As INSEADers are aware, we need at least 3 languages to graduate with our MBA. This is my second (and hopefully last) attempt to pass French at basic level.
I took my Delf A2 exam at Alliance Françise today. It started at 9am and my oral component ended at around 12.40pm. I was there with HT, another INSEAD classmate. We’ve been going for private French lessons together. I was fairly confident it would be better than the RELC exam we took, which was more like B1 standard as it was meant to test French as a second language as well.
Today, we were supposed to do the Listening Comprehension first, but some students arrived late, and after waiting a few minutes in vain, my coordinator said we would all do the written comprehension first. I found it fairly easy and finished with time to pre-read the topics listed in the Listening Comprehension and the Essay section. I thought it was quite doable.
Then the last student came in and we all listened to announcements in French. I thought that was also straightforward though after discussing my answers with HT I might have made a few mistakes. However I am sure I will get at least 50% for these two sections.
HT’s coordinator, in the next room, warned the students that there was a final question at the back of the exam paper. Mine didn’t say anything and I discovered to my chagrin that I had to write a second letter. This last question had two words in the instructions I was not sure about! However I learnt that I made the right guesses - I had to ask for information and also send gifts. I’m not sure if I made the word requirement but oh well, hopefully my first essay will get a higher grade to make up for it.
The oral component was harder than expected. We had 10 minutes to choose which topics and pictures to talk about and describe. I waited for what felt like another 10 minutes outside my examiner’s door before he called me in. We greeted each other. I misheard his first question but he repeated himself and I began talking about myself. I went straight to life at INSEAD and complained happily about how much homework there was to do, how tired I was and how I wanted to become a manager. He understood that clearly. He asked me what am I studying exactly and I said, en anglais, it is called “MBA” which he understood - no way could I remember the French equivalent!
He did not ask specific questions during this segment and when I stopped talking, he asked me to continue sharing even more about myself! After a while you do run out of things that you’ve practised saying, so I took the opportunity to ask him questions about himself! I said je suis celebataire, et vous? He said he was married to a Singaporean and I asked if his wife was Chinese. Now I even know where she works! I praised her company which is a ‘grand hotel’. He seemed happy with that and moved on to the next topic.
That was tougher as I had to talk about TV programs or my favourite recipe! While I knew I could name a number of vegetables to make minestrone, I felt more comfortable talking about CNN which I watch frequently. I ended up discussing American politics, how I was happy that Hillary Clinton became secretary of state, and why I like Barack Obama. It so happened that my examiner was a black guy who also had an international background. Again, he wanted me to say more than I could say. I started insulting George Bush as not having an interest in other people’s lives (I didn’t know how to say ‘warmonger’ in French). There were awkward pauses in between as I grappled for the words.
Things got trickier when he asked me what I thought of CNN. In English I’d have said it’s not bad but still US-centric sometimes. All I could say was pas mal, but I also watched the BBC (thank God for acronyms and recognizable names) and groped for a word in French, saying in English “neutral” - which he offered as ‘neutrale’ in French. I repeated that word. We moved on to the final topic… role play! I was the buyer and the examiner was the seller.
I had to choose between buying 6 types of bicycles or 6 types of cake/bonbons. As I wasn’t sure of technical terms I stuck to buying cakes, saying that it was for dinner tonight at my friends’ place. I noticed there were 2 chocolate cakes so I said my friends preferred chocolate, could he recommend a gâteau? (I might have mauled this question but he understood, so, moving on…) So I threw the ball back in his court and he recommended the two cakes as predicted, and then I asked ‘for this cake xxx’, combien ça coute? And he had to think of a price. It looked like the first time anyone had thrown the question back at him as he took some time to think of a number. Then I asked him how much was the other cake, and he gave a cheaper price. I asked him which was better and he recommended the second one. Since the price was lower and he said it was the specialité of the region, I asked him if it was delicieuse and he said yes! So I said ‘je voudrais acheter le [2nd cake]’. I asked if he accepted credit cards and he said oh yes, so I said voici! voila! We thanked each other and said goodbye. That ended it. Phew!
Of course on hindsight I could’ve done better and been more garrulous - if I really had more ideas to churn out and the vocabulary to go with it. And I was used to practising with more interactivity, and not having a soliloquy. Oh well. Moving on… to next week’s INSEAD exams! C’est tout!