TLDR; I passed the DELF B2 exam at the first time of asking following 2 months of intense self-study :D.
My French-language journey
The DELF B2 exam; a good way to challenge myself
In late 2015 I decided that the best way to have a tangible goal in my French language journey was to study for an exam that if I passed, would give me a universally recognised qualification. It would show me in black and white terms where I was and how much progress I’d made. After the first 6 months in France I had of course gotten used to day to day rituals, and hearing the language all around me. It was difficult to know how else I could push on and reach the next level: having real conversations and really being able to express myself. My iTalki teacher at the time said to me that it is at the DELF B2 level where I could begin to work in the language. As one of my goals is to explore the world of translation, this was the extra-persuasion that I needed. Thus, March 17th 2016 was firmly inked in to my calendar and my brain. That was the day I’d take the exam.
It doesn’t replace speaking to real people
Even though the exam wouldn’t necessarily prepare me for day to day situations, it would be a great way to measure the understanding of the language, especially on a technical level. For some, having a good technical level isn’t important as long as they communicate. I totally agree, but then again, I’ve accepted that I am a bit of a perfectionist with the language. I’ve slowly found a way to improve my speaking whilst at the same time not giving up on learning the small details. At the beginner stage it is this obsession with getting everything right that prevents people speaking and therefore never improve their oral level.
But it gives you another reason to stay motivated and focused
I got into a routine where I was doing at least an hour or 2 every day from mid-January, but I found the research for good resources difficult to come by. Nevertheless I 100% believe that (now that I’ve passed) a language school is not necessary, considering the costs involved, just for regular practice and material given. The Internet came good in the end. I decided to take on a new iTalki teacher who had experience preparing students for the DELF and DALF exams. I analysed a lot of the profiles of all the teachers who came up in a search for teachers who teach French and under Tags: Test Preparation and DELF. By the start of February I worked with Jean. He helped me by pointing me in the direction of resources he liked, namely, copies of practice books along with audio resources for the listening section of the exam (notoriously the hardest!). I’m very happy with my decision to get another teacher. He directed my studies which left me so much more time to focus on completing the activities in the book and was there to answer questions I had, which is very helpful indeed.
The DELF B2 exam structure
A bit of background on the structure of the DELF B2 exam:
It consists of 4 parts, each holding a possible 25 marks. To pass the whole exam, a minimum of 5/25 must be obtained in each section, and 50/100 is required to pass:
- Listening – 2 recordings, 1 of between 1.5 to 2 minutes in duration to which you listen once, and a second of between 4 to 5 minutes to which you listen twice. These may be in the format of an interview, a debate, a radio programme etc. Questions are structured in a mixture of multiple choice, 1 sentence and 2 or 3 sentence formats. At DELF B2 level, the possible answers in the multiple choice questions are not simply quotes from the recording. You must be able to understand the recording and therefore possible synonyms to get the meaning of the material.
- Reading – 2 text extracts of equal length (a page of A4). You must be able to read, understand the tone of the piece (critical, complimentary, demonstrative etc), and be capable to pointing to specific parts of the text in answering the questions. If like me, you are detail oriented, this will be the easiest of the 4. 1 hour allowed.
- Writing – Write either a formal letter or essay taking a particular stance on a subject given to you at the top of the section. It is very important to learn the general structure of a formal french letter. You must clearly structure your arguments and the answer for the written section should consist of 2 parts, maybe a third, followed by a conclusion. They expect a minimum of 250 words to be written. 1 hour allowed, although we were told that if we had finished the reading part early that we could start this part.
- Speaking – Perhaps the most nerve wracking (although the listening is a close second). You must read an extract of a piece of writing, either an interview, a newspaper or magazine article, or news piece of about 10 lines. From this you must find a topic to argue your views on. It takes the same structure as the written section. You have 30 minutes to prepare a plan (not long at all), before around 15-20 minutes in front of a jury (makes it sound more scary than it is!) of either 1 or 2 examiners. You make your case followed by a short debate with the examiner(s).
So the big day rolled around and I was nervous. My first exam in 7 years, my first exam ever totally in a foreign language. Entering the building I followed a crowd of people, who were staring at a sheet of paper stuck to the wall. It was the times of the oral part of our exam. I found my slot: 1.30pm. I didn’t realise I’d have to wait a few hours after the first part of the exam to sit the oral part. However, with the number of students there (around 60 in total) it made sense. A brief moment of panic followed when I realised that the group of people I was waiting with was only one half of the total, so there was a chance I was in the wrong place for the first part. After running downstairs and getting it verified, we entered the exam room and waited to start.
The listening, reading, and writing parts are all together in one paper booklet.
The order went as follows:
- 8.30am – 9am – listening section.
- 9am – 10am – reading section.
- 10am – 11am – writing section.
- 1.30pm – 2pm – speaking preparation.
- 2pm – 2.20pm – speaking section.
- Freedom! For a week at least until the results…
Panic en route to the speaking part
So, I went home to clear my head between the first part and the second. I had about 2 hours. As I was leaving the University, a student protest was starting in the form of a march. Didn’t think anything of it. When I went to get the train back to the University after lunch, the march had caused huge delays on the tram network. Cue sprint for the tram I’d just missed. It kept refusing to wait. “This is personal!” I thought. Then I must have just got in front of it when stuck at traffic lights because I got to a tram stop and had all but given up hope when the electronic board read “1min” rather than 30. Long story short I made it, but that would have screwed up everything!
NOTE: I will be reviewing each section of the exam in its own post. Keep an eye on the site for the updates.
I was expecting to wait until 2pm to find out the results released online. I managed to wait until 12.30pm when I decided to load up the website. I was in luck, they had been put up early. It was a link to a PDF called La Liste des Admis with a list of candidate numbers. I knew that if I was on this list then I had passed but I didn’t believe it until I had it verified by my teacher.
My main feeling after having found out that I passed the DELF B2 was that of relief. Of course I was happy, but I was relieved that I wasn’t going to have to take it again. I had felt that the listening section had gone extremely badly and that there was a big chance that I had not achieved the minimum of 5 marks. Having now passed this exam I feel I can continue to learn more naturally with the feeling that I have improved a lot since I’ve been here. Now that an official body telling me has told me, I’m convinced. It can’t be taken away :D.
It’s not for everyone
There are a lot of people for whom the DELF won’t make a difference. I think usually the candidates who sit the exam are people who need it to get a job abroad. I took it for official confirmation of my level and I am studying because I enjoy the challenge. Some people have the language as a secondary goal and are happy to pick it up as they go along. Learning day to day and speaking to different people, it’s very easy to one day think you are amazing and the next to think that you have a LOT still to do. I will still have these feelings but I can relax knowing that I convinced French professors of my level :D.
Now that I have more time on my hands, I’m going to be blogging more, attempt to get into tutoring people in English both online and in person with a view to get TEFL certified. I will be using my DELF B2 certification to bolster my entry level CV when applying to translation agencies for French to English translation. First I’m taking it a bit easy because I’ve got a long awaited holiday to the Philippines coming up. I’ll be happily blogging about that during and after my trip! Cocktail please!