Wisdom and Knowledge through Saber and Conhecer

laotzuUm homem sábio não tem um conhecimento extenso; Aquele quem tem um conhecimento extenso não é um homem sábio.


[Lao-tzu, “Tao te Ching”, c.550 B.C.E.]

(A wise man has no extensive knowledge; He who has extensive knowledge is not a wise man.)

What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge? In this short article, I intend to offer a linguistic interpretation of these two concepts, using the Portuguese language to support it with examples.

The verb associated to knowledge is to know, but what is the verb associated to wisdom? The word wise comes from weid, from the Proto-Indo-European language (spoken between 4500 to 2500 B.C.) and its related verb used be to wit, which is now archaic. The verb to know comes from the Latin (g)noscere. In Portuguese it is conhecer. Thus, to know shares the same root as conhecer.

Because English has stopped using to wit a long time ago, it now lacks a verb for wisdom and to know is used to represent all ideas related to both wisdom and knowledge. Portuguese does not do that, so the concepts are split into two verbs: saber, for sabedoria (wisdom) and conhecer, for conhecimento (knowledge). Saber comes from the Latin scire (also the root of science). All romance languages present this distinction:

To know
To know

If English had developed itself with both concepts originating from Latin, the word wisdom would not exist and it would be replaced by something derived from scire, something similar to the word “science”.

Wisdom is usually considered a better virtue to have than knowledge. In general, knowledge is understood as the possession of a great quantity of information, while wisdom is understood as the positive or practical use of information. However, from a linguistic perspective, the meaning of these concepts may be slightly different. In Portuguese saber is “to know facts” or “to present skills”, while conhecer is to know through your senses, such as knowing a person, a place or an object. You must “visit” the information to acquire it; it is cognition. For example:

1. To know facts:
Eu soube o que aconteceu. = I know what happened.
Eu sei que dia ele nasceu. = I know when he was born.
Eu não sei a resposta. = I don’t know the answer.
Eu sei onde você mora. = I know where you live.

2. To present skills:
Eu sei falar português. = I know how to (I can) speak Portuguese.
Eu sei tocar piano. = I know how to play the piano.
Eu sei contar até 10. = I know how to count to ten.

1. To know a person:
Eu conheço o João. = I know John.
Eu não conheço ele. = I don’t know him.

2. To know a place:
Eu conheço Paris. = I have been to Paris.
Eu quero conhecer São Paulo. = I want to go (for the 1st time) to São Paulo.
Eu conheço essa loja. = I know this shop.

3. To know objects through your senses (vision, hearing, taste, etc):
Eu conheço essa marca de telefone. = I know this telephone brand.
Eu conheço essa música. = I know this song.
Eu conheço esse vinho. = I know this wine.

So if we follow this lead, we could say that sabedoria (wisdom) is to possess information about facts and to possess skills, while conhecimento (knowledge) is to possess information which you have acquired through your senses. If you have met many people in your life, many places and many types of wine, you will be a conhecedor (equivalent to the English/French word, connoisseur). If you know many facts, you can speak languages and play instruments, you are a sábio (wise person).

Perhaps the fact that wisdom involves “skills” is the reason why it is more praised than knowledge. If you possess skills such as rhetoric, philosophical thought or problem-solving skills, you have practical information which can benefit you or the others. Nevertheless, knowledge or cognition is also fundamental to human beings and to be able to recognize things and develop knowledge can be considered a skill itself, such as in the art of memory.

sabedoriaThis is one possible interpretation of the differences between wisdom and knowledge, which considers the functional meaning of the verbs derived from Latin. If you have another view about it or would like to add something, please share it with us on this Blog by leaving a comment.


Saying “To” in Portuguese (Ao, Para o, Pro, No)?

Going ToLanguages become complicated when you want to say something, but there are too many options to say it. In Brazilian Portuguese, when you want to say “to”, such as in “I’m going to the bank”, you  basically have 4 options! Let’s try to understand these differences.

The following examples are in order of formality:

I’m going to the bank:

1. Eu vou ao banco.
2. Eu vou para o banco.
3. Eu vou pro banco.
4. Eu vou no banco.

I’m going to the pharmacy:
1. Eu vou à farmácia.
2. Eu vou para a farmácia.
3. Eu vou pra farmácia.
4. Eu vou na farmácia.

