The DELF B2 – Listening Section
Welcome to the 2nd part of my series on How to Pass the DELF B2. I recently took and passed the tough French exam through self-study and 1-on-1 Skype lessons to practice the speaking part of the exam. These articles serve to help you prepare yourself based on my own experience. This article focuses on the Listening part.
The listening section (Compréhension de l’Oral) of the DELF B2 is regarded by many as the hardest of the 4 sections. I found this assertion to be true. I struggled a lot during my study time, and I feared catastrophe had struck when I took the exam. I was sure I would pass the whole exam if I could attain the minimum of 5 marks to pass the listening part.
Here’s what the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages says about what a DELF B2 level student should be capable of:
Je peux comprendre des conférences et des discours assez longs et même suivre une argumentation complexe si le sujet m'en est relativement familier et si le plan général de l'exposé est indiqué par des marqueurs explicites..
Je peux comprendre des conférences et des discours assez longs et même suivre une argumentation complexe si le sujet m'en est relativement familier et si le plan général de l'exposé est indiqué par des marqueurs explicites..CEFR
This translates to:
I can understand conferences and speeches that are quite long in duration and even follow a complex argument if I am relatively familiar with the subject and if the general plan of the presentation is explicitly indicated.
Je peux comprendre la plupart des documentaires radiodiffusés en langue standard.CEFR
And this one in English:
I can understand, for the most part, radio broadcasts in the standard language register (formal).
DELF B2 Listening Section Structure
- 1 short audio recording of between 1.5 and 2 minutes followed by 5 or 6 “closed” questions i.e. multiple choice or one or two word answers.
- 1 longer audio recording of between 4 and 6 minutes followed by around 12 questions, some of which you’ll have to draft answers and some will be multiple choice. Studying is required to train yourself for this part.
Note: The order above was reversed for me and this knocked me off balance. Be prepared.
Out of 25 marks you need a minimum of 5 to pass this section. If you don’t pass this section you cannot pass the exam.
Why is it so difficult?
Perhaps it was more difficult more me because I don’t spend much time listening to French politics, environmental news, and other serious issues like that. The DELF examiners love to test you on these kind of issues as well as society, education, and crime. However the main reason that many learners find this section so tough is that it involves a lot of advanced language, at often native speed, about quite involved topics. There’s no way at B2 you will understand everything that’s being said. So you must train yourself for things to look out for.
Two types of listeners
In my opinion in the context of learning a foreign language there are two types of listeners:
- Those who instinctively hear a piece of speech in the foreign language and get the general gist while tuning out individual words.
- Those who’s ears try to tune in to details within the speech (I’m definitely one of these).
If you are in the first category I think you will find this section a lot easier (but you still need to practice!). You will be able to understand the general meaning of the audio while being able to focus on the format of the piece. It could be a critique, a discussion, a display of emotion over a particular subject. Those of us who are stuck in the second category have to work very hard to tune out the urge to not listen for every word. What’s the solution? Practice.
What hindered me?
The order of the audio recordings was reversed for my exam. My text book suggested it would short recording followed by long. Be prepared for this. This section was the first of the exam. I was nervous, and panicked, missing the beginning of the recording. Be able to to recover and focus. If you are struggling with listening remember you only need 5! You can smash the other sections! But you need at least 5 here!
How to beat the listening section
If you already have regular chances to practice your listening i.e. having conversations these will really help you focus your efforts on the exam’s requirements.
Stay calm and listen carefully to the recording while getting a complete overview of what/who is being discussed, how many people are involved, what is the purpose etc. Do not try and focus on individual words or you will lose track and miss the next part. It is particularly important that you read the questions carefully before you hear the first play of the track. This will help you answer the questions that require a numerical answer i.e. a car registration, a date, or a phone number. If these are too difficult, ignore them. Numbers are hard indeed!
Be an active listener
Be able to determine what’s useful and what’s not. Take notes if you are able to do so without losing track of what’s being said. What knocked me off balance here was the sheer speed of the real exam. Practice test questions as much as possible!
Get a great exercise book
As previously mentioned in How To Pass the DELF B2 there are many, many audio activities you can follow in the Réussir Le DELF B2 (link to Amazon) book. These are the best tailored activities because they prepare you for the exam. It teaches you to listen out for tone of voice, inflections to indicate questions, whether personal opinions are being given or if it is an unbiased report of facts.
These are not just great for speaking you know! If you are studying for the DELF B2 you will already be regularly practicing already. However, my favourite techniques for practicing listening in Montpellier have been:
- Montpellier Internationals meetup – 1 hour in French followed by 1 hour in English (or vice versa) on Thursdays.
- GoLingo language exchange – in Montpellier and London. A kind of speed-dating format. 8 mins in each language then you change partners.
- Franglish – 7 minutes in each language. Is truly global: 9 cities in France, and 8 across UK, USA, Canada, Italy, and Belgium.
- italki – Global online network for finding language teachers and partners on Skype. Perfect if there are none of the above where you are!
- Make French friends. This way it’s (almost) effortless to practice because you have to speak and therefore listen to responses. I say “almost” because my head still hurts when talking about new subjects.
French news sites
A few news sites in France have an “apprendre” (learning) section on their website. A couple I have used are:
- RFI Français Facile – A daily global news breakdown in 10 minutes. They speak at the speed expected to be understood for B2 level. You hear a mixture of francophone accents. From France and Belgium to Quebec and Senegal.
- TV5 Monde – Audio and video activities with exercises to complete. This website is regularly updated.
Leverage the similarities between French and English
I passed because despite not spending time listening to specific audio on the 8 or so common topics of the DELF B2, I have a good general vocabulary in English across most topics. Apparently 70% of English vocabulary is shared with French. This helps me massively to determine what’s being said even if my ears have not even said. Here are some examples:
- The verbs “to contribute” and “contribuer”, “to procrastinate” and “procrastiner”.
- Organisation, realisation (most -tion words mean the same thing!).
Obviously there are thousands more. These come naturally for me as my ear sort of translates them. Perhaps it’ll come in handy for you if you’re not doing it already.
Marathon not a sprint
You can use the above resources to really skill up, and you will if you listen regularly and make sure you are staying curious and attentive, writing down new words all the time. However, I passed because I had developed my listening regularly over many months. Having conversations, listening to different podcasts, interactive activities, and generally keeping it varied and fresh. There’s no point in turning on the radio because you think you’ll passively absorb lots. I don’t believe in passive learning.
Passive learning only helps in 1 way
I agree with Benny Lewis when he says:
Other learners swear by passive listening all day long as a means of learning a language. I was already sceptical about it, but now I’m convinced that it’s not a practical use of time (at least for me)Benny Lewis of Fluent in 3 Months
If you are doing a lot of work already to practice your listening skills then having the radio on in the background can help you acclimatise to the natural rhythm of French speakers. But you should not consider it a practice exercise in itself. There’s no substitute for actual work.
So there you have it. My tips to beat the DELF B2 listening section. It’s tough, no doubt about it, but as usual. Practice with the right materials is key.