Thinking in a Foreign Language: 7 Methods to Help You Train Your Brain
In learning a foreign language, there are four basic language skills- reading, writing, listening, and speaking.
Portuguese is a rich language spoken by many people all over the world.
One great example of just how rich and beautiful Portuguese is found in the various idioms that Portuguese speakers use on a regular basis.
Idioms are phrases where the meaning of the words doesn’t necessarily sum up what the entire phrase is really saying. They can be very confusing for beginner language learners, but for native speakers, they are phrases they use daily.
In order to really become fluent in Portuguese, you need to know and understand some basic phrases and basic idioms. Start with the idioms here.
Translation: Bread bread cheese cheese
Meaning: It is what it is
This Portuguese idiom is used to signify acceptance of a situation.
Translation: Those who see faces don’t see hearts
Meaning: Don’t judge by appearances
This is a wise Portuguese idiom that is equivalent to the English idiom of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” So, don’t be quick to judge someone, especially based on appearances.
Translation: To pay for the duck
Meaning: To take the blame
When you do this, you are taking the blame for something someone else did.
Translation: One swallow does not make a summer
Meaning: Strength in numbers
This is a common Portuguese saying which is meant to imply that working as a group is better than working alone.
Translation: To break the coconut laughing
Meaning: Laugh hard
If someone is doing this, they are laughing hard.
Translation: Letting water in
When you hear someone say this, they are saying that they are acting the fool.
Translation: Heart of stone
Meaning: No empathy
This is a Portuguese idiom that basically means the same thing as the English idiom “heart of ice.” They do not care or have no empathy for other people.
Translation: Trust the Virgin and don’t run
Meaning: Do something
The implication of this Portuguese idiom is that you need to do something to get yourself out of trouble, not just wait around for a miracle or for someone else to solve your problems.
Translation: This is too much sand for my truck
Meaning: I’m overwhelmed
This is equivalent to the English idiom “I’m in over my head”. When you hear this, the speaker is saying that they are extremely busy, maybe too busy.
Translation: A donkey is about to be born
Meaning: Do something unexpected
This idiom is used when someone does something shocking or unexpected. When they did something unbelievable.
Translation: Friends, friends, business aside
Meaning: Don’t go into business with your friends
This wise Portuguese expression is a caution about mixing friendship with business matters.
Translation: Take the horse away from the rain
Meaning: Don’t count on it.
This idiom is long and actually has nothing to do with a “pony” or the weather; it is rather an exclamation similar to the English expression “don’t count on it”. So, if someone proposes that you do something that you don’t want to, you can say this.
Translation: Dizzy cockroach
This funny Portuguese idiom is used to describe someone who is clumsy and maybe disoriented.
Translation: A dog that barks does not bite
Meaning: Not a real threat
The implication of this Portuguese idiom is that someone is “noisy” and threatening, but is really harmless.
Translation: The hat fits
This idiom is used when someone has caught someone in a lie. If someone has accidently revealed themselves as guilty of something they denied, “the hat fits”.
Translation: To be racing like a mackerel
Meaning: A cocky nobody
When a Portuguese speaker talks about someone like this, they are saying that they are self-important. They think they are important or a “big shot” even if they are not.
Translation: Maria goes with the others
Meaning: A follower
You can use this idiom to refer to someone – not necessarily named Maria – who simply goes along with the group.
Translation: He went with the pigs
Meaning: He died
This irreverent Portuguese idiom is used to say that somebody passed away. Be careful when and where you use it as it’s very informal.
Translation: An old donkey doesn’t learn languages
Meaning: People don’t change
This is the equivalent to the English idiom “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” The implication is that people tend to be resistant to change.
Translation: Plunge head first
Meaning: Join in
When you do this, you decide to fully commit to a situation or join up with a group without any hesitation. There is a slight implication that you might have been a bit impulsive, but there’s usually no judgments from the speaker.
Translation: To feed the donkey sponge cake
Meaning: To treat someone better then they deserve
It seems like a waste to feed a donkey sponge cake, yes? Well, that’s the implication with this idiom. The meaning behind these words is that you are treating someone better than they deserve. That you are “wasting” your efforts or your kindness towards them.
Translation: Many years of turning chickens
Meaning: An expert
The explanation behind this idiom is, in Portugal, it is common to cook chicken by grilling it by turning it on a spit for a long time. So, if someone has been turning chickens for a “long time” they have been doing something for a long time, so that made them an expert. This is meant to imply someone is experienced.
Translation: To tweak one’s nose
Meaning: To disagree
If you hear this from a Portuguese speaker, they are saying that they are disagreeing with someone or have a different opinion.
