Can you believe that I’ve already been here in France for 7 years?!? Time really flies when you’re (mostly) having fun. Although my blog looks like my time here is all fun and games, there’s one big thorn in my side when it comes to living in France…French administration. Basically, every year I have to kill a tree or two to present enough paperwork to my local French government office (aka the “prefecture”) to document that I still live here and that no, I’m not working in France (I’m here on a long-term one-year visitor visa), but yes, I do have resources that will allow me to not be a burden on the state. This year, though, I decided to apply for a 10 year carte de résident, the French equivalent of an American green card. One of the requirements to apply for this carte de résident is that I can speak French fluently at an A2 level. This required me to take the TEF, or the Test d’Evaluation de Français.
A2? C1? What Do All These Mean?
For anyone who has tried to learn a foreign language, or has learned a foreign language, you may have heard people talking about their level using letters and numbers such as “A2” or “C1”. What does these all mean? These are levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (thankfully shortened as the CEF or CEFR). There are six levels on this scale: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2. In general, someone at the A1 level can communicate and exchange information in a simple way, being able to say, “Hello” or “How are you?” in the foreign language and understanding the response. Someone at the C2 level is on the opposite spectrum – they can speak and understand the language at the level of a native speaker. For the carte de résident, the government requires an A2 level of French – an advanced beginner, someone who can communicate in simple, familiar situations.
How to Get Certified in a Level: DELF or TEF?
The French government wants applicants for permanent residency to be officially certified in their level of French. There are many ways to do this, but I’ll talk about the options that were open to me. My first option was to take the DELF, which is available for levels A1 to B2. The pros of taking the DELF is that the results never expire. And the cons? The DELF offers 4 individual tests – one for each level (A1 or A2 or B1 or B2) and you either pass or fail each test. You have to choose which one to take based on what you think your level is. For example, I suspected that my level of French is at a B1. So I would take to B1 DELF test. But if I was wrong and I didn’t pass the B1 DELF exam, I would leave with nothing. Which meant that I would have to spend the time and money to either take the B1 exam again or take the A2 DELF exam. Also, the DELF was not offered in my area as often as the TEF. And due to COVID and my procrastination, I needed to take the test ASAP.
So that leads me to the TEF. The good thing about the TEF is that the questions are not designed for just one level. The test questions vary in difficulty and you receive a score depending on the number you got right. This score will correspond to a CEF level. The negative point of the TEF is that the results are only valid for two years, so it’s best to take the test not too far in advance. The TEF is offered at many testing sites throughout France and I was able to find a test center that could schedule me for a test in about 2 weeks time.
Signing up for the TEF
My local préfecture had an online list of 6 testing centers and language schools in my area that offered the TEF. You can find an accredited testing center in your area here. All of these schools had websites, although as is common to many French websites, they were not easy to navigate. One website said that they would update their online schedule in July, but as of September, it had not yet been updated with testing times. Since I wasn’t able to find an online schedule, I decided to email them all. Well, out of 6 testing centers that I emailed, 2 responded to me (sounds about right for France 🤷🏻♀️). One testing center offered the test for €150 in about one month’s time and another offered the test for €140 in about two week’s time. As to be expected, I chose the cheaper testing center.
Preparing for the TEF
Honestly, I didn’t do too much preparation for the TEF. The topics for the test are drawn from every day life and business, so in general, just living life in France is practice enough. My only problem was that, due to COVID-19, 3 months of 2020 were spent stuck in the US and my remaining time in France was primarily spent stuck at home with my English-speaking job and family. So I found that I’ve been getting more tongue-tied than usual when I need to speak French. In hindsight, I think I could probably have watched a little more French television or movies to improve my listening comprehension. And maybe I would have practiced typing on a French keyboard (but more on that later). Les Français des Affaires also has practice tests which proved very useful in getting used to the format of the exam. You can find that here (in French).
Although I’m normally a late person, I made sure that I got to the testing center with plenty of time to spare. There were 2 other people taking the test with me, but the examiner made sure that we were well-spaced out in a conference-room type set-up. We each had a laptop. We had instructions to bring our own earphones, but the testing center had some to borrow if needed. After our identities were verified through official identification, we were ready to begin.
