Portuguese Speech and Language Development

Determining Differences and Disorders

Understanding Portuguese Speech and Language Development and Structure helps us identify which students truly are having difficulty communicating and separate them from students who simply have different sound or language patterns because they are learning a second language. 

Portuguese Facts Portuguese Speech and Language Development

  • Number of speakers: Approximately 215 million worldwide.  The largest population of Portuguese speakers is in Brazil followed by Portugal.
  • Writing system: Latin  alphabet; written accents denote irregular stress patterns as well as vowel quality.
  • Language Family: Romance language; closest relative is Spanish
  • Official language in: Brazil, Portugal; Portuguese is also spoken in some Asian and African countries. Different dialects are spoken in each of these places.

Let’s compare English and Portuguese Speech and Language Development

Portuguese Speech and Language Development

Portuguese Speech and Language Development

Brazilian Portuguese mostly uses /tʃ/ for T and /dƷ/ for D before the letter [i]. Examples: tíbia [tʃ’ibja] and dígito [dƷ’iʒitu]. These are allophonic variations of [t] and [d] and not additional phonemes.  In other words, while in English you have the word “tip” and “chip,” where [t] and [ch] result in different meanings, in Brazilian Portuguese those two sounds do not differentiate meaning.

There is also a third sound for the letter R in Brazilian Portuguese: /ɹ/ before a consonant and at the end of a word. Example: cartógrafo [kɐɹt’ɔgɾɐfo].

Portuguese Developmental Norms


Age GroupConsonantsConsonant ClustersVowels
3;0-3;5/p, t, k, b, d, g, m, n, ɲ, f, s, ʃ, v, R//a, ɐ, i. e. ɛ, o, ɔ, u, ē, ī, ō/
3;6-3;11/ ʃ (syllable-final position), l, ʎ/
4;0-4;5/z, ʒ, ɾ//pl, kl, fl/
4;6-4;11/ɾ (syllable-final position)//fɾ, vɾ, bɾ, pɾ/
5;0-5;5/ʄ (syllable-final position)//kɾ, tɾ, dɾ, gɾ/

(Lousada, Mendes, Valente, & Hall , 2012)

Comparing Portuguese and English Language Structure

FeaturePortugueseEnglishExamples of Errors
Word OrderSubject-Verb-ObjectSubject-Verb-ObjectNo expected errors
PossessivesObject+of+PersonPossession marked by ‘sThe car of my mom is blue*/ My mom’s car is blue.
AdjectivesNoun adjectiveAdjective nounThe ball big bounced.*/ The big ball bounced.
Present tense verb inflection

5-6 forms, determined by subject:

Eu como

Tu comes

Ele/Ela come

Nos comemos

Eles/Elas comem

2 forms:

I eat

You eat

He eats

We eat

They eat

She talk to me.* / She talks to me.
Use of subject pronounsPro-drop language (pronoun is dropped before verb once subject is established)Pronoun or subject is always requiredLooks for the frog* / He looks for the frog.
Double negativeCan be used; multiple negative elements occurring in the same clause do not cancel one another but instead reinforce each otherCannot be usedI don’t want to do nothing*/ I don’t want to do anything.
Question FormationRising intonation is used with word order remaining the same or a question word is used at the beginning of the question with rising intonation.Questions marked by word order inversion, question words, or addition of do

You give me a sticker?*/ Will you give me a sticker?

What you think?*/ What do you think?

We can go?* / Can we go?

Difference or Disorder Essentials Pack If you want to hone your skills with English Language Learners, take a look at our CLD Essentials Package that will be available on December 1st.  It will includes two online courses and a copy of Difference or Disorder? Understanding Speech and Language Differences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students.

More Languages!

Thanks to the great feedback we have gotten from those using the Difference or Disorder book, we’ve set out to make a second filipino tagalog speech sounds edition that will include Filipino/Tagalog, Cambodian, Urdu/Hindi, Ibo, Amharic, Portuguese, Turkish, Hmong, Albanian, Thai, Kinyarwanda, Pashto and Romanian.  If there are other languages you would like to see, please let us know.  For those not familiar with our current book, we’ve already compared and contrasted English with Spanish, Vietnamese (see post about it), Hebrew, Korean, German, Czech, Japanese, Farsi, Mandarin, French, Russian, Arabic, and the African-American English dialect.

Other Resources:

Phonological and articulation treatment approaches in Portuguese
The development of syntactic subjects in Portuguese-speaking children

If you are looking for speech therapy in Austin, Texas for a child who speaks Portuguese, contact our Austin speech therapy clinic.

Written by: Ellen Kester

25 Comments on “Portuguese Speech and Language Development”

  1. November 9, 2017 at 6:09 pm #

    could you look into a Venn for the Indonesian Language .
    thank you!

