Open & Closed Vowels in European Portuguese

Open & Closed Vowels in European Portuguese

Many learners find European Portuguese natives much more difficult to understand than Brazilians – mainly because when spoken, it sounds much more closed.

In some cases, there are even vowel sounds that are barely audible! (Make sure you already saw the Mystery of the Disappearing Sounds as an entertaining 2-minute introduction!)

In this 2nd of our 3 video lessons in this special series, we explore what we consider the most challenging aspect of European Portuguese comprehension: Open, medium and closed vowel sounds.

By mastering this lesson, you’ll not only better understand what European Portuguese natives are saying, but you’ll make your own accent sound a lot more authentic when you’re speaking Portuguese.

Important: We designed this video to be an ultimate resource that you can return to many times, regardless of your current level… so don’t expect to understand and master every single pronunciation rule after just viewing it the first time! Watch it all the way through the first time just to get the general idea, then return to the content in multiple study sessions, pausing and rewinding as necessary.

Download the PDF guide below for more suggestions on how to use this lesson. Use it to follow along with the video and refer back to later.

Open & Closed Vowels in European Portuguese (Cover)

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It’s Your Turn to Practice!

Use the interactive diagram below to listen to and practice all these vowel sounds! (Watch video for demonstration).
For the best experience, use a computer running Chrome browser.

Audio recording not available in this web browser.
Open in Chrome or Firefox on your computer to try it out!

(Make sure to also check out the 1st lesson in this series:
5000 Words You Already Know)

55 Responses to Open & Closed Vowels in European Portuguese

  1. I´m portuguese and I’m learning polish. After seeing this video I realized how difficult it is to learn my mother tongue and I’ll stop complain about polish language. Adoro os vossos vídeos! Bom trabalho!

    • I am not sure… I am polish and I try to learn portuguese. But stii I think the vowells in Your language are not easy and it’s difficult for me to remebert and to catch when I should use medium or close vowells. Polish is much easier:)

  2. What can one say except that this is just brilliant! It is the best explanation and tool there is for the language. Muito obrigado!

  3. Genius!!! This is exactly what everyone who studies European Portuguese should know about its phonetics! The explanation is perfect! Thank you guys! You are an doing an excellent job!

  4. I loved this lesson. I’m glad Joel brought up the ‘Obrigado’ example. If often sounds to my ear that when people in Lisbon say ‘Sim senhor’, it sounds like ‘Sim senhore’ (or sometimes like ‘Sim senhora’).

  5. This is absolutely great….but it’s so SCARY….. PLEASE DO NOT SHOW THIS TO BEGINNERS. You may scare off lots of people who start learning Portuguese. It’s absolute must for mid-beginners, intermediates, advanced folks. NOT FOR EARLY BEGINNERS

    • Andrew, thanks for the comment and you’re absolutely right about this being challenging for complete beginners. We worked hard to make it as complete of a resource as possible to be an invaluable tool for the community in the long term for as many learners as possible. Our hope is that if beginners watch it, it would serve as an overview so they can have a head start and look out for these things as they progress, then return to the concepts later over time when they’re ready. It will depend on their attitude going into it – if a beginner goes in with a curious approach, accepting that they won’t understand everything at this stage, then we hope they will still get a lot out of this. I would have loved to have had this information earlier on in my studies just so I could have been aware that these different sounds exist. So fingers crossed we will empower more beginners than we will scare away… time will tell. Thanks again 🙂

      • Joel. Agree 100% 🙂 Your podcast and website are the best teaching tools on the web for European Portuguese. Thanks again!

      • I’m a beginning, and while this is terrifying, it’s also incredibly useful. Because it demystifies something: All those sounds I’m hearing aren’t arbritary. Because my ear isn’t trained yet, I really can’t tell the difference between most of these sounds, and it seems like Rui is arbitrarily pronouncing things differently all the time. But this video shows that he is actually making a lot of different sounds that my ear just can’t hear yet. So once my ear is trained, I’ll be able to distinguish it. So rather than scaring me away, it’s making realize that I just need to have patience. It’s not like Japanese, for example (which I’ve studied for many many years), which has very simple and unchanging sounds. Yet the Japanese grammar is incredibly complex. Portuguese sounds are incredibly complex, but the grammar is very simple. But thankfully we also have Joel, and because Joel still speaks with something of a Canadian accent, he is easier to understand. So when I listen to Joel, I gain more confidence. When I listen to Rui, I gain more sophistication. So it’s a fantastic tag-team that most language studios don’t have!

