What is the Diploma de español como lengua extranjera (DELE)?
The Diploma de español como lengua extranjera (DELE) is the standard of Spanish competency tests, offered two to three times a year through the Cervantes Institute at testing sites in major cities throughout the world. The test offers three levels, Incial, Intermedio, and Superior and provide a diploma credential for those who'd like to have something more on their résumé than conversational or fluent in Spanish. A fourth level before Inicial will be offered in May of 2009. In the Spanish-speaking world, the DELE superior is recognized as "native-like fluency" for jobs and school.
DELE test format
Although the test differs in its exact format depending on the level, it tests the four language skills, destrezas, if you will: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. The test lasts about 3 hours, and is sent to Spain for grading which takes about 3 months. You have to receive 70% in each section in order to pass the test, so you have to make sure all of your skills are strong.
There are plenty of practice tests on their website, which are a great resource for people preparing to take the test as well as Spanish learners who want to test their skills. Below are my tips for passing the tricky devil by section.
Tips for the written section of the DELE
- Use connecting expressions: Make a list of appropriate expressions at the top of your page and incorporate them appropriately as you write your texts. Some examples: sin embargo, así que, de todos modos, a pesar de que, y no obstante.
- Think in Spanish: you've surely been hearing this since you started learning Spanish, but writing in Spanish makes it especially apparent whether or not you're directly translating word for word from English. Think of chunks or groups of words rather than each word separately, and if you don't have the exact word you want in Spanish, improvise. A Spanish-speaker literally translating to English might say "I have hunger", "it makes 6 years since I traveled", which is simply not the way we say things in English. If you are thinking in English, your text will sound like the phrases above.
- Proofreading: After writing the text, go back through and proofread for concordancia (masculine/feminine and number), subjunctive, and accents.
- Short and sweet: We often think longer sentences are better but the longer the sentence, the more possible confusion you create. If you keep the sentences nice and short, you can make sure you're keeping your meaning clear.
Listening Comprehension tips for the DELE
- Take notes: this may be a personal preference, but I take notes of the main points to keep myself focused (not thinking about my next meal). The second time you listen to the exercise, you can fill in the notes to get a complete meaning.
- Don't overthink the True/False: it's tempting to be too literal, but don't.
Oral tips for the DELE
For the oral test, you have to compare and contrast two different pictures, ranging to one picture of a young boy and a photo of an older couple to a picture of a salad and another of a fast-food meal (in my case).
- Slow down!: It's fine to take a minute to look at the photos and gather your thoughts. Don't feel like you have to start talking immediately, but instead take a minute to come up with a few main points. When you start talking, talk at a slower/measured pace so that you can allow time to formulate thoughts and speak accurately.
- Format: First describe each photo individually, talking about what you see and what sensation you get looking at the photo. Say things like para mi, me parece que. Then, pull together the two photos and draw conclusions.
- Confirm questions: It's certainly normal to get nervous and answer a question that hasn't been asked, so make sure to clarify the question if there's any doubt, with a phrase like "Quiere que explique..."
Reading Comprehension DELE tips
- Underline the important ideas which will help keep you focused (like the auditory section).
- Read questions first: so that you know what to look for as you read.
- Interview questions: Read through both questions and answers, underlining the essence of the question. Then read at the end to make sure it makes sense as a whole.
Grammar tips for the DELE:
The grammar section is one of the toughest with the DELE.
- Huecos: For the sections where you fill in the blank with the correct word of three options, use clues (preposition, reflexive, indirect object) as you make your decision. Many times all three options would make sense, but the answer must be a reflexive verb, por ejemplo. Make sure you understand the meaning of the whole sentence rather than just filling in what word sounds right in the sentence. For por/para, ask yourself ¿por qué? or ¿para qué?. Finally, for subjunctive, ask yourself 1) is it a fact (not attached to emotion) and if not a fact 2) which subjunctive does it use?
- Multiple choice grammar When you see decir, think estilo indirecto (reported speech). Look at verb, is it subjunctive or no? Read both responses. Make sure to fully understand meaning.
- Detection of errors: is only part of the superior test. Most errors fall into the categories below, which are sometimes helpful to write on your sheet as you're working on the test. Instead of thinking of this section as the most difficult part of the test, think of it as an easter egg hunt.
- Sayings/words that go together (para entonces)
How to prepare
- Take classes: there are some online options like Auladiez that have courses specifically for people taking the DELE. If you're in Denver, certainly consider classes through the Denver Spanish House.
- DELE Preparation Books: El Cronometro is a great book to use as you're preparing.
- Practice tests: The online tests through the Cervantes Institute is one of the best resources as you prepare to take the exam. Start with the easier tests and work your way up. If you're planning to take the Superior test, start by taking as many Intermediate tests as you can before moving on up.