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John Brierley Camino Frances Guide
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Do I need to be able to speak Portuguese?

I am wondering about how much you need to be able to speak Portuguese on the Camino Portugues (in the Portuguese part obviously). I speak fluent Spanish and French (and English) and survival level Italian, but my Portuguese is pretty crap. I can understand a reasonable amount of what I read (thanks to a very basic grasp of Portuguese grammar together with some guess work based on my knowledge of French and Spanish grammar and vocabulary). Interestingly, I can also understand a fair bit of written Galician (its like Spanish with Portuguese bits). However, my Portuguese pronunciation is not very good (it is infiltrated by my French and Spanish and I am hopeless at the nasal sounds) and my oral comprehension needs a lot of work. I am planning on taking a grammar book and small dictionary with me to work on my Portuguese, but I was wondering if people on the route (in the Portuguese part obviously) might understand spoken Spanish. I have managed to survive two days in Brazil by speaking Spanish and trying to guess what was being said back to me in Portuguese. However, this was in an Amazonian village. People in the Amazon tend to speak more slowly and clearly than in Portugal (or so I've been told, I've never been to Portugal before).

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Nunca se camina solo
Hi - you may be surprised as I was at the high number of people in Portugal who speak English very well. When they didn't understand my Scottish accent (neither do some English people!) I simply swapped to Spanish and all was well.

You'll be fine.

Buen Camino

Hello John,

Good to hear from you. I have been reading your responses to a number of topics with great interest. I'm glad to know that I will be able to get by with English and Spanish (but will have a good go at using this opportunity to improve my Portuguese). Interesting to hear that you are Scottish. I am Canadian, but I live in Scotland. I have 20 munros left! I'd probably have them all done by now if I hadn't been distracted by bagging caminos.


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Hi, we survived with just english and a basic understanding of spanish. We had a portugese phrasebook that we used for ordering food and drinks etc but mostly our attempts were laughed at. In the big towns and the tourist areas everybody seemed to speak english, also anywhere connected with the camino, albergues & bars on the route etc people seemed to understand english. In the more rural areas was a bit more difficult and the phrasebook was required but really i think you will be fine - don't worry!
In fact it was a shock crossing the bridge into spain as suddenly no one spoke english to us anymore and life got much harder but since you speak spanish you won't be worried about that.
The only twice we had a problem was once in Porto we left our room key behind after breakfast and had to have a conversation in portugese about the 'key' which we weren't pronouncing very well (hence lots of miming actions) and at the hostel near rubiaes where the lady does not speak english but we communicated in french.
John Brierley Camino Frances Guide
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I walked a couple of years back with a French lady who had done the Camino Portugues, and she found French was widely spoken.

During the dictatorship in the 60's, many people left Portugal to live in France before returning later, and hence French is pretty widespread. Can't vouch for it personally as I have yet to visit Portugal.

So you should be OK, but as we all know, hands are very useful !!

Thanks, Obrigada, Gracias and Merci for all the advice about language on the Camino Portugues. I did suspect that most people would be able to understand Spanish to some extent and that a few might be able to speak English, but it would never have occurred to me to try out French if all else fails. The comments about hand gestures reminds me of a neighbour who was living in Germany with her husband on an Army base. She had left the base and was trying to buy eggs, but didn't remember the German word for egg. So she tried miming a chicken laying an egg. We were kids when she told us this story (complete with chicken gestures) and it still makes me laugh.

I wondered about needing to speak Portuguese on the Camino Portugues because it occurred to me on the Via de la Plata that it would be a wee bit more of a challenge if you didn't have enough Spanish to ask around to find the keys to the albergues.

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