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

Early Impressions of the Official C1 Course

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.

The introductory lecture of the Camões Institute C1 course
The introduction to the first unit

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.

Posted in English

Leveling Up

I’m on day 66 of my epic quest for C1 competence. I’ve finished Português Atual (which is one of the books reviewed on this page) and signed on for the Instituto Camões course. They are the people responsible for administering the exams so I feel like this is “straight from the horse’s mouth” as it were, but I wish they’d work on the website a bit more because all I’ve learned so far is how to say “page loading”.

I’ll update on here as I go along. If I go along…

Posted in English

40 Dias and 40 Noites

I’m a 40 days into my long march to C1 proficiency. I’m doing pretty well. Here’s what I’ve been doing in each of the goals:

  • Make a new Twitter account, tweet only in PortugueseDone! I’ve been updating daily, trying to pass as an illiterate Portuguese guy. 52 followers so far and nobody has come out and denounced me as an imposter but I daresay they are thinking it. I did have one person – a Brazilian – refer to me a a Tuguinho, which I enjoyed. She was a nutjob though so it probably doesn’t count.
  • Watch one Portuguese movie or series episode per week. Done! So far, half way through a series called Crónica dos Bons Malandros and I’ve watched one film. I don’t watch much telly generally so this is hard work.
  • Finally finish “A Actualidade em Português*” Done!
  • Then do one esercise of Português Atual* C1 or one from this course per day. Done! I’ve hit at least one exercise per day, usually quite a lot more. I’m about two thirds of the way through the book now and I’ll start on the course next.
  • Only read Portuguese books (exception for work-related books that I need to read for career development). Done. I’ve read no books in English since the start of the challenge apart from a work-related book about spreadsheets.
  • Listen to mainly portuguese audio. Could probably be better tbh. I’ve listened to quite a lot but it’s still in the minority.
  • Memorise one Portuguese poem per week. I’ve done four: Coroai-me De Rosas by Ricardo Reis, Segue o Teu Destino by the same author, Flagrante by Antonio Zambujo and Tenho Pena de Quem é o Meu Amigo by Gregório Duvivier. So I’m one short. This is really painful to be honest.
  • Write something each day on the Portuguese Writestreak subreddit. Done! My streak is up to 40 days now.
  • Follow the Bertrand Portuguese History Course once a fortnight Done! I’ve mentioned this a few times because of the scandal surrounding the teacher. I missed the first session due to senility but that was just before the challenge period so I’m still golden!

I’ve done some side-quests too! My first one was the project I did to try and understand the outline of Portuguese politics; then I went to see a night of (mostly) Portuguese music and this week I tried my hand at cooking a pudding called Pudim de Leite Condensado from a Portuguese recipe.

Behold its majesty!

Pudim de Leite Condensado
The goodness within!

So that’s how I’m doing. The schedule is a lot easier than I expected. I’m finding it a faff to fit the weekly goals in, especially now I’m in full time work again, but I’ll keep plugging away!

Posted in English

Deadly Synonyms

Here’s a confusing instance of double-meanings from the C1 exercises.

The question is to find synonyms for a list of words. One of the words is “Confuso” and the options it gives are (a) desordenado (b) esclarecido (c) desarrumado (d) obscuro.

Confuso definition

The answer is obviously (a) right? Right? Well, no, it’s (d) according to the book. I went to the Porto Editora dictionary and it seems to support my claim.

But wait, what’s that in the second row?

Confuso again


I posted on the Portuguese subreddit in a we-was-robbed-ref kind of way and most people agreed that (d) was the best answer.

I'm even more confuso now

Priberam gives the same two definitions but in a different order of precedence.

Bit of a mess really. I don’t think the question is well written but it’s worth bearing in mind that Confuso has a slightly different weighting from its English equivalent.

Posted in English

Some More Expressions

Here are a few expressions gleaned from the C1 book

Em casa de ferreiro, espeto de pau (In The blacksmith’s house, the skewers are made of wood) People who have skills they use in work don’t use them for their own benefit.

Cada cabeça sua sentença – everyone has their own opinion

Nem tudo o que luz é ouro – all that glimmers is not gold. Easy one, this. The only thing that grabbed my interest was that “luz”. I’d only ever come across this word as a noun so I had a hard time choosing it as an option in the exercise, but it’s actually part of the verb “luzir” in this context.

