What’s my level of French?

Posted on December 7, 2020

One of the questions I’m asked most often by my students who are learning French as a second language is “Can you tell me what my level of French is?”

I then respond with, “Compared to what or to whom?”

A person’s level of skill in a given field is subjective, don’t you think?

If I manage to run the 100–metre race in under 30 seconds, people with no experience in running may consider that to be an excellent performance. However, if we compare my performance to that of the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, who can run the same distance in under 10 seconds, my time is by no means impressive!

Standards and skills vary

The same is true for a person’s skill level in French. The Canadian standards(opens in new tab), published by the Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks, and the European standards(opens in new tab), published by the Council of Europe, share some similarities, but they’re not identical. The Public Service Commission of Canada also has its own scale, which uses the letters A, B, C and P to assess the language proficiency levels required for bilingual positions in the federal public service and complies with the Treasury Board Secretariat’s Qualification Standards in Relation to Official Languages(opens in new tab).

Likewise, a person’s ability to communicate in writing may differ from their ability to communicate orally. Will a person be able to understand written language as easily as they can understand spoken language?

So how do you answer the question “What’s my level of French?”

Some people may see this as a monumental task. However, there are ways to help French learners gain a better, clearer understanding of their skill level.

I recommend internationally recognized tests

First, I’d recommend taking the standardized exam to obtain the Diplôme d’études en langue française (DELF) from the French Ministère de l’Éducation nationale (Ministry of National Education). As indicated on the website of the French Embassy in Canada,Footnote 1 the results of the exam are valid indefinitely. Approved by a team of psychologists specialized in evaluation, the (DELF) is recognized internationally. The exam, adapted for all ages and groups, reflects the six levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Examination sessions are usually held at least twice a year.

Personally, I recommend this exam because it’s based on current topics and real-life situations. After all, isn’t one of the main goals of learning a language to be able to express yourself, communicate and be understood in all aspects of everyday life?

Also, I’d suggest taking the Test de connaissance du français (TCF) or the Test d’évaluation du français (TEF). They’re international benchmark tests that assess your level of knowledge and skill in French. The format is similar to that of the (DELF). Test sessions are held often at various test sites around the world.

Note that when applying to immigrate to Canada or become a Canadian citizen, it’s important to consult the Immigration and citizenship section(opens in new tab) of the Government of Canada website to find out what language skills are required, including which language tests are currently being accepted.

Tests assess the steps in your journey

To sum up, no matter which test you choose to assess your level of French as a second language, always check the descriptions of the levels and scales. But above all else, believe in yourself and continue your quest to learn French!

Assessment tests are in no way a finish line. Rather, they’re stage finishes (like in the Tour de France cycling race!) that allow you to assess your current performance. They encourage you to continue learning, not to get the yellow jersey but to thrive in your personal language-learning journey.

Translated by Natalie Ballard, Language Portal of Canada


The opinions expressed in posts and comments published on the Our Languages blog are solely those of the authors and commenters and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Language Portal of Canada.

Get to know Caroline Gadenne

Caroline Gadenne

Originally from France, where she studied foreign languages, Caroline is a French language and grammar enthusiast. She teaches French as a second language, and administers and corrects French language exams. Caroline works full time as a federal public servant in Vancouver.

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