While knowing to write and read in Portuguese is great, it’s even more worthwhile knowing what native speakers are saying. It’s even more interesting when the locals of whichever region you’re visiting can understand you. To be confident with a Brazilian accent, (mainly the Carioca and Sao Paulo accents), the best solution is to immerse yourself in 100% Brazilian TV shows — a very effective and entertaining (let’s be honest here) method to quickly learn Brazilian Portuguese. Below, we have chosen some of the best TV in Brazil and described how they can help you learn the language.
If you prefer a more intensive course, then take a look at our selction of the best Brazilian movies to learn Portuguese.
The Best Brazilian TV Shows for Learning Portuguese
(broadcast in Brazil from March to October 2012)
When the president changes her agenda due to a TV series, you know it’s a good one. Avenida Brasil is a modern telenovela. In other words, it’s a mix between a soap opera and a mini-series.
The main character, Rita, loses her mother at a very young age and grows up with her father and rather cruel stepmother. Rita’s life falls apart when she sees this lady in the arms of another man. Right as she’s about to tell her father everything, totally unexpectedly, he’s run over by a car and dies. The stepmother leaves her at the city dump, a locale well known to the homeless in her city. Several years later, Rita takes revenge. She enters back into her stepmother’s house, under the guise of a cook named Nina, and is ready to do anything to get her revenge.
But why should you watch it?
We know the telenovela format can be discouraging to some readers. But if you want to learn the language and familiarize yourself with Brazilian culture, Avenida Brasil is a must-follow series. It has ups, downs, an emotionally charged plot and has kept 38 million viewers on the edge of their seats. Even President Rousseff was hooked on it.
The series will at least give you a conversation topic if you ever visit Brazil (Hey, we all need icebreakers from time to time.) There’s a good chance the show can help you strike up a conversation.
(first broadcast in Brazil in 2005)
This series is a little dated now, but it still touches on relevant themes: drugs, alcohol, sex, even prostitution. The story starts with Mandrake, a lawyer in Rio de Janeiro. The forty something specializes in criminal defense, so his job relies on bailing people out of somewhat questionable scenarios, usually involving sex. The lawyer rubs shoulders with the upper classes of Rio de Janeiro — celerites and other wealthy perosnailities — as well as actors in the drug, prostitution and nightlife game of the glamorous city.
Why will it suck you in?
Well, just like drugs, it’s hard to get out once you start. But the main thing with this Brazilian TV show is its novel vision of Rio de Janeiro. As pervasive as the notion of the favelas being devastated by drugs and prostitution is, Mandrake shows you how it affects all walks of life. In all, American audiences who loved Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul will feel right at home with Mandrake.
Filhos do Carnaval
(made by HBO latino)
When Rio de Janeiro comes up, the Carnival and samba usually follow. This is how the stage is set in Filho do Carnaval. As you probably imagined, the picture this series paints of the Carnival is quite different than the one we think of. Here, it’s all about the money and the conflicting relationships between fathers and sons.
Anesio Gebara runs a samba school and, at the same time, an illegal lottery. He’s the patriarch of the family, and with his old age he finds himself thinking more and more about the estate he’s going to leave behind — more appropriately, which of his four sons he will leave in charge of his “family business”. It’s an answer that puts even more strain on this volatile family.
Why should you watch it?
This series couldn’t care less about the glitter and rhinestones of the Carnival. Filhos do Carnaval takes you from the preparation of the Carnival to the beat of the samba, but not without taking you to the real-life overflowing cities of Rio de Janeiro. You will find very little glamour here, just realism and from time to time, evil.
Cidade dos Homens
The name might sound familiar to you; Cidade dos Homens (also named City of Men for international releases) is based off the famous movie, City of God. In this series, we follow the paths of Acerola and Laranjinha, two childhood friends from a Rio de Janeiro favela run by drug traffickers. The series brings up some powerful topics, like drugs, poverty and urban violence.
You go through the day-to-day actives as well as the personal evolution of its two main characters in the heart of the favela. Once the second season begins, we’re no longer confronted by two children but rather two young adults grappling with their future and their role in society, much like all of us at one point.
Why should you watch both?
If you liked the original movie, then the series will definitely draw you in. On one hand, like the film, the series allows you to discover vocabulary you’d never find in a classroom. The favelas aren’t known for their politeness, so you will pick up a lot of slang, which is great, because you will need it on the streets of Rio. But it isn’t all drugs and violence, the series paints a great image of the comunidades, an integral part of Rio de Janeiro culture
(produced by HBO and broadcast in 2008)
Alice is a young woman who one day decides to leaver her small village to move to to São Paulo. But in the end, the diversity of the inhabitants, the multiculturalism of the gigantic city, the madness of the many characters and the situations Alice is confronted with all help her discover her true self.
Why should you watch it?
This series is much like Sex and the City. However, the culture, the music and the general life of São Paulo is very different than life in New York City. So there’s a lot left to be discovered with Alice. When looking at São Paulo, you’ll quickly realize you’re taking in a totally different landscape than that of Rio. It gives you a glimpse at the immensity of Brazil’s capital and the multiculturalism of its residents. OK, but for languages, it gives you exposure to a totally different accent, perhaps even the one you should be studying.
Filho da puta!
(produced by HBO)
Filho da puta… We’ll leave the translation of this up to you. Juares Gomez is a soccer referee in Brazil. In other words, he’s one of the most hated people in his country. It goes further though. He’s divorced and is fighting his ex-wife for custody of his son. The series follows the daily life of this ref both on and off the field, portraying a dark yet humorous life. Even how the show is shot, constantly in movement, gives it a sadistic touch. Filho da puta ! is a gritty series which covers on many recurrent subjects in Brazil, their love of soccer, violence in the stands and ethnic conflicts.
Why do we love it?
If you like soccer and ever plan on talking about it in Brazil, you have to watch this series. After watching Jaures’s torment throughout the series, you will be able to recognize how Brazilians show people they’re unhappy with them. That’s always good too.
Other Brazilian TV Shows
If you’ve watched most of these Brazilian TV shows in their entirety (and with a little studying), you should have no problem entering into everyday conversations with Carioca or Paulista speakers, or even dialects around the Amazon region. But if you need more perfection, you should also look into the following Brazilian TV shows:
- Cama de gato
- Os aspones
- Os normais
- A grande familia
- Mulher de fases