One of the hardest things for students of Brazilian Portuguese is to learn how to pronounce ão.
There are many nasal vowel combinations in Portuguese. They are: ãe (mãe/mother), ãi (cãibra/cramp), ão (pão/bread), -am (eles cantam/they sing), -em/-ém (sem/without, também/also-too) and -en/én(s) (hífen/hyphen, parabéns/congratulations), but in this post we'll focus on how to pronounce ão.
Although we pronounce it as one syllable, for the purpose of practising we need to look at the two different sounds that will merge into one.
Say the English word sun out loud. Now try and isolate the sound of that u and repeat it a few times.
Say the word zoom out loud. Now try and isolate the sound oom and repeat it a few times.
Great! Now, all we have to do is to merge these two sounds:
Start with the English word pun a few times and isolate the 'puh' sound:
Now add the 'oom' sound and you've got pão!
I've chosen this particular word, pão, because if mispronounced it can sound like pau, which means a 'piece of wood', and also the slag for... er... 'penis'!
So, be careful when ordering pão in a bakery in Brazil, because it might sound like you're ordering something else!
How you pronounce the 'a' at the beginning is what differentiates these two words.
The first one is the nasal 'uh' sound that we learned:
and the second is a very 'open' ah sound: