The 2016 Olympic Games will take place in Rio this summer, which means there will be plenty of opportunities for traveling students to watch events, like ginástica, tiro com arco and voleibol. That’s of course, “gymnastics, archery and volleyball” in Portuguese, Brazil’s national tongue.

Students going to Olympic Games in Brazil are going to need to navigate Portuguese to some extent to get the most out of their travels. Both Apple and Android offer online and offline apps for English to Portuguese translations. You might find the nifty ‘lens’ translate feature on the Google Translate app awesome.  It can read and translate text from Portuguese to English.  

Understanding a little of the language is a prerequisite before heading to a non-English-speaking country. Duolingo is a fun web based and smartphone app using gamification to teach languages. Here are a few tips for the ins and outs of Brazilian Portuguese, just in time for the games.

Some Portuguese basics:

Most words, unless they contain an accented syllable, will be stressed on the second-to-last syllable. For reference, think about the English words “computer” and “umbrella.” The emphasis is right in the middle of those words: “com-PU-ter,” “um-BREL-la.” So it is with most Portuguese words.


A word ends with “z,” “l,” “r,” “u” or “i,” stress the last syllable instead.

How to pronounce a tilde:

You might have encountered the little squiggle sitting on top of the letter “n” in some Spanish words. That’s a tilde, and it does the same thing in Portuguese. You’ll find it above vowels and two-letter dipthongs, too. The tilde makes these vowels and dipthongs nasal. It will sound a little like adding the English “ng” sound to the end of the vowel sound. For example:

õe = “oing”

ão = “ahong”

The tricky letter “s”

In English and Spanish, “s” has one pronunciation and it sounds like the air being let out of a tire. In Portuguese, the “s” has three sounds:

  1. If the “s” is at the beginning of a word, or it’s a double “ss” in the middle of a word, it will make that escaping air hiss.
  2. If it’s at the end of a word or it’s before another consonant – think “st” or “sc” – it will make the “sh” sound, like you’d hear in the word “shame.”
  3. If it’s between two vowels – like “casa” – it will make the English “z” sound, like you’d hear in “zebra.”  

Other tips:

The “ch” sound: sounds like the English “sh” sound

“Nh” and “lh” both have a “y”-like “yee” sound at the end.

If you see a “rr,” it’s time to roll that tongue.

Some basic phrases:

Here are some very basic phrases to get you on your way during your Olympic trip:

  1. “Olá!” (ooh-LAH) means “Hello!”
  2. “Como vai?” (KO-mo vah-ee) means “How are things?”
  3. “Tchau!” (CHAH-oo) means “Bye!”
  4. “Fala inglês?” (FAH-la een-GHLEZ) means “Do you speak English?”
  5. “Festa” (FEH-stah) means “Party.”
  6. “Rio de Janiero” (HEE-ooh dee zhah-NAY-roo) is the Brazilian city of Rio, where the games take place.
  7. “Socorro” (soh-COH-rrro) means “Help.”
  8. “Fogo” (FOH-goh) means “Fire.”
  9. “Ambulância” (ahm-boo-LAN-seeah) means “Ambulance.”
  10. “Polícia” (pol-LEE-see-ah) means “Police.”
  11. “Olympics” (ooh-LEEM-peeks) means exactly what it looks like.

A few polite reminders about politeness:

  1. A lot of people in Brazil can speak English very well. Don’t assume you can talk behind anyone’s back in your native tongue.
  2. The “A-OK” gesture with the index finger resting on the thumb is actually the equivalent of the middle finger in Brazil.
  3. Surnames are rarely used in conversation. Persons of distinction or respect will, however, be referred to as “senhor,” “dona” or “senhora.”

Go prepared:

Make your journey as safe and enjoyable as possible by planning ahead. Visit ClearCause’s Travel Checklist page to find out what else you need to know to have a great trip.