Quem canta, seus males espanta – is another that threw me since it sounds like it’s saying “whoever sings will shock you with their evil deeds” which is probably right for Michael Jackson, but “espanta” can also mean scare something away or chase it away, and “males” can be a person’s woes or troubles, not actual evils, so it just means if you sing a song you’ll chase your blues away. OK, cool.

Zangam-se as comadres, descobrem-se as verdades – When the godmothers start arguing, the truth will come out. In other words, when people start getting heated they tend to say things they would normally keep to themselves


O ocasio faz o ladrao – the opportunity makes the thief. This seems to be used slightly differently. If you look around various sites, some people take it as meaning that a person driven by circumstances might steal but isn’t to be regarded as a born thief; others take it as more like “if you don’t take care of your stuff someone is bound to nick it”. A middle way seems to be “People might be tempted to steal if there isn’t a strong motivation for them not to”. That seems to be how this guy interprets it anyway,and he mentioned a reference by Machado de Assis who says “Não é a ocasião que faz o ladrão, o provérbio está errado. A forma exata deve ser esta: a ocasião faz o furto; o ladrão já nasce feito”.

It’s definitely a pessimistic expression, anyway!

Em águas de bacalhau – I keep seeing this one and forgetting what it means. Apparently it comes from the fact that cod fishing used to be very dangerous, back in the day, and you were quite likely not to come back from a fishing trip if you went off to the cod fishing waters. So if something “deu/ficou/continuou em águas de bacalhau” then basically it came to nothing and had no result.

Trazer água no bico – bring water in your beak – do or say something sneaky or with a hidden agenda

Dar água pela barba – Give water in the beard (“sweat through the beard, I guess?) If something dá água [pela barba, it’s something very complex and challenging

Here are a few that are easier, because they’re equivalent to english expressions

Fazer crescer água na boca – to make the mouth water

Como peixinho na água – like a fish to water

Enquanto há vida há esperança – where there’s life there’s hope

Em terra de cegos quem tem olho é rei – in the land of the bline, the one-eyed man is king

Cao que ladra nao morde – his bark is worse than his bite (lit “A dog that barks doesn;t bite”)

Quem semeia ventos, colhe tempestades – sow the breeze, reap the whirlwind

Posted in English

C1 Expressions

I hit an exercise that had quite a lot of expressions I hadn’t heard before

Um amigo de Peniche – comes from a British action during the succession crisis of the 1580s. Nine years after the Spanish seized the portuguese crown, a force led by Francis Drake landed near Peniche ostensibly to restore the crown to Dom António, Prior do Crato, but really to prevent the Spanish launching another armada and, in the process, also doing quite a lot of looting and attempting to seize the Açores to sever the route if the Spanish silver trade. So an Amigo de Peniche is a friend who is only really looking out for what they can get out of the friendship and doesn’t really give much in return. Apparently people from Peniche are self-conscious about being associated with treachery and never miss an opportunity to tell you the true origin.

Please stop blaming Peniche for stuff England did
Peniche Truther
Drake, as far as we know, has never tried to invade Portugal
You used to call me on my cellphone, to help restore you to the throne

Um unhas de fome – a grasping, tight fisted person

Um atraso de vida – a harmful or annoying life problem

Um amostra de gente – a very small person

Um mãos-largas – a very generous person. Note that here (and in a couple of other expressions, the article “um” doesn’t seem to match the noun. That’s because this is a description of a person, and the default is singular and masculine, even if they are described as having wide hands – mãos largas – feminine and plural.

Um bom garfo – a gourmet

Um cabeça de alho chocho – if you are an old shriveled garlic head, you’re a forgetful, absent minded person.

Um bota de elástico – someone who dresses, acts, or thinks in an old-fashioned way

Posted in Portuguese

Uma Carta de Reclamação

Writing letters of complaint is a popular exam exercise. I’ve pinched a couple of phrases from a C1-level example, highlighted in the text

                    Londres, 5 de Outubro 2021

Assunto: Apagão* do site

Exmo Sr Zuckerberg

Venho por este meio*” apresentar uma reclamação relativa ao assunto em epígrafe***. Ontem, tentei entrar no seu site, Facebook, para ver memes sobre gatinhos mas o site estava em baixo. Ao falhar desta tentativa, dirigi-me ao Instagram mas isto também não deu êxito. Fui forçado a falar com a minha própria família e a ouvir as opiniões da minha esposa e da minha filha sobre o Squid Game.
Fiquei com marcas mentais que provavelmente nunca se curarão.
Devido a esta situação, gostaria de ser ressarcido pelo honorário do meu psicanalista e uma indemnização por danos causados. 2 biliões de dólares deverão ser suficiente.
Sem outro assunto de momento e aguardando uma resposta da vossa parte****
Com os melhores cumprimentos

* “Apagão” “em baixo” are phrases I pinched from recent news articles but I don’t think the terminology is very fixed. The marker changed the latter to “tinha ido abaixo” But I’ve left it as it was since I guess the Jornal de Notícias has its reasons.

