I remember my first trip to Rio de Janeiro.
Although I was blown away by the scenery, charmed by the locals and inebriated by the caipirinhas, do you know what I most remember?
Not understanding a thing.
I thought my Portuguese was okay before visiting Brazil.
But boy was I wrong.
The hallmark lazy Rio accent combined with endless Carioca slang expressions proved too much, and I spent much of my first few weeks there staring at people wide-eyed, grinning, and pretending I understood what they were saying.
How to speak fluent Brazilian Portuguese
Fast-forward a few months, however, and I was speaking fluently, with a native-like accent, and being mistaken for a local by taxi drivers.
What changed? How did I go from zero to fluent in a matter of months?
I’ll give you a hint: I didn’t waste my time watching Portuguese movies, I didn’t go on a mission to study grammar, and I certainly didn’t drop a tonne of money on language classes.
It all started with a mission to learn Carioca slang.
The more I listened, the more I realised that I was hearing the same little phrases repeated over and over again.
They never appeared in my textbooks, and they didn’t always make a lot of sense…
…but that’s what people were saying.
So I learnt them all.
For this post, I’ve whittled down the dozens of phrases and expressions that I learnt into the 12 most useful of all.
They have helped me personally not only understand others, but start to be able to express myself like a local… and even be mistaken for one!
These are not the typical Brazilian “party trick” phrases that you see elsewhere. These are expressions that will actually help you express yourself and hold a conversation.
You also may not find these in a dictionary, or Portuguese textbook, but they’re essential if you’re looking to take your Brazilian Portuguese to the next level!
12 Brazilian Portuguese expressions you need to know
1. Tipo assim… – It’s a bit like this…
Use this when you’re having trouble explaining something and need to describe it a bit.
2. É o seguinte- It’s like this… / Here’s how it works… (Lit. It’s the following.)
This sounds a bit clumsy in English, but is an everyday way of explaining yourself in Portuguese. Use it to let people know you’re about to explain something to them.
3. Eu vou te falar… – Let me tell you… (Lit. I’m going to tell you.)
Use this when you want to give a strong opinion about something, or make a strong point.
4. Olha só… – Check this out / Take a look / Listen up!
Use this to draw someone’s attention to something, whether it’s an object or what you’re about to say.
5. É mesmo? – Seriously? / Really? (Lit. Is it the same?)
Use this the same way as you would in English – when you’re surprised at what someone’s said.
6. Sei lá – I have no idea (Lit. I know there.)
Again, use this the same way as you would in English.
7. É isso aí – Exactly! / That’s exactly right. (Lit. It’s that over there.)
Use this when you want to agree with something that someone’s said.
8. Pois é – Exactly / Well, yes (Lit. Well, it is.)
Use this to agree with someone. Similar to “É isso aí”, but a bit softer, and not quite as certain. It’s as if you’re still thinking whether you agree or not!
9. Não acredito! – I don’t believe it! / No way!
This is used exactly the same way in English and Portuguese, but you can use it even more liberally in Portuguese.
10. Fala sério! – Come on! / Seriously? (Lit. Talk seriously!)
Stronger than “Não acredtio” because it’s aimed at the other person – “What are you talking about… are you serious?”
11. Que é isso?/O que que é isso? – What do you mean? / What’s that all about? / What are you saying? (Lit. What is that?)
A very flexible expression that you can use in lots of different contexts. If someone says this to you, they didn’t agree with, or didn’t like whatever you just said!
12. Não dá – It’s not possible / You can’t (Lit. It doesn’t give.)
This is the kind of expression you wish existed in English. Beautifully simple, you can use it in virtually any situation to say “it’s not possible / it’s not going to work” in a nice, soft way.
– – – –
So there you have it!
Whatever else you’re doing to learn Brazilian Portuguese, you should start with these 12 phrases.
…and watch what happens!