Does speaking Portuguese isolate Brazil from the rest of Latin America?

. May 05, 2018
spanish speaking portuguese Unlike other Latin Americans, Brazilians speak Portuguese. Photo: Dan Gold
spanish speaking portuguese

Unlike other Latin Americans, Brazilians speak Portuguese. Photo: Dan Gold

When the Netflix original drama Narcos debuted in 2015, it instantly drew a cult following. That is, except for Colombia, where the story is set. That’s because drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, born and raised in the Medellín area, was portrayed by Brazilian actor Wagner Moura – who, prior to being cast as Escobar, had never spoken Spanish in his life. Moura’s thick accent was too much for Colombian viewers.

Brazil is the only Latin American country with Portuguese as its official tongue. Nine of our 12 neighboring nations, however, speak Spanish. It’s one of the main reasons why Brazil tends to feel isolated from its own continent, in the opinion of Fernando Mouron, an Argentinian diplomat who holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from King’s College London and the University of São Paulo.

</p> <p>Culturally, Brazil can feel disconnected from the rest of the region – and the language barrier has a lot to do with that. While Portuguese and Spanish can be quite similar, there is still an undeniable gap wedged between the two languages.</p> <p>“Take the music charts, for instance,” Mouron told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>. “It’s hard to find a song in Spanish among the top hits in Brazil.” Indeed, the last big hit coming from South America was the song <em>Downtown</em>, by Colombian star J. Balvin. But that only became a hit in Brazil after he released a version in duo with Brazilian <em>funkeira</em> Anitta (<em>funk carioca </em>is a rhythm associated with Rio de Janeiro’s peripheral communities).</p> <p>Among Brazil’s 30 most popular songs of 2017, according to <a href="">Crowley Broadcast Analysis</a>, 29 were Brazilian – all of them part of the <em>sertanejo universitário </em>genre, a kind of watered-down pop country music. The only exception was <em>Despacito</em>, but not the original version from Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee. It was the one featuring Justin Bieber.</p> <p>For Fernando Mouron, this is only a small example of the distance between Brazil and its closest neighborhoods. He outlines some bigger challenges facing the country and its ambition to assume a leadership role in international venues.</p> <p>“A Brazilian executive must dominate English and Spanish, since not many countries speak the language. Executives from another Latin American country, however, will have an easier time finding people who speak Spanish, which is the second-most spoken language on the planet, after Mandarin,” explains Mouron.</p> <p>Over 285 million people across nine countries have Portuguese as their official tongue. It is the third-most spoken language among Western countries, and <em>the </em>most spoken language, period, in the Southern hemisphere. But two-thirds of Portuguese speakers are in one country: Brazil.</p> <p>Fernando says internet, social media and economic globalization have helped to shrink the language gap in Latin America, but enumerates some geographical facts that help to explain Brazil’s feelings of isolation: “The size of the territory and big cities that are not close to the borders are aspects that contribute to this. But still, because of its dimensions, Brazil reaches more countries, but is not much influenced by them”.</p> <p>However, he highlights that the language barrier is not an obstacle for international relations. In Mercosur, for example, all diplomats must have proficiency in English and Spanish. In addition to this, many international documents are typically written in English.

Maria Martha Bruno

Maria Martha is a journalist with 14 years of experience in politics, arts, and breaking news. She has already collaborated with Al Jazeera, NBC, and CNN, among others. She has also worked as an international correspondent in Buenos Aires.

Our content is protected by copyright. Want to republish The Brazilian Report? Email us at