Note: To simplify this discussion I will not be using examples of the neutral (non-gender – para / a).

Traditional Use (Options 1 and 2)

Concerning option 1 (ao/à) and option 2 (para o / para a), traditionally, we consider “how long the person will stay at the place”. “Ao/à” for a quick stop, and “para o/para a” for a long stop, such as when you travel to somewhere to stay a few days or more. This traditional use is still used in Portugal in colloquial language, but in Brazil this is no longer relevant. In Brazil the only difference is based on formality.

  • Example of the traditional use (still used in Portugal):
    Eu vou ao banco. = I’m going to the bank (for a few minutes).
    Eu vou para a Alemanha. = I’m going to Germany (for a few days).

Contraction of Para (Options 2 and 3)

It seems that “para o/para a” is no longer common in colloquial language. People always say “pro“, “pra“, because this makes the phrase faster and easier to pronounce. This is never used in formal writing, however, some literature may use it, especially for first person speech or dialogues. For a more detailed discussion on contractions, see my post 10 Portuguese Colloquial Contractions.

Ir no / na (Option 4)

In contemporary Brazil this case is extremely common in colloquial language. It’s very informal, so most literature don’t use it (I do use it in my new book – to be published in 2016 – since I think it’s important to Portuguese students learn the “real” colloquial language). “No” or “na” usually mean “in/on/at“, such as “I’m at the park = Eu estou no parque”, but you can also use these prepositions for “to“, therefore “I’m going to the park = Eu vou no parque”.

English speakers may say”I’m going in the cinema”, instead “I’m going to the cinema”…That’s because if you are just at the cinema’s door you are outside and you are about to get inside. But in colloquial Portuguese, this doesn’t really matter; you don’t need to actually “go inside a place” to use “no” or “na”.

  • Examples:
    Eu vou no cinema. = I’m going to the cinema.
    Eu vou na farmácia. = I’m going to the pharmacy.

The only exceptions are for countries and cities, then the other options are always preferred.

Advice for Portuguese Students:

Most textbooks will teach you only “ao” and “à” (option 1). You should learn this for when you read texts, but it’s very important to learn the other options if you want to understand natives. I suggest to create the habit of using only “pro” and “pra” when you want to say “to”. You will sound more natural and don’t need to worry about all this information.

Multilingual Audio Reader

multilingual audio readerMany polyglots have a system for organizing all the languages they are learning. I personally use digital glossaries in five different languages, which I can access and update on my mobile phone or on my computer through a database program. Along with this, I use flashcards apps to import and memorize my glossaries, but unfortunately all flashcard apps and websites only support a 1:1 relationship, so if you want to study a single word in many different languages and listen to their different sounds, there is no electronic tool for this.
For this reason, I decided to develop one myself and today I’m launching this new and free Online tool: Multilingual Audio Reader  (www.artlyra.com/multilingualaudioreader)

The Multilingual Audio Reader is still in its initial phase (1.0). It uses Google’s new text-to-speech technology with Web Speech Api – HTML 5, the same audio from Google Translate, which has been incorporated to Google Chrome and soon will also be available in all other browsers. So at the moment, it will only work with Google Chrome. Soon I hope to be adding new features, such as a way of exporting the data, saving it on a txt file and then loading it back, so users can access the webtool for studying their glossaries at different times.

With this tool, now I can make my own multilingual audio glossaries and listen to them for memorization practise. I hope it can also be helpful to other language students and for other purposes. If you have any other ideas or suggestions, please leave a comment here.

The Multilingual Audio Reader can be accessed on:

Multilingual Audio Reader
(use Google Chrome otherwise it may not work)


1st Meeting of Lusophones in Liverpool

01On the 6th of September 2015 the “Lusófonos” community of Liverpool (UK) joined together to celebrate their culture and language in a special event called “1o Encontro de Lusófonos em Liverpool” (1st Meeting of Lusophones in Liverpool). This meeting was organized by me and Pedro Almeida, who hosted the event at his restaurant, Café Porto, which is the only Portuguese restaurant in town (click here to visit Café Porto’s website).