**This phrase is something like “I hereby”. Super-formal, obviously.

***This is referring to the title line so only works if you’ve written a subject at the top of the letter

****More formal boilerplate – Not having anything further to say and awaiting a reply in your part.

Zuckerberg reacting to a letter of complaint
The recipient reacts to my complaint letter

My wife tells me people really do write in this sort of formal style. Probably not about cat photos, but still…

Posted in English

C1 Here I Come

I’ve been a bit slack on learning Portuguese lately. I’ve basically been treading water since I did the B2 diploma. In fact, since the pandemic started, I’ve spent as much time on my “hobby” language, Scots Gaelic as I have on my main one. That needs to stop because I am determined to be properly fluent in Portuguese if it kills me.

I’m not very good at abandoning things so I’m allowing myself till the end of this coming week to finish off my remaining Gaelic things, and read any outstanding foreign language books from my TBR and then I am going to commit to portuguese: purge my daily to-do list of distractions, delete Duolingo (It’s too Brazilian) and submerge myself in the language as far as reasonably possible for someone who doesn’t live there. The time for pissing about is over. Go duro or go para casa.

So here’s my list of activities to work on through the autumn

  • Make a new Twitter account, tweet only in Portuguese, pretend to be Portuguese, interact with people, see how long I can get away with it (not long probably, but it’ll be fun to try)
  • Watch one Portuguese movie or series episode per week.
  • Finally finish “A Actualidade em Português*” which is a B2 book meant to finish in 2020 but didn’t
  • Then do one esercise of Português Atual* C1 or one from this course per day
  • Only read Portuguese books (exception for work-related books that I need to read for career development)
  • Listen to mainly portuguese audio. I probably can’t go total on this one but the balance needs to shift towards Portuguese pretty decisively.
  • Memorise one Portuguese poem per week. C-level Portuguese needs you to be able to appreciate literature a bit and I’ve been trying to memorise poems recently, including one by Pessoa and one by Florbela Espanca, which I can still remember weeks later, so this seems like something I can incorporate as part of my language learning.
  • Write something each day on the Portuguese Writestreak subreddit.
  • Follow the Bertrand Portuguese History Course once a fortnight and try to participate as much as possible. It’s starting soon and it’s really good value (only a hundred and forty quid for 20 lessons with current exchange rates and bulk discount) but pretty challenging (see this review of a previous course I did for an idea of how challenging!)

The aim will be to go for C1 or even C2 by about May next year.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “are you crazy?” and you’re right, it does seem pretty ambitious, but I’ve been thinking it through and I reckon I can do it. The key piece is what I wrote at the top there about clearing my daily to do list. Early in the pandemic I started getting up at 5.30 and going through a list of daily chores, including meditation, a big chunk of Duolingo, watering the plants and a load of other bits and pieces. It’s nice because it gives me some free time before my family wake up to do things on my own before work starts and feel productive. If I purge a few things from that and replace with daily items from the list and do some of the larger things like movies in the evening and weekends it should be manageable, time-wise. I just need to keep it interesting: short texts in the writestreak, be ruthless about abandoning boring books so reading doesn’t become a chore, try to be funny on twitter, make sure the films I choose are good… Yeah, I can do this.

Sou capaz!

I have some other things I’d like to fit in, like cooking from Portuguese recipes, following Portuguese exercise videos, finally getting around to reading the bloody Lusíadas, going to a fado concert or two, actually visiting the country itself, and (this is the most ambitious of all) having a conversation with my wife in Portuguese without her running away with her fingers in her ears to escape my horrible accent. But those are probably a bit hard to plan since they either don’t fit easily into my routine or in some cases they’re contingent on the pandemic simmering down. Basically, I don’t want to have something on the plan that I won’t end up doing because then I’ll start to lose motivation. I think the list on its own will do for now. If I manage the others, I’ll consider that icing on the cake.

*=if you’re interested in finding out about textbooks for Portuguese study, I did a page about them recently.