So, I am learning Portuguese and apart from from prononciation, I can't point out much differences between Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese . This could be a problem because I just read and listen to any learning material without caring too much. What are the major differences and should I choose with one to learn from scratch?
Beyond that, there is a whole group of different words used only in one of the variants and not in the other. And I'm not talking about slang here; I'm talking about nouns, verbs that are common in one variant and archaic in the other, or even verb structures that are ordinary even for uneducated people in Portugal ('eu dar-to-ei': 'I will give it to you') and simply NOT USED AT ALL and not considered standard anymore in Brazil (we'd say: 'eu vou te/lhe dar isso', 'eu te/lhe darei isso', 'eu o darei para/a você', etc.), except for literature, poems, official documents, or something like that.
But trust me: yeah, some differences may stand out, but, at the end of the day, it is the SAME language. Of course there are some accents that might be harder for a native of some other to pick up on at first. That happens in every language (some Americans have a hard time understanding, say, Scottish or Australian people; and let's not talk about the different Chinese variants). Sadly there is a lot of prejudice between people from both countries; some Portuguese say we don't speak Portuguese here, but 'Brazilian language', and that they are the ones who speak 'real Portuguese' (which is obviously a stupid way of thinking, coming from a biased person); on the other hand, some Brazilians say they can't understand ANY Portuguese person at all, which is highly unlikely to be true (except if they have no disposition at all to talk with them, or some sort of cognitive disorder). It's just unfortunate prejudice.
To wrap it up, my advice is: if you decide on learning Portuguese, pick a variant and learn it for the sake of speaking well, but try to read, watch, listen to, and get to know every dialect and accent you come across. Portuguese has a large accent inventory and they're all beautiful. Hope it helps!
(Adapting and pasting my answer from another thread.)
It is more than just the accents. Yes, it is the same language. Yes, we can understand each other with no major problem, after our minds have figured out each other's speaking patterns. People will say that sometimes they don't understand a Portuguese or a Brazilian word, that they don't know what some slang means, but that is not an exclusive problem between the two variants. Even here in Brazil, there are some slang words from the place I live in that people from São Paulo may not understand at first, and vice versa.
I'd say that the pronunciation differences are somewhat that between General American English and the maybe most known and spoken dialect from London, Estuary English. One of the biggest differences, for the people here who know a little bit about phonology and phonetics, is that Brazilian Portuguese is said to be a syllable-timed language. That is actually controversial, but, as a rule of thumb, we take our time to pronounce every single syllabe equally. Yes, we've got contractions, reductions, and all those stuff, but we don't have that rhythmic contrast from English, where content words are longer, clearer, or louder, and function words are shorter, less clear, or lower. That is one of the main things that indicate that someone speaking Brazilian Portuguese is not a native. On the other hand, European Portuguese is said to be, if not completely stress-timed, at least more than Brazilian Portuguese. That's why for us, Brazilians, it seems like Portuguese people 'eat' complete syllables almost all the time and, for them, it seems like we speak singing or slowly. It's not just a matter of how the Portuguese pronounce their syllable-ending S's (that Carioca people also do and my regional accent also does with S's that come before a T or a D only), or their syllable-ending flap R's (that Paulista/Southern people also do), or even some vowel differences; it's all about rhythm.
Besides a few words that are not the same, the only difference is the accent. Many people prefer learning brazilian portuguese because there are more brazilian than portuguese people on the world, so you're more likely to find a brazilian person to talk to, but you can choose whichever you want.
Well, so this is what I know:
FORMAL SPEECH: mostly similar, although some words and sentences might be different.
INFORMAL SPEECH: varies a lot, not only in vocabulary, but also in sentence building, between either side of the Atlantic. If you are getting in contact with Portuguese language videos, music, etc, this is probably what you are being exposed to, so I'd guess it matters.
The main difference, though, is PRONUNCIATION, or accent.
As in any language that is spoken in several parts of the world, there are many regional differences. Some people say that the actual differences between European and Brazilian Portuguese are about the same as the differences between British and American English, but I think there is a huge BUT there. And why is so? Because unlike American English Speakers, who are more or less used (from frequented exposition) to the British Accent, and vice versa, Brazilian Portuguese Speakers usually have not been exposed to Portuguese Portuguese as much as the other way around, and thus are more likely to have trouble understanding a Portuguese accent.
So, in deciding what accent to learn, I am obviously biased, but here are some point you might want to take into consideration:
1. Most Brazilians will have trouble understanding the Portuguese accent (but since Brazilian soap operas and music are popular overseas, the same is not necessarily true the other way around).
2. The VAST (really vast) majority of native Portuguese speakers are Brazilian. Since Brazil is bigger and richer than Portugal you are more likely to bump into a Br. Pt. speaker than a Portuguese one.
3. Brazil, like the US, is in the Americas.
But, on the other hand, Portugal is in Europe, so European Portuguese might be better if you want to go there.
Anyway, both are mutually understandable, and you cannot go too wrong on that choice.