the impasse: moving from B2 to C1

I’m back in LA for the summer and looking for some Portuguese speaking opportunities. While I did quite a bit of writing and conversation this spring, I feel like I’ve plateaued again. Looking at the CEFR scale of language aptitude, I feel pretty solidly in the B2 camp:

  • Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation.
  • Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.
  • Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

But I also feel I have been at this level for well over a year now. Yes, yes: patience, grasshopper. I have no illusions of ever getting to C2 without living in Brazil, but I would really love to be at C1:

  • Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning.
  • Can express ideas fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions.
  • Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes.
  • Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

The common wisdom at this point seems to be, watch movies – listen to music – converse as much as possible. And I’m doing all of this. My plans for this summer include going to more Portuguese meetups, and getting the most out of Verbling.

Yet reading an entire novel is still a slog. Listening to fast speech I get the gist but lose the details. Speaking I can get my point across fine but I yearn for a richer, more relaxed expression. I can write in an academic mode but I fear I use too many structures that parallel my writing style in English, and perhaps sound awkward in Portuguese. I’m not sure if there’s a way beyond this impasse that doesn’t involve moving to Brazil, but if there are any tutors out there that want to give it a shot with a dedicated student, you’ll get a fantastic writeup (and money of course).

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8 Responses to the impasse: moving from B2 to C1

  1. Bill says:

    I’m only at the beginning of my Portuguese journey, but this is exactly the stage I am at in French. The problem is that beyond a certain point you know nearly all the words that are used in everyday conversation; which leaves technical terminology, literary forms of expression, and slang.

    Unless you find a dedicated ‘source’ for these things, it feels like you’re being drip fed new words, without enough exposure to properly reinforce them. Eg. I learnt the word for “spurn” yesterday, but when am I going to hear that again?

    I guess the “solution” is to continually seek out new types of material for study, so you never end up ‘in a rut’. Though I find this quite tiring.

    It’s nice to be a beginner again in a language :)

    • Lauren says:

      Being a beginner is awesome because you feel yourself making progress so quickly, producing meaning out of stuff that not so long ago was just cryptic white noise to your brain. It’s exciting. That lasts for 2-3 years, and then comes the slog.

      I completely agree about the vocabulary situation – at some point you’ve learned enough to get by and then you’re left with an endless stream of “long-tail” word that it seems pointless to study. The same with grammar — at some point, you’ve studied all the traditional grammar.

      But all this aside, I still feel that there are many many expressions and idiomatic structures that Brazilians use in speech that I haven’t acquired yet. So I try to converse as often as possible, but it does get tiring having to seek it out.

  2. Adam says:

    Getting over this hump can seem tough but it happens when you’re not paying attention (meaning you’re continuously studying for studying’s sake and don’t notice the actual point where you hit C1/C2. I’m on the cusp of the final two where speech, for example, I consider myself a C1 but writing, I think I’m C2. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be C2 in everything because I’m quite okay with my level of speech and I think this happens to most people. They say to themselves, “ok, I’m good enough.”

    My focus was always everything but speech, as that came in last, but it just depends on where your focus is in terms of how fast you get to C1/C2.

    • Lauren says:

      Hi Adam, I hope you’re enjoying Portugal! I’m starting to think that getting to conversational Level C really does require extensive daily usage in a way that may be possible but very difficult to accomplish without living in a lusophone country. I’m pretty dedicated, but even I don’t have the kind of energy needed to seek out daily conversational opportunities. And I do feel the “I guess I’m good enough for now” attitude starting to take hold. On the other hand, I don’t want to give up now because I’ve had some other things in my life (with music eg) where I got to a certain plateau and just stopped — but now I look back and say Wow, I was actually pretty good, I bet if I’d kept it up a couple more years I’d be awesome!

  3. I understand the feeling, because that where I am in Spanish. But for me right now, I am happy for it. There are slang dictionaries (Speak Like Brazilian is one for Portuguese) and of course native speaking friends to explain it you. However, find specialized material is hard.

  4. Jéssica Garcia says:

    I feel exactly as you, but while are you trying to learn portuguese I am trying to learn english. I need it, because I want to go to some american university and need at least C1 to enter. For me it’s very hard because i dont know exactly what to do now to improve my english by now. I can understand quite well now, but when I try to speak or write looks like I forget everything i know.

    Good luck on your learning.

  5. Ricardo says:

    Eu sei que esse post é bastante antigo, mas aqui vai minha impressão de qualquer maneira. Primeiro, minha primeira língua é o português brasileiro, e depois de morar e trabalhar em uma universidade nos Estados Unidos por quase 20 anos, eu acredito que meu inglês está em um nível C2. No entanto, meu italiano é B2, e então estou passando pela mesma situação uma segunda vez. Bom, descartando o fato de que eu tinha a imersão em um ambiente com inglês, o que aconteceu durante a transição do B2 (o nível no qual eu cheguei nos EUA) ao C1. Eu acredito que os fatores sejam os seguintes:

    1. Leitura e vocabulário (passivo): para mim leitura é o aspecto fundamental, tanto lendo constantemente sem necessariamente tentar aprender a língua, quanto ler para “dissecar textos”. Dissecar para mim quer dizer marcar palavras não conhecidas, procurar em um dicionário e depois retornar a essas palavras (spaced repetition). Eu acredito que o vocabulário é o motor de tudo, sem vocabulário não há língua. Para mim o importante é que o material seja relevante (trabalho, hobby, etc) e interessante, caso contrário você não vai persistir. Persistência é essencial. Aliás, com uma metodologia baseada em aquisição de vocabulário os plateaus passam a ser um mito, porque você pode simplesmente contar o número de livros (ou qualquer outro material) que tenha lido em um ano. Se em dois anos você leu 100 livros em dois anos (aproxidamente um por semana), você não só irá notar um progresso marcado, mas terá um track record da sua evolução.
    2. Escuta (passiva): filmes são essenciais, conversas se você tiver um tutor online ou grupos de pessoas locais. O conceito de filmes para lazer ou “dissecando” o seu conteúdo também é válido aqui, “dissecar filmes” querendo dizer tendo acesso aos subtitles.
    3. Escrita e fala (componentes ativos): a palavra chave aqui é feedback, geralmente via um tutor. Ou seja, você deve falar ou escrever livremente, mas o que vai te fazer melhorar é um feedback detalhado sobre o que estava errado na sua fala ou escrita.
    4. Gramática: um dos pressupostos do C1 é que você saiba a sua gramática sem erros. Então aqui a única estratégia é identificar áreas onde você ainda cometa erros e tanto revisar a teoria quanto fazer exercícios até chegar a um ponto em que esses erros não aconteçam mais.

    Veja que esses passos não tornam o processo simples. Mas como cada um deles é mensurável, eles permitem que você monitore o seu progresso ao longo do tempo.

    Espero que isso possa ser de ajuda.

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