Portugal and Spain share the Iberian Peninsula and have a long intertwined history, leading many to wonder if Portuguese people can also speak Spanish. With over 10 million visitors flocking to Portugal every year, it’s a pertinent question for tourists planning a trip there.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: While not ubiquitous, Spanish is spoken by a significant portion of the population in Portugal, especially near the Spanish border.

In this approximately 3000 word article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the history of Spanish influence on Portugal, which regions have the highest Spanish proficiency today, who is most likely to be bilingual in Portuguese and Spanish, and tips for Spanish speakers visiting Portugal.

Historical Ties Between Spanish and Portuguese

The relationship between Spanish and Portuguese is deeply rooted in history, with both languages originating from the same linguistic family. Known as the Romance languages, they evolved from Latin, the language of the Roman Empire.

While they are distinct languages today, their shared origins have resulted in many similarities in vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.

Shared Origins of the Languages

Spanish and Portuguese both trace their roots back to Vulgar Latin, the colloquial form of Latin spoken by the common people. As the Roman Empire expanded, Latin spread throughout the Iberian Peninsula, which encompasses modern-day Spain and Portugal.

Over time, regional variations and influences from other languages shaped the development of Spanish and Portuguese into distinct languages.

Despite their separate identities, Spanish and Portuguese still share thousands of cognates, or words with similar meanings and spellings. For example, the Spanish word for “thank you” is “gracias,” while the Portuguese equivalent is “obrigado” for males and “obrigada” for females.

Spanish Occupation and Cultural Influence

Throughout history, the Iberian Peninsula has experienced periods of political and cultural interchange between Spain and Portugal. One notable example is the Spanish occupation of Portugal from 1580 to 1640.

During this time, political and social institutions were heavily influenced by Spanish culture and language.

As a result of this occupation, Spanish words and phrases became integrated into the Portuguese language. Many Portuguese words of Spanish origin can still be found today, particularly in the areas of art, architecture, and cuisine.

For instance, the Portuguese word for “balcony” is “varanda,” derived from the Spanish word “baranda.”

Border Changes Over the Centuries

The border between Spain and Portugal has undergone changes throughout history, with territorial disputes and political agreements shaping its current form. These border changes have had an impact on language, as regions near the border have been influenced by the neighboring country’s dialects and accents.

For example, the region of Galicia in Spain and the northern region of Portugal have historically had close ties, resulting in linguistic similarities. The Galician language, spoken in Galicia, is closely related to Portuguese and shares many similarities in vocabulary and pronunciation.

Where Spanish Is Most Widely Spoken in Portugal

While Portuguese is the official language of Portugal, it is not uncommon to hear Spanish being spoken in certain regions of the country. Here are some areas where Spanish is most widely spoken:

Regions Bordering Spain

The regions that border Spain, such as the Algarve, Alentejo, and Beira Interior, often have a higher concentration of Spanish speakers. This is mainly due to the close proximity to the Spanish border and the frequent interaction between the two countries.

In these areas, you may find that some locals are bilingual and can communicate in both Portuguese and Spanish.

Major Cities Like Lisbon and Porto

In major cities like Lisbon and Porto, Spanish is also commonly spoken, especially in tourist areas and among the younger population. Many Portuguese people learn Spanish in school, as it is a widely taught foreign language.

This, coupled with the influx of Spanish tourists and the increasing number of Spanish expats in Portugal, contributes to the prevalence of Spanish in these urban areas.

Tourist Areas

Popular tourist destinations in Portugal, such as the Algarve and Madeira, attract visitors from all over the world, including Spanish-speaking countries. As a result, it is not uncommon to find locals who can speak Spanish in these areas, as it helps cater to the needs of international tourists.

Restaurants, hotels, and other businesses in these regions often have staff members who are fluent in Spanish to provide better customer service.

It’s important to note that while Spanish may be spoken in these regions, it is still recommended to learn some basic Portuguese phrases when visiting Portugal. The locals will appreciate your efforts to communicate in their native language, and it can enhance your overall travel experience.

