Do People Speak English in Portugal?

Portugal is a European country located on the Iberian Peninsula. Its location on the Atlantic Ocean has influenced a lot of its culture: salt cod and grilled sardines are national dishes, the beaches of Algarve are a popular tourist destination, and much of the nation’s architecture dates back to the 15th century when Portugal was a strong maritime nation.

For a smaller country, Portugal has a population around 10.6 million, but a rather small amount of the population possesses English proficiency. About 2.9 million Portuguese or 27% can speak and demonstrate English competency. Tourists from across the world visit Portugal every year and this means that a lot of the local people can speak and interact in English. The rich, urban, young are the most likely demographics to speak English. 

So, now lets take a deeper look at the different cities and how many people speak English.

To learn more about Portugal’s English fluency levels and where you’ll find most of the country’s English-speakers, read on.

English Is Learned as a Second Language

Portuguese is the common language of Portugal and the most widely spoken. Most locals learn to speak Portuguese before learning a second language. However, English is the second most spoken language in Portugal because the country regularly attracts international visitors from the US, UK, and the rest of Europe.

Younger Generations Are Eager to Study English

The younger generations of Portuguese students will usually have excellent English skills. This is because English is taught in schools beginning at age 10, and students often practice and improve their fluency by watching English-speaking movies, TV shows, and listening to English-speaking music.

However, most movies and TV shows played in English have Portuguese subtitles, which can be a very effective tutoring tool when learning the language.

Some students may also be learning English to travel, study, and work abroad.

Therefore, if you find yourself needing assistance while traveling in Portugal, try to look for a younger person, as they will likely be able to communicate with you in English.

All Portuguese Medical Professionals Speak English

Imagine being faced with a medical emergency in a foreign country and you only speak English. It’s a discomforting thought.

However, you’ll be pleased to know that you’re safe in Portugal because all doctors can communicate in English, and so can most nurses or healthcare professionals.

The Portuguese healthcare system scores highly in comparison to other European countries, so getting safe medical assistance in English shouldn’t be too daunting or complicated, if you ever need it.

Portugal Attracts Lots of English-Speaking Expats

With a stunning Atlantic coastline that spans approximately 1,200 mi (1931.22 km), numerous beautiful beaches, and various historical sites, it’s no wonder why many English-speaking expats would want to settle down in Portugal.

English-speakers from the UK and the US make up part of the established expat communities in the country’s scenic locations.

Here are the scenic locations in Portugal where you might find the most English-speaking expatriates:

The golden triangle of Almancil, Vale de Lobo, and Quinta do Lago offers high-end luxury homes, designer shops, and golf courses. Many of the homeowners are part-time residents.
The area surrounding Lagoa and Carvoeiro is home to German and Dutch expats with a significant British presence. Golf clubs, rolling terrain, and sheltered beaches are like scenes from a picture postcard.

Tavira and Eastern Algarve are popular expatriate locations that appeal to those who love resort living near the beach and a rural lifestyle in the hills.

Cascais is home to many transferred professionals from US insurance and banking industries, and offers a comfortable lifestyle for families. Excellent international schools are nearby. The community projects an energetic vibe from its location on the coast near Lisbon.

Tomar, located in central Portugal, offers a more rural and rustic lifestyle that many English-speaking expatriates embrace. It’s quiet, small-town living but less than 90 minutes from the Lisbon Airport and the stunningly beautiful Silver Coast.

The glorious Silver Coast is a trendy relocation hotspot because of its extraordinary views, surfing, fabulous food, and historic setting.

English-speaking expatriates also enjoy Portugal’s high standard of living for less than they would likely pay back home.

Most Universities Don’t Offer Courses in English

Portugal has some of the finest and most affordable universities, and attracts students from around the globe. Many universities offer courses taught in Portuguese by default because the language is spoken in numerous countries other than Portugal. This is likely why there are fewer programs offered in English.

However, there are some universities that provide degrees in English, and instructors may choose to teach graduate courses in English to accommodate international students. Therefore, English-speaking students who want to study and live abroad will find Portugal a suitable place to live and learn.

