FOREIGNERS who want to become naturalised French citizens will, in future, have to pass a language test to show they can cope in French in everyday situations.
However, they only need to understand spoken French as there will be no test of writing or reading skills. Those who do not want to sit a separate test must provide a diploma or other proof of their skills.
Two decrees published in the Journal Officiel said the minimum level necessary to be naturalised would be the equivalent of that reached at the end of compulsory schooling – known as level B1 Oral on the European reference scale.
That level tests both oral and aural French and candidates should show an understanding of French consistent with being able to handle everyday life and by an ability to talk in a simple and coherent way on familiar topics.
They should be able to “tell of an event, experience or dream; describe a wish or an ambition and outline briefly their reasons or explanations for a project or idea”.
Previously, candidates for nationality – whether by “naturalisation” or by marriage to a French national – would be interviewed by an official from the prefecture but now testing will be done by EUaccredited organisations such as Business Language Testing Service Français (Bulats) of Cambridge University, the Centre International d’Etudes Pédagogiques (CIEP) Test de Connaissance du Français (TCF) and the Paris Chamber of Commerce Test d’Evaluation du Français (TEF).
These tests are all of the same DELF B1 level as defined by the Conseil d’Europe and, in reality, could be passed by thousands of expats because of their knowledge of everyday French.
Candidates can also offer proof of their language skills through a diploma obtained through French-language studies such as the Diplôme d’Etudes en Langue Française or the brevet des colleges. In addition, the interior ministry is looking to agree courses providing Français Langue d’Intégration.
The interior ministry said that in 2010 nearly 130,000 had acquired nationality and there were one million foreign residents in France who did not speak French.
Interior minister Claude Guéant said his aim was to “make naturalisations succeed”. “The aim is to make sure those who receive French nationality enter into it by respecting the values of the republic.”
He added: “It is completely normal that a French person speaks French.”
Bruno Megre of the CIEP said: “The tests for level B1 Cadre Européen Commun de Référence show one can communicate with neighbours, traders, civil servants: communicate in all the aspects of everyday life. However, the level is not high enough to move into higher education. It is basic, functional French.”
He said a typical B1 test would see the candidate and examiner working through the test booklet from the start at A1 through the six levels up to C2 and the candidate can stop at any point – for example, once they have completed and passed level B1.