Spanish is the second language in Brazil’s schools

Flag of BrazilIn Brazil, where virtually the entire population speaks Portuguese, Spanish has obtained an important status as a second language among young students and many skilled professionals. In recent years, with Brazil decreasing its reliance on trade with the USA and Europe and increasing trade and ties with its Spanish-speaking neighbours (especially as a member of the Mercosur trading bloc), much stress has been placed on bilingualism and Spanish proficiency in the country. On 7 July 2005, the National Congress of Brazil gave final approval to a bill that makes Spanish a second language in the country’s public and private primary schools.

“The legislation requires government and private schools to offer Spanish as an elective subject for students in grades five through eight. In earlier grades Spanish depends on the schools’ discretion.
The new law is important for primary education and for Brazil’s integration with the rest of Mercosur,” underlined Mr. Lira, adding that the teaching of Spanish “is going to facilitate the formation of a South American bloc.”
Approval of the bill followed several years of debate by legislators in Brazil, a country that has traditionally been closed to foreign languages and where the teaching of other foreign languages was not required.
For some time now Brazilian universities have offered Spanish classes in response to Spanish speaking Mercosur growing influence. Actually in Brazil’s border states that have authority over their educational systems Spanish have been taught for years.
Spain’s Deputy Director of International Cooperation, Miguel Gonzalez Suela in Madrid hailed the passing of the bill as “a day of celebration,” because anywhere between 10 and 12 million young Brazilians will be learning Spanish. Currently only private schools attended by 10% of Brazil’s children, offer Spanish at the primary level.”1

Blue: Spanish-speaking areas. Yellow: Portuguese-speaking areas. Green: Portuñol area of occurrence. Footnote 3

The close genetic relationship between the two languages, along with the fact that Spanish is the dominant and official language of almost every country that borders Brazil, adds to the popularity. Standard Spanish and Ladino (Judeo-Spanish spoken by Sephardic Jews) may also be spoken natively by some Spanish-descended Brazilians, immigrant workers from neighbouring Spanish speaking countries and Brazilian Sephardim respectively, who have maintained it as their home language. Additionally, in Brazil’s border states that have authority over their educational systems, Spanish has been taught for years. In many other border towns and villages (especially along the Uruguayo-Brazilian border) a mixed language commonly known as Portuñol is also spoken.

Portuñol is a lingua franca, or simplified mixture of the two languages that allows speakers of either Spanish or Portuguese who are not proficient in the other language to communicate with one another. When speakers of one of the languages attempt to speak the other language, there is often interference from the native language, which causes the phenomenon of code-switching to occur. It is possible to conduct a moderately fluent conversation in this way because Portuguese and Spanish are closely related Romance languages. They have almost identical syntactic structures, as well as overlapping lexicons due to cognates, which means that a single macro-grammar is produced when the two mix. The phrase en el hueco de la noite longa e langue illustrates a code-switch between the Spanish article la and the Portuguese noun noite. This example reveals the grammatical possibilities of code-switching between the two languages.

Language contact between Spanish and Portuguese is the result of sustained contact between the two languages in border communities and multilingual trade environments. Such regions include the border regions between Portugal and Spain in the Iberian Peninsula, as well as the ones between Brazil, whose official language is Portuguese, and most of its neighboring countries, such as Uruguay and Paraguay, whose official languages are Spanish. Because Portuñol is a spontaneous register resulting from the occasional mixing of Spanish and Portuguese, it is highly diverse; there is no one dialect or standard of Portuñol. There does, however, tend to be a stronger presence of Spanish in Portuñol.4


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1. MercoPress, South Atlantic’s New Agency, 8 July 2005
2. Map from “Portuñol” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 14/11/2014
3. Ibid.,
4. Ibid.,