Today I sit waiting for the results from the Dalf C1 exam I took at the end of June in Montpellier. The Dalf is a French proficiency exam generally taken by university students who are non-native speakers and who need the credential for their chosen program of study. I, on the other hand, now 50, took the exam “for fun”. The experience, while fascinating, proved to be one of the most difficult ordeals I have ever put myself through.
I should start by saying that I had always rejected taking such proficiency exams because they seemed too academic given my personal reasons for studying French. Over the years, now decades, I have studied French off and on in both the US and France as a sort of hobby. I use French to travel, talk to locals, read newspapers and novels, and watch Télématin (a French morning show) and films. The Dalf, in contrast, tests your ability to write a French synthesis, analyze a literary text and give a 15-20 minute presentation on a given topic, and is, therefore, not in the same genre of competency – so why take such a test?
I thought it would be a form of closure. Language learning can feel like a never ending pursuit, especially if you are goal orientated. Even in your native language you could work on your communication skills for your entire life and still have something more to master. Imagine what that task looks like in a second or third language. Therefore, what is the end point? A proficiency exam?
Unfortunately, studying for and taking the exam really didn’t give me the closure I was hoping for. Even though I studied diligently and did everything I could to reach my goal, I still feel there is much room for improvement. The process still has no end. Will I feel differently if I pass the exam? Will I feel the need to retake the exam if I don’t? Friends tell me that I should be content with the process, that the work of taking the exam should be enough. But will it be enough for me? I just don’t know.
On the plus side, the process of studying for the exam definitely improved my French. Conversation with French friends I hadn’t seen in a year was much more fluid. After studying countless academic texts, reading the newspaper is almost effortless. I should be happy, but it bugs me that I still trip over words and grammar, sometimes making silly A1 mistakes.
For those thinking about taking one of the French proficiency exams, the next few posts will talk about my experience in Montpellier during an 8 week study program at ILA, Institut Linguistique Adenet, living with a host family, and then taking the exam itself. As always, if you have any questions, I’m happy to try to answer them.