le français

Yesterday I woke up at about eleven, bleary-eyed and groggy from the work week, and realised with not a little bit of dismay that a friend and I had pacted (past pt. of ‘pact’, to make a pact) to meet up and get our French tested. The week had been full of stress and rain and general blah and all I wanted to do was crawl back into bed and make it all go away.

Well I did go back to bed for a bit. It was the weekend, after all. I reserve the right to sleep as long as I please at the weekend – but when you’ve pacted…ugh. All right.

I was pretty sure my French level would be dire. I had six years – six years! – of French at school, but that had ebbed away over the intervening years. For various reasons (not all of which are equally weighty, I might add), however, now was the time to take it up again, and a few weeks ago we had agreed to get ourselves tested. Checked out. Whatever.

It started out with a sure intent to rattle my chains. It was raining. I could barely unlock my bike. It rained harder. Pedestrians on the bike path (Why?! There’s a pavement right there, wider than the cycle path. WHY, in the name of the Almighty and Merciful and Terrifying and all the 96 other epithets, WHY WOULD YOU WALK IN A CYCLE PATH TWO ABREAST?!). Cretins on the roads. More rain. A key snapping in the !(*^&*&#@&(^ bike lock.

Once I actually got to this place (only minutes before my partner in crime), I was ready to bite someone’s head off. This day had not begun well. We arrived at the test centre, dripping, and my friend launched into a conversation (in French, natch) as to what we wanted. I was given some pieces of paper and was ushered into a room where about half a dozen other people were bent over their question papers.

I had forty-five minutes to complete a ‘diagnostic’ test. It felt like I was sitting an exam at school – even though I hadn’t done so in years.

There are lots of things I can’t do. But sitting tests? Oh yea. Even on a Saturday afternoon. A very rainy Saturday afternoon.


It’s been a long, long time since I’ve actually sat tests or exams. I recall (or rather, my results recall) being somewhat good at them too. But what had completely slipped my mind was how much fun tests are.

I know I’m strange, but hear me out here. The work you have to do is handed to you. All you have to do is sit there and – no, really – show off. Go on. Show that marker just how much you know! It’s a catwalk, shake your brain booty!

Let’s face it, nowhere and at no time is your mind so going to have precedence over your appearance.


Even with that digression in mind, we were reminded that this test was diagnostic, and intended to help determine our CEFR level (sometimes the scourge of language teachers’ lives, but often really quite useful). We should stop once it gets ‘too hard’.

This statement – insofar as I actually paid attention to it – sent my near-OCD side into anxious fits. ‘Too hard’? How on earth was I supposed to define and apply that? Faced with such a quandry, not to mention a time limit (which I suspect was being ignored by everyone), I did the only thing I could: ignore the statement and just carry on.

Which is what I did.

And a few minutes later I shocked myself: I stopped my test and left.

My reasoning was, having completed one set of questions (I swear if I didn’t have such a grammar fetish I’d never have got as far as I did), I looked through the next lot, reasoned that the guess-to-considered-answer ratio was neither favourable nor sensible, and deduced that this was a good place to stop.

The reasonableness of this train of thought shocked me.

So I left the exam hall and muttered in some really bad French to the lady waiting that I was done, whereupon she took me into another room, marked my answers, and then asked me why I’d stopped there because I should have been able to get at least another set of questions done too. My French vocabulary failed me massively, so I just shrugged my shoulders (my goodness, I’m so communicative!).

The lady then launched into what at first seemed like some niffy naffy questions about what I did for a living and so on. I’m a gullible soul and didn’t realise until I’d listed all the languages I could speak a few words of (dang it, forgot the fact that I know two words of Polish!) and the reasons why I wanted to learn Italian (?!?!) that this was the oral exam and she was assessing my spoken French. It was at that point that I freaked out and started gibbering my verbs.

Then she scribbled B1.1 on my form and told me to take a B1.2 class. And my eyes popped out of my head at that, because I thought I’d be solidly in A1-A2 borderland. Daaaaaang girl!

I skipped out into the hallway, met up with my partner in crime, and we went for hot chocolate to celebrate our Frenchiness. It was tempered only by the sobering realisation that Havisten who succesfully pass French have the same level of proficiency in French as I do. And that in order to teach French in lower secondary school requires only B2 level – and that student teachers have four years in which to get there from a B1.

If that’s not a contribution to a general damnation of standards in the Dutch education system, I don’t know what is.

Ah well. Dat allemaal heeft ook niks weggenomen van het genieten van notre chocolat chaud.


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