Posted in English, Portuguese

Expressões da Natureza

Doing homework from the new book. Here we go with idiomatic expressions that have to do with nature. I’ll skip all the obvious ones. Tirar o cavalo da chuva is in there for example. It’s an old favourite but I’ve mentioned it about a hundred times already.

  • Frio de rachar – splitting cold. Very, very cold.
  • Arranjar lenha para se queimar – to gather wood to burn oneself. Basically to create difficulties for yourself
  • Chamar-lhe um figo – To call something a fig. To eat /serve something you really like. Can also mean that you covet something.
  • Mandar à fava – to send someone to the bean. To send someone away or make it obvious you want them to get lost
  • Com a cabeça na lua – with one s head in the moon. Equivalent to “with one’s head in the clouds” in English
  • Mandar às urtigas to send someone to the nettles. To treat something as unimportant
  • Sol de pouca dura – Sun that doesn’t last long. Something good but transitory
  • Ter névoa nos olhos – To have fog in one’s eyes. To have blurred vision. This can be used both for the literal blurry vision but also figuratively when you don’t understand something
  • Aos quatro ventos – To the four winds. In all directions – just like in English, if you scatter something to the four winds.
  • Estar com um grão na asa – To have a grain in the wing. A state of mild euphoria or tipsiness

Posted in English

An Unlesson

I’ve just had a meeting with a Portuguese teacher who I thought was doing something interesting. Her name is Catarina and she runs The Language Unschool.

If you hang around the various online forums where Portuguese learners congregate, you’ve probably come across a lot of teachers looking for new students among the pool of curious, interested, potential learners who are trying to figure out where to start. The teachers usually have YouTube channels with a range of topics new learners are interested in: how to watch subtitled TV, how to use Ser and Estar, how to say the days of the week and so on, and they use that to draw in paying punters.

Catarina was fishing in darker waters though. She contacted me via Reddit after I’d already been writing in WritestreakPT every day for a few weeks and invited me for a free consultation. I liked the sound of the school. The package has a few components: a smartphone app, grammar videos, group sessions activities that aim to draw out people’s Portuguese voice and getting them talking. She seemed very switched on and presented the options well.

She’d really made an effort to demonstrate her personal touch too, because she’d looked at some of my recent posts, where I’ve talked about my January yoga binge and she’d actually teamed up with a local yoga teacher and made a video about yoga in Portuguese, released on the day she contacted me 👇

As a piece of entrepreneurship, it was impressive. I felt like she was making an effort to win me over as a customer: where most teachers aim for broad appeal, she seemed to be aiming for a specific niche. That’s how it felt anyway: the approach, the description, even the pricing structure, all seemed to be tailored to suit people who had already made up their mind to stick at it long term.

Anyway, I tried out the yoga video yesterday morning . I had to turn the subtitles on because I couldn’t hear very well but the inbuilt YouTube subtitles have a black background. That created some unexpected humour, because at one point the teacher got down on the floor and… And then I couldn’t see her any more! It looked like she’d had a sudden attack of shyness and decided to hide behind the subtitles, which made me laugh out loud. Anyway, if you fancy giving it a go, maybe play with the video settings and see if you can change the subtitles so they don’t have a background.

As I’ve said in some previous posts, doing workouts in Portuguese is a good way of learning some of the more niche body vocabulary and you’ll get a decent stretch out of it too, so what’s not to like?

I’m still pondering whether to go for the course. I’ll sleep on it. I definitely like the idea, and I need something to boost me towards spoken fluency, but I’m not sure how it fits into the rest of my life. Also, with the third world war around the corner, maybe nothing matters any more.

Hm, got a bit dark there at the end, didn’t it? I caught a glance at the news. Sorry.

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

Picklist Perplexity

I found this exercise very, very hard. Even when I got the results back, I still couldn’t make sense of why the right answers were the right answers. I asked about it and got an answer but before I read it I’m going to write out a translation and try to sort it out in my own head… OK, what have we got?

She liked figs, the old woman. And he’d always feel himself accompanied from time to time. Not that she made a big ________ in that friendship. Far from it. The Apple of her eye was the only daughter, the child who had patted him when she was little.

