Pronunciation of "ei" vs. "ai"

Hello all! My Portuguese teacher has told me that the vowel combination “ei” is pronounced like “hay” in English. In other words, “Cadeira” would be pronounced “Cad-AY-ra”. And that “ai” is pronounced like the English “pie” or “sky”. “Baixa” would be pronounced “By-shuh”.
However, when I listen to the exercises on Practice Portuguese, “ei” sounds to me like exactly like “ai” (they both sound to me like pie or sky). Ditto for other sources, like Portuguese Lab and some YouTube channels for learning European Portuguese. I just cannot hear the difference. Can I get your view on this? Thanks!


Olá, @brian.lefebvre :slight_smile: Here is a good reference for the different vowel sounds in Portuguese, in case you haven’t seen it yet (scroll down to the interactive table): European Portuguese Vowels - Pronunciation Guide | Practice Portuguese . I’ll use this for reference in this post.

In the Portuguese pronunciation that is usually taught by default (pretty much Lisbon region pronunciation), the E of “ei” should sound like a medium A, while the A of “ai” should sound like an open A. These different levels of openness are clearly distinguishable for native speakers, but can take a long time to assimilate for many learners. In some other regional pronunciations, the E of “ei” is pronounced as a medium E, and it’s much easier to distinguish then.

There are no secret recipes to master comprehension of these different sounds (as far as I know) other than active and frequent listening. And I think this table, in particular, dissects them pretty well. I did not have a hand in it, so consider me impartial!

1 Like

Thank you Joseph. I look forward to checking out this useful resource. By the way, I am afraid I don’t know what “medium A”, etc. mean. Could you write down English words that provide good examples of “medium A”, “open A”, and “medium E”? Sort of like I did in my original message. Thanks!

@brian.lefebvre, you’re welcome! To understand what I mean with “medium A”, etc, please click on the link I included in my previous post and scroll down to the interactive table. If you hover your mouse over it, you’ll be able to click on the different vowels and hear clear audio examples of each of them (e.g. “amigo” for the medium A, “fala” for the open A, “conheço” for the medium E).

that is exactly my experience. The pronunciation help is useful but I find it too fast. I need to pause and repeat.

The Portuguese ai sounds a lot like the French interjection Aïe.

The ei sound resembles the English ay, which we hear in English words such as day, say, lay etc.

1 Like