Are Spanish and Portuguese similar ?
Yes, very similar. In fact, they rank among the highest in terms of mutual intelligence. But I want to be clear, no one is trying to say the two languages are the same or that a speaker could walk without breaking a stride into a life with the other language. The accents and phonetics of both languages are hugely different and not to be underestimated. But when reading a text or spoken to slowly and sympathetically, an untrained non native speaker may get the jist of what is going on or maybe even more. This is incredible for an English speaker like myself to think of. See below examples of common phrases in both languages! (Yes, I used the Irish flag !)
Why are they so similar?
Well, both languages started out life as Latin. But, Latin went on to split and evolve along with the Roman Empire. Spanish and Portuguese remained united until relatively recently. The trend went like this:
Latin > Vulgar Latin > Italo Western > Western > Ibero Romance > then finally Spanish and Portuguese were born.
So really, both languages are deviations from a not so distant ancestor and hence, they are very similar.
Who understands whom better?
They say pound for pound Portuguese speakers understand Spanish better than vice versa. This is because Portuguese has roughly double the sounds in it than Spanish has. So in short, a Portuguese speaker will be able to recognize their equivalent words easier than a spaniard. That being said, it does come down to the person’s own aptitude for interpretation too.
A few differences.
As we have seen above, both Spanish and Portuguese are close, they are possibly best described as two quarrelsome twins with similar abilities and inherited traits, yet always striving for independence and uniqueness. Sometimes this can be trivial, like spelling “Eu” as “Yo”, different pronunciations or maybe just reversing verb and noun order. On the other hand, the use of verbs in different ways and contexts can be sometimes misleading and make the languages at times very different. A brief example of this would be in Spanish ”Tengo frio” (I am cold) or ”Hace frio” (It is cold ). These phrases, despite having the same words or a close relative in Portuguese, often do not share the same meaning or turn of phrase. However, these are marginal differences, people could work out what is being said and as with most twins, there is no hiding from the resemblances.
It can be fun to look at the other romance languages for further examples of this and parallels can be drawn between their country cousins. The likes of Italian, French, Catalan and even Romanian all share a huge variety of vocabulary and an even bigger array or Latin based root words. In closing, we are blessed with all of these similar, beautiful, melodic languages, and not because Latin died out of disinterest, but because people liked speaking it in different ways. In my opinion it is certain that with a little effort, interest and adaption a speaker of one can pick up another, no problem, and broaden their linguistic and cultural world.
Big shout out to the Brazilian contingent in Blessington Court for help with the phrases