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French language tests For Members

'Moving the goalposts': Readers react to France's new language requirements

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
'Moving the goalposts': Readers react to France's new language requirements
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Toughened language requirements for French residency cards and citizenship have brought about uncertainty and stress for many foreigners living in France.

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The new immigration law, which was promulgated in January 2024, hardened language requirements for several residency cards and citizenship - forcing many foreigners in France to study longer and pass more French tests.

And these requirements are causing considerable anxiety for many foreigners living in France, especially older people who worry about passing written exams.

New rules

First-time applications for multi-year (pluriannuelle) cards will require an A2 level of French, while first-time applications for a 10-year carte de résident will require a B1 level (up from the previous A2 requirement).

As for citizenship, those applying for naturalisation will have to show a B2 level (instead of B1 at the present requirement).

It remained unclear as of early February exactly when préfectures would begin enforcing the new rules, but the immigration law specified that France's Conseil d'État would be responsible for setting application dates for Article 20 (which covered language changes) by January 2026 at the latest.

You can read a full explanation of how the new rules work HERE

The French government has justified the stricter language requirements by stating that the goal is to increase integration, which some readers agreed with.

Overall, 81 people responded to a survey by The Local, with many asking practical questions - which have been addressed in an FAQ guide.

READ MORE: Your questions answered: New French language requirements for foreigners

Many more expressed their feelings on the topic - some worried that the new rules would just increase already lengthy bureaucratic procedures and complicate life for older retirees. Others even felt they represented a growing anti-immigrant sentiment in France.

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The importance of speaking French

Overall, few of the survey respondents disagreed with the basic principle that people who make their home in France should be able to speak French.

"If you choose to live in this beautiful country then you should make every effort to integrate and learn to speak French fluently. If you have no interest in learning to speak the language of the country you live in then return back to your native country and live there," one anonymous reader responded.

Gregory in Paris, told The Local "Duh. If you live in France, you should speak French. Why is it even an issue?"

Another reader in Paris said: "As the things are in reality, living in France is about knowing the language. I feel this change is fine. I mean there is no way once can really live a wholesome life here if the level of French isn’t minimum A2."

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As for Mike Gibb, a self-described "Brexit refugee with long-term residency, thinking about citizenship", there were several layers to the question.

He said: "At a theoretical level, I completely understand the reasons behind the requirement for tests on language competency. At a pragmatic level, I wonder how many native-born French citizens would fare with the B2 level now required for citizenship were they to sit it (note the playful use of the subjunctive there)."

Exam stress

Mike also noted a concern many readers pinpointed: test-taking. The language requirements are quite onerous; one must pass all four elements of the French exam - speaking, listening, writing and reading - to the level required.

Normally people take all four elements of the exam together, but it is possible to retake the test if you fail.

QUIZ: Could you pass the new French language tests?

"At a personal level, I am not looking forward to sitting exams for the first time in a couple of decades," he said.

Stephen in Bordeaux felt similarly, saying; "I agree with some language requirement for foreigners, I don't think testing is the way to go. Requiring them to take classes would be the approach I would take."

Harriet in Paris said: "[The new requirements] feel pretty tough. By the time people have been here 5+ years, they are usually ingrained enough into French life, including colloquial everyday speaking of a language, but not necessarily precision-perfect exam-style French! So upping the requirement on the latter feels rather unfair."

"Preparing for naturalisation, gathering your dossier, preparing for, booking, sitting and passing your DELF exam… this all takes time and is not cheap. It’s hard to think you were ready to achieve something after having worked for it, only for the goal posts to move!" she added.

"Not everyone has €150 lying around for another test", April in Paris said. 

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While there are regional variations, as well as differences depending on the test taken, the DELF/DALF can be expensive, often ranging between €100 and €200. 

On top of that, it takes time to register for the exam and some centres can take weeks to provide results.

For many readers, especially those who already began getting documents together for their citizenship application, the new rules felt discouraging.

"I think it’s reasonable to demand certain language levels for citizenship, but since I’ve lived in France (since 2016) the requirements have changed twice," said Kimberly in Puteaux.

"That’s what I find difficult and frustrating. It takes time for legislative changes to filter down and actually be applied. Changing the rules adds additional bureaucratic compilations to an already ridiculously complicated process!" she said.

"When you've been working hard to reach B1 for your dossier and then now B2 it pushes the whole effort back in the timeline," another reader in the capital told us.

Chasa Toliver-Léger, who recently took the B1 for the second time in December and passed said: "I'm concerned that all the hard work, time, cost and commitment was for nothing and I’ll have to start over."

READ MORE: How much do French language tests cost and where can I take them?

"B2 is extremely difficult for citizenship," a reader, Alberto, responded. 

Jane in Paris agreed: "B1 French is a level where you can get on with your daily life, have conversations and gradually keep on building up your knowledge of French. B2 level, under test conditions, is a huge leap, especially in the written expression parts".

Older people 

One respondent, Jim Lockard, in Rhône-Alpes pointed out that the new requirements will be especially hard on older people.

Although some older people are exempt from the language test requirements for residency cards, a previous exemption for over 65s applying for citizenship was scrapped in 2020.

Reader question: Are retirees exempt from new language rules?

Another reader told us that while she might be able to pass a language test, her husband has significant cognitive decline.  

"I think that as a general principal, it’s a good idea," Jim said, before adding: "Senior citizens may have difficulty learning a new language for reasons, other than not wanting to be assimilated into France." 

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While the 10-year carte de résident is poised to maintain an exception for people 65 and up, when it comes to citizenship, an age-based exemption to language rules was scrapped back in 2020 so currently almost everyone has to provide proof of their language level.

People with disabilities and cognitive impairment can also be exempted from language requirements (across the board) if they can show a doctor's note.

For Phil Galpin in Occitanie, he referred to the new rules as "understandable, but a pain in the butt for us old folks."

READ MORE: Are pensioners exempt from France's new language test rules?

'Anti-immigrant'

Meanwhile, other respondents saw the changes as disappointing in another way.

Eric, a respondent from the US, told The Local he and his partner are still planning a move to France in the future, despite the new rules. Still, he called the increased language requirements "a worrying harbinger of things potentially to come for a country that has been so proud of its multiculturalism."

"As a couple considering a permanent move to France, we find the new language requirements to be a quite concerning. We’re seeing a growing anti-immigrant sentiment among politicians across Europe along with an associated change in residency laws.

"While we believe it is every new immigrant's responsibility to learn the language and culture of their chosen country, we also feel that the learning a new language can pose the most difficult challenge for new arrivals," Eric said.

For those looking to move to France, it is worth noting that the increased language requirements will be for multi-year cards and citizenship - both of which require multiple years of continuous residency (for most groups). 

Nevertheless, several other readers felt similarly to Eric.

One reader, who responded anonymously, said: "These [changes] are just done for the optics and to pander to those across the political spectrum who think there are 'too many foreigners in France'.

"It doesn't affect European citizens, disproportionately affects minorities from outside the EU and most of all, just adds to bureaucracy, which as we know is already overburdened and tremendously incompetent." 

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Jane in Paris called the move to B2 for citizenship "low-hanging fruit", saying that "[increased language requirements] make them look like they're doing something.

"It will punish those with lower levels of literacy and also formal education, as a lot of the questions in the language tests are as much about structure, logic and quick thinking than actual proficiency in the language. At least B1 had the merit of being reasonably accessible despite that."

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