Is my French level appropriate for a French conversation group?

Given my level of ability in French, would it be appropriate for me to participate in a conversation group?

There exist various groups that meet regularly (e.g., weekly or monthly) to speak French. The purpose is partly social, but mostly is centered on practicing French. Sometimes the groups meet in a public restaurant or café, or sometimes they meet in such places as a library conference room, a meeting room in a school or some other organization, or less often in members' homes.

Everyone is generally welcome as long as they want to speak French with other people, but these groups are more appropriate for some than for others.

If you are a native speaker of French, you will always be very welcome, even (or perhaps especially) if your French is rusty after many years in Anglophonia. These groups are always much more successful if there is at least one native speaker participating.

If you a native French-speaking recent arrival in Anglophonia, and you want to practice your English or have questions about how things work here, you will almost always find what you need, either directly or indirectly, if you participate in a local French conversation groups.

If you are not a native speaker of French and have never participated in a conversation group before, then the question becomes more difficult. If you are not capable of fairly easy conversation in French, then the conversation group format is obviously not what you need. But how to know if you have sufficient command of the French language in order to have a satisfactory experience in a conversation group?

First, some background. In 2001, the Conseil de l'Europe published a document known as the “CECR” or the “Cadre” (Le Cadre européen de référence pour les langues — Apprendre, Enseigner, Évaluer). Part of this document is a scale used to classify the ability level of language learners. Here is a description of the standard ability levels in this system.

There are many sites on the Internet that offer free online tests of French ability using the Cadre. Note that these are only approximations of the “real” tests, which are not free and are generally given by governments, schools, or by organizations such as the Educational Testing Service (http://www.ets.org/tfi/about). Some but not all of the free online tests include a listening (audio) segment. Since no humans are involved, none include tests of speaking ability. You can find these tests with Google using searches such as test de niveau français en ligne gratuit. Here are some examples:


If you are wondering about your overall level in French, it could be worthwhile for you to take several different online tests (emphasize those that include a listening segment). It is unlikely that you will be at exactly the same level for each test, so you will get some idea of the range of your ability level (within the limitations of online testing). For example, if you score A2,B1,B1, you could think of yourself as roughly a B1-; A2,A2,B1 could be roughly an A2+.

The key here is the oral level. Sometimes, groups will discuss things that participants have read or written, but reading and writing ability is generally much less important than the ability to converse. So, if you tended to have a lower level on tests with relatively more reading and writing, then you might want to weight more highly the scores associated with tests that had a stronger speaking element (and vice versa, of course). Also, if you are a “good test taker” (or “bad at tests”), you should probably lower (raise) your score a notch, since you might have scored higher (lower) than your actual ability level.

If you are at level B2 (Avancé/Indépendant) or higher, then a conversation group will be ideal for you. That said, a motivated B1 (Seuil) or even an A2+ (Intermédiaire/de Survie) with strong conversational ability should be reasonably successful in many conversation groups. If you are A2 or lower, then perhaps you should wait a while before trying a conversation group. If you are at level C1 (Autonome) or higher, then you might find many conversation groups somewhat slow, depending on the levels of the other participants (but you already know that).