Portuguese is a Romance language spoken widely throughout the world, with the majority of speakers in South America. It is spoken by more than 210 million people worldwide, making it the sixth-ranking language in terms of total speakers.
Portuguese is an official language in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea Bissau, Macau, Mozambique, Portugal, and Sao Tome and Principe. It is also a working language of the European Union. Its speaker population in Africa is currently on the rise, and numbers of speakers worldwide are expected to grow dramatically in the next two decades. Surprisingly to many people, who expect Spanish to hold the distinction, Portuguese is the most spoken language in South America. More than 185 million people speak Portuguese, and this number is rising as Brazil increases its ties with its Spanish-speaking neighbors.
Portuguese is somewhat mutually intelligible with Spanish, and in general, Portuguese speakers have an easier time understanding Spanish speakers than vise versa. There has been renewed interest in Portuguese-speaking countries to learn Spanish, and the similarities between the two languages have made this a fairly easy transition. The Brazilian government recently declared Spanish a mandatory foreign language, in recognition of the growing closeness between Brazil and its neighboring Spanish-speaking nations.
More so than most other Romance languages, Portuguese retains much of the sound of the original Latin. While languages such as French, Italian, and Spanish all make liberal use of diphthongs in their words, Portuguese often keeps the same strong vowels of the original Latin words. This often sounds crisper and more succinct to non-speakers, and is one of the easiest ways for non-speakers to differentiate between Spanish and Portuguese when spoken. While most Portuguese words are Latin-derived, the language was also strongly influenced by Arabic during the Moorish occupation of the Iberian peninsula. In the modern age, Portuguese has adopted a great deal of English words, particularly those related to electronics.
Portuguese began forming in the 3rd century B.C., and was being used in a fairly mature and distinct form by the 10th century. By the 15th century, it had reached a point at which it would be recognizable by most people today as a direct relation to modern Portuguese, and was being used as a lingua franca throughout the new empire Portugal was building in the New World.
Portuguese is a relatively easy language for English-speakers to acquire. Its large number of English cognates — coming from the shared pool of Latin — and fairly simply grammar leave few unexpected hurdles in studying it. There are a handful of strange tenses — such as the present perfect and future subjunctive — but these do not take too much getting used to.