And options for that space are “lufa-lufa” (being busy with lots of tasks), “finca-pé” (a firm stance) and bate-papo (chit-chat)

And then…

The old lady, all her life, had kept him at a distance. She gave him a loaf of bread (honor indeed!) but she _______ straight afterwards: – get away! And he took himself away cerimoniously to his bed.

And options for that one are “engolia sapos” (swallowed frogs – meaning did something she really didn’t want to do), “borrava a pintura” (smudged the painting) or… Something else, i can’t remember.

Uyth, in the Portuguese subreddit, explained that this is from a book called Bichos by Miguel Torga, which is embarrassing because I’ve read that and I still didn’t get it! It’s a very difficult book though, so it’s no wonder it was chosen for an advanced course like this. When I read it I felt all at sea and I only really managed to follow two or three stories.

Anyway, in the first case, finca-pé was the right answer because taking a firm stance on friendship means making an effort to keep it going. And in the second case, borrava a pintura – smudged the painting – means she undid the effects of something good she’d done. So after giving the animal (a donkey, if I remember rightly) the lump of bread, she chases him away.

OK, I can see that. Wow, so hard though! Some of the exercises were super-easy, so this one came as a real shock!

Posted in English

Nearly Done

I’ve quite nearly finished the C1 course, y’know. I wasn’t expecting to be ready for the C1 exam this spring, but I might just sign up in May because it’s going well: the advanced material is not so hard and I think I can pass with another 3 months to play with, despite still, still, making so many mistakes and never quite feeling ready, I have passed almost all the in-course tests first time.

Posted in English, Portuguese


Expressions from the C1 course – I’m going to rewrite them here to help me remember them

Acordar com os pés de fora – This is like “wake up on the wrong side of the bed

Abrir o coração – Similar to English; say what you really think, get your feelings out in the open

Abrir o jogo – This one is a bit different from English expressions that mention the start or a game (“Game on” or “kick-off meeting”) It means to reveal details… I guess a game-related metaphor would be “blow the whistle” perhaps?

Abrir os olhos a alguém – Easy one, this. It just means warn someone or convince them of something

À sombra da bananeira – Not bovvered

Agarrar com unhas e dentes – to hold on for dear life

(Dar) Água pela barba – A desperate situation. I misunderstood this when I first heard it. It sounds like someone sweating through their beard, perhaps due to hard work or fear, but according to this blog post, it’s because the prow of a ship is called a barba, and when the water is up to there you know you’re in trouble!

Arregaçar as mangas – Just like in English, roll up your sleeves, get down to business.

Balde de água fria – Disappointment

Barata tonta – a dizzy cockroach. Someone who is acting erratically, or is disorientated

Bater as botas – Beat your boots, equivalent to kick the bucket, pop your clogs, buy the farm

Bater na mesma tecla – keep bashing on the same keyboard key: to persist in saying or doing something to an annoying degree

Baixar a bola – Calm Down

Cabeça de alho chocho – Someone who’s head is like withered garlic is, as you would expect, just someone distracted or forgetful

(dar uma) Calinada – (to say) something stupid or ungrammatical

Tem cara de caso – To gave a worried expression

Cabeça nas nuvens – Just like in English, head in the clouds means delistracted

Coisas do arco da velha – Weird things especially weird old things. My train of thought when I heard this that arco must mean ark, as in ark of the covenant: a chest or trunk where granny kept all her weird old-time junk but arco doesn’t have that meaning in Portuguese. According to the Internet, it just means the old lady’s rainbow.

Comprar gato por lebre – To get swindled. You’re supposed to imahine trying to buy a hare as food and getting sold a dead cat instead.

Cortar as vazas – To stop someone doing something. The relevant meaning of vaza here seems to be as a “trick” in a game of cards such as Bridge, so I guess cutting it would be a strategy to stop an opponent getting an advantage…? Vaza can also mean an emptying or hollowing out of something.

Chorar sobre o leite derramado – To cry over spilt milk

Com a corda no pescoço – With the rope around the neck, ie, under pressure or threat

Com a faca e o queijo na mão – I love this one. Someone is in a position to be able to resolve matters is said to be “with the knife and the cheese in their hand”

Com uma perna às costas – Effortlessly. Equivalent to “with one arm tied behind your back” except in Portugal, its a leg

(ter as) Costas quente – (to have) safety and protection because someone has your back

cravar – literally means to nail something, but as, an expression, to ask for a loan or scrounge something.

