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FRENCH CITIZENSHIP

TEST: Is your French good enough for citizenship and residency?

France has tightened up language requirements for citizenship and is proposing introducing a language test for certain types of carte de séjour residency card - so just how good does your French need to be?

TEST: Is your French good enough for citizenship and residency?
Photo by Fred TANNEAU / AFP

From total fluency to just being able to order a baguette in your local boulangerie, there’s a world of difference in the levels of French attained by foreigners in France, and of course most people improve the longer they stay here.

But there are certain processes that require formal qualifications, so we’ve put together some sample questions to give you an idea of the level required. This article relates solely to your language ability – applying for citizenship has several other requirements, including having to demonstrate knowledge of French culture and history.

READ ALSO Am I eligible for French citizenship?

The current rules in place require French at level B1 on the international DELF scale in order to obtain French citizenship.

Getting a carte de séjour residency permit currently has no formal language requirement, although Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin says he wants to introduce one for certain types of permit. There is currently no detail on what language level he is suggesting, but it’s unlikely to be higher than the level required for citizenship.

So what does B1 mean?

B1 on the DELF scale is defined as “able to handle day-to-day matters that arise in school, work or leisure”. 

A B1 candidate “should be able to get by while travelling in an area where only French is spoken, and should be able to describe events and justify things like opinions, plans, or even ambitions”.

You are not required to be able to speak perfect, error-free French, only to be able to make yourself understood and understand any replies you are given.  

Tests

Four tests are required for citizenship; a written test, reading tests, listening test and an oral test where you have a conversation with an examiner.

  • Oral comprehension – 25 minutes. This test involves listening to a tape and answering questions about the content, usually multiple choice answers
  • Oral discussion – 15 minutes. This is a one-on-one conversation with an examiner (either in person or on the phone) who asks you progressively more difficult questions, towards the end of the chat you are also given the opportunity to ask questions or start a debate with your examiner on the topic
  • Reading test – 45 minutes. Candidates are expected to read a selection of French texts (newspaper articles, memos, adverts etc) and answer questions about their content
  • Writing test – 30 minutes. Candidates must write a piece on a given topic in a specified style (formal letter, email, memo, news report etc)

Bear in mind that instructions for the exam – times allowed, which sections to answer etc – are all in French. 

You need to pass all four sections of the language test in order to apply for citizenship. Although you do not have to take all the tests at the same time, test certificates presented for citizenship cannot be more than two years old. 

Sample questions

Oral comprehension – for this section you will have to listen to audio of French people talking. The format varies, sometimes it could be a news report, an interview or a recorded discussion, and it will be played at least twice.

Here are some sample questions from a past B1 paper, after the candidates had listened to a short clip of Paul talking about his holidays – click here to listen to the audio. 

Quel a été le principal inconvénient du voyage de Paul ?

  • La nourriture
  • La chaleur 
  • La longueur du voyage

Combien de pays ont-ils visités ?

  • Cinq
  • Six
  • Seize

Quel sentiment éprouve Paul?

  • Ii est déçu de son voyage et content d’être rentré 
  • Il est content de son voyage et regrette d’être rentré 
  • Il est content de son voyage et content aussi d’être rentré

Reading – you have 45 minutes to read two documents provided and then answer questions about them. The questions are usually a mix of multiple choice and longer answers.

Here are some sample questions from a past B1 paper, relating to a report about child soldiers, and the charity groups attempting to help them – you can read the document here.

1. Ce document a pour but de:

  • Dénoncer les horreurs de la guerre
  • Informer sur les actions pour les droits de l’enfant
  • Faire signer un texte pour les droits de l’enfant

2. Citez trois formes du soutien proposées aux enfants soldats par les ONG

3. Combien d’enfants sont membres du SPLA.

Oral discussion – the examiner will ask you questions about the documents that you have read for the reading section, you have an extra 10 minutes before the oral section begins to prepare your response.

You will begin by introducing yourself and talking about your work, family or hobbies – the examiner will then ask you some questions about yourself before moving on to questions about the document.

