Cheating in an exam isn’t something I’d ever encourage, but if you’re going to cheat, you need at least to be sure that the person whose answers you’re copying knows more than you. So we can only envy any would-be cheater who was lucky enough to be sat next to Liz Sharma in the A2 exam and managed to peep over her shoulder when she wasn’t looking. Liz is the host of Talk The Streets, the popular YouTube series and she recently took the exam as part of a citizenship application and vlogged about it. Anyway, I know one of the most frequent questions I get is about where to find exam resources so I am officially designating this video as pretty flipping useful. A lot of what she says backs up what I said in my previous posts about the form of the exams but she’s obviously much more advanced than I am now, let alone how I was when I did my first exam. That means she’s got a bit more detachment from the stress-factor, which allows her to be cool and calm about the advice she gives, whereas I think my blog posts probably read like someone who has just escaped from being held hostage!
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.
I’ve just updated the Textbook page of the blog with a new set of books I’ve heard about.
Susana Morais is the creator of the Portuguese Lab Podcast and Academy and she’s written a couple of story books aimed at portuguese learners: A Casa Na Bosque for intermediate learners (B2) and A Baú das Coisas Perdidas for beginners (A2). They each come with an audio version read by the author and some questions at the end to test your comprehension. I have the B2 version and have listened to the first few minutes. It looks like a really useful addition to the ever-growing list of resources for learners.
Looking out at the landscape today, compared to when I started, when it was pretty much just the Practice Portuguese podcast – and even that was pretty shonky in the early days – there’s really quite a lot of good stuff out there for anyone wanting to ;earn european portuguese.
Anyway, the links above go to the Kobo versions, which is what I’m using, since it allows me to listen to the audio and read all on one device, but you can get a printed version or several other ebook options via her website Storyglot.
I was asked if I have a copy of past exam papers. Sadly, no I don’t because I scribbled answers on them all during revision and then recycled them when I finished the exam. There are a few scattered around the web but it’s not always easy to find them because they could be on pages of any language, not just english or portuguese. Here are the ones I know about:
Firstly, straight from a boca do cavalo, there are samples of the three sections of the paper, including an audio file of the compreensão oral test on the University of Lisboa’s site (click on the name of the exam you want to take and scroll down to the “Exemplo do exame”) . The audio part is essential. As I’ve said in my descriptions of the tests in other blog posts, you definitely need to do some practice with this and figure out your strategy for reading the questions and answering them while listening in the very short time available. They play each one to you twice, but the amount of time for each one is pretty small, so it’s not the sort of thing you can just wing it through.
This site, Ensino Basico, has some dummy exam papers for levels A1, A2 and B1. They don’t look like official documents but they seem pretty realistic and they have sound files too, which is great.
This site has some different specimens of three of the four sections. The page is in italian but the papers themselves are in portuguese of course so it doesn’t matter. If you scroll down, there are three links in red. You can use ctrl+F to search for “interazione” if you want to go straight to it. No audio files, sadly.
Google also turns up a few if you are prepared to sift through the various results a bit.
This one from TELC is a pretty professional looking B1 test template. It’s not quite in the same format as the official exam but it has a similar level and some of the same exercises, at least. It feels a bit wrong that I can see it. I think these exam templates are supposed to be for sale, and I’m not sure if they even realise that this one is searchable via Google, but it is so take full advantage, I say.
This one purports to be a B1 test. It’s definitely not in the format used for the official CAPLE/DEPLE exams but it might be something extra if you need more practice.
If you want to take this to the next level, I’d advise getting one of the books of exam papers. Here’s the one that covers A2, B1 and B2, for example
You can get it online from Bertrand and download the audio files here by entering the ISBN number (9789897524622) and publisher (Lidel). Bertrand also sell a book of B2 test papers with an accompanying CD from the same company called Exames de Portugues B2, Preparacao e Modelos which might be useful if you are looking at intermediate level, but bear in mind that it covers several different flavours of B2 level test including DIPLE Escolar, which is the test given to school-age children, Celpe-Bras, the brazilian equivalent of DIPLE and half a dozen others I don’t even recognise. It’s not specific to the standard CAPLE test framework, in other words, so although it is quite chunky, it may not be as useful as it seems.
The hardest thing to simulate is the fourth part of the test, “produção e interação orais”. You should probably work with a portuguese language teacher if you’re not already, or at the very least ask a portuguese friend to grill you to develop your conversation skills. Think about how to talk about yourself, practice talking about your favourite aspect of portuguese culture – food, music, books, and practice just looking at photographs and thinking about how you would describe them if you had to. It isn’t as long or as scary as you think it’ll be but it’s definitely worth getting used to that environment.