I said, a few days ago, that the official C1 course I was taking through the Camões Instituto de Cooperação e da Língua was being hampered by network troubles. They’ve been sorted out now. It must just have been a temporary glitch. I’m still not convinced though. It’s not hugely expensive as these things go, so I’m not too traumatised or anything but it’s worth setting out the pros and cons for the benefit of anyone who is considering following the same path.
First of all, the pros: the course is designed by the same people who design the exams, so the topics it covers are likely to come up as discussion topics in the exam. So it’s a good way of getting familiar with that kind of vocabulary. It has several hours’ worth of content, intended to be studied week by week, but it’s delivered on demand so you can go faster if you like.
Now the cons: the app is broken. That’s OK though, you can take the course in a web browser and there have been a few times I’ve had to do that just to progress, because I simply couldn’t scroll to the answer in the app, or because it gave me an error message every time I tried to move onto a page. Just don’t even bother with it. Save yourself the headache and do it in the web browser instead.
The actual content isn’t especially challenging. For example, I’ve just done a quiz about health. You’re supposed to start with a text about healthy lifestyles then answer a series of questions like “Physical activity is essential for a healthy life – True/False”. Well um, I don’t really need to go back to the text to answer that, thanks.
Maybe the reason for the ease of the questions is that there’s quite a strong emphasis on culture. The health topic is perhaps not the best example to use, but in the very first section, there’s an exercise about local shops and their role in poor communities. The questions were sort of ridiculous, considered purely as a matter of language. In one, we’re shown a picture of a man, standing in a shop holding a book with people’s names and the various things they’d been given in credit, so he could keep track of who owed what. The challenge was to pick out words from a list that could be used as a caption for the picture. You’re not told how many to pick. I chose “mercearia” and “comerciante” but I should also have picked “proximidade”, “bairro” and “comércio local”
In the next question, you’re asked what makes it possible for a neighbourhood to feel like a large family. And the options are a confiança, o afeto, a proximidade or o tempo. The answer is not given in the text, you just need to think about it. The correct answer is “o afeto”
So… Okay… It felt a little random, and didn’t really challenge my vocabulary skills, but I suppose they’re trying to get you to think of what neighbourhood means in Portugal, and to understand the ties that bind local communities as well as just purely being able to use grammar correctly. So there’s an element of comprehension of the text, but also an expectation that you’ll use empathy to comprehend the actions of the individuals.
So I think my early review would be that the course is worth taking if you intend to take the exam seriously and want to be prepared for the conversation topics, and it’s definitely worth taking if you are considering citizenship and want to get to know the culture. But I don’t think it’s enough on its own, at least to judge from what I’ve seen so far, you’d also need to go through a textbook, because you’ll need something else to really stretch you linguistically and, from what I’ve seen so far, this ain’t it.