French has always been a big part of my life, and though it saddens me, I believe that I’ve written the last chapter of my academic perusal of the French language. Recently, I took and passed the DALF C2 exam, the highest language proficiency exam there is to be offered with regard to the French language.
Now if you’ve read my earlier post about the CEFR framework, you’d know that C2 level is around the fluency of a native speaker, and requires extensive knowledge of vocabulary in specialised fields— this is also why it took me so much work to prepare and study for the C2 examination. I still do think it’s been a very fulfilling journey—and am proud of the accomplishment—so I will be documenting this in the following post.
Firstly, I’d like to briefly describe the C2 DALF examination. Previously, examinees were allowed to pick between social sciences and natural sciences (essentially either societal issues or scientific issues), but we no longer get that kind of privilege. The examination topic for the year is usually randomly chosen, and could be from either superordinate group, ranging from nuclear energy to telecommunication and working from home.
In my opinion, my examination was relatively easy— its topic was global warming and climate change, something that I can actually relate to and already have a fair amount of prior knowledge about. Looking through some of the previous years’ papers, I’m really thankful I wasn’t taking the exam a few years earlier (I don’t know anything about working from home, actually, mainly because I’m 15 and have never worked from home).
I then had to refer to six sources and write an eight-hundred word long essay with the help of a French-French dictionary provided by the examination board within the time limit of three hours— the reading/writing component. Following that was an hour-long break, after which the oral-listening component followed: a 15 minute long newspaper report or radio segment played twice, then an hour of preparation time before examinees have to give two monologues with regard to the audio clip’s content and their own opinions on the topic. Lastly, we were required to engage with the jury of two examiners in a debate regarding the topic, and they were free to ask us any questions they might have had about our monologues or responses.
To prepare for this exam, I mainly read extensively—French newspapers, French books, French twitter posts (Hanyu Yuzuru, Japanese figure skater and two-time defending Winter Olympics Gold Medalist, apparently has a large Francophone fanbase), talked to my French friends in French to practice my oral and trained my listening by playing France24 videos at 2x speed. The reason for this was that the audio clip for the actual exam is normally a lot faster than the French that we’re used to, especially as non-native speakers, and even normal French news reports are read at a slightly more humane speed, so I had to find the next best option to train listening.
While listening to audio clips, we have to practice taking notes as we only get to hear the audio clip twice, and beyond that we’re not allowed to hear it again, so if you miss it—twice—then you’re pretty much done for. It was the segment I was most nervous about as it actually required ad-libs and face-to-face interactions with the examiners, but I have to say it turned out better than I expected.
There’s actually a funny story from my oral examination I’d like to share here: one of the examiners (dressed in a I <3 France shirt and obviously very passionate about climate change) asked me if my worldview had been changed in any way by the last five hours of examinations regarding global warming, and I blanked out. As much as I’d like to proudly say that it did, it did not. The audio recording was about how small actions didn’t help to save the environment at all and that we should place the blame on bigger companies, which I do agree with to an extent, but I also do takeaway the conclusion that I shouldn’t go out of my way to save the globe, which is probably not the right moral of the story.
So I stared, blinked, looked out of the window and muttered, “Yes, yes. Of course. The world is so beautiful… the trees are so green!” They stopped writing. The room fell silent. I laughed awkwardly and somehow the oral examination proceeded more or less smoothly from there.
My advice for anyone looking to take this exam is to not underestimate the amount of time you need to study for it! I’ve learnt French since I was very very young, practically grew up with it, but it still took ages to study for my C2 exam. Taking into consideration that 14 year olds generally don’t take the C2 exam, it being something meant for adults or at the very least 17 year olds, I have to say I still took quite a bit more time than expected to study for the exam. If you’re just looking to pass, it might be easier to focus more on the writing segment, which isn’t as affected by nerves or prior knowledge as the oral segment, but if you’re looking to achieve a higher score you’ll have to work on both!
This might be the end of my academic journey with French, but I will continue pursuing it in my free time, as a hobby and of course read more books in it. I don’t believe in translations, I always say, and I think it’s time to reread Victor Dixen’s trilogy (en Français, of course).
Hopefully, more of you will embark on this wonderfully fulfilling journey with me! When I went for the exam, there were only two other examinees, so please, I hope your country’s test centre is more filled up than mine. Happy learning!