How Common Is Spoken Spanish In Portugal? Surprising Answer

Due to the name of the country, most people know that the people of Portugal speak Portuguese. Some though may assume that since they are close neighbors with the much larger country of Spain that they too must speak Spanish. Yet, is this the case? How common is Spanish in Portugal?

Spanish in not commonly spoken in Portugal in spite of the fact that Spain is the only country with a shared border. Only 10% of the population speaks Spanish and the majority of those speakers are language learners. Not only is Spanish rare in Portugal, but proficient Spanish is even more so.

Here I will look at the raw numbers, percentages, and attitudes toward Spanish in Portugal. It is also instructive to look at the native Spanish speaking populations living in the country and how they affect the state of Spanish. I will also dive into the likelihood of being able to use only Spanish to get around in Portugal.

How Widely Spoken Is Spanish In Portugal?

In this section let’s look a the data to get a foundational picture of what the Spanish language landscape looks like. It is helpful to see these numbers since most of us have preconceived notions that are not based on facts, but rely on anecdotal evidence. Sometimes the numbers tell a completely different story from the one we hold.

But first, let’s summarize here: How common or widely spoken is Spanish in Portugal?

Spanish is not widely spoken in Portugal either by natives or language learners. Only about 10% of the total population (1,015,443 out of 10,154,433 people) speaks Spanish on some level. With less than 1% of the country being native Spanish speakers, language learners make up the vast majority.

Now, let’s dive a little deeper and find out what these numbers mean for visitors, immigrants, and those heading to Portugal for work.

Is Spanish Spoken In Portugal At All?

In general, most people will want to know if Spanish is prevalent or not in Portugal. Then there are some that want to know how much it is spoken even if it is not widely used. For those wondering if Spanish is spoken in Portugal at all…

Spanish is spoken in Portugal, but it is a very small percentage compared to what many may think due to the closeness of the countries. Even their shared history and centuries of struggle together against foreign invaders hasn’t encouraged language exchange on any real level between the two.

With that said, let’s dive into the raw data and see what a very small percentage looks like in terms of numbers and proportions.

How Many Speak Spanish In Portugal?

Now it is time for some raw numbers to put the practice of Spanish speaking into perspective in Portugal. Though numbers change from year to year, these numbers generally only change slightly if at all. So, how many people speak Spanish in Portugal?

With Portugal having a population of 10,154,433 people who mostly all speak Portuguese, a rather small contingent speak Spanish. Those speaking Spanish in Portugal number 1,015,443 and the majority of these are Spanish language learners and not native speakers.

These numbers are according to the Eurobarometer which is a study of the levels of many languages in Europe. With this total number under our belts, let’s now see what that looks like in terms of percentage.

What Percentage Of Portugal Speaks Spanish?

If large numbers are not something that you can relate to, then sometimes proportionality can help. Percentages are a way for us to compare and contrast one thing with another. In the case of Spanish speaking in Portugal it can give a feel for what it is like. So, what percentage of Portugal speaks Spanish?

Only 10% of the people of Portugal speak Spanish on some level. Most of these claiming to speak Spanish are language learners and have widely varying levels of competence. Of the 10% of the population that speak Spanish, less than 1% would be considered native speakers.

This means that if you are looking for a Spanish speaker randomly on the street or in a crowd, you will have to go through 10 people to find one that can speak Spanish. This is a ratio of 1:10 Spanish speakers to non-speakers.

This picture becomes even bleaker if finding Spanish in Portugal is your quest. The vast majority of the Spanish spoken in Portugal is done so infrequently by language learners. The level you may find in that experiment could be barely passable to nearly nonexistent.

Now, let’s look at why this is. Why is it that most of the Spanish you find in Portugal will be from language learners?

How Many Spaniards Live In Portugal?

With the two countries being so close and with so much shared history one might think that citizens from each would naturally settle within each other’s boarders. They even struggled together as a people against the same foreign aggressors for nearly 750 years. So, how many Spaniards decided to live in Portugal?