Dar/Bater com o nariz na porta – To Look for something and not find it

Dar o braço a torcer – To a it you were wrong about something and change your mind.

Dar com a língua nos dentes – Tell a secret

Dar uma mãozinha – Give someone a hand, just like in English

Dar troco – To answer someone’s comment or insult, to clap back

(Ter) Dor de cotovelo – Another favourite of mine: having pains in your elbow is a Portuguese expression for feeling envious. Not to be confused with “falar pelos cotovelos” which means to talk a lot.

De olhos fechados – as in the case of “com uma perna às costas”, this means you have no trouble doing something. It’s so easy you can do it with your eyes closed.

Engolir sapos – To do something you really don’t want to do. Nuno Markl uses it in describing the attitude of a lot of communist voters in 1986, forced to “engolir o sapo” of voting for Soares because it was better than voting for Amaral de Freitas.

Estar com os azeites – To be bored or annoyed with something

Estar de mãos atadas – as in English “my hands are tied” means I can’t do anything

Estar de/Ficar de trombas – Roughly equivalent to “to have a long face”. In fact, since tromba means trunk, you could probably rewrite the famous joke about the horse walking into a bar in Portuguese but you’d have to make it an elephant.

Estar-se nas tintas – To be completely indifferent to something.

Encostar a roupa ao pelo – Bater em alguém.

Estar giro – to be fun or pretty

Estar fixe – to be cool or good

Estar feito ao bife – knackered. Nobody seems quite sure where this came from but my Brazilian friend said think of a beef that has been tenderused by bashing it repeatedly wuty a spikey mallet. That.

Fazer um negócio da China – Pull off a big great business deal

Fazer vista grossa – To turn a blind eye

Fazer uma tempestade num copo de água – To make a big fuss – a storm in a tea cup, except it’s not a teacup, it’s a glass of water

Gritar a plenos pulmões – To scream at the top of your lungs

Ir desta para melhor – Just like in English, to go to a better place is to die.

Ir aos arames – To get annoyed

Lavar a roupa suja – Washing your dirty laundry is equivalent to airing your dirty linen in public: discussing personal stuff in a public setting.

Levar a peito – Taking to the chest is similar to the English expression ctake it to heart. On other words, take it personally and get offended by something.

(Ter) Maus fígados – to have bad livers means to have a bad temper

Meter os pés pelas mãos – to put your feet in your hand means to get muddled and mix things up.

Meter o rabo entre as pernas – To out your tail between your legs, to submit.

Onde Judas perdeu as botas – Where Judas lost his boots; in the middle of nowhere. See also “cu de Judas”

Pão, pão, queijo, queijo – This is what you say when something is completely clear, unambiguous and well-defined.

(estar com os, ter os) Pés para a cova – To have your feet in the grave is just like you’d say “one foot in the grave” on English.

Pendurar as botas – To hang up your boots is to retire, especially from a sport.

Pensar na morte da bezerra – To think about the death of the calf just means to be distracted

(ser uma, ter uma) Pedra no sapato – To have a problem that needs resolving

Pôr a pata na poça – To put your foot in it, just like in English, except that the portuguese are more specific about “it”. It’s a puddle.

Pôr mãos à obra – Put your hands to work.

Pôr os pontos nos is – Just like in English, to dot the i’s means to take great care over your work

(ficar com, ter) a pulga atrás da orelha – To lack confidence, or be mistrustful

Pôr-se a pau – to be very careful, be on guard

Pôr água na fervura – To put water in the boiling water means to try and calm someone down.

Pôr paninhos quentes – According to the C1 guide, this means to try and conciliate, for example when a friend has acted badly and you are trying to defend them, but when I looked around for the origin, I found Priberam defines “paninhos quentes” as “temporary solutions”, so this would be something like papering over the cracks. Both meanings seem to exist, so… 🤷🏼‍♂️

Prometer mundos e fundos – Make grand promises you can’t keep

Procurar uma agulha num palheiro – Just like English, look for a needle in a haystack

Sem pés nem cabeça – Illogical, meaningless.

