The majority of threads on the expat forum discuss finance, culture, employment and other traditional aspects which are very high up the list when looking to move overseas but this is a very interesting and deep post regarding Portugal and its grasp of the English language. It has opened up so many different avenues and attracted so much detailed information that for those looking to move to Portugal it is actually a must read.
Background to the thread
In essence the thread was started by a gentleman who was looking to teach English in Portugal and is asking for the whereabouts of any foreign language schools in central Portugal which may be looking for a qualified English teacher. Such a simple and straightforward request is growing into something larger and very interesting indeed.
The simple answer is…….
One of the first comments in response to the original question offers a website for the official department of education which should be able to point the English teacher who began the thread in the right direction. This is the starting point for the person in question but as we suggested above, the thread has opened up a massive discussion on the Portuguese and English languages.
The Portuguese culture
The very first post in response to the thread gives the fact that 97% of those living Portugal do not speak English. This will surprise many people who will be aware that Portugal, like Spain, has attracted significant numbers of English-speaking tourist and expats but apparently English is not very widespread. There is some debate as to whether Portuguese is the most popular language in the world although there is no doubt it is firmly in the top 10 and spoken in many different regions and countries around the globe.
While the vast majority of Portuguese do not speak English in any shape or form it is interesting to see that two hours each week of school time have been put aside to teach young Portuguese students the English language. This would appear to open up potential opportunities for the English-speaking teacher who began the thread but it also suggests that the Portuguese government and some of the younger Portuguese population are making a conscious effort to learn the English language.
How long this will take to change the mindset of the Portuguese population remains to be seen but after years of ignoring the English language it appears that Portugal has woken up.
Why should the Portuguese learn English?
While English is one of the more widespread languages around the world many people automatically assume that when in a foreign land you should be able to communicate with local nationals in your own dialect. In many ways, some would have you believe, this further ingrains the stereotypical English personality which automatically assumes that everybody else should learn English rather than UK nationals learning foreign languages. This has been an ongoing debate for decades and even though the likes of French, Italian and Spanish for example are taught in UK schools the vast majority of people will revert to English even when they are overseas.
Aside from the fact that if you are unable to communicate with the local population you may have significant issues with banking, food, restaurants and other everyday occurrences, there is a chance that Portuguese nationals could possibly turn against those unwilling, or in some cases unable, to learn and grasp their local language.
Compare Portugal with Spain
Many people may well put Portugal and Spain in the same bracket as both have significant expat communities and a large number of English-speaking visitors. However, while the vast majority of Spanish people will speak some form of English this is not the case in Portugal even though the two countries are not too far apart. Why the difference?
It is difficult to present one reason as to why Portugal is very different to Spain on the language front but the fact that Portuguese is spoken by hundreds of millions of people around the world may give the Portuguese people the same expectations as English-speaking visitors. However, Spain has adapted to the ever-growing number of English-speaking visitors in order to attract more investment, attract more international businesses and also to assist the country as a whole.
While Portugal may have a very lucrative and strong economy, would the country benefit from encouraging Portuguese nationals to speak English? Surely this would attract more interest, investment and visitors to the region?
Expat communities in Portugal
Even though Portuguese nationals may not be willing to learn English as a matter of course, there are significant expat communities in various regions of Portugal which have in some cases taken over. The Algarve is one particular region which is well-known for its expat community and where the vast majority of people will have a grasp of the English language.
In many ways the small enclaves of expats do not need to ingratiate themselves with the local committee or learn the local language. However, this has the potential to cause significant problems in the future because quite literally unless visitors are prepared to learn Portuguese they will be very much restricted to areas such as the Algarve where English is as good as the mother tongue. There is then the potential for English-speaking tourist and expats to take over other parts of the country which could, and has in some situations, caused significant friction.
The vast majority of us assume that any country in the world we visit is likely, at worst, to have a basic grasp of the English language. However, countries such as Portugal, which has a language spoken around the world, is in a similar situation to the UK and English-speaking visitors who believe they also have a right to speak their mother tongue at all times.
While the original question was answered very early, with a website giving access to educational language facilities in Portugal, the subject of the Portuguese and English languages is very interesting. Quite who is in the right and who is in the wrong remains to be seen but as one poster said, if you worked in a UK bank would you expect a Portuguese visitor to speak to you in their local language even though they were in the UK.
The main issue here seems to be a clash of the Portuguese and British cultures. Each believes their own language should be spoken throughout the world and each party does not appear willing to learn a second language as a matter of course.