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Mastering the Portuguese B2 DIPLE Language Level

“Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with
native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. “

— B2 DIPLE Language Level

After a two-year absence, I returned to Portugal on a month-long working holiday, two weeks of which were spent as writer in residence at Cerdeira — Home for Creativity, an artistic retreat high in the mountains above Lousã.

It is a high, serene place, linked to the town down below by a torturous road which gives me nightmares. I tried to speak only in Portuguese, and mostly, the helpful staff didn’t make “the switch” to English. I asked for clarification if I didn’t know a word, or if I didn’t understand something, and all seemed to work out ok.

But there were some misunderstandings, even mild humiliations, like the afternoon I phoned the car rental agent to tell him my car smelled of smoke. I thought I was progressing along pretty well in Portuguese when he interrupted me, and said in a bored voice, “you can speak English.” And so I did.
I realized I may have hit my language limit at the B2 level. I certainly didn’t recognize my abilities on reading the above description of B2 language proficiency.

The B2 DIPLE exam
I spent three very intense months studying specifically for the B2 level, with three to four lessons per week. I gave up family holidays, friends, leisure activities and exercise. My diet was terrible. I am retired, so I had time to study. But, to be honest, my quest for the B2 certificate took its toll.

I took the B2 DIPLE test in Toronto in mid-November, 2023. It lasted an arduous three hours and forty-five minutes (with three 5-minute breaks) full of stress and intense concentration. I was the only candidate at the B2 level, and the lovely examiner put me at ease. The reading comprehension section, at which I am usually pretty fair, lasted a tense 75 minutes. It was followed by a frantic 40 minutes of aural comprehension (audio recordings).

After 75 minutes of scribbling out a formal letter, rewriting some sentences, and writing a report (on a topic I have already forgotten), my brain was fried. It still felt fried two weeks later. By comparison, the 15-minute oral interaction with the examiner at the end was almost fun. Results are due in two months: estou a fazer figas.

How to Ace the B2 Exam
The following steps are vital for B2 exam success says Susana Morais, language teacher and writer.

Formal Education: follow a course, a textbook or have lessons with a teacher to ensure
all language structure areas are worked on.

Focus on the various language skills: practice writing, reading, listening, and speaking.
All these aspects are important to ensure solid knowledge without gaps.

Explore and take risks: surround yourself with native content on various topics, and
make contact with natives (even if the conversation ends in English, you have to keep
trying!). Absorb the language without the goal of understanding every word, without
trying to make sense of every expression, without worrying about making mistakes.

Practice, practice, practice: the most important thing to make the language part of your life is to use it frequently. Even if it is for brief moments, it is essential to do so daily.

Why seek the B2 certification if it is so difficult?
“This level of language competency can open doors to certain types of employment within Portugal as well as in the wider world,” says polyglot Susana, including admission to Portuguese universities.

Adds globe-trotting language teacher and blogger Edite Coelho, “Lots of professions require a B2 level of proficiency in European Portuguese, such as dentists, doctors, tour guides, teachers, lawyers, accountants, economists, customs brokers, nutritionists and pharmacists. In these professions you need to demonstrate that you can understand and communicate in Portuguese at an upper-intermediate level.”

Check with the IEFP (Institute of Employment and Vocational Training) to verify which professions require B2 certification (or above). “Generally, the ability to communicate in Portuguese on a daily basis is most important for those who are hiring, but the level of demand will depend on the type of job,” says Susana. “Applications for positions with direct contact with the client or in which communication is a relevant factor will benefit from presenting an official certificate of language proficiency.”

Susana, a former language-testing examiner, has also completed foreign-language exams in English and German.

While a B2 certificate is not necessary to live in Portugal (only A2 is required for residency), “aspiring to obtain the B2 certificate presents the benefit of having a definitive objective to achieve, which can serve as motivation to persist in learning the language.” She adds that “universities can admit students with a B1 Portuguese language certificate but they must have attained B2 level in order to graduate. In professions, such as dentistry and others, ‘proof of necessary language skills’ or ‘professional working proficiency’ must be given, which generally means, B2 level at minimum.”

Having certified B2 language skills, says Edite (who also speaks several languages), facilitates global mobility, enabling people’s communication skills in Portuguese “to be accredited, recognized, and properly valued. The promotion of language learning at higher levels also stimulates a greater understanding of Portuguese history, geography and culture and allows easier … integration into Portuguese society.”

“Getting to grips with a new language is kind of like making a new friend. At first, they’re just another face in the crowd, but before you know it, they’re an inseparable part of your world,” notes Susana. “Skipping past those awkward first hellos means missing out on the awesome connection that could follow. Keep at it with the language; stick with it past the simple stuff. There’s a point where it clicks, and suddenly, you’re seeing life through a whole new lens in a way you never knew you were missing out on.” Adds Edite, “I believe that the certification of language skills in the Portuguese language
is a strong point that will certainly contribute to facilitate integration into Portuguese society at all levels.”

What is professional working proficiency?
Under the Common European Framework Reference (CEFR) “Professional Working Proficiency” roughly corresponds to the B2/C1 level. The CEFR assures the same equivalencies are applied to language learners.

Try this CEFR self-assessment:
A2: Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters.  Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.

B1: Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken.  Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

B2: Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialization. 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.

Many thanks to by Leslie Smith for this fabulous information!

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