English Use in Major Cities in Portugal

  • Lisbon – Lisbon is Portugal’s largest and capital city. Lisbon is architecturally rich; Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, Baroque, Medieval, and Postmodern buildings can be found in the Lisbon. The city is also crossed by historic boulevards and monuments along the main highways, particularly in the upper districts. Lisbon is home to several famous museums that hold world-class international collections. The National Museum of Ancient Art, with one of the world’s largest collections, and the National Coach Museum, with the world’s largest collection of royal coaches and carriages, are the cities two most visited museums. Other notable museums include the National Museum of Archaeology, the Museum of Lisbon, the National Azulejo Museum, the National Museum of Contemporary Art, and the National Museum of Natural History & Science. Walking around Lisbon, travelers will most likely be amazine by the white-washed limestone buildings, narrow streets, and the laid-back and relaxed atmosphere in the city. In Lisbon, there will be no issue finding other English speakers.
  • Porto –  Located along the Douro estuary in northern Portugal, Porto is one of the oldest European centers and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, as the “Historic Center of Porto, Luiz I Bridge, and Serra do Pilar Monastery. The historic area is a now a Portuguese National Park. As Lisbon has many museums, Porto might as well be famous for its rich musical history. In 2001, Porto shared the designation “European Culture Capital.” The construction of the main concert hall Casa de Musica, designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, was initiated and completed in 2005 within the framework of these activities. The city has concert halls of exceptional beauty and elegance. As the Portuguese architect Cassiano Branco designed the Coliseu do Porto, which is an excellent example of the decorative arts. Many other notable venues include the 2005 opening of the new São João National Theatre, the Rivoli Theatre, the Batalha Cinema, and Casa da Musica. Usually the residents of Porto are warm-hearted, and fairly good in English. If all else fails, grab a bottle of Port, one of the city’s largest export-products, and enjoy a walk around the city. While in Porto, if you encounter someone, alcohol is a social lubricant, and in Porto, a city that is known for its port wine, there should be no shortage of wine, while you might find there is a shortage of English speakers.
  • Villa Nova de Gaia – The city is situated south of Porto, and on the other side of the Douro River. There are several cellars, or wine caves, where the Port wine is stored and aged. These wine cellars are a huge draw for tourists. Other than the wine caves, the city has two famous museums: House Museum Teixeria Lopes – Diego de Macedo Gallery and Solar dos Condes de Resende. The city also features many different natural sceneries to enjoy. Villa Nova de Gaia is the Portuguese city with the largest amount of beaches, 17 beaches in 17 kilometers (10.56 miles). The city has multiple parks where tourists can relax and enjoy the peaceful and serene atmosphere. Number of English speakers here depends on luck. Wine Cellars attract many English-speaking tourists, so it might depend on choosing the correct location. While there is no right location, enjoy the trip.
  • Amadora – As a residential city and conurbation with Lisbon, Amadora shares subway, bus, and train networks. Amadora is dominated by residential communities, commercial parks, industrial areas and some headquarters of international communities. While there are not many tourist sites to see in Amadora, a traveler might find that people in Amadora might be able to demonstrate an English proficiency. Every year, the city organizes the Amadora International Comics Festival. As a residential city, it might be harder to find English-speaking residents.
  • Braga – Braga is a city in northwest Portugal, and it is in the historically and culturally significant Minho Province. The Braga region features many Neolithic, Roman, Medieval, and Modern monuments, houses, and structures. The archaeological sites have different classifications such as archaeological, civic, military, and religious. There are many different sites around Braga, and many museums that house artifacts from these different sites. The archaeological sites here might have English-speaking tour guides.

What Languages are Spoken in Portugal?

  • Portuguese – Portuguese is an Indo-European Romance language, and Portugal’s official language. Portuguese is used in a number of other countries which over the years have had contact with Portugal. A large population, about 96% of Portugal’s population, speak Portuguese. In Portugal, there are ten different Portuguese dialects. Portuguese is used in all aspects of everyday life, from writing to most business communications, and other interactions. Portuguese is also used in Portugal’s former colonies and territories.
  • English – English is the second most spoken language in Portugal. Even though only a small amount of Portuguese speak English as a native language, English is important and a major language in tourist areas throughout the country. The majority of English speakers are academic and other professionals, and compared to Spain, there are more English speakers in Portugal than Spain. The growth of the English language in Portugal is related to the country’s small size, thus opening it up to external influence, contact with American media, and proximity to England. The language is often taught as a second language in schools, and is gaining popularity among young people.
  • Spanish and French – Spanish and French are Romance languages, so it makes Portuguese easy to understand as a French and Spanish speaker. Portuguese speakers can also understand both French and Spanish very easily as well. Approximately 10% of the Portuguese population speak Spanish. In Portugal, the use of French has diminished over the years, with the majority of the population choosing English over French. In the 19th century, French was introduced in Portugal, and remained popular until the 1970s. At present, French is spoken mainly by the elderly parts of the population.
  • Mirandese – Mirandese is an Indo-European and Astur-Leonese language spoken as a first and second language by a small minority (about 15,000 people). The language is spoken in three towns in the northeastern part of the country. These towns are Vimioso, Miranda do Douro, and Mogaduro. Alongside Portuguese, Mirandese is recognized as a co-official regional language. The language has three distinct dialects: Border, Central, and Sendinesse Mirandese.
  • Portuguese Sign Language – Portuguese Sign Language is recognized in the Constitution of Portugal. The deaf community numbers about 60,000 people, who communicate using this sign language.

