French citizenship For Members

How long does it take for your French to be good enough for citizenship?

James Harrington
James Harrington - [email protected]
How long does it take for your French to be good enough for citizenship?
A written test is part of the B1 language exam. (Photo by THOMAS COEX / AFP)

If you want to become French you will need to speak the language to a competent standard - but roughly how long does it usually take to reach that level?


Naturally how quickly you learn French depends on all sorts of factors, from how immersed you are in the language in daily life to how much time you can spare for studying. But there are some guidelines to how long it usually takes. 

What level do I need for French nationality?

In order to apply for French naturalisation, you must prove that French is at least at B1 level - you will need a certificate proving that you have passed an French language exam at B1 level or above that has been issued within the last two years in order to apply for citizenship through residency (unless you have studied at a Francophone university).

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A long-awaited immigration bill that’s going through Parliament this autumn could also include requirements on French language skills for long-term residency for new arrivals. But, for now, there’s no minimum level for residency.


At present the Office français de l'immigration et de l'integration (OFII) can order people who have no or very little French to attend language classes, but there is no requirement to pass any kind of test. The guideline level for this is that anyone with French at A2 level or above will not be required to take classes.

What is B1 French like? 

B1 is the first intermediate level. You should be able to communicate well in daily situations, with anyone speaking ‘standard’ French.

You should be “self-sufficient in most travel situations where French is spoken” and be able to engage in “simple and coherent discourse on familiar subjects and in areas of interest”. You should also be able to “recount an event, experience or dream, describe a hope or goal, and briefly explain a project or idea”.

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B1 level speakers are expected to know the past-perfect tense, the past and present conditional tenses, and speaking using hypotheses (si - or if).

The Local has put together a quiz based on past exam papers for the B1 exam - take the quiz here

How does this differ from A1 or A2 level? 

A1 is a basic, introductory level where you should be able to “understand and use familiar, everyday expressions; respond with very basic statements to simple questions; know how to introduce yourself or someone else”.

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At this level you ought to be able to ask or give directions to a place, and talk about time and weather. 

The Local has put together a quiz based on past papers of A1 French exams - take the quiz here.

A2 is one step above A1, moving toward everyday language capabilities.

At this point, you should be able to “understand single phrases and frequently used expressions that are used in everyday environments, such as when giving personal details or ordering food”.

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You should be able to communicate about simple, daily tasks that require only an exchange of direct information on familiar subjects.


Are there any other levels?

Yes, B2, C1, and C2.

B2 is the upper intermediate level. You should “be able to understand and read about both concrete and abstract topics; communicate spontaneously and easily with a native speaker; speak clearly and in detail on a wide range of topics, express an opinion on a relevant topic and discuss the pros and cons of a particular subject”.

C1 is the first advanced level. Many French language learners find it challenging to move from the B2 upper intermediate level to C1. But most French universities require C1 level French in order to enrol on a study programme, although some programmes accept B2.


At the first advanced level, you should be able to comprehend long and demanding texts and capture implied meanings; speak spontaneously and fluently without struggling or having to look for words; use language effectively and flexibly in social, professional or academic life; express yourself on complex subjects in a clear and well-structured way that demonstrates control over syntax, strong articulation and cohesion of discourse.

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C2 is the highest language level according to the CERL - it corresponds with having a master or near-native level in the language (although having an accent is no impediment to achieving C2 level, as long as you can be clearly understood by a French person).

How long will it take to pass a B1 exam? 

The 'how long is a piece of string' question. Remember school? Learning a language is very subjective and takes different people different lengths of time, depending in part on how intensive and immersive their lessons are, and how much time they spend practising outside the classroom. 

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And there’s knowledge of other languages. If you are already familiar with another romance language - Italian, or Spanish, for example, you’ll find there are more than a few crossovers that will make learning French easier. 

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The CEFR estimates that you’ll need to study for 350-400 hours to reach B1 from scratch, so a couple of hours a week is two years or so. If you’re already at the A1/A2 level, cut that down to an additional 150-200 hours of study. The more time you can commit, the shorter the timescale.

The most important thing is that you learn at a pace that suits you best.

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How do I prove my level of French?

You must be able to present one of the following

  • A French DELF language certificate that’s less than two years old 
  • A baccalaureate or brevet certificate from a French school - that proves you were educated in France
  • Proof of higher education degrees in French. 


What does the language exam involve?

The exam itself has four sections: a written, reading, listening and an oral test, in which you have a conversation with an examiner.

Oral comprehension – 25 minutes. This test involves listening to a recording 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;

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 test. 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. 


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