Official language spoken in Brazil is Portuguese
Unlike most of South America, where Spanish is spoken, the official language of Brazil is Portuguese. However, many of the Cariocas in Rio de Janeiro have a working knowledge of other languages including Spanish, English, Italian and French.
Before you leave for Rio de Janeiro it might be a good idea to learn to speak Portuguese. Your attempts to speak the language while in Rio will be appreciated by the local residents. There are a few simple phrases that will help get you through your Rio vacation.
“Tudo bem” (Toodoo bain) is a common greeting that means “How’s it going”. The response is the same “tudo bem”.
“Legal”, pronounced “leh-gal” means “cool” and “nossa” means “wow”.
“Bom dia”, “Boa tarde” and “Boa noite” mean “Good Morning”, “Good Afternoon” and “Good Night” respectively.
“Como” means the person you are speaking with did not hear or understand you. “Desculpe” (Deshculpeh) is the appropriate way to apologize when you have done something wrong. The response to “desculpe” is “Nao faz mal” (nah-fash-mal) which means “no problem”.
As a visitor to Rio de Janeiro it is imperative to have good manners. The phrase for “excuse me” is com licença (co-lee-sensah).
Obrigado (men) and Obrigada (women) mean, “thank you”.
“De nada” is used to say “you’re welcome” and is pronounced in Brazil as chee nah-dah. Por favor means please and esta bem means OK.
Like any other language, there are some words or phrases that are particular to a region or have several different meanings. Rio also has plenty of these slang phrases. To say “what’s up”, use the phrase “então? tudo bem?” or the phrase “oi! E, aí?”
Gringo means foreigner and can be used as an insult or with a lot of affection. Muito louco indicates you find something cool or funny. “Quale” or “beleza” both mean “wassup but “beleza” is the more positive word. Grana means money and chapado means someone is drunk.
Learning Portuguese is recommended for anyone traveling to Rio de Janeiro. At the very least learn a few phrases to let people know you do understand the language. ‘Não entendo’ means “I don’t understand” and “não sei” indicates you do not know something.
Cariocas are the friendliest people you’ll meet, so they will try to understand you the best they can. Middle and upper class people usually speak English very well, and some establishments in Rio, specially around the South Zone, attendants speak English, but don’t expect this everywhere you go, there are a lot of restaurants that offer menus in English.