Is English Necessary in Portugal?

As a tourist, Portugal is becoming a hotspot destination for tourists each year. Portugal receives at least several million English-speaking visitors each year, and that number continues to increase. When traveling around Portugal, it will be easy to find English speakers at tourist hotspots throughout the country, plus at airports, bus and train stations, you should have no problem speaking English. If you plan to travel to less establish regions, then prepare to learn some Portuguese phrases, or maybe even Spanish might be helpful.

As a local, English is taught widely in schools. Outside of Lisbon, younger people will have demonstrate good English proficiency. English predominately features in television, movies, and other media with most media broadcasts in English language movies and shows in their original English and overlaid with Portguguese subtitles. This exposure to English makes it easier for the younger generation to pick up. If you go to any larger or tourist cities, then English will be in the fabric of the daily life. While you may struggle to find English speakers in less built-up areas like Trasos-Montes, Chaves, and Bragnaca, Portuguese people are renowned for politeness, warmth, and hospitality.

English Teaching in Portugal

Teaching English in Portugal offers teachers an exciting experience. Teachers get to live and work in a Mediterranean climate with many sandy beaches and great cuisine.

In Portugal, English teachers are in demand primarily because of the tourism success in Portugal. Local people are trying to learn English in order to improve their chances in the tourism industry, and make them a more ideal candidate to companies. In addition to the high demand, the Portuguese government recognizes the importance, so they have made it part of the education curriculum for students starting in first grade.

Due to those two reasons, English teaching draws English teachers to Portugal. Many of Portugal’s English teachers come from England or Ireland mostly because they do not need work permits to teach in Portugal. After Brexit though we will still need to see how those demographics change. For residents outside the European Union, it might be harder to find an English language teaching job because most schools do not want to go through the process of applying for a work visa and hiring a non-EU resident.

As for requirements for teaching candidates, the teaching criteria are relatively straightforward. To be considered for a teaching job, applicants must have an international recognized TEFL certificate with at least a bachelor’s degree. In addition to degrees and certification, most employers require at least 100 hours of classroom experience, or one year’s work experience.

In the Land of Cristiano Ronaldo

Upon arriving in Portugal, you might find that the people are warm and hospitable. That even though the people do not speak English, they are still friendly and helpful to foreigners. The cost of living in Portugal is very low compared to other European countries. That ensures that you will get a European standard of living for cheaper. When searching for an apartment, you might find that the rent is about a third of what you would find in London, and a quarter of the price for what you would find in New York City. An added bonus that once you get out of the city, that you will be able to enjoy the wonderful beaches that line the country’s coastline.

Portuguese is a somewhat difficult language to learn. Even though only about 27% of Portuguese speak English. The language is taught in schools, and most Portuguese people have access to English speaking media. With a warm nature toward foreigners, you should find that most people will try to speak English.

While mentioning that rent is cheap, it seems important to note that local salaries are low. In many sectors the average salary is not enough to allow a comfortable living, and that consumer goods are much higher priced than what you could afford. This might be surprising, but Portugal does not have many large big-box stores that offer clothes, electronics, and other consumer goods at a discount.

Final Thoughts

I hope that was enough to answer your questions about English speaking in Portugal. There are a pretty significant number of people able to speak in English but, like many other Southern European countries it isn’t a priority.

If you are interested in other Southern European countries was have some other guides you should take a look at. Spain, Greece and Italy.

Bonus – The Portuguese You Should be Drinking

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