There were four parts to the test:
- Comprehension écrite (Written Comprehension): 30 minutes with 13 multiple choice questions. During this part of the test, you can move backwards and forwards so if you want to come back to a question later, you can easily do so. There’s a timer at the bottom which tells you how much time you have left. The questions start out very easy – for example, there might be sign stating opening and closing hours, and the question is (in French, of course), “Where would you be likely to find this?” Then the questions get progressively harder, and the last four or five questions are based on a passage that you have to read. In general, I found the signs and passages relatively easy to understand, since they are based on signs, flyers, advertisements and articles that one might find in every day life. The only problem was that I didn’t know the French word for a “flyer” or a “wanted ad”, so although I understand the text, I couldn’t answer what it was actually called. For example, one question had a picture of a flyer advertising that someone had lost his briefcase and was asking for information for its return. The question was (in effect): “What is this?” and listed four answers. I completely understood everything that was written on the flyer, but I didn’t know what the proper (French) name for that document was. I guess that’s the problem with picking up my French from everyday life and not from a formal French education.
- Comprehension orale (Oral Comprehension): 10 minutes with 17 multiple choice questions. In this part, we had to listen to a short audio clip, read the question and then choose one of the four answers. With this part of the test, you can’t move backwards. The problem with this part was that I had to read the questions and the four answers while listening to the audio clip at the same time, which requires a bit of multitasking in French. I wish that they would have given us at least 5 seconds to read the question and choices first. But with 17 questions and 10 minutes, it’s pretty clear that this part of the test moves very quickly. My advice is – even if you don’t know the answer, just choose one and move on. You have a 25% chance of getting it right at least.
- Expression écrite (Written Expression): 1 subject, 20 minutes. In this part of the test, we read a brief statement and then we had to write our opinion on the subject in 200 words (maximum). The topics can vary. My subject was on whether we needed to make changes to protect the environment. Other topics can include technology, culture or careers. I’m a pretty quick typer so I initially wasn’t too worried, but I forgot… the test was/is taken on a French keyboard!!! If you’ve never seen a French keyboard before, it’s not laid out the same way as an American keyboard. And for someone (like me), who’s really used to typing on an American keyboard, trying to type on a French keyboard is like learning to type all over again. In addition, I had to try to figure out the key combinations to add accents onto the letters (such as “é, à, or ç”). Needless to say, I used every one of those 20 minutes to write my passage. My advice to anyone taking the test is… make sure to practice on a French keyboard if you’re going to be taking this test in France.
- Expression orale (Oral Expression): 1 subject, 10 minutes. In this last part, we needed to converse with our examiner about a subject. Because of COVID, there was only one person in the room with the examiner at a time. There was a large plastic barrier between us, and I was able to take off my mask, likely so that they could hear me clearly. The thing that surprised me was that it wasn’t the examiner who was going to grade me on this part, in fact all she did was take my photo (I guess to put “a face to the name”) and record my speaking. My guess is that there’s a third person who later evaluates my score by listening to the recording. For this part of the exam, the examiner handed me a document and told me to speak about it for 10 minutes. For example, my document was an advertisement for a bike tour. I had to pretend that the examiner was my friend and convince her to take this bicycle tour with me. I found this part probably the easiest, because the majority of my “practicing French” here in France is speaking with people. I understood her questions and her “objections”, and I was able to answer adequately. I’m sure my grammar was atrocious, but at least I was able to respond in a coherent way (I think 😬).
Playing the Waiting Game…
Since mostly everything was done electronically, I thought that I could have my results back in a few days. Silly me! I had forgotten that I was living in France! At the end of the test, the examiner told me that I would have the results in about 2-3 weeks. That news made me a bit nervous since my carte de séjour was expiring in about 5 weeks. But thankfully, after about 2 and a half weeks, I got an email with my test results. And, drumroll please…..
I got Level B1! Not bad for someone who hasn’t been in a French class in 20 years and didn’t really study for the test. The level required for a carte de résident (residence card) is an A2. So I fulfilled the language requirement!
Whew! That was a lot of information! And for the first time, NOT about traveling, but about not-so-fun side of trying to become a French resident. Do you have any questions about the TEF? Have you taken the TEF before and have any other tips? If so, feel free to leave them in the comments below.
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