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Debrief on the DALF C2

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When I took the C1, one of the jury members during the oral exam encouraged me to take the C2.  I didn’t need the C2 and nobody really needs it (you only need a B1 for a French or a Swiss (in Romandie) passport, a B1 at the university of Lausanne (I think because they make you take more classes) and a C1 for most French-language universities.  Out of pure vanity (bred from years of being knocked down by people with shitty English telling me how bad my French was) I decided to take the C2.  The key reason I wanted to take the C2 was because, like when I took the C1, my written French had gone down, paradoxically since working in the French part of Switzerland. At work, you mainly use French to talk with colleagues, and what you write in French always turns out to be the same thing. So your speaking skills grow as conversations change, but your writing skills stagnate because it is always the same formulas and stock phrases.

Most of the hits on my blog come from people looking for information on the two DALF tests.  As such, I hope the link above helps for the C1, and my advice below is pretty much the same for the C2: study the test format and how to “give them what they want” by taking a prep class; and work on your “peripheral” skills- if you don’t have a good “general culture” you will not have the gimme points you need. I passed in rather poor test conditions (had been in the hospital and was physically ill the day of the oral) and yet I hadn’t studied the way I wanted. This is not a humblebrag, read on:

1. To some extent, if you don’t have the level for the C2 you just don’t have the level.  You can prepare and study for the test and learn the proper techniques, but what wound up pushing me over the top despite an appalling lack of preparedness was the fact that I had a huge vocabulary. That’s not something you can work out over a couple of months. Either you have watched a lot of French tv and read a lot of books, or you haven’t. This is why I DO NOT suggest spending only a few months studying for this exam if vocabulary is your weak point.  At the C1 level vocabulary is important too. You can write gramatically and stylistically perfect French and speak without an accent, but if your vocabulary capital isn’t very high, you won’t pass either exam.  I would have failed this exam without my vocabulary.  I saw this in my prep classes: there were students better accents (ok everyone has a better accent than me) and with stronger grasps on grammar who were lacking the style and catchphrases of a larger vocabulary, which only comes from having a love for Francophone culture. This means watching tv, listening to the radio and reading books and magazines. If you don’t do these things already in French or don’t want to for the purposes of the exam, you might want to stick with the B2 or the C1.

2. The C2 is an unnecessary test- I can’t think of any place, maybe a journalism school or an advanced teaching school where a C1 wouldn’t do, and the C2 is a bit harder. Even the HEP in Switzerland only asks for the C1.  I think BS-ing the C1 is within the reach of a fair amount of people but trying to BS the C2 like I did is an expensive gamble. Ask yourself why you want the C2? Can’t the *easier* C1 accomplish the same goal?  I would be interested in any comments from people who were specifically asked for a C2 exam for administrative or professional reasons. As mentioned above, mine was pure vanity, and an exercise in regaining self-esteem after being told by people how shitty my French is. Well no, apparently it isn’t because I passed and now I have the piece of paper.  Also remember that language proficiency is the law of diminishing returns: someone with a high B1 in French isn’t getting much more out of his or her professional or social life than I am at C2. So…if you are taking it to be “papered up,” great, but if your boss or your school only wants a B1 or a C1, this is a tiring and difficult way to overkill.  (as an aside, another subject for another post is how the B2 is a bullshit exam in French and you might as well take the C1).

3. Even more so than for the C1, speaking good French isn’t enough, LEARN HOW TO TAKE THE TEST. The C2 is harder than the C1, with only two sections: the listening and oral are combined, and the written comprehension and the essay are combined. I scored much higher on the oral section (I had gotten a perfect score on the C1) but on both tests my writing was disproportionately lower (still passing but yeah). My score in writing was lower than it could have been because I didn’t respect the format, because I didn’t learn the format, because I missed so much class being sick and travelling. Know how to write a “plan”, know how to write the different types of essays requested. Like I said for the C1, you either need to take a prep class, get a ton of books, or have spent time in France-French schools to understand the pedantic way they want things. This advice goes for all language tests, actually: speaking well doesn’t mean you write well, and it doesn’t mean you know how to follow instructions and have good test taking techniques. Like the SAT, the DALF C2 needs prep time.

