Friday, June 28, 2013

Doing DELF. Or: Of culture and competence


Hush! Don't tell anybody! I have a dirty little secret... I like language certification exams. Sometimes, when I feel unobserved, I take a trip to the nearest exam center and spend a lovely summer day or clear winter morning stuffed in a classroom full of nervous language learners.

Having 'used up' my options for English exams by completing the CPE (Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English), though, I had to change my drug of choice. This Saturday, I finally succumbed to DELF, the 'lower levels' (A1-B2) French certification (C1 and C2 are covered by its bigger and tougher brother, DALF).

When I did the CPE, this had the relaxed charm of a drug rehab program. Back packs were collected at the front of the room. Cell phones had to be shut off, then were collected separately. You had to keep your passport visible on the table. When you were finished, you had to keep seated till exam time was over. Each sub-exam had its separate exam booklet and its individual time slot, and don't you dare mixing them! Oh, and enter myriad-digit codes and names and signatures and whatnots on each exam booklet (no way to forget, we were constantly reminded). Count your words. And so on, and so on, and so on. No cavity searches after lunch break though – you have to be grateful for the small things in life.

DELF was, well, slightly more relaxed. Somebody DID have a cursory look at my passport. And when I asked whether we should put our name and exam number on the booklet, the test supervisor wasn't too stressed about this: "Well, yes, we'll take care of this later." We could keep coats and backpacks next to us. We could leave early. Actually, when I asked whether we needed to write down the word count for our production écrite tasks, the exam supervisor left and left us untrustworthy (and slightly dumbfounded) examinees alone for a full moment or two. Somebody more streetwise than me could have earned a pretty penny dealing with grammar facts or vocab knowledge during these precious minutes... And did I mention that there was only ONE exam booklet for all parts of the written exam? Yeah, somebody who's quick in reading comprehension COULD increase his/her time for the written production part...

To summarize: massive culture shock.

I was asking myself: Is this the French approach to language testing? Some deep-seated belief that people who do DELF don't usually carry machine guns or dictionaries in their backpacks? The assumption that people who spend a sunny Saturday in a dirty classroom would be honest folks? Was it the recognition that nobody would deem an A2 exam worthy of cheating? 

I wonder what JLPT N5 will be like. I guess I'll be up to another suprise :)

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So Long, and Thanks for All the Ghoti.