Brazilians, Portuguese, Angolans, Bissau-Guineans and also Portuguese language students had the opportunity to talk about their cultural and language differences, eat feijoada and bacalhau, listen to Brazilian live music, listen to literature reading and dance the Angolan Kizomba.

1st Meeting of Lusophones in Liverpool - Photo 02I took the opportunity to launch my book (Três Histórias Diferentes para Aprender Português) and also to record in audio the different accents that we had in our meeting and make them available here. Below you can compare some different Portuguese accents, all saying the same phrase:

“Eu gosto muito de falar português, comer feijoada e bacalhau e festejar com meus amigos.”

Audio 1: São Paulo, SP, Brazil

Audio 2: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Audio 3: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Audio 4: Canindé, Ceará, Brazil

Audio 5: São Paulo, SP, Brazil

Audio 6: Curitiba, PA, Brazil

Audio 7: Lisboa, Portugal

Audio 8: Porto, Portugal

Audio 9: Luanda, Angola

Audio 10: Luanda, Angola

You can see that there is a great difference in our accents, especially on the letters “D” and “S”.

1st Meeting of Lusophones in Liverpool - Photo 03

We hope to be organizing more events like this soon. Keep checking Português Azul, follow this blog (RSS) or join our Facebook page: Learn Portuguese (Português Azul): https://www.facebook.com/groups/portuguesazul/

Also, the Brazilian community of Liverpool can be found at:

When Google Translate Fails (Portuguese-English)

Google Translate Fail

Google Translate was launched in 2006 and it’s service has improved a lot in the last few years. It has definitely overtaken many other language services and nowadays it is, by far, the most accessed language tool in the world.

Recently, it has added a new feature which is absolutely amazing, the “word lens” feature, which can translate straight away from your mobile phone camera and create the illusion of translating the words without changing the background, or the other visual contents. For example, see the image above. It keeps a similar font and it translates the words automatically.

Still, apart from its new technological features, there is much to be developed, especially when it concerns accuracy to the Portuguese language. For example, the translation on the example (the image above) is terrible. Here is a quick analysis:

Google Translate: The Life and Works of Turner = O Vida e Obras de Torneiro
Correct Translation: The Life and Works of Turner = A Vida e as Obras de Turner

First mistake: Gender. It’s A VIDA (feminine), not O VIDA.
Second mistake: Plurality. Differently from English, in Portuguese we usually add an article for plural and in this case it should be “as obras”.
Third mistake: Name. Who is Torneiro?? Is it Torneira’s husband? (torneira means “sink tap” in Portuguese). That’s a very bad guess by Google translate. Why is it trying to translate the painter’s name to a name or word that doesn’t even exist in Portuguese?

Here is a list of the main problems that I found when using Google Translate (Portuguese-English).

Completely Wrong Translations

Google Translate Fail 2

A student of mine wanted to reschedule her Portuguese lesson and then I texted her in Portuguese: “Venha na terça! (Come on Tuesday!)”. But then, she showed up on Thursday! I asked her: “what happened?” And she replied that Google Translate says that “terça” means Thursday. What an absurd! And by the date of today (September 2015), the same mistake is still there. If you write “terça-feira” it works correctly, but natives tend to abbreviate the week days (segunda, terça, quarta, etc.) and if you type only “terça” it shows the wrong weekday. Funny enough, that doesn’t happen on the mobile phone app, only in the Google Translate web-based database.

Have a look on the pictures or check it by yourself (accessing it by your browser, not the app):

Google Translate Fail 3

Multiple Meanings

A) Google Translate: The table is red. = A tabela é vermelho.
Correct Translation: The table is red. = A mesa é vermelha.

Despite the gender mistake (it should be vermelha), the table could be an object, not necessarily a table of columns. Google Translate gives us an option for changing “a tabela” to “a mesa”, but why does it choose a table of columns in the first place? I think table as a furniture object is much more common.

B) Google Translate: The girl is looking beautiful = A menina está olhando bonito.
Correct Translation: The girl is looking beautiful = A menina está bonita.

