Let us suppose your favourite pastime is perusing eclectic book collections along the Seine. After selecting one you wander to your favourite café or bistro for a cuppa, crack open your coveted Sartre or Zola...
And you can read and understand every word!
But does that prove your ability to use the French language effectively, in every situation?
To get that proof, you would have to submit to official testing, and have your ability to use French measured and categorised by the Ministry of National Education in France.
We're not talking about parlaying your GCSE foreign language test scores into an approximate equivalent, here.
Our French neighbours have considerately divided their language certification exams into three segments, each corresponding to one or more portions of the Common European Framework of Reference for Language, or CEFRL.
In case you are not familiar with said framework:
Level A1 represents basic knowledge of the language; C2 represents fluency. B1 and B2 exams are designed to test and certify intermediate language learners' abilities.
Please refer to the table at the end of this article for a correlation between the French exams and their CEFRL counterparts.
Where francophones are concerned, those exams are called DILF, DELF and DALF.
Let us now take a closer look at them.
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Early Certification Through DILF
Really, these exam acronyms proclaim their levels: the I stands for initial; E represents études – studies, in French.
Thus, it stands to reason that those sitting DILF are beginners; just starting their forays into French vocabulary and French grammar.
The DILF is an official qualification awarded by the French Ministry of Education that recognises a basic level of competence in French – one that corresponds to A1.1 on the CERFL scale.
Nevertheless, all four areas of language competence are tested: reading, writing, speaking and listening.
- The reading portion would include understanding simple instructions and basic information.
- The writing segment calls for the candidate to fill out a form or write a simple message. The ability to understand and write numbers correctly is also challenged.
- The listening part revolves around understanding a public message or simple instruction. Here again, the use of numbers is specified.
- The speaking portion consists of an interview with a panel of examiners, as well as various conversational activities, like introducing people and making a doctor's appointment.
Speech and listening comprehension rate higher for this exam than do writing and reading – whose total points tally up to 30.
Overall, the candidate would have to score a total of 50 points out of 100 to earn a pass.
For the oral portion, a 35 out of 70 would be considered satisfactory.
It is important to note that there are no questions specifically about grammar and verb conjugation; every phase of the exam is geared toward pragmatic concerns.
The DILF is considered the initial step toward a later DELF ordeal.
However, as it is only offered in France, you may consider an immersion curriculum in your favourite French province in anticipation of this exam.
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DELF: a French Language Exam for Everyone
Just to clarify this point: although there is a progression in these language proficiency exams, you are not required to take the elementary level exams prior to testing at intermediate or advanced level.
The DELF offers a wide range of tests designed for any French language student, from DELF Prim – for students as young as seven, to DELF Pro, the test geared toward business professionals.
The most commonly administered exam is called DELF Tout Public, or public access DELF.
These four exams, each increasingly more difficult, test the same aspects of your second language as DILF does: reading, writing, speaking and listening.
However, the subject matter covered and the intensity varies greatly. That can be evidenced by the time allotted for each exam.
Whereas the A1 exam lasts one hour and twenty minutes, the B2 exam demands over two hours and topics of discussion range from politics to other hotly debated subjects.
There is no placement test to determine which exam you should sit.
However, the French Ministry of Education provides sample tests to help you establish where you are in your French studies, and which certification exam you should take.
The DELF is a pass/fail proposition. If you score above the threshold indicated for the exam you sit, you will be certified at that level.
Should your pronunciation, for example, be deemed insufficient – resulting in a failure to certify, you may resit the exam, but only after 60 days.
Unlike other language assessment programmes, you cannot retake only the portion you did not demonstrate proficiency in; you must redo the entire exam.
The cost of the exam depends on what level you sit. The latest pricing table, from last year, indicated that: sitting A1, or Basic Level, would cost £70; high intermediate, or B2, would run £105.
You will be charged a fee each time you sit the exam, even if you are taking the same exam again.
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A Word on DALF
Let us say you have been taking French lessons for most of your academic career. In fact, most would consider you bilingual, and you even anticipate sitting French A Levels... in other words, you are well advanced in French speaking, reading and writing.
Your language training may qualify you to sit DALF: a thorough examination of your ability to discourse and write about humanities, social studies and current events through French conversation and composition.
The C1 exam takes a little over four hours, and costs £145.
Testing your knowledge of French language and culture at the highest level, C2, would take three and a half hours, and set you back £170.
Now that we have a breakdown of test levels, let us take an in-depth look at language learning geared to the level that would likely be most beneficial to you; the ones included in étude programme.
Tips for Successful DELF
Determine Which Exam
For the adult francophone, the choice is easy: s/he can sit the aforementioned Public Access exam, or DELF Pro: the one meant for those whose level of expression is suited to the business world.
If you hope to work in France or any French speaking countries, that would be the exam for you.
Both require you to demonstrate proficiency levels in the range of A1 to B2, but the nature of the discussions and materials are slightly different.
The Pro exam includes more business terminology.
The young French learner has a greater choice of exams:
- Prim – for primary school students. Levels tested are A1.1 to A2
- Junior: for kids and teens in secondary school; they can test from Level A1 to B2
- the levels are the same as tests for adults, but topics discussed are relevant to people of that age group
- Scolaire: Same tests/levels as the Junior category, but administered in a classroom, through a French language learning center.
- If your child takes classes at the Alliance Francaise in Cambridge or Cardiff, for example, s/he may be encouraged to sit DELF on recommendation of her teacher.
Contact Your Closest Testing Center
If you do not live in France and are not enroled in a French language school, you may have to find a language testing center close to you.
Even if you are enroled in a language school, it may not be certified to officially administer the exam.
There are only a baker's dozen certified testing centers, scattered throughout the UK. Contacting them to find the next available test dates and the most up-to-date criteria for testing is essential to securing a seat.
Knowing when and where to test will eliminate the possibility of confusion and frustration, thus increasing your chances for a good evaluation of your linguistic abilities.
Practice, Practice, Practice
From the moment of your enrolment into the test of your choice, you should speak, read and listen to French every chance you get.
Participate actively in your French courses; query your French teacher over any aspect of the language that you have difficulty with.
You may consider engaging a Superprof tutor to give you an extra boost of confidence!
Attend all of the French cultural activities you can; be sure to speak French to anyone who says bienvenue or bonjour to you.
Check with your local library: perhaps they will host a French movie night. If not, maybe they have a few titles for rent.
Or, you could stream French television and music.
All of these suggestions might appeal to your child or children, who might be taking French language courses in preparation for their ordeal.
There is no accredited or recommended manner of immersing yourself into French language studies – short of living in France for full immersion into the language and culture.
However, taking language classes, followed up by reinforcement activities is sure to prepare you well to sit DELF, at whatever level you choose!
We now leave you with a breakdown of how the French language certification exams correlate to the European language certification framework. Bonne chance!
|DELF Prim||Primary school students aged 7 to 12||Levels tested: A1.1; A1; A2|
|DELF Junior||Secondary school students aged 12 to 17||Levels tested: A1; A2; B1; B2|
|DELF Scolaire||Secondary school students aged 12 to 17||Levels tested: A1; A2; B1; B2|
|DELF Tout Public||Adults||Levels tested: A1; A2; B1; B2|
|DELF Pro||Adults||Levels tested: A1; A2; B1; B2|
|DALF||Adults||Levels tested: C1 and C2|