For more information on language usage in Portugal, you can visit the official website of the Portuguese Tourism Board at www.visitportugal.com.

Who Is Most Likely To Be Bilingual

Border Town Residents

One group of people who are most likely to be bilingual are the residents of border towns. This is especially true for those living along the border between Portugal and Spain. Due to the close proximity and frequent interactions between the two countries, many people in these areas have developed fluency in both Spanish and Portuguese.

They often switch effortlessly between the two languages, depending on the situation or the person they are speaking to. Border town residents have a unique advantage when it comes to language learning, as they are constantly exposed to both languages on a daily basis.

Portuguese Students

Another group of individuals who are likely to be bilingual are Portuguese students. Language education is an important part of the curriculum in Portugal, and many students are required to learn a second language. Spanish is often chosen as the second language due to its similarity to Portuguese.

Additionally, Spain is a popular destination for Portuguese tourists, so having a good command of Spanish can be highly beneficial. Portuguese students are often exposed to Spanish language learning materials and have opportunities to practice their skills through exchange programs or language immersion experiences.

As a result, many Portuguese students become proficient in both Portuguese and Spanish.

Expats in Portugal

Expats living in Portugal are also likely to be bilingual, especially if they come from Spanish-speaking countries or have spent a significant amount of time in Spanish-speaking regions. Many expats choose Portugal as their new home due to its high quality of life, beautiful landscapes, and relatively low cost of living.

As a result, there is a growing community of Spanish-speaking expats in Portugal. These individuals often learn Portuguese in order to integrate into the local culture and communicate with their Portuguese neighbors.

Similarly, Portuguese locals may also learn Spanish to better interact with the expat community. This exchange of languages creates a bilingual environment, where both Spanish and Portuguese are spoken and understood.

Tips for Spanish Speakers Visiting Portugal

Learn Key Portuguese Phrases

While Spanish and Portuguese are both Romance languages, they have distinct differences. However, as a Spanish speaker, you’ll find some similarities that can help you communicate in Portugal. To make your trip smoother, it’s a good idea to learn some key Portuguese phrases.

Basic greetings like “olá” (hello) and “obrigado/a” (thank you) are a great start. Additionally, learning common phrases like “onde fica” (where is) or “quanto custa” (how much does it cost) will be useful when navigating through the country.

Websites like Duolingo offer free language lessons and can be a valuable tool in your language learning journey.

Try Speaking Spanish, but Don’t Expect Fluency

While Spanish and Portuguese share similarities, it’s important to remember that they are still distinct languages. Many Portuguese people understand basic Spanish, especially in tourist areas, but don’t expect everyone to speak it fluently.

However, don’t hesitate to use your Spanish skills as a starting point for communication. Portuguese speakers will appreciate your effort and may even switch to Spanish to help you understand better. Remember, a smile and a friendly attitude can go a long way in bridging any language barriers!

Use Apps and Translation Tools

Thanks to technology, there are numerous apps and translation tools that can assist you during your trip to Portugal. Apps like Google Translate or iTranslate can be incredibly handy for translating words or phrases on the go.

Additionally, they often include audio pronunciation features, which can help you with the Portuguese language’s unique sounds. These tools can be particularly useful when you find yourself in situations where you need quick translations or when conversing with locals who don’t speak English or Spanish.

Stick to Tourist Areas

If you’re concerned about language barriers, sticking to tourist areas can be a good strategy. In popular tourist destinations like Lisbon, Porto, or the Algarve, you’ll find more English speakers and people accustomed to interacting with non-Portuguese speakers.

This can make it easier to communicate and navigate through your trip. However, exploring off-the-beaten-path areas can also be a rewarding experience, and with a few basic Portuguese phrases and a positive attitude, you’ll be able to make your way around the country.


While Portuguese remains the sole official language, Spanish proficiency is common along the border and in major tourist centers of Portugal thanks to centuries of cultural exchange.

Visitors fluent in Spanish will be able to communicate with many Portuguese locals, especially the younger generation, but learning a few key phrases will ensure friendly interactions throughout this beautiful country.

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