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READER INSIGHTS

‘I’m terrified’: Your views on proposals for compulsory French tests for residency permits

France's Interior Minister has put forward plans to make a language test compulsory for certain types of long-term residency permits - although many readers of The Local support the basic principle, others told us of their fear that they would not be able to pass a written test.

'I'm terrified': Your views on proposals for compulsory French tests for residency permits
The prospect of having to do a French exam has worried many foreigners in France. Photo by FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP

There is still plenty that we don’t know about Gérald Darmanin’s proposal – which has not even gone before parliament for its first reading yet – here’s everything we know so far.

We wanted to know the reaction of the international community in France to the proposals, which would be the first time a formal language test is required for residency in France (although citizenship does have a language requirement).

Hundreds of people responded to our survey asking foreigners in France to share their views.

Reasonable 

Firstly we asked ‘is it reasonable for a country to require its long-term residents to be able to speak the language?’.

Most people did not disagree with the principle, 33 percent said it was reasonable in all circumstances while a further 35 percent said it was reasonable in certain circumstances.

However 31 percent said they did not think it was a reasonable requirement, and one percent were not sure.

Liz Watkins-Young said: “It’s not unreasonable to require someone who lives long-term in your country to speak some level of your language in order that they can function and contribute to society. However I don’t think that’s the same level as someone seeking citizenship, where the right to vote and your responsibility as a citizen would require a higher language level.” 

“If someone is planning to live in a country long term they need to speak the language,” said Gilly Jones-Farrow in Perpignan. “A test to see if you have basic knowledge would be good, supported by government funded lessons to improve your skills.

“Too many English who live in France live in an expat bubble where only English is spoken. That’s okay but when they need to speak French they can not. Immersion totale worked for me. No English TV or radio and making French friends who don’t speak English.”

Another reader told us: “You need a basic level of language simply to be able to manage your affairs; to be able to communicate for instance with the tax office, with doctors, dentists, hospitals, your French neighbours, and also to understand what is going on in the country that you now live in.

“In the UK, we don’t expect foreigners to communicate with us in THEIR own language, do we? So why should the French need to be able to speak English in order to be able to communicate with us in France?”

TEST Is your French good enough for citizenship or residency?

Exemption for pensioners

But although many people agreed in principle, they were still worried about being able to pass the test.

The government has so far not revealed what level of French would be required, although it seems unlikely that it would be higher than the B1 level that is required for citizenship. 

While some readers told us that they have already got French citizenship – and therefore passed the B1 French test – others were worried about their language abilities.

The main theme that emerged was concern that older people would be more likely to struggle with gaining a formal qualification and therefore should be exempt from the language requirement.

The language test for citizenship used to have an exemption for the over 60s, but that was scrapped in 2020 – there is as yet no detail on whether the residency test will have any exemptions for certain groups.

Eloise Clark, living in Paris, told us: “As an older learner, I know I will never be fluent. Yet, I get by pretty well. What is the objective? I am not working, I am not dependent on the French state.”

Robert Heuer, living in Alsace, told us: “Just because I don’t speak French very well, doesn’t mean that I don’t love France or that I don’t have anything to give to my community. I work every day on my French but I don’t think I will ever be able to test the test.”

Jo Ann Alexander in Paris said: “We moved here for me to help my chronically ill daughter with child care. I am 72 and am not at B2 level. My husband, age 88 with dementia is also here for family support. Our only daughter and grand daughter are here.”

Pretoria Trevarton in Haut-Vienne, told us: “I’m in my 70s and never had any French language lessons at school. I’m trying hard to learn French, taking lessons, listening to CDs and practising but as I can’t even remember some things in English, I am struggling with learning French. But I’ve taken a semi-derelict house and turned it into a lovely home, as have many Brits I know.”

Several people also pointed out that the last two years have not been very conducive to picking up language skills. Chris Well in Paris said: “I arrived under Covid restrictions and am still reluctant to socialise a lot with other people. Therefore my ability to learn and listen to native speakers in a conversational context has been restricted.” 

Couples and learning disabilities

Other than the concern about elderly people struggling with language tests, several people raised other issues – will there be an exemption for people with learning disabilities? Would this mean that couples would be split up if one of them could not pass the language test? 

Michelle Leigh in Paris said: “I have a learning disability and it’s a very difficult language. I’m trying to juggle home responsibility, job, and I want to stay with my partner, but I can’t learn French fast enough.”

Sarah Bond said: “It would terrify me to have to take an exam/test even though my French isn’t bad. Not sure my husband would pass as his level of French is quite basic. What would happen to a couple if one person is not able to pass the test?”

Alice Yarrington in Charente added: “I am very dyslexic and I find writing incredibly hard.”

