Posted in English

Lying to Examiners for Fun and Profit

Reflecting on my exam experience, I had another idea that might be of use to potential CAPLE candidates: Lie.

Lie through your teeth!

Lie like a lying liar who lies!

Embrace your inner Jeffrey Archer!

What do I mean by this? Well, sometimes questions come up about issues in life that are tricky to explain. Sometimes it’s better to not explain those things and instead just simplify the whole answer. For example, I had already decided that if they asked me “Tem animais de estimação?” I was going to say no. OK, I can talk about the guinea pigs (“A minha família e eu tínhamos alguns porquinhos da Índia. Eram muito fofinhos, mas só viveram até aos cinco anos.” etc) but there was no way I was going to tell them that hoje em dia we have stick insects. Every time I’ve mentioned stick insects in Portuguese it has resulted in bafflement and me needing send pictures and explain that, no, I’m not talking about termites or locusts or anything else. It’s a guaranteed recipe for confusion and it’s just not worth the hassle.

During the exam today, I mentioned that I was born in Edimburgo. The invigilator asked did I ever go back there to visit. Now, as it happens, we are planning to go back quite soon. Why? Well, the truth is that A Minha Esposa had intended to do the Edinburgh Marathon but she had a cold during peak training times and then some other things came up and all in all, she wasn’t fully prepared, so she dropped out, but we’d already booked accommodation at mate’s rates  so we decided to…

Now, do I want to start explaining this, off the cuff in an exam? If it were a lesson, I might have a go. I could probably pull it off but it’s a complicated sentence with far too much potential for getting snookered by grammar, so I just lied and said she was going to do the Marathon. That’s a much easier sentence. I can do that, easily. Go!

As I was leaving, she offered these words of encouragement

Verificaremos que a sua esposa terminou a maratona. Se não, o Senhor Colin está desclassificado.

I’m not sure what it means, but I think she was wishing us a happy holiday.


Posted in English

Este é o Verdadeiro Teste

I’m writing this on the way home from the DEPLE (Portuguese B1) exam at the embassy in Knightsbridge, feeling slightly frazzled. I thought I’d jot down what I can remember while I can still remember it because – let’s face it – knowing what I’m like, that won’t be long. Maybe it will be helpful to future students. There isn’t much material out there telling you what it’s like to take the test, after all.


The embassy is an impressive building, as you would expect, with grandfather clocks and all kinds of fancy stuff in the hall and big stacks of Super Bock tucked away in side rooms. The staff are all Portuguese of course, but speak very good English to guests. I had been prepared to speak to the receptionist in Portuguese but he detected my Anglo Saxon demeanour and went straight into English mode.

I wasn’t expecting there to be many fellow students, but I was a bit startled to find I was the only one! I sat in a room, opposite a very friendly and helpful embassy official who handed me the papers and occasional glasses of water. There were textbooks and teaching materials all over the place. I believe they do lessons for expat children, so I guess that’s what those were for.

All the usual exam rules apply: read the question carefully before you start and try not to spill a glass of water on the answer sheet. I stuck to these rules… Mostly.

The first part of the exam was as expected: a series of multiple choice questions based on written texts. Easy enough. I didn’t make great use of my time, unfortunately, and had to rush a bit at the end, but that’s OK. This is by far my best subject.

Next up is a written exercise: write an email and a note based on a scenario they give you. The best technique here is to reuse as much of the question text as possible, just changing the verb endings. They’ve already constructed the sentences for you so why would you want to rewrite it from scratch. Thanks Mr Bennett, secondary school French teacher, for that advice; it got me about 20% of the word limit and then I had to start thinking, and it went reasonably well, I think. One thing to remember is that you don’t really have enough space for the 120-140 words they ask for, so keep your writing small and neat or you’ll end up like me, having to cram the last ten words into a centimetre of remaining space. I’m exaggerating… Actually, no, I’m not. There’s plenty of time though, so don’t forget to use it to go back and check your concordância.

