6 Ways to Communicate in Portuguese Through Body Language

ok sign, body language, Portuguese Body language can be up to 90% of the communication happening in any given conversation – how we move our bodies, use our voices, gesture ,move our eyes and use facial expressions can be a communicational deal maker or breaker.

In a nutshell: learning the vocabulary of a new language is only the beginning of being able to speak Portuguese fluently, in the end, it comes down to how you use your body to express yourself.

With that in mind, let me give you an example by telling you a story about a well meaning American, who accidentily called everyone he met in Brazil the vulgar equivalent of a rear end…

A Well Meaning American Who unintentionally Got Himself Into a Bit of Trouble

When I was doing non-profit work in Brazil, a lot of Americans would come to do a cultural exchange and give a helping hand with the numerous projects we ran.

One by the name of Jeff arrived and was ready to help out wherever needed, he had a huge and very warm heart and was really a well-meaning person.

The biggest struggle for him (and many foreigners) was making the language hop from English to Portuguese, so beyond the general “Oi tudo bem?” it was difficult for him to communicate.

This meant that he used a lot of gesturing and over-animated body movements to try and get a message across.  And one of the biggest ways an American does this is by giving someone the “ok” sign to let him know that it’s a well-wished conversation.

Flashing the “A-hole” Sign in a Favela

All of the warm Brazilian people that Jeff met would do their absolute best to try and talk to him and in trying to be friendly, he would respond with a lot of “ok” signs.

Little did he know, he was actually calling his conversation partners a bunch of “a-holes”: the “ok” sign is pretty much like flipping the bird here.

As you could imagine, this didn’t sit too well with several people…

One in particular was in a dangerous part of town where he flashed the “ok” sign to a Brazilian man, who then about knocked him flat on his own a-hole – but fortunately I interviened and explained that it was the equivalent of a Brazilian thumbs up back in the USA and the conflict was diffused.

Being Able to Express and Read Body Language is Important

It is vitally important that you as a foreigner do your absolute best to adapt to the Brazilian body language and don’t end up in uncomfortable and very avoidable situations.  So with that in mind, I will lay out the 6 ways that you can use to communicate through body language and better integrate into the conversation.

This will be done by explaining them to you and showing you several YouTube videos to display how they work.

1. The Attention Getter

There is no real strong communicational organization in Brazil, rather more of a organized chaos.  Therefore, when you are in a conversation a Brazilian might flair a lot with his/her hands, and maybe even touch/poke you throughout the conversation in order to make sure that he/she maintains your attention.

Watch this video of a group waking a student who fell asleep:

( to watch this on YouTube)

The poor guy didn’t know what hit him, but at least you could see how they kept contact with him and conversed in the group.

Don’t be afraid, this is all part of their communication style in many parts – you will have to learn this as well!

This same is true when talking in groups, if you are sitting waiting your turn to speak, you may wait forever!  You will need to flair your arms about a bit, raise your voice and make the most racket possible to get the groups attention – even if you don’t have anything logical to contribute…it’s all about the vibe people!

2. The Includer

Brazil is all about community, including people and making sure that others understand that they are welcome.

You will notice that Brazilians make a lot of inclusion gestures.  This could be in the form of both arms a bit stretched out while making a bit of a hugging motion, so that you know you are accepted.

Take a look at this video and watch what I’m talking about:

( to watch this video on YouTube)

See what I mean, didn’t it feel like he was sending tons of air-hugs?

Another form is the hand on chest method, or the hand on the chest while holding your shoulder with the other hand method.  This is to assure you that you are safe with them; I see a lot of this type of gesture when I am being asked to do them a favor, so that they can assure me that I can trust them.

3. The Agree-er

It’s pretty obvious when being around Brazilians, that they enjoy a nice and comfortable atmosphere – i.e. agreement.

Check this video out to see an example of this:

( to watch this video on YouTube)

Do you see what I mean about being agreeable?

With that agreeing vibe, you will see a lot of half smiling and nodding in a “yes” motion when speaking with a Brazilian.  Now, this may not necessarily mean that they agree with what you are saying and they may even say “yes” several times to what you have to say even though they disagree.

This type of body language just assures that you know that the atmosphere is safe and friendly.

4. The General

The Brazilian culture is extremely hierarchal; it’s all about who is on top and who is on bottom.  When you see a person who believes that they are the authority (or if they are), they seem to have a more stiff and proper body language, which is almost soldier-like.

Check this video out to watch an example:

( to watch this video on YouTube)

Did you see how he firmed up his face and did a lot of pointing in different directions?  I’ve personally seen this in all areas of the Brazilian society.

I once saw a traffic accident where a manager from a near by store came to the scene and started dictating to everybody what they should do: “you, call the police.  You, help him up.  You, lift this motorcycle up together with him”…

They are reliant on this type of role and body language to get things done.

5. The O-la-la

I bet you can guess what this one is about!  Yep…the female sensuality that so many foreign (and not) men are attracted to.

Here is a good video example:

( on YouTube)

Did you notice how she talked in a really flirty and sensual way?

Many Brazilian females will move their body and curves in a very sensual manner as they speak by swaying their hips and upper body, batting their eyes, smiling a lot and being very agreeable.

And the truth of it is that sex appeal captivates and sells, and Brazilian women are well aware of that.  When a male meets this type of body language, he all of the sudden becomes like moldable clay in her hands and quickly be willing to do super-human activities to give her what she wants.

6. The Irate-Brazilian

We all get irritated from time to time, in some cultures we get passive agressive and in others the exact opposite.  In Brazil, the cultural way to show anger is by using intense and angry facial expressions, a very aggressive body stance, tons of stiff-necked pointing, a loud voice and lots of arm flaring!

Check this video out:

( on YouTube)

Notice how this irate Brazilian made a lot of noise and a big scene to draw as much attention as possible to what he had to say? This is even at the cost of onlookers – it’s a live novela for them!

The only purpose of this body language is to conquer and defeat the opponent by body language force and keep all of the sensory focus on the one side.

Final Words

There are many more types of body languages to talk about but this should get you most of the way there and a great base to start off of so that you can move forward.

The next step for you is to go, observe and try this for yourself – you will be surprised by how much new body language you will absorb.

If all else fails, I’ve heard that a caipirinha or two helps loosen the joints up!

Thanks for reading and for future posts yet?

Cheers – valeu,


P.S. do a gringo a favor and give this a thumbs up :)

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