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I’m taking the DALF!

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It only took me 17 years, but in June I may finally have some sort of certificate that says I speak French incha Allah.  I’ve signed up for the Zurich Alliance Francaise’s prep class for the C1 exam.

For those of you who don’t know what the DALF is, it is a language test covering the top two levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages in French, so the C1 and C2 levels. The C1 level of the DALF is in principle within my reach, as it qualifies someone who passes it as someone with the skills required to pursue higher education with ease in the language.

The level of fluency required for C2 is that of someone who writes for a living (journalist, academic) which is out of my reach at this time and why I am going first for the C1.  There is also an element in both tests of “knowing how to take the test”- most “fluent” French speakers can’t just walk in and pass it.

Taking the DALF has been something I wanted to do for a very long time- I wanted to be able to quantify how awesome I am in French.  Back in my day when I first wanted to take it, you had to take all the prior modules, and I just didn’t have the money for that biznass.  Then when they loosened up the requirements for intercompatibility between the TCF and the DALF in 2005, for some unknown reasons and despite the fact I had done a year as a normal student in a French university, I only scored on the TCF at a B1 level so I would have had to take a couple of modules before even getting to the DALF.  That was kind of an ego blow.  In my defense, I had the flu and commuted 3 hours to the test center at the crack of dawn AND I was a point short of B2. But still.

Some people have asked me why now?   After all, I’ve lived in French-speaking cities for close to 15 years now and worked in French-speaking environments for going on 8 years.  I think I’ve already blogged about how I don’t trust people who challenge my French because I know they are trying to destabilize me.  The crack in my armor is that I’ve always been self-conscious about my strong accent. My conspiracy theorist side says that the lady who judged my oral on the TCF marked me down for my accent. Even now it grates on me when people who speak French worse than me actually sound better, despite the words coming out of their mouths being grammatically incorrect. People have in fact used my accent to dog my French, especially in jobs. Then it turns into how I don’t know how to write in French, which is patently untrue, and I’m just tired of it.  I know that still doesn’t answer the “why” because I can’t get external validation for my own self-esteem and I can’t stop people from being assholes, but having the “official” piece of paper will help me doubt myself less when people start in on me.  I might even have the guts to say “you’re being an asshole, I speak better French than you, shut yo stanky mouth.”

A second reason is that even though I know I speak and write in French better than some people like to say I can, my level of writing has indeed gone down since university days and I want to clean it up that much more. I can still write quickly and with ease, but I feel like my language isn’t polished, and I find myself taking easy ways out in business letters and email and writing perfect, but less complex sentences just to not risk a mistake. This is why I have never blogged in French without a second set of eyes and why I rarely tweet in French.  As I said above, one of the elements to the DALF is knowing how to take the test, which is why you can’t just “take it.” Two of the components involve an oral and a written presentation and in order to do those properly you have to take the class. Where you write. And you talk. Over and over again.  I need that to get back up to speed, or even just get my confidence back. I’ve forgotten a lot of stuff I used to smoke, like weird verb tenses.

The final and most pertinent reason is that the certificate is valid forever.  So if I ever want to go back to school, or take a summer class, or get Swiss (although French proficiency doesn’t count in Zurich) or French nationality, I will never have to take another language test again in French. Two months of night class to not have to fool with it again, except for by choice, sounds really cool.  That doesn’t mean I exclude taking the C2, or that I think I can just stop learning and coast- we learn languages over a lifetime, even our mother tongues. But taking this test at this time will fit my needs in the medium term. So yeah, I’m really excited.

Author: Nicole Cunningham

American Expat and convert to Islam living and working between Lausanne and Zurich, Switzerland.

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