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Language test 'harder than you might expect'

With many more people looking at applying for French citizenship, our writer Jane Hanks tells how she and her husband fared

If you have been prompted to apply for French nationality after Brexit, as I have, the first thing you may well have to do before you start searching for the innumerable documents required, is to pass a French language test.

This includes a speaking test and a listening comprehension but no writing. You are exempt if you are over 60, handicapped or have a chronic illness, if you have a French diploma of at least Brevet or CAP level or if you have a DELF or DALF diploma award­ed by CIEP, which is a public institution for education and training.

If you are exempt, your language skills will still be taken into account at the official interview at the prefecture, when you have to speak French.

There are two possible tests you can take at different approved centres all over France. These are the test de connaissance du français (TCF) at centres which can be found at ciep.fr or the test d’évaluation de français (TEF) set by the Paris Chamber of Commerce but available at 160 centres listed at centredelanguefrancaise.paris/

The TEF listening comprehension test lasts 40 minutes and in the speaking part you are given two subjects to discuss, face to face for 15 minutes with an examiner.

Caroline Sanson, of Paris Chamber said most people find the speaking part fairly easy but the multiple choice questions were often tricky. She advised practice and a phone app at is available here.

The test that was available at my nearest centre agréé was the TCF.

The listening test lasted 25 minutes and the spoken part 12 minutes. 

My husband, Simon, and I had both signed up. We have lived in France for 25 years and use French daily in our working lives so feel we have a fairly good level. That didn’t mean it was easy. It was also the first exam we had done for very many years and I was surprised at just how nervous I felt sitting in front of the desk waiting for the exam to start.

There were 12 candidates and seven of us were Brits who had decided to apply for nationality post Brexit.

The difficulty we found with the listening test was the large quantity of information conveyed in the short audio clips with a choice of answers which often seemed ambiguous. Even if you understood, you were not sure which response was correct.

Intense concentration is required and I highly recommend a few practise sessions to familiarise yourself with the test (see: test manual) .

We then had to wait in turn to speak to one of the two examiners present.

The spoken test was recorded so our performance was evaluated in the centre and then sent to the CIEP at Paris for a second evaluation.

First you introduce yourself for two minutes, then you are put into a practical situation which could be asking details of accommodation at a tourist office, or, in my case, responding to an invitation to a birthday party for the examiner’s sister and finding out what you can about her to choose a present (in 3mins 30secs) and finally you are given a subject to discuss with no preparation time (4mins 30secs).

My subject was ‘Is it easier to integrate in a foreign country when you are young?’ Not too difficult but you are put on the spot, aware of the microphone and extremely relieved when it is over.

Different language centres are free to charge as they wish.  It cost me €110 at Périgueux, Dordogne, and the Paris Chamber charges €95 which Mrs Sanson feels is average. Both tests are valid for two years. Results are promised within three weeks for the TEF and four weeks for the TCF.

We were told at the centre we would have to collect them ourselves but they can be posted if you take a self- addressed, stamped envelope. If you live far from the centre it is worth asking how to get the results. 

You need to have the European B1 level in spoken and oral comprehension to take French nationality. It is an intermediate level which means you have an efficient but limited grasp of French. You can understand clear standard French within familiar and well-known domains. You can get by while travelling, speak about matters that interest you and give brief explanations about a project or an idea.

Find details at accueil-etrangers.gouv.fr on applying for citizenship.

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