Translation: All night, all cats are gray
Meaning: Everyone makes mistakes
This is a philosophical Portuguese idiom that basically means that it is easy to make mistakes.
Translation: To put one’s tail between the legs
Meaning: Leave feeling ashamed
This is similar to an English idiom that means “leaving scared”, but in Portuguese, it means leaving because you are ashamed or were shamed.
Translation: You are here; you are (going) to eat
Meaning: I am about to hurt you
This Portuguese idiom is what can be thought of as “fighting words”. It’s basically a threat.
Translation: Seven-headed beast
Meaning: Huge complication
This Portuguese idiom means that something has just become a huge complication or problem.
Translation: To stay watching the ships
Meaning: To wait in vain
This idiom is used to say that someone is waiting “in vain”. So they are just waiting and hoping for something to happen that never does.
Translation: Without land nor roof
This is used to describe someone who has “nothing”. The implication is that they are poor or destitute.
Translation: To have a flea behind your ear
Meaning: To be suspicious
If you feel this, then you have a “bad feeling” about a person or a situation. So you think that things are suspicious.
Translation: To go to the eye of the street
The English translation of this Portuguese idiom has practically no relation to what a Portuguese speaker means when they say it. Basically, it means that a person has gotten fired from their job.
Translation: To be done to the beef
Meaning: Doesn’t know what to do
When you hear this, a Portuguese speaker is admitting that they have a problem that they don’t know how to solve.
Translation: To have little monkeys inside your head
Meaning: To have strange ideas
When a Portuguese speaker says this, they find your ideas strange or even illogical.
Translation: It’s not my beach
Meaning: Not my thing
This short idiom is used similarly to the English expression, not my thing.
Translation: A hurricane in a cup of water
Meaning: Make a big deal of
This is equivalent to the idea of “making a mountain out of a molehill”. In other words, you are making a bid deal out of a small issue.
Translation: There’s no beauty without an if
Meaning: Nothing is perfect
This is a philosophical idiom that a Portuguese speaker uses to say that nothing is perfect.
Translation: By the yes, by the no
Meaning: Just in case
This Portuguese idiom is used the same way that English speakers use the phrase “just in case”.
The most number of Portuguese speakers in the world are actually found in Brazil.
Most of the rules of grammar and the vocabulary of what is thought of as Brazilian Portuguese is similar to Standard or European Portuguese, so it is understood by other Portuguese speakers.
However, there are some interesting idioms that originated or are more commonly used in Brazil. Here are five examples.
Translation: Wooden face
Meaning: No shame
This Portuguese idiom from Brazil is used to describe someone who is acting shamelessly, who doesn’t care about what people think.
Translation: To drop the token
Meaning: To understand
This is a Brazilian exclamation used when someone “gets it”. When someone says this they are saying that they now understand something that they were having difficulty grasping or were confused about.
Translation: To buy a cat thinking it was a rabbit
This Brazilian Portuguese idiom means that you were fooled. It’s usually used when talking about politics.
Translation: To speak by the elbows
Meaning: Talk too much
In Brazil, if someone is talking and you want to get their attention, you touch their elbow. So, this idiom implies that someone is talking so much that you can’t get a word in.
Translation: So the English can see it
Meaning: Only for appearances
This idiom is a reference to Brazil’s history of slavery. When Brazil was recognized as an independent country by Great Britain, it was supposed to do away with slavery. There were even laws passed which stated that slaves in Brazil were to be freed.
While there were laws against slavery, they often were not implemented immediately, so the laws were for “show” or just to make the English happy. This saying has since evolved to mean that you are doing something for a “show” or to show off.
The main goal of learning Portuguese is to be able to communicate with native speakers. In order to do so, you need to learn to speak the way they do in their daily lives.
Native Portuguese speakers will use slang and idioms and other forms of expression that might not be taught in your language learning textbooks. It is, however, important to learn idioms as you will be using and hearing them in everyday conversation.
Download this free PDF and start memorizing this list of idioms and practice using them with an online native Portuguese speaking tutor. You should also ask your tutor if they have other fun and interesting idioms that they think you should learn.
Pagar or pata, Estas a meter agua, Tirar o cavalinho da chuva, Barata tonta, A carapuca serviu
Translation: To be racing like a mackerel Meaning: A cocky nobody When a Portuguese speaker talks about someone like this, they are saying that they are self-important. They think they are important or a “big shot” even if they are not.
Translation: Maria goes with the others Meaning: A follower You can use this idiom to refer to someone – not necessarily named Maria – who simply goes along with the group.
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