There are 10,486 Spaniards living in Portugal, which has 96% of its population being native to Portugal. This amounts to less than one percent of the total population. When compared to the total number of Spanish speakers, this highlights the language leaner status of 1,004,957 of them.

Of course this could be augmented slightly to account for Latin American and South American immigrants. The problem is that the numbers of native Spanish speakers are so small from these areas that the effect is negligible. The main source of immigrants from South America comes from Brazil, and they speak a dialect of Portuguese natively.

Can You Get By In Portugal With Spanish?

Now that we have had a survey of all of the data relating to Spanish in Portugal, let’s look at the more practical side. What are the effects of such low numbers of Spanish speakers in Portugal? Can you get by in Portugal with Spanish only?

You will have a very hard time trying to get by with only Spanish in Portugal. It is not likely to find enough people with high enough levels of Spanish to help you with more than the very basics. You may have more luck in larger population areas, but in most regions it will be a challenge.

What makes this the case? Other than the raw numbers and data above, here are some other issues that you may face when trying to use only Spanish.

Is There Spanish On Street Signs In Portugal?

When driving or traveling in general in a foreign country, it is likely that signs will be part of your navigation. There are signs for street and location names, cautions signs, and road signs signaling driving instructions. If you are trying to get around in Portugal using Spanish, will there be Spanish on any signs?

There will be virtually no Spanish on street signs, caution signs, or location signs in Portugal. There may be some small exceptions near airports, border crossings, and train stations. As well, street signs usually follow the international pictograph style with little text at all.

With these driving signs using symbols and most of the Portuguese used on other signs being names of places, driving won’t be too much of a problem for the adventurous. The problems will come in signs having blocks of text and cautions. They will predominately be in Portuguese.

Is Spanish Spoken In The Workplace In Portugal?

For those looking for work in Portugal or employees of international firms traveling to do business there, is Spanish likely to be spoken in professional environments? Can one expect to find Spanish in the workplace of businesses in Portugal?

Other than international business situations dealing with Spanish speaking clients, Spanish is not commonly found in professional or workplace environments in Portugal. There can be exceptions in dealings directly with firms in Spain or in border areas, but normally Portuguese is used.

For those looking to work part time while going to school, there can be positions available with tour companies or other tourist related businesses. If full time employment is what is needed, then Portuguese will more than likely be required.

Will Spanish Be Heard In Film And Television In Portugal?

One thing to consider when trying to use Spanish in Portugal is the media. Will you be able to find television or films in Spanish or are they all dubbed into European Portuguese?

Spanish can be found in movies or shows from Spain or other Spanish speaking countries. Due to regulations laid out in the mid 20th century, no films are dubbed in Portugal. The exceptions are foreign kids shows and films since young children cannot be expected to read subtitles.

This does not however mean that it will be easy to find. There are many more popular languages and cultures that produce films and television. This is augmented by the film and television industry in Portugal.

Though original Spanish will be left with added European Portuguese subtitles, finding Spanish language film and television popular enough to be shown in Portugal can be a challenge.

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What Are The Top 4 Languages Spoken In Portugal?

With the official language of Portugal being European Portuguese, what other languages are used by the country in large enough percentages to be an influence? What art the top 4 languages spoken in Portugal?

The top four languages in Portugal are:

  1. Portuguese at 94% or 9,545,167 people (mostly native speakers)
  2. English at 25% or 2,538,608 people (mostly language learners)
  3. French at 15% or 1,523,165 people (mostly language learners)
  4. Spanish at 10% or 1,015,443 people (mostly language learners)

With the rise of English as the academic, business, and travel language most accepted around the world, Spanish is not normally the top language other than official languages in many countries.

English is not the only competitor for the minds of Portuguese natives. French also has a stronger showing in Portugal even with Spain in between the two countries.

Where To Find Spanish In Portugal

Let’s say you are determined to find Spanish in Portugal. Where would you look? Where would the the best places with the most chance of finding someone to speak Spanish with in the country? Here I will go over some of the locations a Spanish speaker might have the best luck.

