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February 14, 2012 8:26 AM   Subscribe

DILF? DELF? DALF? Which French foreign language exam is right for me - and how should I prepare for it?

I decided to learn French a while back, and have been working diligently on this goal since then. I still sound like a toddler, but my vocabulary and grasp of grammar are improving steadily.

I don't do well with open-ended goals with no specific destination. "Fluency" is so nebulous that I'd really like to reward my hard work with a diploma. Furthermore, if I ever wanted to actually USE French (go back to school or work in a francophone country) I'd really like to just be able to show my credentials and have that not be a sticking point. I'd like to consider this project "complete" by January 1, 2014, though I'm willing to revise that timeline.

From what I gather, the DILF/DELF/DALF are a progressive set of diplomas, each demonstrating a specific level of proficiency. Should I just start at the bottom and work my way up to the top? Or should I decide which level I'd like to achieve and just study for that exam? Something else entirely? What can I use as a diagnostic to determine how far I am from my goal and what things I should work on?

tl;dr I want to take a French language proficiency exam. Which exam should I take and how should I prepare for it?
posted by jph to Education (5 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Many sources offer online placement tests that will give you some idea of where you are in terms of level without having to pay to register for an official exam.

If I were you I would save up for a 2-4 week total immersion course as a goal because the breakthrough in language fluency usually comes from a period where you have to practice it in it's natural habitat. Four weeks total immersion in Quebec will set you back 1400$, for example.
posted by Wilder at 9:09 AM on February 14, 2012

You're right, Tomorrowful.

Given your goals, I wouldn't think the DILF would suit you because it's for beginners and you're wanting something that would give you a credential to allow you to work or start, if I'm understanding correctly. For that you'd really want the DALF, but that would be difficult to get right away so why not go for the DELF first? You can get some idea of the difficulty of the DELF and DALF by going here and listening to the audio tracks.
posted by hazyjane at 10:22 AM on February 14, 2012

Mod note: This question is specific. General French advice is not answering the question. Thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:57 AM on February 14, 2012

A local Alliance Francais maybe able to evaluate your language skills for about 50 bucks (that's what they were charging in Austin, TX). An evaluation from them might help you figure out which test to take and how well you would do on it. The tests can be very expensive (at least in the NYC region). In addition, make plans to take them a few months ahead as testing dates can be few and far between.

From an economic standpoint I would just wait until I was ready to take the DALF as it appears to be best for adults.

Sorry to add to the confusion but you might also want to check out the TCF which might be the most applicable.

Bonne Chance!
posted by raccoon409 at 8:03 PM on February 14, 2012

First, to assess your competence, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages is what you're after. Wikipedia should provide some reference as to what each level is, but essentially the DELF is up to B2, at which point you hit DALF. You might also like to check out the EU's page on the same, but it's not so easy to navigate. To give you a more concrete example of what each level means in reality, the Sciences-Po (French university) admissions criteria require anything from no French to C1 or C2 (C2 being the highest).

The Institut Français do the DELF / DALF examinations, and you can get sample papers etc. from CIEP. The Institut appear to suggest that you have to take classes with them to take the paper, and/or that you have to have done the previous level (with them) before you can take the next one. I would imagine this is rubbish, but if worst comes to worst maybe plan on taking their DELF preparation course (for which they assess your level, I believe, so would hopefully put you straight in the relevant class).

My understanding is that B2 level takes around 350 hours of study, although I could be wrong on that - it's a vague memory more than concrete knowledge.

Regarding learning the language (and essentially, grammar), you could try La Sorbonne's books, which you can find on Amazon by searching "exercons nous". They look like this. You have to buy the answers (corrigés) separately. They are essentially just lots of exercises, with no teaching. As a grammar reference, I've been recommended either La Sorbonne's own, or "Maîtriser la Grammaire Française". I've also been recommended the "Grammaire Progressive" series, which includes both info and exercises, so is a decent all-in-one. They look like this.

My understanding is that the DELF / DALF, unlike the TCF, is a qualification which lasts for life. Perhaps someone who's actually done either could confirm whether this is the case. I should also add that I'm told that the DELF / DALF generally requires some teaching, in that there are elements of the test that you need to be told about in order to do well on (basically, someone who knows the syllabus can tell you that you need to know X, Y, Z rote things, which will come up but which you may not know even with a good knowledge of grammar etc. - e.g. formal phrases to finish letters etc.).
posted by djgh at 1:57 PM on February 26, 2012

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