  6. Wow!!! I just finished watching this video and I am so impressed with the amount of work I know you guys put into this, and at the amount of information that you gave us! I am very excited to watch this over and over in an attempt to begin digesting everything. Thank you guys so much!!! This is invaluable information!

  7. You have clarified so many things I’ve struggled with in the past several years of learning European Portuguese! You are able to organize and explain things in ways I have not encountered before. Amazing!

  8. FYI: The file associated with this lesson downloads with the same title as for the first lesson rather than its correct title.

  9. I wish I had these tools before visiting Madeira and Lisboa in September. Now I know why so many people looked at me funny when I spoke. You guys are the best. Keep the lessons coming and eventually I’ll make my Portuguese grandparents proud.

  10. You guys are so generous, funny and sweet, thank you so much for these incredible videos and all the hours of work and the podcasts and everything. You are doing a great and important thing here! Xx

  11. Thank you so much for bringing together so much information that has been scattered throughout my Português learning history and bringing it together in this fantastic resource. I cannot image how much work this must have been. The vowels have been such a source of confusion to me and this resource will help so much. You guys are awesome.

  12. É fantástico para mim. Em 7 semanas, vou fazer o exame CIPLE A2 e isto vai ajudar muito. Obrigada para os vossos trabalho. Beijinhos.

  13. Oh, you’re doing my head in (in a good way) with all this new stuff that I wish I’d seen years ago. Another totally awesome video.

  14. This is SUCH a useful lesson and the tool is fantastic. I remember one of my first Portuguese teachers trying to teach me the difference between medium and closed e sounds and I just couldn’t hear it, let alone say it. I will be using your practice tool, Joel, so thank you!

  15. Ótimo! Foi maravilhoso! Explicou coisas eu nunca ouvi. Obrigado.

    Já agora, visitei recentemente Lisboa durante um longa pausa do meu voo de Luanda para Londres. Gostei Lisboa muito e espero voltar em breve com mais tempo provar-o.

  16. This was fantastic – thank you so much!

    Could I make one suggestion and ask a couple of questions about diphthongs?

    This was perfect for someone like me who has been learning Portuguese for three months, but it would be good for total beginners to have a more basic pronunciation guide with all the classic stuff you need to know at the very beginning (hard and soft C and G,various possibilities of S/SS and X, how the M or N is often a sign of a nasal vowel and we often don’t say the M in AM, EM etc.)

    My question is about the diphthong ‘ei’. Are there really two sounds here? When I hear it in ‘falei’, the last syllable sounds like ‘lay’ in English, but when I hear it in ‘segunda-feira’, the sound is like ‘fire’ in English. Is this right? Am I hearing correctly? Likewise ‘eu’. Sometimes, in words like ‘eu’, I hear ee-oo. But then in words like ‘comeu’, I am hearing ‘may-oo’. I’m old (63) and the ears become much worse at distinguishing between sounds as we get older, so can I check that mine are working OK?

    Thanks again. I’ve just discovered your stuff and I think it’s great, especially for people like me in another country who don’t have the chance to practise yet.

  17. Congratulations, Rui and Joel! You did so well! Thank you very much for this video lesson.

    I have been searching for lessons online that would fit my need and personal preference and style. I found your website and tried to listen to some of your podcasts. I found your lessons interesting and tried to imitate your pronunciations. I found it difficult at first, until you launched this video. Kudos! This particular lesson really inspired and challenged me to continue learning European Português language.

    Your efforts in coming out with the graphic tools and pronunciation demonstrations made me decide to become a premium subscriber. It is such a pleasure to support your project.

    God bless you!

  18. Great stuff! It’s interesting you used the word ‘fall’ for the English example of the open vowel sound for ‘bola’. In fact it’s different in British English. We say ‘fall’ like ‘crawl’ or ‘short’ which is a little longer and is not with the jaw open. Whereas the North Americans say it with the jaw open and to us it sounds like’foll’… 😉

  19. I’ve now moved to Lisboa and I’ve gone back to this video and realised just how good it is. A really clear explanation. I’m still really struggling both with pronunciation and listening, but this is a big help. Many, many thanks.

