Should I Learn Spanish or Portuguese? Let’s Decide!

Should I Learn Spanish or Portuguese? Let’s Decide!

Last Updated on

Few high schools or even college students looking to satisfy a foreign language requirement in the United States question if they should learn Spanish or Portuguese. But that has little to do with the pros and cons of learning either language and more to do with the fact that far more public schools offer a small group of languages, and while Spanish is nearly always offered, Portuguese often is not.

Language Facts

For all educational institutions, Spanish is the most commonly studied language. Even at the college level, students overwhelming opt to learn Spanish over not only Portuguese but other languages as well, with a reported 50 percent of students opting to learn Spanish.

French is the second most studied language, with 12 percent of students opting to learn it over other alternatives. Portuguese doesn’t even make the top ten languages college students choose to learn. But more studies may have an opportunity to learn Portuguese, with a recent trend of universities expanding foreign language offerings. This year, Central Michigan University announced it would begin offering introductory Portuguese courses.

A few years ago, the University of Kentucky decided to add Portuguese classes to supplement their Hispanic Studies program. And this December, Seton Hall University touted a new Latino/a United States history course, which will be led by a professor who holds a Ph.D. in Spanish and Portuguese. And there are signs that these trends do not stop in higher education, but expand to the job market and the emergence of online language courses as well.

Why should I learn a second language?

Trends aside for a moment, chances are if you came to this article you’re debating between two different languages to learn. But it’s first important to put a finger on why you should learn a foreign language in the first place.

Learning a second language, no matter the language, carries a slew of benefits, from social to cognitive to career to overall well being. Though learning a second language in some cases might seem like a luxury (assuming you live somewhere where your native language is the primary language being spoken), it can actually transform many things in your life.

While there are many benefits for children, such as improved cognitive development, better-standardized test scores, and overall improved grades, these will cover what learning a second language do well for young adults and adults:

  • Associated with higher cognitive ability and overall intelligence
  • More employment opportunities, as well as more likely to be a competitive candidate in certain fields
  • Increased appreciation and understanding of different cultures, different people, and overall more receptive to different ideas
  • Improved sense of self-worth and confidence
  • Association with higher levels of creativity
  • Improved decision making, and an increased likelihood to make decisions based on logic and reasoning

    Benefits of Learning a Second Language

If it sounds too good to be true, it actually isn’t. While the benefits you might experience if you learn Spanish or Portuguese might vary depending on your personal commitment, needs and interests, studies do back up these claims, and that goes for any second (or third) language you choose to learn, and independent of what format you choose to learn a language from, including not only traditional classroom-based courses but also self-guided online ones.

Learning a second language improves your overall cognitive functioning, forcing you to create new pathways or support existing ones. You’ll also sharpen your ability to make a decision, your ability for sound reasoning, and introduce a new way of looking at, interpreting, and incorporating language.

women
As far as creativity is concerned, learning a new language forces you to work with problems you otherwise would not encounter, create innovative solutions, and express things in ways you would not normally express. Flexibility and innovation lead you to be more likely to seek creative projects and invest more of your own creativity in your day to day tasks.

Perhaps one of the most compelling, if not popular, reasons to study a second language is increased cultural awareness, and along with it, empathy. Learning a new language introduces us to new ways of expressing ourselves. It also can introduce new cultures and encourages travel (of course, in a chicken or egg question, many looking to travel abroad are first driven to learn a new language because of their travel plans). Without exposure to other cultures, it is easy to stereotype or make sweeping generalizations. Learning a new language like Spanish or Portuguese can open you up to a new way of thinking.

Of course, one of the more popular reasons to learn a second language is for employment. Even for occupations not strictly language oriented (such as interpreters, educators, and translators), being bi or multilingual can lead to more employment opportunities, and, in the case of occupations invested also oversees, could even lead to higher paying or promotional positions.

Spanish and Portuguese Pros and Cons

Even before you decide if you should learn Spanish or Portuguese, you’ll need to decide if it makes more sense for you to learn online or in person. Online courses tend to be a bit cheaper, are usually self-paced, and allow you the flexibility to learn anytime and everywhere. Traditional classes, of course, may be a bit more expensive, will likely have a set schedule you have to follow, and a certain location you’ll have to meet-the hybrid exception being local tutors who are willing to come to your house.

While nearly any company offering online courses will tout a list of benefits as to why you should learn a language online, it’s important to note that it goes the other way as well: traditional courses will do anything to convince you that the only proper way to learn a language is in person, and you’re wasting your time learning online.

