Posted in English

Course Review – Portuguese for Foreigners, Level C1

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.

Exam prep
What’s she even doing?

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.

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.

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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.

September!!!

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*.

 

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