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Home› Languages› Portuguese› Written Language› Graphemes


The Symbols of an Alphabetic Writing System 

Graphemes are the symbols of an alphabetic writing system (Fromkin, Rodman & Hyams, 2003). To learn to read in all languages is to learn how the writing system represents language; the writing system is the basic tool for literacy. However, writing systems vary from one language to another.

Romance languages such as Portuguese or Spanish, have alphabetic systems characterized by a high degree of correspondence between graphemes and phonemes thus indicating that these languages are very predictable at the phonics level.

The Portuguese Alphabet

Print Letter Name in Portuguese (From English Perspective) Letter Sound in Portuguese
    European-Portuguese alphabet
A a /uh/ /uh/ nut
B b /bih/ /b/ ball
C c /sih/ /k/ coat
D d /dih/ /d/ dog
E e /eh/ /S/ nbet
F f /effe/ /f/ five
G g /gih/ (garage) /g/ goat
H h /a’guh/ silent
I i /ee / /i/ eat
J j /jauta/ /j/ Garage
K k /kappa/*
L l /ell/ /l/ lemon
M m /ém/ /m/ monkey
N n /énn/ /n/ nose
O o /oh/ /o/ dog
P p /pih/ /p/ pig
Q q /kih/ /k/ kite
R r /é hh/ /r/ hat
S s /éss/ /s/ sun
T t /tih/ /t/ tent
U u /Oo/ (food) /u/ food
V v /vih/ /v/ vase
W w /dooploo vih/*
X x /sheesh/ / / sheep
Y y /ypsilon/*
Z z /zih/ /z/ zero

Note: The letters K (kuppa), W (double vih) and Y (ípsilon) are used only when using words borrowed from another language such as foreign names (Wilson, Katherine) or terms (kilometer, watt).

* - Additional letters used in English and Brazilian Portuguese alphabets.

Alphabetical Order

The Portuguese alphabet has 23 letters and does not generally include the letters “K”, “W” and “Y”. This impacts the student’s performance in alphabetizing words in English, which include these three extra letters within the sequence. It is important to analyze this area from a European Portuguese-language perspective, when assessing alphabetic sequence of recent immigrants from this language background. For example: What letter comes after “J”? A Portuguese-speaking student from Portugal, Azores or Madeira may say “L” instead of ”K”. From a Portuguese alphabetical sequence this response is correct because the Portuguese alphabet does not have K and, therefore, the student jumps to L. It is important to keep in mind, however, that Brazilian Portuguese does include K, W & Y, but not in the alphabet. These three letters are generally used in names.

Letter Names Versus Letter Sounds

Research, carried out by Serpa (1983) in Portugal, shows that children learning to read in Portuguese, identify the letters of the alphabet by its sound [C=/kih/] not the technical letter name [C= /sih/ ]. It is only after the completion of the process of alfabetização or alfabetizacion (proficiency in translating print to language or ‘fluent decoding’), that letter names are then added to the student’s repertoire of academic skills. The distinction between a letter name v. a letter sound needs to be highlighted for these students.

Portuguese Handwriting

Brazilian and Portuguese children learn cursive writing from the early grades. Generally, they are not taught directly how to print. US teachers may need to show Portuguese speaking students how to print the 'American Way'. When asked to print, many of these students will print whole words in capital letters

©2005 Maria de Lourdes Serpa.
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