    • November 10, 2017 at 4:10 pm #

      Yes, I have added it to the list! Thanks

  2. November 10, 2017 at 8:27 am #

    Excellent document, easy to use and very complete.

  3. November 10, 2017 at 9:42 am #

    Is there one similar to this for Polish? Thanks.

    • November 10, 2017 at 4:07 pm #

      I have some information on Polish I will send you via email.

      • December 14, 2017 at 11:18 am #

        Hello, I tried looking for information on the phonology and syntactic structure of the the Polish. If you don’t mind, could you please share the information you have on Polish. Thank you.

      • December 14, 2017 at 5:02 pm #

        Hi Cristina,
        I just sent some information about Polish to you. Hope it is helpful!

  4. November 10, 2017 at 12:35 pm #

    Great information! I would also recommend punjabi/panjabi as another language to look into for comparison.

    • November 10, 2017 at 3:40 pm #

      It’s on the list!

  5. November 10, 2017 at 1:58 pm #

    This is helpful; however, the examples given for present tense verb inflection in Portuguese are incorrect.

    • November 10, 2017 at 3:40 pm #

      Thank you, Janet. Those were present subjunctive forms rather than present indicative. I changed them to present indicative. Thanks!

  6. November 20, 2017 at 7:49 pm #

    When is the 2nd edition expected to come out?

    • November 21, 2017 at 10:33 am #

      H Deanna,
      We are working on about a dozen and a half languages to add to the 13 primary languages in Volume 1 so unfortunately we can’t put a date on it yet. We will launch shorter informational articles like this one as we progress through the languages so stay tuned.

  7. December 1, 2017 at 8:47 am #

    Hi Ellen,

    Thank you for the great information! I was wondering if you had a similar diagram for Chinese?


  8. December 24, 2019 at 8:43 pm #

    /ʒ/ is in Portuguese and it’s the sound of the letter J. /j/ and /w/ also represents the semivowels for I and U.

    Brazilian Portuguese mostly uses /tʃ/ for T and /dƷ/ for D before the letter I. Examples: tíbia [tʃ’ibja] and dígito [dƷ’iʒitu].

    There is also a third sound for the letter R in Brazilian Portuguese: /ɹ/ before a consonant and at the end of a word. Example: cartógrafo [kɐɹt’ɔgɾɐfo].

    /ʄ/ is not in Portuguese.

    • January 7, 2020 at 3:08 pm #

      Hi Paulo,
      Thank you for your input on this. Yes,/tʃ/ and /dƷ/ are allophonic variations of T and D but are not additional phonemes. I’ll add a blurb to the post to clarify this. Thanks for your comment.

  9. September 30, 2020 at 3:21 am #

    Do you have any information on child acquisition of Polish and Lithuanian – both speech and language development? Also if you have any information on common speech errors that would be great. Many thanks

    • October 6, 2020 at 8:15 am #

      Hi there, I wish we had that information! My grandmother was Lithuanian. I checked both ASHA and Portland State’s site which are both pretty comprehensive and struck out. If you end up putting together information on your own, please share it back and we will post it for everyone.

  10. December 9, 2021 at 7:44 am #

    Hi! Is this post regarding Brazilian Portuguese or European? Thanks!

    • December 10, 2021 at 11:02 am #

      Hi Alexis, this applies to both but languages but there are some differences that you would want to look into from a speech perspective so that a misdiagnosis doesn’t occur. For example, Brazilian Portuguese uses many more diphthongs and triphthongs and pronounces certain written letters a specific way. This isn’t a problem unless you are working with an interpreter who speaks one type of Portuguese and the student the other. But all Portuguese speakers are aware of this. There are also some language differences between the two. Vocabulary of course and Brazilian Portuguese will not use the informal “you” form which may occur more frequently in Peninsular Portuguese.

  11. June 6, 2022 at 10:32 am #

    Hello! I remember a couple of years ago seeing somewhere that a new Edition of the “Difference or Disorder” book would be coming out including the Portuguese language. Is this true?

    • June 7, 2022 at 8:11 am #

      Hi Daanna, With the number of languages that everyone started requesting we decided to publish individual information out as blog posts and are looking into alternative ways to share the information like something online or electronic Maybe that will all end up back in a book but we haven’t put it together.

  12. December 21, 2022 at 9:53 am #

    Hi, Do you have any information on phonological processes in Portuguese and what age we would expect to see them extinguish? Thank you for all your resources!

    • January 3, 2023 at 1:06 pm #

      Hi Katie, I can’t find phonological process information specific to Portuguese but do know that Spanish and English processes are very close, meaning, most processes exist in both languages and they are not expected to be seen above 5 years of age. So if you are in the schools, you can feel pretty confident targeting phonology with a Portuguese speaker (Kinder or above). If you are working with a younger child, lean on intelligibility measures as those are universal. Then, if you have low intelligibility to support or make the diagnosis, you can target any sound pattern as a goal.
      Hope that helps.

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