So which is it? The truth is, it depends. Learning online is a better solution if you honestly cannot commit to a certain set of time or location; it also may be better for saving some money, though there are exceptions to this rule. However, learning a language in a traditional class means more face to face interaction, perhaps the ability to select a teacher that is better suited for you, and likely more conversational practice.

If at the end of this article you’re leaning towards learning Spanish, either option is viable. However, if you’re learning Portuguese, unless you’re connected with a higher educational institution, your choices may be more limited, and it may be more practical to take an online course.

Why should I learn either Spanish or Portuguese?

spanish or portugese

Whether you opt to learn either Spanish or Portuguese, you’ll be learning a language that will open up new windows of opportunity. MosaLingua, who offer online language courses, listed Spanish and Portuguese among the top 7 most useful languages you can learn.

Criteria for most useful language was based upon set criteria for native English speakers, including:

  • Number of native speakers around the world
  • Economic and political influence and or relevance
  • Number of trade exchanges with the United States of America and the United Kingdom

Both Portuguese and Spanish, then, are prominent languages when it comes to commerce, exchange, influence, and direct and indirect relations with the U.S. and the U.K.

But how do you decide if you should learn Spanish or Portuguese?

To help, we’ll take a look at the both languages’ current status in terms of native speakers, economic relevance, uses for travel, and how easy it is to learn.

Spanish

spanish

Spanish is one of the most prominently used languages in the world and only growing. In November of 2017, there were about 572 million Spanish speakers; that figure is expected to swell to a staggering 754 million by 2060.

Currently, there are at least 44 countries that speak Spanish, and it is the second most spoken language in the world. Spain is a key exporter for the UK, while Mexico ranks as the 4th major trading partner for the United States. And because under 15 percent of native Spanish speakers also speak English, knowing Spanish can be even more helpful in terms of employment, communication, and travel.

  • Locations and Travel: Spanish is the official language of 20 countries, including Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela. It is also the official language of Puerto Rico, an island territory of the United States. These countries are very popular for honeymoons, resort vacations, and general travel. In 2015, American travel to Latin America was valued at nearly $372 million. Knowing Spanish can be incredibly helpful for traveling to these countries, and the 20 other regions with prominent Spanish speaking populations. Not only can it help you more easily navigate your travels, but at least attempting to speak the language is a sign of respect. Plus, as we mentioned, learning the language can help immerse you in the culture.
  • How easy is it to learn? Spanish is considered one of the easiest languages to learn for native English speakers. While English has twenty vowel sounds, Spanish actually has half of that, with just ten vowel sounds. The orthography is the way words are pronounced, tends to be simple and clear; unlike other languages, Spanish has little in the way of silent letters and sounds and is fairly phonetic. And while Spanish is considered a romance language, it has less irregular verbs than other romance languages.

Similarities between Spanish and English

On a basic principle, both Spanish and English use the Romanic language, providing a foundation even before you start to learn. And an estimated 30 to 40 percent of Spanish words have a very similar English counterpart, making it easier to learn more quickly and remember. Cognates, or words with similar sounds, appearances, and meanings, are one of the main reasons Spanish is one of the easiest languages for native English speakers to learn.

And aside from a few instances, Spanish sentences have a similar structure to English sentences. And if that isn’t enough, you’re more likely to be able to practice immersion, even at home: the United States actually has a total number of more Spanish speakers than Spain does.

Besides travel and just for my general knowledge, how can I use Spanish?

Spanish is incredibly useful for more than just travel. With well over 40 million Spanish speakers in the United States alone, being able to read, write, and speak Spanish is a big plus for nearly any employer in the business or even non-profit world.

Education is one great place to use Spanish, with the rise of ESL(English as a Second Language) jobs, and more children entering school systems with Spanish spoken at home. Internationally, you can serve as a translator, advisor, and even in human resources. At home, you can work with bilingual communities, organizations, and companies with Spanish speaking clients.  (We’ll provide a full list of careers for both Spanish and Portuguese later). As the second most spoken language in the world, it is also one of the most useful you can ever learn, no matter your purpose.

