When trying to enroll in a French university, apply for a job in France, or apply for French citizenship, you will almost certainly have to take a French language certification test to prove that you can speak the language to an adequate level. But which test should you take?
French language tests are scored according to six levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2, with A1 being a beginner, and C2 being fluent. If you want to study at a French university and have not taken and passed the baccalauréat, you will need to test at least at a B2 level. Yes, even if you are a French citizen, if you don’t “have le bac,” you’ll need to prove you are proficient in both spoken and written French. If applying for French citizenship, you will need a B1 certification. A B1 is also required to live or work in Canada (unless you are American, because of the special immigration relationship between the US and Canada). But those trying to move to Quebec will require a much higher level of proficiency, a C1 minimum. When applying for jobs in France, level requirements may vary, but plan on aiming for a B2 or higher. (If you’re not sure of your level, this free online test might help you out.)
The DELF (Diplôme d’études en langue française) and DALF (Diplôme approfondi de langue française) are tests organized by France Éducation International, part of the French Ministry of Education, which is in charge of helping people move to France for work, education, etc. They are organized by level, so if you are taking the DELF, you will be taking a test specifically for level A1, A2, B1, or B2. DALF, which is the next level up, tests for C1 or C2 proficiency. These are good tests to take if you know your level and want to verify it.
The DELF and DALF test 4 categories: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. The tests get longer the more advanced you are, with an A1 exam taking an hour and 20 minutes, and a B2 taking two and a half hours. The DALF has a duration of 3.5-4 hours.
Test dates are chosen by the French government, and primarily available in June and December, and sometimes March. You will have to check with your local testing center to see when exams are available. Exam costs are set by the French government as well, and currently range from $120 (for A1) to $220 (for C2). Both exams are valid for life. Check for local test centers here.
The TCF (Test de connaissance du français) and TEF (Test d’Evaluation de Français) are not broken up by level, but instead designed to assess your level on a sliding scale, with the test questions increasing in difficulty as the exam goes on. They are organized by private companies, and so tend to be more expensive than the DELF and DALF. They are also only valid for 2 years. Unlike DELF and DALF, which are written exams, TCF and TEF are taken on a computer.
The TCF has 3 mandatory tests: Listening Comprehension, Command of lexical and grammatical structures, and Reading Comprehension, which together clock in at an hour and 25 minutes. There are two additional tests you can opt for, Written Expression (1 hour) and Oral Expression (12 min). FIAF NY currently offers the compulsory tests for $215, additional exams for $115 each, or all five exams for $385. Search for test centers here.
The TEF has 5 components: Oral comprehension, Written comprehension, Oral Expression, Written Expression, and Vocabulary and syntax. Whether you take some or all will depend on the test you opt for. The test length for the complete exam is just under 3.5 hours. Exam prices vary by center; for example, to take the exam at FIAF in New York in 2021, it would cost $115 per section, or $485 for all five. You can search for test centers here.
If you’re looking to get very specific, there are also special tests designed for industries like Business, International Relations, and Tourism/Hospitality. You can find more information here.
All in all, the DELF is shorter and more affordable than other tests, and never expires. Just make sure that, as limited test periods are offered, you are able to sign up a decent amount of time in advance.