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What is the DELF?

Canadian Association of Immersion Teachers

The DELF (Diplôme d'études en langue française) is the official French-language diploma awarded by France's Ministry of National Education. It is recognized around the world and is valid for life. More than 300,000 diplomas are awarded each year; in Canada, over 3000 diplomas were awarded in 2010 (as opposed to 81 in 2005). The DELF is recognized in 165 countries and is offered by 965 accredited centres throughout the world, including 19 in Canada. As an official certification of second-language proficiency, the DELF tests the ability of students to use French in real-life situations. Testing is based on the six reference levels identified in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), a document produced by the Council of Europe after 12 years of research. The CEFR provides a series of descriptions of abilities that can be applied to any language and that can be used to set clear targets for achievement within language learning. This framework has now become accepted as a way of benchmarking language ability all over the world.

The six reference levels are as follows:

A - Basic User

  • A1 Beginner
  • A2 Elementary

B - Independent User

  • B1 Pre-intermediate
  • B2 Intermediate

C - Proficient User

  • C1 Proficiency
  • C2 Mastery

At each level, four language skills are assessed: written comprehension, oral comprehension, written expression and oral expression. The DELF system is made up of six separate diplomas that correspond to the CEFR levels. The diplomas are tailored to meet the needs of all ages and all segments of the population. Exam topics include a variety of situations that are representative of linguistic and cultural diversity around the world. It is not required to take all of the exams or to take them sequentially. Enrolment at each level is determined according to the student's confidence level. DELF exams are offered only at accredited centres, which follow specific procedures to ensure examination security. The examiners and markers are trained by authorized instructors and are evaluated to ensure uniform standards of assessment throughout the world.

Why take a DELF exam?

Today French is an official language in almost 50 countries, including Canada. It is spoken by more than 200 million people on five continents. It is also an official language of the United Nations, the Red Cross and many other international organizations.

The DELF diploma

  • is an international recognition of French proficiency;
  • is a life-long certification, whether obtained in the student's country or another country;
  • is based on the same international standard used in 164 countries (CEFR);
  • facilitates interprovincial dialogue across Canada;
  • is a testimonial to a student's success in learning French: it recognizes the student's accomplishments in French proficiency;
  • is an internationally recognized official document that enriches the student's school or professional portfolio;
  • offers advantages for postsecondary education: it is recognized internationally by Francophone post-secondary institutions, including a growing number in Canada;
  • is accepted in universities in France (B2 or higher level);
  • enhances a student's resumé: it describes in meaningful terms what the student is capable of doing in French;
  • opens doors to a wide range of career and recreational opportunities throughout Canada and around the world; and
  • supports career advancement.

Does the French context of the DELF exams (cultural referents; high level of language; rapid flow; European French accent; choice of themes such as vacation, trains and euros) disadvantage our students?

Initially, this might appear to be the case. However, for several years, we have been observing that our students manage very well. For the most part, the French context enables them to complete the exam tasks without any disadvantage. The CIEP (Centre international d'études pédagogiques), an organization appointed by France's Ministry of National Education to create the DELF exams, works hard to develop texts and activities that have an international scope and that can be adapted to all French-speaking countries. When we prepare students for an exam, we provide them with an amazing opportunity to learn more about the diverse cultures of the French-speaking world.

Could a different teaching method potentially create confusion for our teachers?

The CEFR is a flexible tool that enables teachers to create targeted action-based activities that help to further develop our students' language skills.

Do the DELF exams have time limits for completing tasks? If so, will they create a stressful situation for our students?

DELF exams are held nationally. Common start and end times that respect time zones are set up across the country. The duration of an exam varies according to a student's skill level. Moreover, as is the case for all good evaluation tools, provisions can be made for students who have a diagnosed learning disability.

Are there trick questions on the DELF exams?

This practice is increasingly frowned upon in education. DELF exams are respectful of students and aim to determine their true skill level. So, no trick questions!

Do the exams require knowledge that our students do not have?

The CIEP uses authentic texts of general interest that correspond to the general knowledge of students all over the world. The exams aim to validate specific language skills rather than knowledge.

Do DELF exams primarily test memorization skills?

Not at all. The exams target both oral and written comprehension. All texts used during the exams are authentic and drawn from real-life situations.

Are students allowed time to prepare for the listening, reading and writing components of the exams?

Above all, students must demonstrate their skills. The point of the exams is to see students in action rather than in preparation or planning. Criteria such as vocabulary size and spontaneity are important and correspond to the skill levels of the CEFR grids. Depending on their level, students are also given the opportunity to listen twice to oral texts. Moreover, during the interactive oral exam, students are given time to prepare, just as they would be for a job interview. In addition, the allotted time per skill allows ample opportunity for preliminary work and review.

Are students allowed to use tools, such as a dictionary, a grammar book and the Bescherelle, for the written portion of the exams?

When preparing students in class prior to exams, it is important that teachers allow students to use all available tools so that they can get as much feedback as possible. However, during the DELF exams, students must demonstrate specific skills. For example, one of the written requirements for level B2 is a 250-word essay in which students must demonstrate their ability to think concisely without using tools.

What is the passing mark?

The total required passing mark for the diploma is 50%. It is important to understand that students must demonstrate a minimum level of success in all four skills. If the mark for one of the skills is below 5/25, a student will not receive a diploma. To properly understand the progression between the levels, it is important that we consider each level as a developmental zone of language learning. If someone scores 55% in B1, he or she will most likely take three more years to obtain a B2. However, if someone scores 90% in B1, he or she will probably obtain a B2 more rapidly. If a student does not attend part of an exam, he or she does not pass.

Are there links between the DELF exams and our study programs?

Several provinces have harmonized their study and mentorship programs with the CEFR descriptors. In other provinces, ministries of education are giving latitude to school boards with regard to using the CEFR and the DELF.

  • British Columbia is proposing a very detailed approach for all second languages that is based on the CEFR levels.
  • All four Atlantic provinces are currently reviewing their programs in order to align them logically with CEFR principles.
  • In Ontario, new frameworks are being revised, and according to first drafts, there will be a marked effort to align them directly with the CEFR.
  • In Alberta, major initiatives were put in place in Edmonton, Calgary and
    Grande-Prairie, making the province Canada's pioneer with regard to the CEFR.

For more information, please contact Chantal Bourbonnais at cbourbonnais@acpi.ca.