Taking the Dalf at 50 – First Week of French Class

Written May 2, 2015

8 week immersion course at ILA, Institut Linguistique Adenet, Montpellier, France

This first week of language school has been a test of my endurance and perseverance.  It seemed like such a good idea months ago when I decided I would end my French studies by taking the DALF C1* at the end of a two month immersion course in Montpellier. I’ve been working on French for years and I just wanted to find a way to give myself permission to stop. The exam is an artificial end, I know, but somehow to set, and better yet accomplish, this goal would give me a sort of closure.

I had been working with a tutor in person in Washington DC and then via Skype after we moved to Scottsdale AZ. The lessons went well and he even suggested that I should attempt Dalf C2, the highest level, which I still believe is above my competency and is generally reserved for those who speak like a native.

Now, after just one week (I have 7 to go before the exam), I’m exhausted and doubting the choices I have made. Based on a computerized multiple choice test and no in-country follow-up interview the language school placed me in a B2 level class. I asked them to let me try C1 which they did for the morning class, but told me the afternoon class was full and I couldn’t change until the following week. At first I doubted my ability, but after a morning in level C1 I am sure that it’s the correct level for me and that the afternoon B2 level class is too easy – the other students do not have the same level of fluency, grammatical skill or vocabulary that I do.

In all my years of immersion school classes I have never been denied the correct level because a class was too full. This is not an appropriate or reasonable way to service paying clients. Keeping classes full may be a good way to manage expenses, but in the long run not servicing your customer ruins the reputation of the school. My case is not unique as I have heard of at least two other similar instances.

Adding to the stress is the 9 hour time difference from home and the effort to keep my head in French. I’m taking a break to write this but otherwise most everything I do is in French – read, watch TV, chat with new friends, etc. At first it’s exhausting and feels as if my head will blow like a clogged pressure cooker. With time everything will get easier, but there is so much to do.

There is no way I can learn and become proficient at everything. I must start choosing the most important elements of the language and more importantly what I need to be proficient at in order to pass the exam.

I will get there, I keep telling myself. Stress will only make the situation worse. I must remember to rest and exercise.

*European language competency levels are A1. A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2 with A1 being the lowest level and C2 generally considered native like fluency.

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