The DELF is an official test of your level of capability in the French language. If you pass, it is good for a lifetime (most or all others expire after a few years). This "diploma" is particularly handy for things like long-term French residency and citizenship.
I just finished my exams...
~~~ Registering ~~~
Just trying to get registered for the DELF had its ups and downs. First, from all my classes outside of France, I had seen that the official test centers were always at the Alliance française. In France, this is not the case! So, a relatively quick search showed that GRETA in Montpellier had several exam dates coming up. The website was very definitive in saying that the registration deadline must be observed - sign up by then, or you miss out! BUT! Nowhere did it actually tell you what those dates were!* So, I picked the October 19 test date, wired the money, and mailed my filled-out form on August 16 - two months should be plenty of time, right?
Well, a month later, I hadn't heard anything. So I called, hoping to find out what happened - did I miss the deadline after all? Did they receive my form? Well, I'm embarrassed to say that I had forgotten to include a copy of my ID :-\ The good news is that (1) they understood me (2) they had my form (3) they sent an email that said to send my ID copy ASAP. As soon as I saw that, I faxed my passport, and sent a reply asking for them to let me know that my ID was received. LOL - that's soooo American... A week later, I called back - yes, they had my ID, and if everything else was there, then I would be registered. Whew! But, I still had some anxiety - what if...
Then, September 26, I got an email - good news this time! I was registered! I confirmed my information and saw that my test was split over two days - my individual part of the test, oral expression, was October 18, and the rest was October 19. A few days later, a hardcopy came in the mail.
* (Update) It turned out that they just weren't quite ready for the new school year when I looked for this information. Some time later, they updated the link to the calendar, and the new PDF showed all the registration (and results) dates :-\ I was just a few days too early...
~~~ Getting ready ~~~
Well, aside from the classes I had already had, I was tempted to take a class specifically to prep for the DELF. But the nearest one was in Montpellier, and it was every day for a month. So, I got a workbook, and started studying - this was actually very hard for me; I am much more motivated in a classroom situation. But (or perhaps I should say "and") I had 3 months to get through it. One other very fortuitous thing happened - on my first hike with my club, I mentioned that I had this test coming up, and a perfectly lovely woman, whom I had just met that day, offered to help me! She came to our apartment several times and we worked through the section on oral expression! She not only corrected my French, but also gave me more elegant options, and a lot more confidence!
~~~ Getting there ~~~
So, the test center is quite a trip! To get there, I had to take a bus, then train, then tram, and finally, walk. Schedules don't align, and public transportation is often late, so each leg had to have a cushion. Thinking to reduce stress, I bought my train tickets for both days well in advance. What a mistake! Less than a week before my test, the powers that be announced a strike =-O I would be able to get there on Wednesday, but I risked missing Thursday's test entirely! A quick change of plan - I ended up getting an AirBnB room for Wednesday and Thursday, and coming home after the strike. Basically, that just left the hard part - finding the right building! I ended up walking halfway around the giant block, and asking for directions twice before I found the test center. I am very glad I had the time to do some reconnaissance...
~~~ The Test! ~~~
My convocation said to be at the testing center half an hour before the start in order to sign in. It turned out that this didn't really apply to the individual test. I checked, and was told to wait until just before my test time - well, then the test mistress called my name, and in I went! This rule certainly applied to the group test.
The procedure for both days were the same: turn off your phone, give it, your convocation, and ID to the test mistress, and place all other belongings against the wall. She checks your ID. You take just your pen (and optional pencils), and find your assigned table (I didn't notice at first that they were assigned; I looked down at the table I had picked, and saw someone else's name). You get a piece of scratch paper and the test - the top sheet has instructions and you fill in your name and registration number from your convocation. Your written answers have to be in black pen. I was a little surprised by this; I thought surely we could use pencil, at least for the written expression! The test mistress warned us several times that even a suspicion of cheating would bar you from taking any DELF exam for 5 years - make sure to keep your eyes firmly in front, on your own test. We were also warned that we couldn't leave until we were done (well, you could, but then you couldn't come back in). When you finished, you turned in your test and the scratch paper, and collected your things. In the group test, we got a 15 minute warning before time was up.
The tests all went exactly as the book described. For oral expression, you choose one from two randomly selected topics, spend 10 minutes preparing, and then interact with your testers for 15 minutes on this and two other topics. For the group test, at 10:00 on the dot, the test mistress started the tape player (it was plenty loud, unlike exercises in many of my classes), and we opened our tests. The tape had timed pauses (just like my practice test), so we had exactly that much time to read the questions and to write our answers. After that (oral comprehension), we went on to written comprehension, then written expression. The nice thing about this group portion of the test is that all three tests were in the same packet - if you finished one part early, you could go right on to the next. If you finished the entire thing before the hour and 45 minutes allotted, you could leave early. Or, do what I did, which was to re-check my entire test. You don't get a choice of topic for the written expression (Somehow, I had expected a choice between two). I don't know if everyone had the same topic or not - I certainly wasn't going to peek to find out!
A few people left early, but most of us (there were about 25) stayed till the bitter end. One fellow asked when we would know our results (Another thing my American mind was surprised that they didn't automatically tell us) - it will take about 3 weeks... I got back to my temporary digs, and had a nice glass of wine with my lunch :-) My post-test jitters lasted well into the next day - I rehashed everything, counting up in my head all the obvious-after-the-fact mistakes I had made, and knowing there were plenty more besides.
~~~ The Results ~~~
I'm writing this before I know my results. There is a very real chance that I will not pass (this time). I have always had a hard time knowing just how the French grade tests; something that is important to me often seems to be of no account, and vice-versa.
It's easy enough to say amongst friends that (1) I am pushing it a bit to test at this level, (2) I can always take it again, (3) I don't really have to have this diploma; I can handle the language aspect of renewing my residency via a lower-level test at the time, and after the age of 60, you don't have to prove any particular level of French for residency.
On the other hand, I want to pass!
In fact, I'm hesitant to post this as is; should I wait for my results? If I don't pass, will I really want to post it at all? Bleh!
I guess I'm pushing the button...
~~~~ UPDATE ~~~~