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From the DELE B1 to B2 exam in four months

I got my DELE B2 certification exam results this week.

In August, I decided to get serious about learning Spanish. I'd completed the tree a few times. I work best with real accountability and milestones, so I took the DELE B1 exam at the end of November. If you're not familiar with it, the DELE exams are the very rigorous intensive tests of your reading comprehension, writing, listening, and conversation proficiency aligned with the Common European Framework (CEFR). There are un monton of online tests that purport to tell you for CEFR level, but they're not legit because they can't assess conversation, almost never assess writing or listening, and, in my experience, are overly generous in their results compared to the DELE validation.

I wrote before about the first phase of my journey here: From the Spanish tree to DELE B1 exam

I'd sworn to myself and two Spanish teachers that if I got 80% or higher on the B1 exam, then I'd shoot for the B2 at some point. Since I scored 84%, I was committed. Since the incremental preparation for B2 is typically full immersion (i.e. living in a place where Spanish is the primary language) for a year while studying or 300 hours of aggressive, mixed learning, I began to make plans to take the B2 at the end of this year.

But then I saw a ridiculously cheap airfare to Ecuador, available only for two weeks at the end of March and beginning of April. Turned out that there was a DELE administration date in that period. The Galapagos Islands and the B2 for pocket change? Sold!

This is very much not recommended by any language school, the Instituto Cervantes which administers the DELE, or any responsible human being. It just isn't possible to jump from B1 to B2 in 10 weeks without living in Spanish-speaking locale while taking six hours of language instruction per day. Don't fool yourself, no amount of Duolingo alone can possibly, under any circumstances, prepare you for the B2.

But who doesn't like a challenge? I had some advantages. First, I was already very familiar with the structure, pace, rigor, rhythm, and prep strategies for the DELE. Second, I'd studied Spanish in four countries with different accents, tu/vos/vosotros constructs, and idioms, and Ecuador would extend that to a fifth. Third, scoring 99% on the oral conversation portion of the B1 gave me huge confidence.

The B2 is much harder than the B1. The texts and trick questions are denser and trickier, the auditory passages go at lightning speed, and the writing and conversation sections both require really strong use of all tenses and grammatical forms, as well as the present and imperfect subjunctive. If you're not comfortable in the glory of the Spanish subjunctive, don't bother with the B2.

I kept the same study strategies as I'd used for the B1, but doubled down. I read more complicated books, including science and history. I jettisoned most of the podcasts for Spanish learners and replaced them with regular Spanish podcasts (my absolute favorite has been Gabfest en Espanol, which is produced by CNN/Univision/Slate). I watched a lot of Netflix's excellent Spanish-language programs produced in Spain or Mexico, including Ingobernable and El Ministerio del Tiempo. Along with quadrupling the amount of classtime in my local Spanish school, I spent an hour per day with a Spanish tutor in Mexico City over Skype.

My use of Duolingo also changed, as I devoted more time to DL Stories, which do an excellent job of promoting active listening even though the level is A2 to B1. I listened to DL podcasts for a while, but the use of English in the narration and the slow-motion Spanish made the podcasts essentially useless in advancing my learning past A2.

The Results

The DELE exam is grueling, taking nearly an entire day. And then you don't get your results for nearly two months. Mine came this week, and...

...I passed. With a score of 74%, down somewhat from the B1 but easily about the minimum cutoff of 60%. My results by section flipped. In the B1, I had crushed the conversation section, with the scores in the other sections falling out in the order of (2) listening, (3) reading, and (4) writing. But on the B2, it was the reverse: (1) writing, (2) reading, (3) listening, (4) conversation. Not a cause for concern, though, as I passed all four sections. And I got to visit the Galapagos!

I don't see myself going for the C1. The sheer amount of time, focus, and work to get from A1/A2 to B1 to B2 in eight months is more than I could repeat given life circumstances, and the jump to C1 is roughly twice as much work as the jump to B2. I've taken a few online assessments and earned my Lengalia C1 certificate, but I know better than to imagine that I'm anywhere near the level of approximating a native speaker, which is what's required to really validate at the level. But who know, maybe I'll try the C1 level on one or more parts of the SIELE, which is an alternative CEFR test that can be taken by individual section. For now, though, I'll sit back with my B2 certificate, my Galapagos pics, and a bottle of Malbec and just smile.

June 3, 2018


[deactivated user]

    What an exciting learning journey!



    great story...at the moment I am reading it.

    Please make a BACKUP first!!!
    I have seen multiple threads which suddenly gave error 404 and I could not open these threads anymore.

    So in case the DuoLingo discussion forum server / database breaks down, the backup RAID5 hdds all die or this thread is not accessible anymore:

    You should have more than one OFFLINE copy of it on your own NAS, DVD/Blueray systems (no, please not an USB stick!).

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