Here the problem is with meaning. The primary meaning of “to look beautiful” is not “to have a beautiful way of looking at things”, but to be well dressed, to be beautiful.

Idiomatic Characteristics

A) Google Translate: I feel like having a beer. = Eu me sinto como tendo uma cerveja.
Correct Translation: I feel like having a beer. = Eu estou com vontade de tomar cerveja.

B) Google Translate: I had my breakfast. = Eu tinha o meu café-da-manhã.
Correct Translation: I had my breakfast. = Eu tomei o meu café da manhã.

“Eu me sinto como tendo uma cerveja” sounds like “I’m having a beer pain or disease”, that’s a very weird sentence! On example A there are two mistakes. “To feel like” in Portuguese is “Ter vontade” or “Estar afim”. The second mistake, which also applies to example B, is the verb “To have”. In English the verb “To have” can also mean “To eat” or “To drink”. But Google is not prepared for these meanings, so it gets all wrong. In Portuguese you can only use “Tomar” or “Beber” for “To drink/To have a drink” and breakfast only works with the verb “Tomar”. There are many other similar cases like this, and Google will fail in most all of them. I won’t even mention slang use.


As we have seen here before, Google Translate fails when gender is a language concern. Usually words finishing with A are feminine and adjectives (colour, qualities, etc) must agree with the noun’s gender, but Goggle doesn’t seem to understand that.

A) Google Translate: The pen is red. = A caneta é vermelho.
Correct Translation: The pen is red. = A caneta é vermelha.

B) Google Translate: The pen is beautiful. = A caneta é bonito.
Correct Translation: The pen is beautiful. = A caneta é bonita.

C) Google Translate: The pen is thin. = A caneta é fino.
Correct Translation: The pen is thin. = A caneta é fina.

Subjunctive Mood

A) Google Translate: Maybe I will eat later. = Talvez eu vou comer mais tarde.
Correct Translation: Maybe I will eat later. = Talvez eu coma mais tarde.

B) Google Translate: Although he is rich, he works a lot. = Embora ele é rico, ele trabalha muito.
Correct Translation: Although he is rich, he works a lot. = Embora ele seja rico, ele trabalha muito.

C) Google Translate: When we move there we will be happy. = Quando passamos lá teremos o maior prazer.
Correct Translation: When we move there we will be happy. = Quando nos mudarmos para lá seremos felizes.

The Subjunctive Present fails most of the time, as seen in examples A and B. The Subjunctive Future  fails sometimes, but on example C there are three mistakes (subjunctive conjugation, wrong verb, wrong words and meaning).

European Portuguese

Google Translate is Brazilian, but it should offer an option for other dialects. I have many students that are learning European Portuguese and they always bring me Brazilian sentences because of Google Translate, which are useless for them.

A) Google Translate: I’m working now. = Eu estou trabalhando agora.
European Translation: I’m working now. = Eu estou a trabalhar agora.

B) Google Translate: I want to talk about a fact. = Eu quero falar sobre um fato.
European Translation: I want to talk about a fact. = Eu quero falar sobre um facto. 

C) Google Translate: I realized that you didn’t eat. = Percebi que você não comeu.
European Translation: I realized that you didn’t eat. = Apercebi-me que tu não comeste.

On example A the problem is just grammar. The colloquial present continuous is different in European Portuguese (see my article: Grammar Differences Between European and Brazilian Portuguese).

On example B, fato means “suit” in Portugal. So basically if you speak like a Brazilian, the same phrase in Portugal will mean: “I want to talk about a suit”.

On the last example (C), the verb “To notice” in European Portuguese is “Aperceber” and it’s reflexive. If you use “Perceber”, in Portugal the meaning will be: “I understand that you didn’t eat”. Also, if you are talking with a friend you wouldn’t say “você” but “tu”.

There are many other problems with Google Translate. Still, I think it’s a great tool. I use it a lot when I’m working with professional translations because it helps to speed up the process, but as a native of the language I know where mistakes are. If Portuguese is a foreign language to you, Google Translate can be risky, so you shouldn’t depend or trust on it completely.

If you know more crazy translations, please feel free to comment here!