Portuguese is one of the largest languages in the world with 250 million native speakers. Brazil has by far the highest concentration of speakers, making it a great target for Portuguese localization.

The language is spoken in South America, South West Europe and parts of Africa. The countries that recognise Portuguese as an official language are called Lusophones or “Lusófonos” in Portuguese.

The Lusophones tend to speak European Portuguese or Brazilian Portuguese. The difference in vocabulary and grammar means the localization process needs to be carried out for each, but Brazilian Portuguese is by far the most popular.

Why focus on Brazilian Portuguese?

Brazil, Angola, Mozambique and Portugal are the key Portuguese speaking countries with 207, 29, 26 and 10 million speakers respectively.

Although the Brazilian economy has suffered in the last few years, the decade-long trajectory shows strong growth.

Brazil is ranked number 59 in the world for English speaking and is deemed to have “low proficiency”; Portugal is ranked twelfth. 

While it’s always best practice to localize apps and software when you’re launching in new markets, the low level of English spoken in Brazil makes it doubly important. 

The difference between European and Brazilian Portuguese

Portugal’s colonization of Brazil began in the 16th century. The time it took to travel between the countries created a lag in their linguistic developments and started the process of two separate dialects evolving. 

As a new settlement, Brazilian Portuguese was more open to influence than Portugal. This means it adopted words and grammar from European and Asian immigrants settling in the region.

Brazil got its independence earlier than other Portuguese colonies, helping cement these differences.

The combination of distance, influence and early independence means Brazilian Portuguese is distinct from the mother language.

  • Brazilians use open vowels, consonants that end in “s” often sound different and Brazilian accents have a strong cadence. It tends to have an informal tone. 
  • Words can be taken from English, rather than Latin, and are spelt differently.
  • The language code for Brazilian Portuguese is pt-BR. The code for the Portuguese that comes from Portugal is pt-PT.

The differences mean that translations into European Portuguese won’t work well for a Brazilian Portuguese-speaking audience.

Localizing for Brazilian Portuguese

There’s a number of points to consider when localizing for Brazilian Portuguese:

  • Uses the informal pronoun “você” for “you”. This is the most common way to address a user (the formal version is used for older people or the authorities).
  • Adopted Anglicisms like “e-mail” and brand names.
  • Translated text will be longer than English, impacting app and software design.
  • Number formats vary between Brazilian and European Portuguese. For example, “million” is “milhão” for both, but “billion” is “bilião” in Brazilian and “mil milhões” in Portugal.
  • Like lots of European languages, the decimal separator is a comma, and the thousands separator is a period.

The role of spelling reform

Lusophones agreed to standardise the spelling, capitalisation and hyphen usage in 1990. The Portuguese Language Orthographic Agreement went into effect in Portugal in 2008 and Brazil in 2009. 

The goal was to make written communication and trade easier.

The changes have provided benefits for translation and localization. However, there’s been resistance to the changes and they have not been universally accepted.

So, while the reforms have provided some benefits for translation, effective localization for Brazilian Portuguese is still essential.

Should you localize for Brazilian Portuguese?

Not sure what version of Portuguese to localize for? 

Brazil offers a much bigger market opportunity. You probably only want to localize for European Portuguese if you’re specifically targeting Europe.