  20. Boys you are the best!!!! this video is amazing, it response all my doubts!! I´m learning portuguese and practising english as well!!! I am from southamerica but now Im living in Lx, so 1000 of thank you!!!

    See you!

  21. Guys, you are awesome!!! This is the best tool for understanding the sound of this beautiful but very difficult language. I am just a beginner so my struggle is huge for now but I believe that thanks to your help it´ s not gonna for a long time 🙂
    Obrigada !!!

  22. Ola Rui

    For several weeks I have struggled with the pronunciation of your name
    Please explain how that when pronounced it sounds to me like a guttural “Whooeee”
    Portuguese can sometimes sound like a Scotsman (like me) rolling his rrrs.
    For instance in arroz
    But not so in Rui it is much more guttural and no way can I comprehend that the letter r is involved.
    Perhaps there are other names/words that start with that, strange to me r sound?

    • Olá Stan, realmente é um som difícil para quem fala Inglês. É verdade que existem portugueses que enrolam o “r” em arroz, como vocês na Escócia, mas essas pessoas também enrolam em “Rui”, porque um “rr” é igual a um “r” no início de palavra. Eu, e a maioria dos portugueses, no entanto, fazemos um som mais gutural, tal como disseste. E é esse som que é estranho para ti. Pensa que tens qualquer coisa na garganta, comichão por exemplo, e queres coçar a garganta com a vibração das cordas vogais, é mais ou menos assim que produzimos esse “r”. Mas atenção, treina em casa, para não pensarem que és maluco eheheheh. Abraço!

  23. The video is great but i cant get the interactive table to work below the video here. Its done so well but it doesnt play any sound or let me record

    • Thanks for your comment and kind words! Give it a try in the Chrome browser if possible, as it’s less prone to bugs with this kind of functionality. Cheers

  24. Super useful video and examples.

    When I put the “mystery of the disappearing sounds” together with the unstressed to closing motif, I’m still left pondering the mother of all mysteries: para — and no, don’t stop — I mean the preposition para that sometimes, but only sometimes, becomes p[ɨ]ra or p’ra.

    What’s the scoop?

  25. Após 3 meses em Portugal, esta é a única ajuda que é realmente eficaz. Eu leio muito bem mas eu não entendo nadado discurso diário. As if listening to extraterrestrials. 😀 E quando eu comecei a falar, essa pronúncia sempre em inglês, acredite ou não, eles não me entendem.:p

  26. Unfortunately, the interactive portion of the site is broken (tested on up to date versions of Chrome, Firefox, and Safari). I wish it wasn’t! It looks very useful (especially hearing them all side by side!)

    Please fix 🙂

    • Thanks for letting us know it’s not working for you! Strange, seems to be working in my Chrome and Safari. Any chance you have an adblocker or similar running? Perhaps wiping cache will do the trick, and making sure browsers are up to date. (Sorry I can’t be of more help, get in touch with us if you’re still having trouble and hopefully we can get to the bottom of this: https://www.practiceportuguese.com/contact/ 🙂 Obrigado!

  27. Ralph and I just bought a home in Sintra and moving there as soon as our home sells in Palm Springs. I’ve just watched your 3 video’s which was inspirational and look forward to more of your teachings. We’re very motivated to learn the language. Obrigado!!! Steve

    • Congrats to you and Ralph on moving to Sintra, great decision 🙂 Glad you like the videos, and we’re looking forward to making more soon as well! Abraço aos dois

  28. Muito interessante e explica muito. Eu aprendei Portugues quando morei e trarbalhei em São Paulo há muitos anos atrás (1974). Tenho esqucido muito, mas agora quero viajar para Portugal e Galicia. No último mes ouvi algumas artigos no seu website. Por mim portugues de europa é muito dificil entender, mas seu website é exatamente o que preciso. Ontem, inscrivi-me seu Premium. (Desculpe meu portuguese pobre.)

  29. Your lessons knock all video attempts into a cocked hat
    This is the way to start out along with listening to the Portuguese
    excellent

  30. I just love you guys, you make something I at least find difficult into something I can understand ( remembering and recalling it in conversation is another matter).I love your presentations, just brilliant. Thank you, Rosie xx

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