It’s a funny thing, fluency. When I was very young, I remember asking my mum if I took A level French I’d be a fluent French speaker. “Yes,” she replied confidently. Well I did, and I wasn’t. I wasn’t even fluent after spending a year living and working in Guadeloupe, an overseas department of France located in the Caribbean (although the day one of the utilities companies sent a man to cut off our flat’s power because the bill hadn’t been paid by the landlord, I was pretty fluent while persuading him not to).
Fluency is such as hard thing to define that officially, it doesn’t even exist. If you learn a European foreign language in Europe, you’ll often be assessed according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages or CEFR. This includes six levels, from A1 (beginner) to C2 (mastery).
My DELE B2 pass means I’ve successfully completed the fourth of these six levels. So what does that mean? I’m better than I ever was in French despite the fact that I spent around 8 years studying French, and less than two years have passed since I took my first beginners’ Spanish class. So I don’t feel my progress has been too slow, but the kind of fluency I dreamed of having in a foreign language as a kid still eludes me – you know, the kind where you can just open your mouth and a pure stream of flawless articulation comes out.
I still make plenty of errors when I speak Spanish. I understand Spanish TV (but it depends on the programme); I can read a Spanish novel (but almost every page has several words I don’t know); I can speak on the phone in Spanish (as long as the other person doesn’t have an accent I’m not used to); I can’t really follow a Spanish language film without subtitles, but I can understand the radio (most of the time).
Of course, I was both happy and relieved to hear I’d passed my DELE B2. Thanks to a demanding new job, I wasn’t able to study as much before the exam as I had with the B1. Instead, I’d relied on reading on the train, speaking more Spanish at home, and streaming Telediario every night. I’d also had genuine doubts about how it had gone on exam day, especially the oral. I then read this account from a blogger who’d failed the exam, and spooked myself.
But ultimately, the test isn’t so scary and the key to passing is being confident of your level and then familiarising yourself with the test format. One tool I found invaluable in helping me to determine my level before test day was the Instituto Cervantes’ Spanish level test: there’s a bank of questions so you don’t always get asked the same things, and you can track your progress over time. Overall, about 61% of people who take the DELE pass it, but this varies by level: 75% of test takers pass when they take A1, and more than half of C2 takers fail.
Here’s the breakdown of my exam performance for the DELE B2.
My highest mark was in reading comprehension, my lowest in writing. My listening and speaking were both quite solid passes. So I know before I attempt C1, I’ll have to spend plenty of time practising my writing in Spanish – something I don’t really enjoy, because it’s so artificial (another letter to the ayuntamiento complaining about the state of the roads, blah).