Less than ten days left are in July, but I thought I would return to topic of language learning before other commitments take me away from this blog. I have a new challenge on the horizon but before that I want to stress the importance of holding on to what you already have.

Call me rash, foolhardy or ambitious but I have a new goal coming up that involves a language proficiency test in French. While this will naturally involve scheming, studying and socialising in the language, I feel that this is as good a moment as any to make a few clarifying points on language proficiency tests in general. I am definitely not an expert, having only sat one of them in my life, but my arguments here are generic so I believe they will stand-up. My point with this post is not to try and discourage others from sitting such exams but to highlight the fact that reaching and maintaining an advanced level in a language is a big commitment.

What they represent

 Some people make the mistake of thinking that passing such a proficiency exam is a permanent record of your knowledge of the language. I freely admit that that is how I saw the DELE exam before I sat it, but really I think we need to consider such exams in a different way as they purely show the proficiency you had at the time you sat the exam. Put in a different way, it shows you reached preceding the exam, but nothing about whether you have maintained the same level since then.

 I may have passed an exam that says I have an advanced level, but I am not going to claim for one moment that means I am done learning the language. There are still a lot of things I need to learn, such as specific terms, or revise as may be the case. In my experience there will always be grammar points that you will need to look up in a grammar reference. The only way to avoid making this an ordeal is to try and keep the language you have as polished as you can. That means revising vocabulary, practising speaking and workbook exercises.

Use it or lose it

As the old maxim says, the more you practice, the better you get. The reverse naturally applies when you stop practicing, which sadly I have noticed over the last few months. To help counter that I have tried to return to some of the regular practice I did in the lead up to the exam. This involves doing exercises on a weekly from El Cronómetro, reading El País online and listening to the news in Spanish. I may not have the energy or the time to do these with the same intensity as a few months ago, but I have found that these exercises have helped immensely and that my Spanish comes back much more fluidly when I have had to use it.

 In all, I think such tests are immensely beneficial at improving your level and that giving yourself an objective helps focus your efforts most effectively. But let us not make the mistake of seeing these tests as the be-all and end-all of language learning. Maintaining a high level that you are ready to employ, either in writing a cover letter or in speaking to a colleague, is far more important than a mere certificate. In the end, language is about communication, so studying a foreign one needs to be focused on the same.

What do you think about such proficiency tests? Feel free to share you thoughts in the comments.

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