Here’s my review of the Portuguese for Foreigners Online Self Study course for level C1, also known as DAPLE, offered by Camões Instituto da Cooperação e da Língua. I finished the course on Saturday so it seems like a good idea to get it out of my head and onto a blog post while it’s still fresh.
The Instituto offers courses at all levels of the CAPLE framework from A1 (beginner) to C2 (God-mode). It also caters for different kinds of packages: this review is just the self study option, but for a further €140, I could have gone the de luxe route and added some tutor interaction. See here for more details about the options. I haven’t done any of the other courses so I don’t know whether or not my opinion of this one applies equally to the whole range. I mean I guess so, but who knows?
The obvious attraction of doing a course created by the organisation that designed the exam curriculum, is that you’re getting it “straight from the horse’s mouth”. You know that they will be teaching subjects the exam board think are important at this level so there’s a good chance they will come up in the exam. That’s great, and I think it’s undoubtedly one of the strongest selling points of the course: it gives you a road map of what you need to know. And it doesn’t just teach you about grammar and vocabulary, it tries to weave those together with the major themes you need to know about. The topics for each of the twelve units are
- Ourselves and others – interpersonal interactions
- Carpe Diem – enjoying free time
- A healthy mind in a healthy body
- From the field to the city – different ways of life
- Thinking about the future – training and professional development
- Giving new worlds to the world – immigration and emigration
- Science and religion – allies or enemies?
- New information technologies – solitary closeness and collective isolation
- Portugal and my country – festivals and traditions
- Portugal and the arts
- Portugal today
- Portugal and the world
I think the course is definitely worth doing for this reason alone: insofar as learning a new language entails learning about the culture, the place and the people, it’s useful to have someone walk you through how Portugal sees itself and its place on the world. Whenever I see lessons about Portuguese culture it tends to be Fado, recipes for cod, o Galo de Barcelos, and all that tourist-friendly stuff. Interesting, no doubt, but this course gets down into how trust works in neighbourhoods where shopkeepers know their neighbours and extend credit where it’s needed, and what is it that makes such trust possible; the migrant experience and the role of Portugal and its former colonies in the wider world. In other words, it goes deeper. It also gives you tools to be able to describe challenges that all countries face, like the rise of social media, the decline of religion and the challenges of international cooperation.
How does this map onto the exam itself? Well, the cultural knowledge will come in handy in the fourth (spoken) part, which seems to be where you’re most likely to describe your knowledge of some cultural or social trend. Even though you’re not speaking in the course, you’re getting used to thinking about the ideas and making use of the vocabulary.
As for the other three sections*, there are audio/video components that are going to be useful in developing your listening skills for the aural comprehension. It’s far, far easier than the aural comprehension section of the exam because of the time available and the relatively simple questions you’re asked, so don’t get lulled into a false sense of security. Likewise, the written comprehension is quite a bit easier than in the exam. OK, the way I’m talking, I expect it sounds like I got full marks and I definitely didn’t, but I feel like I lost more marks through carelessness than because I was unable to interpret an ambiguous or tricky question.
When it comes to the written work, there are some exercises based on grammar but they’re quite minimal. Each new structure it introduces is covered in a very basic way and the students is only really expected to do one question for each, which isn’t really enough to push it into your long term memory.
So summing up: It was €180 well spent, but it’s not a perfect course. But I could have guessed that. No one learning tool is ever going to tick all the boxes and we always need to look at multiple sources. This one has no speaking component, but I could have got that by signing up for the premium course. Or I could use an online tutor on a site like italki or Polytripper or even just ask around on one of the many Facebook groups for Portuguese learners like this one (European only but heavily moderated) or this one (freer and easier but includes Brazilian Portuguese). It’s a little weak on grammar, but that’s what exercise books are for, and a book won’t mark you down if you accidentally make a typo or if spellchecker changes your right answer to a wrong answer. The book I’m about to start using (Português Outra Vez) doesn’t have any audio component but it’s very text-heavy so I’m expecting it to be able to boost my grammar levels up a notch or two using it.
So if you’re considering going in for one of the exams, definitely consider one of these courses as a sort of route map, but don’t make it the whole of your learning plan: be prepared to take notes for further study afterwards. You’ll probably need it.
Oh and one more thing: if you do it, do it in your browser. Don’t bother with the app.
*=If you haven’t already taken an exam, have a look at one of my descriptions of the exam process for more background on what is in each section. Here’s the B1 exam, for example.