Written – in this section you have 30 minutes to write an answer to a question. You must respond in 160 to 180 words. Here is a sample of the type of question asked:

A votre avis, quels ont été le ou les changements les plus importants des vingt dernières années dans votre pays?

(In your opinion, what are the most important changes that have taken place in your country in the past 20 years).

You can find the full exam paper with the correct answers (at the bottom) HERE.

Member comments

  1. Does this apply to EU Nationals wishing to reside in France? And, by extension, to their spouse? Or are they exempt because of EU rules?

  2. Your mistakes (not a good idea when you write about French tests)

    La longUeur (the length) du voyage

    Il (he) (non non no It) est déçu (accent is a must é)

    les changements leS (plural here) plus importants

    votre payS your country. Your pay (English)

  3. Your mistakes. La longUeur (the length) du voyage

    Il (he) (non non no It) est déçu

    les changements leS (plural here)

    votre payS your country. Your pay (English)

  4. My French is at best b2 and at times a1. However, towards the end of the conversation with Paul, first vocal exercise, he makes reference to “Quebequoise” when he talks about being out of touch with current events. But the transcript version says “française”. Did I miss something?

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For members

FRENCH CITIZENSHIP

How you could qualify for French citizenship in under five years

For most people looking to apply for citizenship in France, they have to live in the country for five consecutive years - but, under certain circumstances, you could apply sooner.

How you could qualify for French citizenship in under five years

Here, we explain how you could shave some time off your residency qualifying period before you can apply for citizenship. The application process can last up to two years on top of the qualifying period. And as ever there are many criteria applicants are required to meet so it’s not just a question about time qualifying periods. 

READ ALSO Am I eligible for French citizenship?

Marriage

Marry a French citizen, and you can qualify for French citizenship after four years rather than five.

However, you still have to pass language and cultural knowledge tests.

This also applies to a foreign national living with their French spouse outside France – as long as they too have been married for five years.

READ ALSO How to become a French citizen via marriage

Postgraduates

Postgraduates who have studied at a French university for at least two years can qualify for citizenship after two years of residency. However it’s not as easy at that in reality given applicants must meet other criteria such as prove they have a stable job and income which obviously may take longer.

Postgraduate applicants still have to pass language and cultural knowledge tests, prove you have integrated into the French way of life, and demonstrate you have the means to live in France, which usually comes via work.

READ ALSO TEST: Is your French good enough for citizenship and residency?

The ancestor rule

If you have a parent who was a French citizen at the time of your birth, you can obtain citizenship via ancestry at any time. You will need full documentation for yourself and your French parent, and also need to prove that they have maintained some ‘connection’ with France in the past 50 years – this could be evidence of residency in France, registration with a French consulate or a voter registration to show they have voted in French elections.

READ ALSO How to obtain French citizenship through ancestry

Military ties

You do not need to complete any qualifying period if you have served in the French military, or enlisted for the French or an allied military in a time of war – but, you need to serve your time in the army, navy or air force, first… 

Anyone who joins the French Foreign Legion can apply for French nationality after three years of service. Depending on each applicant’s service record and willingness to integrate, this application will generally be granted.

Exceptional service

If you can render (or have rendered) important services to France given your abilities and talents, or have completed an exceptional integration process (such as activities or actions in civic, scientific, economic, cultural or sporting fields), you can apply for citizenship after two years. 

‘Exceptional service’ can include an act of heroism. In 2018, then 22-year-old undocumented immigrant Mamoudou Gassama rescued a four-year-old who was dangling from a balcony in Paris. His bravery was recognised with French citizenship.

READ ALSO Who is ‘le spiderman’ – the Malian migrant who saved a toddler’s life?

And numerous foreigners who worked on the frontline during the Covid pandemic have been offered fast-track citizenship.

It is important to note that no minimum residency is required for the following applicants:

  • Anyone with refugee status;
  • Anyone who comes from a French-speaking country and speaks French as the mother tongue;
  • Anyone who comes from a French-speaking country and has been educated for 5 years or more in a French-language teaching establishment.
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