One of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, Portugal has continued to become a must-visit place for English speakers. But how many speak English in Portugal? Can you visit Portugal and get by just speaking English, or do you need to learn some basic Portuguese phrases?
English is very widely spoken in the major cities and tourist areas. In areas like the Algarve, and cities like Lisbon, English is very common, and spoken by the majority of people. If you start to venture further afield, to the less touristy areas, there are much less English speakers. It would be useful to have some basic Portuguese phrases under your belt!
Recent estimated statistics show that between 1/4 and 1/3 of Portuguese locals speak some English. This percentage is actually much higher than a lot of other European countries. The percentage is much higher than the amount of people who speak English in France, as well as in Spain and Italy.
Of course, this is across the whole country, and is averaged. Depending on where you go in the country, the percentage will vary, just like any other country. As with most countries, younger ones are more likely to be able to speak at least some English, mainly because English is taught at schools now. Older ones are less likely to speak English.
The Tourist Areas speak English
Millions of English speakers visit Portugal every year, with more and more people visiting the popular tourist areas. In the main cities, and in areas with high foot-fall – such as airports and stations – you will find a good amount of people who speak English, and you should be able to speak English in Portugal fine.
There’s quite a lit of popular tourist areas in Portugal, including Lisbon, Porto, Algarve, Madeira, The Azores, Braga, Aveiro, Fatima and more.
In all of these areas, you can speak English without any problems. Staff members will be able to speak English in most shops, bars and restaurants, because a lot of English speaking tourists visit them.
In the cities you will likely find direction signs in English also. In particular, the capital of Lisbon is a city where you can speak English without needing to know any Portuguese. Reports from expats mention that some of them have not had to know any Portuguese here. They rely solely on their English and have no problems getting around.
A forum recently mentioned this saying that there are a lot of English speakers in Portugal. Schools teach English from an early age, meaning that most younger ones speak good English. The Portuguese also listen to English songs, and simply subtitle English programs and films (instead of dubbing them).
Even the older ones tend to know some English, due to a lot of them immigrating. The majority of staff members are actually required to speak English, so they can converse with English speakers.
Speaking English in other areas of Portugal
Outside of the main tourist areas, schools still teach English. English lessons are mandatory from the age of 10 in the Algarve. If you speak to someone under 30 years old, it’s quite likely they will be able to speak good English. Of course, it’s important you speak clearly, and slowly so that they understand.
If you turn on the TV, you also will likely hear a lot of English. Many American and English TV shows are subtitled, not dubbed. Because of this, the younger ones in Portugal are exposed to English very often. They are more likely to be able to understand your English because of this.
As you start to hit the rural parts of Portugal however, you will meet an older generation. In some areas, like Chaves and Trasos-Montes, you will find it difficult to meet people who speak English. Because of this, it would be wise to learn some basic phrases in Portuguese. Because Portugal is close to Spain, you could also get away with speaking some slow Spanish, as it is similar to Portuguese.
The people of Portugal are well known for being some of the nicest people in Europe. They are always polite and friendly to tourists and happy to help you if they can. All you need is some basic Portuguese and some skill in playing charades, and you should get on just fine!
English speakers are everywhere in the main tourist areas
There are some beautiful cities and areas in Portugal. We’ve put together a quick list of the main ones, and mentioned how many speak English there. Whilst this isn’t a definitive list, it hopefully will cover the main areas you would likely be visiting in Portugal.
Lisbon – A beautiful metropolis and the capital of Portugal, Lisbon is visited by millions of people who speak English each year. English is very common here because of this. If you visit any bars, shops, hotels or restaurants, you can speak English and be understood by most. Expats who live here permanently mention that they have no problems speak English only. You will not have any issues if you speak English in Lisbon.
Porto – Another stunning city, Porto is a popular tourist destination also. English is spoken widely, particularly in the main downtown area, by anyone in the popular tourist areas. The younger ones also speak good English here. Signs and leaflets are available in English at major destinations, including popular tourist attractions, the airport and train stations. Usually, you can get a restaurant menu in English also. Taxi drivers sometimes struggle to understand fully, so it’s probably a good idea to write you hotel address down on a piece of paper – just in case!
Azores – As the above cities, younger people and those who work in the areas of tourism will be able to speak good enough English to understand and converse. On the larger islands, British and American TV and films are popular. The smaller islands aren’t so keen on them. Although you can probably get by just with English, it could be useful to know a few Portuguese phrases to get by.
Algarve – The beautiful south coastal region is an absolute must visit for tourists, and is also popular with those who decide to move to Portugal permanently. Because of this, there are many people who speak English here. A lot of retirees mention that they do not need to know any Portuguese to live here.
Madeira – Another stunning part of Portugal, and also very popular with British speakers, tourism and expats. Many English speakers live and work in this area, especially in restaurants – where the level of English is high among staff members. A lot of menus are available in multiple languages.
Learn some Portuguese phrases
Although English is spoken a lot in Portugal, it is always helpful to learn a few basic phrases the the Portuguese language. Doing that will show you’re interested in the locals and their customs, and they will like you for it. Portuguese is similar to Spanish, so if you already have some Spanish under your belt, you should breeze through these phrases. Even if you don’t know any Spanish, the basic phrases in Portuguese are pretty easy to learn.
If you’re going for a short visit to Portugal, here’s a good youtube video with some of these phrases:
It’s worth noting that many Portuguese people feel their language is distinct, even though it does have a lot of similarities to Spanish. Although on paper the language can look quite similar, the pronunciation of words can differ quite significantly, so it’s important to try and pronounce things properly.
Portuguese words are often pronounced quite differently to Spanish, and usually they do not sound as you would expect when reading them on paper. You’ll need to make sure you practice properly, so that you pronounce the words in a way that those who speak Portuguese can understand. Certain words need to be softened, and some vowels need to be dropped.
Practice makes perfect!