French language tests harden: what changes and how to know your level

Some people applying for residency cards are affected due to changes voted through in the new immigration law

The CEFR scale is used across Europe to give an estimate of a person’s proficiency in a foreign language
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Rules set to be enforced by a new immigration law in France include stricter language requirements for those applying for certain residency cards or for French nationality.

Notably, people applying for cartes de séjour pluriannuelles (multi-year residency cards issued from between two and four years), will soon be expected to show knowledge of French at an ‘A2’ European language level.

Many newcomers to France are already asked by the Ofii immigrants’ agency to do language tests in the months after arriving in France, which includes, for example, those coming to France for self-employed or employed work (unless on the ‘passport talent’ for certain highly-skilled kinds of work).

Current rules however merely say that if they do not reach the most basic (A1) level, they must agree to take language lessons, and if they follow these as promised, they can apply for a multi-year card further down the line.

Now there will be an obligation of having achieved A2 for the issue of these multi-year cards.

Meanwhile, people applying for a 10-year carte de résident (resident's card) will need to demonstrate they have level B1, instead of A2, as now.

In addition, those applying for French nationality will now require a B2, and not B1.

Note that there is no language requirement for people swapping a five-year Brexit Withdrawal Agreement card for a 10-year ‘permanent stay’ card.

Read more: New tougher French language rules for immigration: who is affected?

It is unclear exactly how language level will be tested for the multi-year cards, whether for example it will be sufficient to provide evidence of your level assessed during your language training by the provider, or whether a further test at the Ofii offices will be involved.

Another possibility is that the applicants will be able to show their own level by arranging to take an approved test to obtain a certificate of their level, as is the case for the carte de résident or when applying for French nationality.

See the link above for more about the recognised certificates.

What do these letters and numbers mean?

All European languages now use the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) scale to measure a person’s proficiency.

The framework is approved by European countries, with many, including France, using them as indicators of a person’s proficiency for official requirements.

There are six levels in the scale, increasing from A1 to C2, with A1 being the lowest and C2 the highest.

The explanations below are given by Service Public.


A1 corresponds to someone with basic French who is just ‘discovering’ the language. You can:

  • Understand and use familiar and everyday expressions and very simple statements that are intended to meet concrete needs
  • Introduce yourself or someone in a basic way
  • Ask and answer simple questions about a person
  • Communicate simply if a native person speaks slowly and clearly and is cooperative

Examples of this level include being able to understand, use, and respond to phrases such as ‘Bonjour comment-allez vous?’, ‘J’ai 20 ans’ or ‘Je suis étudiant.’


A2 corresponds to an elementary user level. You can:

  • Understand single phrases and frequently used expressions in relation to areas of the everyday environment (eg. simple personal and family information, shopping, work)
  • Communicate – giving and receiving information – about simple and routine tasks requiring only a small and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine subjects
  • Describe with simple means your training, immediate environment and talk about subjects that correspond to immediate needs

It means you can understand, respond to, and use simple phrases but with the correct adjective placement, simple verb conjugations ( the most common past, present, future tenses) and correct use of pronouns,

Example sentences include ‘Je dois faire quelque chose avant qu'on parte’, ‘Je vais finir cette tâche dans une minute’, ‘J'ai nettoyé la maison pendant que Marta étudiait’.


B1 corresponds to an ‘independent user’ level. You can:

  • Understand the essential points of a discussion when clear and standard language is used and if it concerns familiar things at work, school, and leisure,
  • Be autonomous in most situations encountered while travelling in an area where the target language is spoken
  • Produce a simple and coherent discourse on familiar subjects and in its fields of interest
  • The ability to tell a story, an experience or a dream, describe a hope or a goal, and briefly explain the reasons or reasons for a project or idea

At this level you should know most grammar points and verb conjugations when reading, even if you do not always use them correctly when speaking or writing yourself.

Example sentences include ‘Et si on faisait un voyage au Pérou ? Ce serait génial, non?’, and ‘Ils souhaitent vraiment que vous veniez à leur mariage.’


B2 is an advanced intermediate stage. You can:

  • Understand the essential content of concrete or abstract subjects in a complex text, including technical discussion in its specialty
  • Communicate spontaneously and easily with a native speaker
  • Express a clear and detailed opinion on a wide range of topics, express an opinion on a topical issue and set out the advantages and disadvantages of different possibilities

You should know – and be able to correctly use – virtually all grammar points at this level, as well as speak fluidly in most contexts.

You should be able to read most books (except old, complicated texts) without difficulty, and should be able to carry out your entire day in French, including work, administrative, and personal life activities.

When discussing the new immigration bill, some people said B2 roughly corresponds to the level needed to enrol at a full-time course taught solely in French at a university in the country.


C1 is an advanced level. You can:

  • Understand long and demanding texts and grasp implicit meanings
  • Speak spontaneously and fluently without having to search for words
  • Use language effectively and flexibly in social, professional or academic life
  • Express yourself on complex subjects in a clear and well-structured way

Essentially all interactions, even demanding ones, should cause you little to no issues in the language, and you should be able to complete all tasks in French.

You should be able to use some slang and idioms in your conversations and understand them when used by another person.

If you class yourself as bilingual, you are likely a C1 level.


C2 is the highest level. You can:

  • Effortlessly understand virtually everything that is read or heard
  • Convey facts and arguments from various written and oral sources in a coherent manner
  • Express yourself spontaneously, accurately, and make distinct nuances of meaning in relation to complex subjects

This is on the same level as a well-educated native speaker, meaning you have no, or very little trouble, in any situation. You can use slang, expressions, and idioms with ease, without any mistakes, and understand everything said to you.

Read more: A1, C2: What is the CEFR language rating in France?

How do I know my level?

While you can assume your level based on the criteria above, there are a number of courses and tests that will help give you a more accurate estimate.

Many of these are paid-for, resulting either in an official certificate at the end of a course or after sitting a regulated exam, such as those mentioned above with regard to residency cards and nationality. A common one is the TCF - test de connaissance du français.

However, there are some free online tests you can do (some require you to give your email address to receive your results).

They usually take around 10 - 15 minutes to complete, and most of the time are multiple choice but may include some written or comprehension elements.

Some online tests we found included the Learn French with Alexa tests, which are broken down into mini-tests for all six CEFR levels, the ESL French test, and one from Strommen.

Signing up to the free language learning site Duolingo gives you the chance to take a test, to assess roughly your level and where it places you on the course.

It is important to remember that if you do need to provide a certificate for an official procedure, you make sure the course or test you are taking is approved by the Interior Ministry.

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