on entry with one blank visa page.

Can Americans go to Brazil right now? ›

While Brazil's COVID-19 entry regulations no longer require proof of vaccination, the CDC recommends that U.S. citizens not travel internationally until they are fully vaccinated.

How do you say hello in Rio? ›

If you'd like to say “hello” in Brazilian Portuguese, you would generally use “Olá”. You can also use “Oí“—which is often considered more informal.

What to do before going to Brazil? ›

Entry into Brazil

All travellers 12 years or older must show their COVID-19 vaccination or evidence of a negative or non-detectable antigen or RT-PCR test for COVID-19. You must have been vaccinated at least 14 days before you board your flight to Brazil.

Is Rio friendly for tourists? ›

Rio is not the safest city to visit. It has high levels of crime, including violent crime. Tourists are often targets for robbers and pickpockets. However, you can avoid most trouble in Rio by taking a few precautions and avoiding bad areas.

Do Brazilians know English well? ›

English. While it's not widely used in Brazil, languages spoken there do include English. Around 5% of Brazilians speak some degree of English, though that's not to say they are fluent.

What age do Brazilians leave school? ›

School is free and compulsory for students at the primary (ages 7–14) and secondary (ages 15–17) levels, but roughly three-fifths of Brazilians have only four years of schooling or less.

Do I need to speak Portuguese in Brazil? ›

When you plan an international trip to a non-English-speaking country, the first thing you worry about is communicating with the locals. If you're going to Brazil for your next international trip, you'll want to learn Brazilian Portuguese, the official language of Brazil.

Is English official in Brazil? ›

Portuguese is the official and national language of Brazil being widely spoken by most of the population.
Languages of Brazil
OfficialPortuguese - 98%
RecognisedEnglish - 17%, Italian - 65%, German - 69%
8 more rows

Do a lot of people in São Paulo speak English? ›

English isn't spoken widely

As Portuguese speakers on a Spanish continent far from the English-speaking world, Brazilians have been a linguistic universe unto themselves. Not many Brazilians speak English, particularly outside Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo.

Is Brazil friendly to tourists? ›

Brazil is safe to visit, but you have to exercise much more caution than you would in some other tourist destinations. Due to high levels of crime, such as theft, mugging, and even kidnapping, as well as the risk of civil unrest, many governments advise their citizens to exercise increased caution when visiting Brazil.

What is the English proficiency for São Paulo? ›

That was the highest score among all the Latin American cities surveyed.
English Proficiency Index for selected cities in Latin America in 2021 (index score)
CharacteristicScore (1 to 800)
Santiago, Chile552
São Paulo, Brazil546
11 more rows
Jun 24, 2022

Can a Portuguese person understand a Brazilian? ›

Can European Portuguese understand Brazilian Portuguese speakers and vice-versa? The answer is yes — but probably speakers will ask for clarification at times. Let's look at some of the differences between these two variants.

Can people in Brazil understand Spanish? ›

As such, many Brazilians are able to understand Spanish, though they may not speak it fluently. As with speakers of all minority languages in Brazil, Spanish speakers pop up in clusters. Many of these occur close to Brazil's borders with other Latin American countries, where Spanish is the primary language.

How many English live in Brazil? ›

TotalInc. part-time% male

What are the top 3 religions in Brazil? ›

Christianity: 169,329,176 - 88.77%
  • Roman Catholicism: 123,280,172 - 64.63%
  • Protestantism: 42,275,440 - 22.16%
  • Other Christians: 3,773,564 - 1.98%

Is it difficult to learn Portuguese? ›

Portuguese is considered to be a simple language to learn for an English speaker. Together with French, Italian, and Spanish, it belongs to the Romance family of languages, so if you already speak one of these languages, you'll be able to pick up its patterns in no time due to a great number of similarities.


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