Do They Speak Spanish In Lisbon?

In Lisbon you will find some of the larger pockets of Spanish speaking natives of other countries. Being the capitol city, you will also find more international business, politics, and of course tourism. Though there is a bigger chance to find Spanish here, it is not to say the ‘Lisbon speaks Spanish’.

The official language of European Portuguese is what most people will speak in Lisbon in schools, professional environments, or political gatherings. Spanish will only be found in small particular instances and in specific places in the city. Spanish is not common in Lisbon.

One of the places you can check in the city is the University of Lisbon. International students and language learners are easier to find on campuses like this than usually any other place. With its enrollment of 49,198, you may have a good chance to find someone that speaks Spanish.

With a population of 517,802 people, the urban areas may have more Spanish speakers than many others, but that is still not saying that it will be predominate or even that noticeable.

What Other Places Can Spanish Be Found In Portugal?

Here are a few other places you might have luck finding some Spanish spoken.

  • Porto with a population of 249,633 and hosting the campus of the University of Porto
  • Amadora with a population of 178,858
  • Braga with a population of 121,394 and having the Minho University

With the population and land size of Portugal being relatively small, it does not have many urban areas with Spanish speaking enclaves like other larger countries of the world. With a strong sense of culture and language, most people in Portugal will choose to speak Portuguese over Spanish.

How Does Spanish In Portugal Compare With The Rest Of Europe?

When compared with other countries in Europe, the levels of Spanish in Portugal are relatively on par. with around 10% of the population speaking Spanish on some level, Portugal is relatively above average.

Most countries have percentages of their populations ranging from 1% to 5% with some Spanish language proficiency. Portugal, even though it has relatively low Spanish speaking levels, is one of the countries of Europe with higher numbers of Spanish speakers.

Spanish is not known in Europe or around the world as the language of science, mathematics, or international business. That is not to say that Spanish doesn’t have a place in these fields.

What it does say is that when a population doesn’t have the inclination to learn a second language, the ones connected with professions and higher education will win out.

Is The Portuguese Language Similar To Spanish?

Another question that will flow from this is, “How similar are the languages of Spanish and Portuguese?” Are there crossover vocabulary and are they mutually intelligible?

Portuguese and Spanish are very similar and share an astounding 89% lexical similarity. This means that 9 out of 10 words are shared between the two languages. Yet, they are not mutually intelligible. The differences in idioms, grammar, and pronunciation make them completely different languages.

With so much similarity between the languages some may question why people in Portugal cannot simply understand the Spanish of those in Spain and vice versa. The answer comes when we understand the power of the idiom and of grammar.

How we use these words has as much to do with our communication as what the words actually are. Culture and history have a large role to play in this. Culture and language are inextricably linked. And culture is an outgrowth of a people’s shared history.

Can A Spanish Speaker Understand Portuguese?

This question needs to first have a often used term in linguistics and language learning defined.

mutually intelligible – (Dialects, languages) each of which can be understood, or understood sufficiently for ordinary purposes, by speakers of the other

For the practical everyday use of Spanish and Portuguese, they are not mutually intelligible. Yet, when two native speakers of each try with some determination, they can have simple conversations at times once familiar with each other’s accents.

Though many would be surprised after seeing the numbers above to know that most speakers of Spanish and Portuguese cannot have long or meaningful conversations. They are completely different languages, though they share quite a bit.

The Final Word On How Common Spanish Is In Portugal…

There you have it. The short answer to our main question about the commonality of Spanish in Portugal is…

No. There is not much Spanish spoken in Portugal.

This can be surprising once we learn that 89% of the vocabulary of one is shared by the other.

Yet, with cultural and historical differences informing usage, idiom development, and pronunciation, languages with this much similarity can actually be quite different in actual usage.

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Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a licensed teacher for elementary through high school in 3 states. She is a former adjunct professor at the undergraduate level and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. She was a mentor for many education interns, department leader at various levels and organizations, has taught and coordinated professional development for teachers and educators, and professionally tutored in a multitude of subjects.

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