4. For books, I used the same ones mentioned in the C1 prep, but also another Tegos book,    “Réussir le nouveau DALF – Niveau C2.”  Remember at this point in language study, you shouldn’t have any picky grammar issues. If you do, you don’t have the level. You should be able to write 300 words in a couple of hours without relying heavily on a dictionary or a spellchecker. I didn’t use my dictionary in the C2 except for reading it at the end when I finished an hour before everyone else.  You should be able to have an involved conversation about a specific news topic in reasonably full detail. So these books really only focus on listening and writing, and your teacher preps you for the spoken exam.  If you need a push in grammar (I did before the C1), I really like the Nouvelle grammaire du francais from Hachette for reading. I’ve used various editions of it since my Montpellier days and it is good to just flip through. You could then get a workbook, either the Hachette edition (niveau moyen, more on that next sentence)or the one CLE Grammaire progressive du francais  intermediate edition). I’m not suggesting getting the advanced books because one tip from my C2 teacher, who is right, was not to use the “advanced” exercise books for grammar help but to pick out books aimed at a B1 level- because if you are truly lacking in something, any advanced book isn’t going to tell you why you don’t know it, whereas an intermediate book is going to spell it out.

I hope these random thoughts help.  I’m happy to respond to comments and if you found this because you are taking the exam, good luck!

Author: Nicole Cunningham

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

12 thoughts on “Debrief on the DALF C2

  1. Hi Nicole, I enjoyed reading your advice Re: DALF.

    Yesterday, I got the good word that I passed DALF C1, I am planning to do the C2 later in the year. I have recently applied to train as a translator (FR-EN), but C1 is all that is necessary for that.

    That said, and a bit like yourself, it’s a vanity/mastery thing – I think it’s helpful to have C2 as a translator, even if it’s not actually necessary. So, I’m planning on signing up for the C2 in end-June – don’t know if that’s too soon, but your article above is a great reference point for starting off. Thanks!

    Paul

  2. Hi Nicole! Just to let you know, I’ve been asked for a C2 level in order to get my master (to teach at secondary school) recognized in Switzerland

  3. Hi Nicole! I’m thinking of taking the C1 exam next year and found your site helpful. Thanks!
    Quick question though…why do you consider the B2 a bullshit exam? Just curious :)

    • Hi,

      Because most French countries who want passports only want B1 and universities (France and Switzerland) want C1. So as it doesn’t get you anything either of the others do, i think someone who is a B2 should just study up and do the C1.

      • I passed the B2 last summer in London at the age of 39, working solidly in my own time. It was far from a bullsh** examination when you are holding down a full-time job in a non-Francophone country. In fact, several French universities now take B2 as an acceptable minimum entry level ex. Université du Maine. Many Arab friends of mine also require a B2 level to emigrate for work in Canada. This is not a bullsh** examination but a passport to places new.

      • Thanks for your comment! I definitely see your point. Let me clarify- for most French and Swiss universities, they ask for the C1 (UNIL accepts B1 and B2 but you need to take a semester of French). For Swiss and French passports, they ask for a B1. I feel that in these types of cases, taking the B2 is not as useful as taking the C1, or it is overkill if it is just for a passport. Also, the C1 isn’t so far out of reach (compared to other c1 tests in German and Spanish) compared to the B2- so i think it is worth it to push a little harder for thr C1. No insult to anyone who has done it- it is my personal opinion based in logistics. thanks for coming by, i hope my point is clearer now!

  4. j’avais tellement besoin de lire ton article pour trouver le courage de le faire hahaha, je voudrais quand meme savoir de quel ” reussir le nouveau DALF” il s’agit, l’orange ou le gris??? je le commande sur amazon
    merci pour tout!

  5. Salut Nicole!
    Je peux traduire ce que je dis en français tout de suite, quand je lis l’étranger de camus, c’est tout a fait comme je l’ai lu en anglais par hasard.
    Et a propos des magazines francaises’je lis biofutur régulièrement et je le trouve aussi facile que mon anglais. J’ai acheté le livre pour c1 proposé par vous’c’est pas compliquée. Alors ce que je dois faire c’est de composer mes idées selon la recette commandé par le jury de dalf c1! Je vais assister a l’examen de c1 peut être en juin 2014.

    J’apprécie beaucoup vos conseils et votre sens d’humeur.

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