Angela Railton in Percy-en-Normandie said: “For myself, having only a temporary residency (Withdrawal Agreement) card as I was a few weeks short of the 5 years requirement when I had to apply, I will not be able to apply for a permanent card for another 4 years, by which time I will have been resident for nearly 10 years and the tests will be well in place by then! I am elderly with a medical condition affecting my brain. I don’t think my chances now of passing a test are at all good.”

Politics

Several of you also told us that you feared the policy was part of a general drift to the right by the French government, which could make life more difficult for foreigners in France.

Angela Railton in Percy-en-Normandie said: “It does seem to be a sop to the far right and may be the thin end of a wedge ending up with policies like Marine Le Pen’s, which are very disturbing indeed.”

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FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

Nine of our favourite French words and expressions of the day

From 'Monsieur Dupont' to a 'Flasher', via an unsavoury metaphor involving flies and a word for meat-lovers, here's a roundup of some of our favourite French words and expressions of the day.

Nine of our favourite French words and expressions of the day

Every weekday, The Local publishes a French word or phrase of the day, with the emphasis on slang, sayings, colloquialisms and (sometimes) swearing. Our aim is to introduce readers to the words and phrases that they won’t learn in French class, but they definitely will hear during the course of everyday life in France.

We’ve been publishing a daily word since 2018, so by now we have a fairly hefty back catalogue – you can find it HERE. Members of The Local can also sign up to our Word of the Day mailing list and get each day’s word or phrase delivered straight to your mailbox.

Here’s a selection of the words and phrases we published in January;

1. Monsieur Dupont

You might know someone named Dupont, after all, it’s a fairly common name in France. And, yet, Monsieur Dupont is not always real – in fact the name is frequently used in a metaphorical context to signify an everyman figure, or someone whose identity is not known.

Pronounced: miss-yur doo-ponn 

Learn more about France’s ‘John Doe’ here.

2. Flasher 

You might be curious why French newspapers are writing about the number of “serial flasheurs” on the country’s roads. But it’s not what you think as this word is a classic faux ami (false friend). Flasher in French does not mean – as it does in English – someone who has exposed themselves in public.

In fact it means either taking a photograph, shining a (metaphorical) spotlight on something or falling head-over-heels in love. The photographic meaning is the most common, particularly in reference to being photographed by a speed camera.

Pronounced: flah-shay 

Find out more here.

3. Larguer les amarres

This originally nautical expression now has a less literal meaning to “let go” of something or launch something new. It’s most commonly heard in the context of a new start like moving house or starting a new job, or the end of something – in particular the end of a love affair.

Pronounced: lar-gay lays ah-mahr 

Find out more here.

4. Être bouleversé

If dinosaurs could talk, they may have used this French phrase to describe being hit by the asteroid. The word can be used in both extremely happy and extremely sad situations, to describe being either delighted or devastated by a turn of events.

Perhaps its closest English synonym is ‘bowled over’.

Pronounced eh truh bool vehr say

We explain how to use it here.

5. Enculer les mouches

Enculer les mouches has an extremely crude literal translation but as a phrase is actually not all that offensive (although it’s definitely casual).

In English we might call someone who is very picky over grammar and spelling a ‘pedant’, in French it’s the distinctly more dramatic ‘sodomiser of flies’. Interestingly, French is not the only language to have a very rude phrase for pedants, others include ‘comma fucker’ and ‘little dot shitter’.

Pronounced: ahn koo lay lay moosh 

Learn more here.

6. Viandard

We know that traditional French cuisine is quite meat-heavy and the French love their meat. However viandard has two meanings – the first being simply a person who loves meat, the second being an unscrupulous person who exploits others for gain. The secondary meaning is though to come from the hunting world.

Pronounced: vee-ahn-darr

We explain fully here.

7. Vœux

Vœux is the plural form of the word vœu, and is useful at weddings and other solemn occasions because it means ‘vow’. But the reason we have included it in our January roundup is because at the start of the year it is common for politicians, CEOs and other leaders to make ‘vows’ to their electorate or employees. 

Pronounced: vuh

Learn more here.

8. Amortisseur

This word might be already familiar to you if you are unlucky enough to have car trouble in France – it means shock absorber. But it can also be used in a metaphorical sense to describe a device or plan that cushions the blow or softens the impact, and in 2023 has a very specific meaning relating to electricity bills.

Pronounced: ah-more-tee-zur 

Let us tell you more here.

9. 6h pile

As any dictionary will tell you, the main meaning of the French word pile is a battery. However it can be used to mean “exact” or “sharp” when used to describe a moment in time – so 6h pile means “6am sharp” or “6am on the dot”. It’s also used in several phrases and expressions relating to time.

Pronounced: peel 

Full details here.

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