On to part 3. This was the biggest shock for me. Up to now, I had done pretty well in all the “modelos” by allowing myself time to read the questions. Now, in the exam, the first three recordings each allowed one minute for the student to read the questions, but that’s not really enough, and the remaining 5 recordings didn’t allow any time at all. I was trying to read and listen at the same time, got hopelessly muddled and the result was a bit of a mess, I think. If you’re about to take the test, you should consider doing some speed tests, trying to cope with information rushing at you in a flood and strategies for coping with lack of time. Another tip I can give you is to do with the sound quality. The office isn’t noisy but it’s an old building and the acoustics aren’t great. Add to that the traffic noise the general quality of the recordings themselves, and a couple of people wandering in and out and you’ve got a recipe for distraction. When I do the next one, I’m going to ask if I can use headphones to shut out external sounds and see if that helps. I would suggest you consider doing the same if you are planning to take the exam. As for me, in the interval between the third and fourth sections, I went to the casa de banho and cursed the fact that embassies have bars on all the windows so I wasn’t able to escape. When I got back to the room my hands were shaking.

The final section is a ten minute conversation with the examiners. The modelos I’ve done have all had three components to the “expressão oral” but, to my intense relief, in the real thing, they had dispensed with the other two! Yippee!

I had spent the last couple of weeks working on conversation generally, and the last two days cramming intensely for the 1:1 questions, and it paid off in bucket loads. I’m sure I made mistakes but I flew through it, spoke fairly fluently, managed a couple of jokelets and a couple of expressões idiomáticas (examiners bloody love those, whatever the language might be). Best of all, I resisted my natural inclination to improvise and get myself into convoluted subclauses with no way out. I stuck to the sentences I had practised, kept it simple and it went very well indeed.

I must say, the invigilator was really helpful in the conversation. Obviously she didn’t actually help, but she made me feel very at ease and gave lots of positive feedback to let me know that, yes, I was still making sense and not burbling. That sort of thing makes a big difference, because if you lose confidence in that situation it’s quite difficult to get back on track.

All in all, I think I did pretty well,in spite of the setbacks in the third section. I don’t know how picky they are, or what the marking criteria are but I have a good feeling about it. Unfortunately, I won’t find out for sure until September.



When it was all over, I thanked the invigilator and went to a fancy-schmancy café for a fancy-schmancy sandwich and some well-earned beer*.




*=Peroni, not Super Bock. Yes, I was tempted but their security was too tight.

Posted in English

Tick Tock, Tick Tock

I’m counting down the hours now. My exam is tomorrow morning. I’m wondering what I can do to plug the biggest, most obvious holes in my language skills in the gaps between bouts of doing my day job. Aside from an hour talking to a friend via Skype, I’m thinking I should run through irregular verbs for half an hour or so, rehearse the answers to some of the key questions from the oral expression part of the exam and do some rounds of Memrise.

More importantly, tomorrow, I need to be up early and warm my brain up. I have noticed that if I speak Portuguese for a while it churns up the mud and sludge at the bottom of my brain and allows the words to float to the surface. The exam is at 10AM so I will need to try and cram in an hour of doing something difficult like writing a short essay or saying answers to questions out loud – actually producing language – or I’ll be stuffed when I get into the exam room.

The Portuguese embassy is only about 7 or 8 miles away so I could ride my bike there in the sunshine, but I think I’m going to go by train so I can rehearse my answers to the questions on there. So if you’re on the District Line tomorrow and there’s some bloke telling everyone, in a loud, clear voice that “Tenho dois irmãos. Sou o mais velho. O meu irmão do meio vai casar este verão…” that’ll be me.

Posted in Portuguese

A Tentativa, O Balde e Eu

Uma descrição da situação no que estou a falar com um amigo e preciso duma palavra. Tenho certeza que sei esta palavra mas neste momento não posso lembra-la.

“Eu baixo o meu balde para ao fundo do poço de vocabulário mas quando vem para cima o balde está vazio”

Totes planning to use this often in the future. It’s strangely easy to remember, pleasing on the ear and has two new (to me) words in it.



*Uncorrected Portuguese Klaxon*



Posted in English

Hashtagging in Portuguese

I got retweets for this. Actual retweets!

The hashtag game was inspired by a news story about a Portuguese spy who was caught flogging state secrets to the Russians in the latest bout of eighties nostalgia. People were understandably curious about what the Russians could actually want but I can’t pretend I understood all the suggestions, especially where they related to politicians.


Posted in English

Et Tu Memrise?

As I said earlier…

It’s just so pointless. You open the app and there’s this great picture background but you just think “what? I want to learn vocabulary not have to think how to get from here to my course list, you nitwits!

