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Facts About Countries that Speak Portuguese: Some May Surprise You

By Edited Jan 18, 2015 1 0
Best Way To Learn Portuguese
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During the age of exploration by Europeans during the 15th and 16th centuries, the Portuguese traveled all over the globe in search of adventure, to spread Catholicism and gain wealth.

In time, colonies were established in various places and the Portuguese language spread, eventually becoming the dominant language in these regions. As colonies slowly gained independence from Portugal , the language was nevertheless adopted and passed on to generation after generation.

Today, Portuguese is the official language in five African countries, one South American country and a small island nation in Indonesia.

In almost all of these countries, indigenous languages still exist but official government business is done in Portuguese.


Credit: Wouter Hagens via Wikimedia Commons

Population 10,799,270[2]

The obvious one, right?  Well, it all had to start somewhere so this would not be a comprehensive list without it .

Located on the Atlantic coast on the Iberian  Peninsula, it is often an afterthought of its much larger neighbor Spain. Portugal is the westernmost country of mainland Europe and also controls a chain of islands in the Atlantic called the Azores and Madeira. The islands however are governed as autonomous regions. According to the International English Proficiency Index, Portugal has a high proficiency level in English if you were ever thinking of vacation there.[1]

Portugal has been part of the European Union and NATO for decades but the financial crisis in 2008 weakened the country’s economy so much, officials had to negotiate in 2011 with the IMF and the European Union to obtain loans to help the country stabilize its finances.

Some of the coastline is known for some of the largest waves on earth so it is popular with the professional surfing crowd. In fact, a record was set last year on the highest wave ever successfully surfed and it was all captured on video.

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Largest Wave Ever Surfed


Credit: mjpyro

Population 189 million[2]

Brazil is the largest country in South America and the only one that speaks Portuguese. The reason Brazil speaks Portuguese and not Spanish like the rest of Central and South America has to do with the Treaty of Tordesillas.

Brazil is roughly the size of the continental United States with about half the population, making it by far the largest and most populous area of the world where Portuguese is officially spoken.

Brazil is famous for its beaches, the Amazon River and forest and its Carnaval celebrations held all over the country, but the ones that really count are in Rio de Janeiro where the large samba schools fight it out every year for the top prize and bragging rights.

The country recently moved ahead of the United Kingdom as the 6th largest economy in the world[3].

However, it is still plagued by boom and bust cycles because of its reliance on commodity exports. Brazil is the largest exporter of iron ore as well as beef and oranges among many other crops.

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Fodor's Brazil 2014 (Full-color Travel Guide)
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Credit: Kate Holt via Wikimedia Commons

Population 19.5 million[2]

Mozambique is located in southeastern Africa just north of South Africa and just west of the island nation of Madagascar.  While many may not be familiar with this nation, it is large… about twice the size of California.

It also has the distinction of being home to one of the oldest European churches. The Capela de Nossa  Senhora do Baluarte, or the Chapel of Our Lady of Baluarte, was built in 1522.

Although Portuguese is the official language, only roughly 30% of the population actually speaks it. However, all official business and interaction with the government is done in Portuguese.

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Credit: Paulo César Santos via Wikimedia Commons

Population 11.4 million[2]

Angola is located on the southwestern coast of Africa, just south of the Republic of Congo. It covers about 1,246,700 square kilometers making it roughly half the size of the state of Texas. Angola only recently gained total independence from Portugal in 1975.

The region of what is now known as Angola was the primary source of most slaves that were imported into the Portuguese colony in Brazil. A lot of the cultural influences for the samba and celebrations have their roots in African traditions that continued after people arrived in the new world.

Angola is a member of OPEC and counts oil as well as diamonds as their major exports.[4]  However, the economy is ranked 67th in the world making it one of the poorer nations in the world. [2] 

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Credit: Colleen Taugher via Wikimedia Commons

Population 1.5 million[2]

Never heard of this place? You are not alone. It is a small nation located on the northwestern coast of Africa covering only about 36,125 square kilometers making it about the size of the state of Maine. Guiné Bissau is just south of the country of Senegal.  The country just recently gained complete independence from Portugal in 1974.

Guiné Bissau is ranked as one of the 10 poorest countries in the world with an economy primarily based on farming and fishing.  Cashew nuts are the main source of income for rural communities and remain the country’s official main export.[2]

However, their most lucrative crop may be trafficking in narcotics due to the limited economic activity within the country and weak government still controlled by tribal factions.  The nation continues to be heavily reliant on foreign aid from the United States, European Union and the IMF.[2]

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East Timor

East Timor
Credit: Opensource

Population 1.1 million[2]

How can a small island country halfway around the world from Portugal speak Portuguese?

East Timor was colonized by Portugal in the 16th century in an area known as the Spice Islands. It is located in the Indonesian islands just north of Australia. For centuries it was known as Portuguese Timor until 1975, when it officially declared its independence from Portugal

However, a year later it was invaded by Indonesia and held under its control for over 2 decades. In 1999, after intervention from the United Nations, Indonesia agreed to give up control of half the island of Timor and East Timor became the first new sovereign state of the 21st century on May 20, 2002 and a member of the UN and the Community of Portuguese Language Countries.[2] It is still predominantly Roman Catholic.

Portuguese is considered the official language of East Timor however there are at least 16 other indigenous languages spoken on the tiny island.

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Cape Verde

Which Countries Speak Portuguese?
Credit: Manuel de Sousa via Wikimedia Commons

Population 420,000[2]

Cape Verde is a collection of islands off the northwestern coast of Africa that covers a total area of slightly over 4,000 square kilometers making it smaller than the state of Rhode Island. [2]

Nine of the twelve islands in the archipelago chain are inhabited.

The capital of Cape Verde is Praia, which in Portuguese means beach, so that should give you an idea of what mostly goes on there.

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Sao Tome and Principe

Which Countries Speak Portuguese?
Credit: Bdickerson via Wikimedia Commons

Population 188,000[2]

São Tomé and Príncipe is officially the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe and is another island nation located in the Gulf of Guinea just off the coast from Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

The country is known for its coffee bean exports as well as recently discovered oil reserves off its coast.[2]

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São Tomé and Príncipe


In terms of its relative size, Portugal actually had a larger geographical impact on the world with its language than Spain.

Like the English and Spanish languages, it continues to be spoken by more people around the world than its home country which is the best example of the effect that the era of European colonialism had upon the rest of the world.



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  1. "English Proficiency Index ." EF English Proficiency. 12/03/2014 <Web >
  2. "World Fact Book." CIA World Fact Book. 12/03/2014 <Web >
  3. "Brazil's economy overtakes UK to become world's sixth largest ." The Guardian. 3/01/2015 <Web >
  4. "Member Countries." OPEC. 4/01/2015 <Web >

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