Ser um troca-tintas – To be a turncoat, or modify your opinions according to your audience.

Tirar o cavalo (ou cavalinho) da chuva – Everybody’s favourite Portuguese expression, this. To bring your little horse in out of the rain means to finally give up on something.

Trepar paredes – To climb the walls, meaning to be completely desperate

Trocar alhos por bugalhos – To swap garlic for oak apples, meaning to mix up two completely unrelated things.

Ter lata – To be cheeky

Uma mão lava a outra – One hand washes the other, just like the English expression, except when we use it it sounds a bit sinister, implying two people are covering for each other in sometjing dishonest, but the definition is that this is just teamwork, basically. Again, looking around the web, I get the feeling people are using it in a slightly less sympathetic way than the official course definition claims, and more like the English version but I could be wrong.

Vira-casacas – a turncoat, literally!

Voltar à vaca fria – To return to the original subject after a digression.

Posted in English, Portuguese

Locuções Temporais

I’m struggling a bit with finding the right tenses for some of the sentence structures set out in the C1 course so decided to try and write a few for practice. Thanks to Dani Morgenstern for help with the corrections.

  • Quando acabei de ler ele já tinha escrito a sequela (when I finished reading he had already written the sequel)
  • Enquanto ele tocava bateria, eu preenchia os formulários de divórcio (while he was playing drums, I was filling in the divorce forms)
  • Quando chegares a casa, descasca as batatas (when you get home, peel the potatoes)
  • Ela disse-me que queria ser primeira ministra quando fosse grande (she told me she wanted to be prime minister when she was big)
  • Quando o vírus tivesse passado, ela voltava a treinar (when the vírus had passed she went back to training – I think the sense here is of something that happened repeatedly: she’d get ill every so often and go back to training after each occurrence, hence the imperfect tense)
  • Enquanto não leres o texto não estás capaz de responder às perguntas (since you won’t read the text you won’t be able to answer the questions)
  • Enquanto os negócios tivessem apoio financeiro não iriam à falência durante a pandemia. (as long as the businesses had financial support, they wouldn’t fail during the pandemic)
  • Enquanto o tio Rui não tivesse chegado a casa, a família não começava a jantar* (since Uncle Rui hadn’t arrived at the house the family weren’t starting their dinner)

*It’s probably worth pointing out here that this “a” is a preposition and “jantar” a verb. They hadn’t started to dine. But jantar can also be a noun so I could also have said “o jantar” instead of “a jantar” and the sentence would still work but it would mean “they hadn’t started the dinner”.

  • Logo que o comboio parta, telefona-me (as soon as the train leaves, call me)
  • Assim que receberes a carta do SNS, marca consulta. (as soon as you get a letter from the SNS, make an appointment)
  • No momento em que as cortinas se abrissem, a banda comecaria a tocar (as soon as the curtains opened the band would start to play)
  • Mal tivesse aberto a janela, o pisco entraria na sala (as soon as he had opened the window the robin would enter the room)
  • Logo que eu acordava tomava um café (as soon as he woke up, he used to have a cup of coffee)
  • Assim que enviou a carta, percebeu que se tinha esquecido do selo (Just as he posted the letter he realised he’d forgotten the stamp)
  • No momento em que o professor abriu a boca a campainha tocou (at the instant the teacher opened his mouth the bell rang)
  • Mal soube as noticias, começou a chorar (As soon as he heard the news he started to cry)
  • Antes que te esqueças, faz notas sobre a reunião (before you forget make some notes about the meeting)
  • Antes que ligasse ao meu pai, ele enviou-me uma mensagem (Before I called my dad, he sent me a message)
  • Antes de abrir a boca vou pensar duas vezes (before I open my mouth I’m going to think twice)
  • Depois de nos termos encontrado a minha vida era vazio e sem propósito (Before we met each other, my life was empty and without purpose)
Posted in English

Christmas in Lazytown

My epic quest for advanced certification rumbles on, with over. A hundred days behind me, doing daily exercises, writing texts and tweeting. I’ve given myself a break on the reading aspect of this over the difficult few days between Christmas And New Year though because it’s a weird period and I feel like I need a rest and some nonsense so between now and New Year I’ll allow myself some indulgent English language reading.