Portuguese

portuguese
Most understand that Spanish and Portuguese have things in common–which is true even when you’re looking at some pros and cons. But while they do have many similarities, how you learn, and why you learn, can be rather different. Spanish and Portuguese are both romance languages, but there are some key differences, including:

  • A different word to refer to yourself {the “I} and someone else [you]
  • Small changes to the alphabet
  • Very different pronunciation (Portuguese has even been described as sounding more like Russian)
  • Different use of vowels
  • Spanish and Portuguese have false cognates with each other
  • Regional differences exist in Portugal
  • Portuguese can be hard to learn if you’ve already learned Spanish because while there are overlapping words and concepts, many subtle differences can throw you off.

Is Portuguese easy to learn?

As a romance language, Portuguese is still considered among one of the easiest languages for a native English speaker to learn. Compared to English, Portuguese has fewer prepositions, and interrogative phrases are simpler. While pronunciation uses slightly more nasal sounds, it is not considered exceptionally difficult for English speakers. Grammatical word order is also more flexible than English.

  • There are a few factors, however, that can make Portuguese slightly more challenging than Spanish. For one, if you learn Spanish first, it’s easy to get similar words confused and miss the nuance of different phrases and pronunciation. Some prepositional phrases do not have an English equivalent, and while the Portuguese alphabet has 23 letters, many in common with English, the Portuguese alphabet does not incorporate the English letters K, W, and Y. There are fewer consonants in Portuguese than English, which may seem simpler, but can at first lead to pronunciation concerns.

Locations and Travel

The most obvious place where Portuguese is spoken is in Portugal, where it is the official language. It is actually also officially recognized in Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Portugal, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Macau, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe. It’s still the sixth most spoken language in the world, and the second most spoken Romance language (second to Spanish). These locations are also popular for travel and are especially helpful if you are thinking of traveling, living, or working with Brazil. In Brazil, there are not dialects, so Portuguese will be understood; Brazil is exceptionally pleased with anyone who attempts to learn Portuguese.

Is learning Portuguese useful for employment?

While slightly more limited than Spanish, knowing Portuguese is arguably rarer and thus more specialized. With fewer applicants who learn Portuguese, you’ll stand out even more to companies that work, in some capacity, with a Portuguese speaking nation. It’s also helpful for non-profit work. If you already know Spanish, the decision to also learn Portuguese can make you that much more useful for overseas work and volunteering.

How do I decide if I should learn Spanish or Portuguese?

joy

In order to decide whether to learn Spanish or Portuguese, ultimately, you need to weigh the pros and cons of each. While more people overall speak Spanish and Spanish is a little easier to learn, Portuguese is a slightly more specialized skill to have and is more useful for different countries, including Brazil. There is also a general preference: while some love the sound of Spanish, others prefer Portuguese. Depending on your purpose, whether it is travel, employment, or simply self-improvement, the decision to learn with Spanish or Portuguese can change your life.

And both can help launch exciting careers in a wide range of fields and industries. The list below was provided by Black Hills State University Modern Languages Department. While this list was accrued with Spanish in mind, the same list is also applicable for Portuguese. Keep in mind that simply taking some courses will not qualify you for a career, and most do require at least some form of higher education. However, making the first decision to learn Spanish or Portuguese online can be a low cost, low commitment way to introduce you to the language, get your feet wet, and help you decide if you want to make a long-term investment.

Education:

  • Bilingual Educator (ESL, etc)
  • College Professor

Business:

  • International Relations Consultant
  • Foreign Exchange Trader
  • Publishing Specialist
  • Foreign Correspondent
  • Proofreader
  • Importer/Exporter
  • Translator/Interpreter
  • International Account Manager
  • International Banking Officer
  • Bilingual customer support

Culture/Tourism:

  • Cultural Events Coordinator
  • Travel Agent
  • Translator/Interpreter
  • Escort/Interpreter/Guide

Government:

  • National Security Agent
  • Immigration Officer
  • Court Interpreter
  • Cultural Attaché
  • UNESCO Official
  • Translator/Interpreter
  • FBI Agent
  • Foreign Diplomat Missionary
  • Foreign Service Officer

What are some low cost, low commitment online courses in Spanish and Portuguese to get me started? While there are many online courses offered for Spanish, you may be pleasantly surprised to learn that there are many for Portuguese as well. This list is by no means all inclusive, but the following courses are among the most popular for interactive, low cost, flexible courses and resources that help you jump start your way to learning a new language.

Resources:

Whether you decide to learn Spanish or Portuguese, you’ll be learning not only a language, but a rich a vibrant culture, opening your world up to new places to travel, people to communicate with, and possibly even new career paths.

Recommended Reads:

Leave a Reply