The DALF: I find myself in the same position as a 3rd grade immigrant student

DALF C1 diploma. Picture from

I used to tutor a 3rd grade student.  He had recently arrived in the US from Mexico, and didn’t yet speak English.  I found that what he needed the most was to have the instructions on his homeworks explained to him in Spanish.  The language of those homework instructions was, frankly, sometimes ridiculous–convoluted sentence structures, odd uses of vocabulary, and the like.  It wouldn’t surprise me if some native-speaker parents had trouble with them, and there certainly was no way that his monolingual Spanish-speaking parents were going to be able to give him any help with them.

Fast-forward some years, and I now find myself preparing to take the DALF, or the test for the Diplôme approfondi de langue française.  This is the French implementation of the last two levels of the CEFR.  The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is a European attempt to define levels of proficiency in a variety of languages.  It has six levels, from A1 (the lowest) to C2 (the highest).  A grande école (a member of the French system of elite schools that operates in parallel with the university system) would probably require a C1 or C2.

The last time I was in France, I picked up a couple of exam prep books for the DALF.  (I think a prep book is called an entrenez-vous, but can’t swear to it.)  Of course, I can’t even understand the instructions for preparing for the test!  This is frightening, as the requirements for C1 look difficult, and if I can’t even understand the instructions…  Here is one part of the description of what your level of ability has to be like for the oral comprehension part of the C1 test:

  • Je peux extraire des détails précis d’une annonce publique émise dans de mauvaises conditions et déformée par la sonorisation (par example, des annonces publiques dans une gare, un stade).  “I can extract precise details of a public announcement produced under poor conditions and distorted by the sound system, for example in a train station or sports venue.”

Can you imagine?  I’m lucky if I can understand that kind of speech in my native language! Let’s look at some of the vocabulary that you will need just to understand the description of the oral comprehension test in the book Réussir le DALF:

  • la colonne: column.  We are allowed to take notes in the right-hand colonne of the exam paper while listening to recordings during the oral comprehension part of the exam.
    • la colonne or la colonne vertébrale: spinal column.
  • le débat: discussion, debate.  At a later point in the exam, we have a débat with the examining committee.
  • repérer: to spot; (shelter, an enemy) to locate.  (You might remember this verb from this post on vocabulary from a French conference–apparently I didn’t.)
  • porter sur: lots of ways to translate this, but it basically means to be about. Here are some examples of its use from
    • Cette information doit porter sur la mise en place d’une relation et sur un comportement responsable envers l’autre. “This information should be about forming relationships and about how to relate to each other in a responsible manner.”  (
    • Ces modalités peuvent notamment porter sur les procédures d’élaboration et d’adoption des projets de plans de déploiement commun.  “These rules may cover in particular the procedures for the preparation and adoption of draft joint deployment plans.”  (
  • le support: medium or format; also a support, and (for a book or tool) a stand.  We are encouraged to listen to recordings of lots of different supports in order to prepare for the test.
  • tirer parti de: to take advantage of, to make good use of (  My test prep book instructs us to tirer parti des caractéristiques de l’oral–“take advantage of the characteristics of the oral,” like knowing the characteristics of different types of discourse–spontaneous speaking; written language read out loud…
  • faire preuve de: to show (e.g. courage).  We are told that vous devrez faire preuve d’un très bon niveau de compréhension en français sur des sujets abstraits ou complexes même hors de votre domaine de spécialité.  “You must show a very high level of comprehension in French of abstract or complex subjects, even outside of your area of specialty.”
    • faire ses preuves: to prove oneself.
  • rédiger: (an article, a letter) to write; (a contract) to draw up.

(Definitions from the Collins French-English Kindle dictionary, unless otherwise noted.)

In case you’re wondering how my 3rd grade student third grade student turned out:  when I explained the instructions to him in Spanish, he was able to do the homeworks, as often as not.  By the end of the school year, his English was great, and he didn’t need me anymore.  I hope I do as well on the DALF…

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