Portuguese is one of the major languages of the world (the sixth most spoken language worldwide), spoken by about 200 million people on four continents. It belongs to a group of languages called “Romance” or “Neo-Latin” that evolved from Latin, the language of Latium in Ancient Italy, or more specifically, the city of Rome.
The official language of Brazil is Portuguese, spoken by majority of the population.
Brazilian Portuguese has a number of pronunciation differences with that spoken in Portugal. However speakers of either can understand each other. However, European Portuguese is more difficult for Brazilians to understand than the reverse, as many Brazilian television programs broadcasted in Portugal. Note that a few words can have a totally different meaning in Brazil and Portugal, usually slang words. An example of this is “rapariga” which in Portugal means young girl, and in northeast of Brazil means a prostitute.
English is not widely spoken except in some touristy areas. Don’t expect bus or taxi drivers to understand English, so it might be a good idea to write down the address you are heading to before getting the taxi. In most big and luxurious hotels, it is very likely that the taxi fleet will speak some English.
Spanish speakers are usually able to get by in Brazil, especially towards the south. Phonetically, Portuguese has greater resemblance to French or Catalan while Spanish pronunciation is much closer to Italian. Portuguese includes a greater phonemic inventory than Spanish, which may explain why it is generally more difficult for Spanish speakers to understand, in spite of the strong lexical similarity between the two languages. Letters CH, D, G, J, R, RR, and T are particularly difficult for Spanish speakers to understand.
Portuguese courses for foreigners are not popular outside the big cities. A good alternative is to befriend language students and exchange lessons. If you come to Brazil with some initial notions of Portuguese, you will see that people will treat you better and you will get by much easier. Language schools in Salvador, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, and Porto Alegre have Portuguese courses from 2 weeks up.
Source: RODRÍGUEZ, Alfredo Maceira,Aspectos Comparativos entre o Espanhol e o Português,accessed on January 2nd, 2012.