Posted in Portuguese

Comentários Sobre Um Filme: Passport to Pimlico

passport-to-pimlico-149-001-stanley-holloway-on-tube-00m-fgqO meu filme favorito é um filme a preto e branco do Estúdio Ealing que se chama “Passport to Pimlico”.
Os eventos do filme acontecem em Pimlico, um bairro de Londres nos anos imediatamente a seguir da Segunda Guerra Mundial. Na abertura, uma velha bomba, enterrada debaixo duma igreja explode e nas ruínas, encontra-se uma caixa com papeis antigas que diziam que Pimlico foi dada* ao duque de Borgonha na idade média. Borgonha ainda não existe, mas os papeis diziam que viva neste pequena área de Londres.
No início, esta informação parece uma piada, mas passado pouco tempo, toda a gente de Pimlico decidiu que eram cidadãos de Borgonha. Não têm de obedecer as leis do Reino Unido, não têm de pagar impostos, e podem vender e comprar à vontade. Em breve, a situação cresce até ao ponto em que o governo construí uma parede em redor do bairro e não deixa ninguém entrar nem sair. Ninguém pode obter comida e os moradores pensam que estão vencidos mas um rapaz fora do muro lança um bombom** por cima do muro para dentro de Borgonha. Os adultos fazem o mesmo. Batatas, frutas, pão, latas, todos voam para dentro e (como se diz “spoiler alert***”?) a Borgonha permanece viva.
É muito engraçado. Também, gosto muito de ver o espírito da cidade a acordar depois de tanta destruição, tanto dificuldade.

*=I think this is right. Some of the corrections seem to be assuming that the box was given to the Duke of Burgundy, but no, Pimlico – or at least that part of it – was.

**=It was a sweet or a lollipop or something, IIRC, and not – as one of the corrections seemed to assume – a balloon.

***=”Alerta spoiler”


Thanks as ever to the iTalkians who helped me with corrections: Sophia, João and Lorena.

Posted in English

O Patio Das Cantigas

I watched the remake of the 1942 classic today. Why? Why did I bother? As far as I can tell, it’s not as funny and not as easy to understand as the original. If you’re considering it, save your money and watch the real thing on Youtube.

The DVD doesn’t have Portuguese subtitles, only English ones. The youtube video has Portuguese subtitles but (my sources inform me) they’re not very accurate. It looked like a much better film though: Better acting, not trying as hard, and they talk at a more manageable pace. I’ll do it properly next time.

Posted in English, Portuguese

As Cartas

Letters are right at the end of the textbook I’m using but they come up in some of the mock exams I’ve looked at so I thought I’d better get familiar with them

1 – Formal

Londres 20 de Maio de 2016

João Imaginário
Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa
Alameda da Universidade
1600-214 Lisboa

Excelentíssimo Senhor
Desculpa de não ter escrito mais cedo. Tive dores nos dedos por causa de tocar demasiado o violão e por isso não pude usar o teclado.
Fiquei espantado e encantado ao receber a sua oferta de tornar-me Professor de Português. Depois de muita consideração, acho que devo recusá-la neste momento porque preciso de mais pratica. Pode ser no próximo ano?

Obrigado outra vez
Os melhores cumprimentos

2 – Informal

Londres 20 de Maio de 2016

Caro Jose

Obrigado pelo livro que enviou-me para o meu aniversário. Não tenho lido livros de China Mievile, mas gosto muito de ficção científica e ouvi que é um escritor interessante. Estou contente por saber que a sua equipa ganhou o tri campeonato, seja lá o que isso for.

Um abraço

So it looks like Caro is the rule for starting letters in informal situations and Excelentíssimo (or “Exmo”) for formal. I have also seen “Prezado” (“esteemed”) but I believe that’s more of a Brazilian thing.

The sender’s address only seems to be the town and date in the format shown. Recipient addresses have the format:n5anuxqrjqjijncdkitgf03dee2

[Recipient Name]
[Housename] (optional)                
[Streetname] [Streetnumber] 
[7 digits] [TOWN]        
[PORTUGAL] (if posting internationally)

Endings seem to be “os melhores cumprimentos”, “Atentamente”, or further down the scale of formality, “um abraço” (seems to be common between men) or something with beijo or beijinho.

Formal letters also seem to use v/ for Vosso and n/ for Nosso. I haven’t seen these anywhere except on the formal letter sample in Lathrop and Dias, which is sort of weird.