Understanding Portuguese and Pronunciation
NOTE: The rules given below refer to Portuguese as spoken in Portugal. Some of them don't apply to Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation.
At first the Portuguese language can seem difficult to understand, since as one of the Romance languages derived from Latin, one expects it to be close to the resonant rattle of Spanish or the Romantic cadences of Italian. Instead, its closed vowels and shushing consonants sound closer to an Eastern European language. But knowledge of Spanish, Italian, or French does help to decipher the written word.
Having an idea of French pronunciation helps to pronounce nasalized vowels, which are indicated by a tilde (~) over them or are followed by "m" or "n." The Portuguese word for wool, lã, therefore sounds roughly like the French word lin. Also helpful is knowing that the suffix "-ção" is the equivalent of the English "-tion," so informação is "information," and nação is "nation," for example. These words form their plural by changing the suffix to "-ções" (so nação becomes nações).
The cedilla under the "c" serves exactly the same purpose as in French -- to transform the "c" into a "ss" sound in front of the vowels "a," "o," and "u" (Açores, Graça, etc.).
The accent usually falls on the next-to-last syllable (Fado, azulejos, etc.), except when there's an acute accent to indicate the proper pronunciation (sábado, república, está, etc.).
As in other Romance languages, things are either masculine or feminine, with most masculine nouns ending in "o" and most feminine ones ending in "a."
* Ã is much like the French "-an" ending
* ÃO sounds like a nasal "ow"
* C has an "s" sound before "e" and "i"
* Ç functions as in French, pronounced as an "s"
* CH is soft: chá (tea) sounds like sha
* E at the end of a word is silent, unless it has an accent: it is silent in doze (twelve), pronounced doz, but stressed in pé (foot)
* EI sounds like the "a" in "table"
* J is pronounced as in French (like the "s" in "pleasure")
* G is also pronounced like the "s" in "pleasure" before "e" and "i," but hard before "a," "o," or "u"
* H is silent
* LH is pronounced like the Italian "gl"
* NH is pronounced like the Spanish "ñ" (like the "ni" in "onion")
* M takes on a nasal tone at the end of words, as in sim (yes)
* Õ is much like the French "-on" ending
* OU is pronounced similar to the "o" in "over"
* QU is pronounced as a "k" before "e" or "i" but as the "qu" in "quadruplets" before "a" or "o"
* R at the beginning of a word (or "rr" in the middle) is a harsh, guttural sound similar to French (in some areas of Portugal this "r" is not guttural, but strongly rolled)
* R in the middle or at the end of a word is a rolled sound, close to but stronger than the English "r"
* S is soft except when occurring between two vowels, when it is pronounced like a "z" (e.g. casa, meaning "house")
* S at the end of a word or syllable (before another consonant) is "sh," (inglês, meaning "English" is pronounced "inglesh," and escola, meaning "school," is "eshcola"), otherwise it sounds like the "s" in "sun"
* Z at the end of a word is pronounced "sh"