DELE exam

Today we have a guest post from James P. in Chile.

I am preparing for the advanced DELE exam (just as it will be useful to have a piece of paper to say I can speak Spanish … such is life). I won’t go into how odd it is (muy suyo), but one thing that is very noticeable is that the “vocab” section is very strongly focused on Peninsular Spanish, which makes it almost impossible for all the other Spanish learners. This puts it’s standing as a world level qualification somewhat in question (even native speakers here can’t pass that section).

Let me illustrate with Chilean Spanish. If someone responds to your question about how the party was by saying “bacán won; la pasamo la raja. Había harta mina ¿cachai? Puro carreteando tóo el rato, won.” Is that good or bad? Do you have any idea what they just said to you?

Anyway, it set me thinking about languages with two (or more) “centers” (there is a proper term for this and I can’t remember it at the moment). English is the same: standard UK English is not “better” than standard USA English: there are two norms.

Are there other examples of languages with two or more “standard norms”?

This entry was posted in Language, Spanish.

19 Responses to DELE exam

  1. Ramses says:

    What about Portuguese? Brazilian Portuguese differs quite from Continental Portuguese (of the variant spoken in Angola).

    Regarding Dutch there are some differences in the variant spoken in the Netherlands, Flanders, Antilles and Suriname.

  2. Kristina says:

    Swedish is spoken both in Sweden and Finland, and the variants differ in e.g. vocabulary.

  3. roni says:

    the Spanish situation is similar to french and Quebec French. Or for that matter, the French spoken in many ex-colonies of France. But I’ve seen french tests with vocabulary from France in Quebec.. not in any important, unpassable way, but still.

  4. Helena says:

    Portuguese language differs quite a lot depending on where it is spoken.

    The Standard European (or continental) variant is closer to the Standard variants spoken in the African countries of Cabo Verde, Moçambique, Angola, Guiné-Bissau, São Tomé e Príncipe than to the Standard variant spoken in Brazil.
    This is mainly due to historical factors.
    Up until a few decades ago, this African countries were Portuguese colonies, and so there was a very strong institutional connection between Portugal and this countries up until quite recently.
    Many Portuguese people left this countries and went back to Portugal after the decolonization, but others kept living there. In recent years a new wave of Portuguese immigrants have been moving to some of this African countries, and this fact might influence the language there too.

    The historical connection between Brazil and Portugal has always existed, eversince Brazil was “discovered” in 1500, but as Brazil became independent in 1822, the institutional bonds that united the two countries seased existing, and the Portuguese population who lived there, along with the local population ended up creating their own variety of the language.
    Many scholars say that today one can still notice some more “archaic” features in the Brazilian Portuguese than in the European Portuguese – this is because the vowell systems and the rythm of Brazilian Portuguese is much closer to the one of previous evolutionary stages of the European Portuguese than it is to it’s current stage.

    Furthermore, Portuguese is also the official language of Timor, but there isn’t much information about the variety spoken there yet. It is suposed to be still very close to the standard European Portuguese.
    In the territory of Macau, in southern China, Portuguese is still spoken, even after 1999, (the year of the handover). Most Portuguese speakers there are of European origin, and many of them have either been educated in Portugal or in Portuguese schools in Macau, so I would supose they speak just like us here in Portugal.

    The spelling also differs in many of the countries where Portuguese is the official language.
    Currently, attempts are being made in order to reform the spelling systems as a way to re-unite them. Many African countries seem to agree with this, but there are many schollars and intelectuals who totally disagree with this idea both in Portugal and Brazil.

    Sorry this comment got so long…

  5. Zachary says:

    Yeah, back here in Canada, we follow a different norm from the French. Here, the ‘Office québécois de la langue française’ basically governs over what are the standards for the French language within Canada. In France, the Académie française is seen as the norm for all of France and various other former French colonies.

    Neither are considered better variations, since when written, there’s very little difference between each of their litterary/academic styles. There’s a few words and expressions which might cause ambiguity, but that’s basically it.

    However, the biggest difference comes at the level of spoken French, whereas both accents and dialects are considerably different. Despite that, it shouldn’t cause any majorly noticeable problems on a language assessment examination (which in Ontario, have a far higher rate of success than in English schools).

  6. Ryan says:

    Translation of Chilean Spanish into American English: “Cool dude; we had a bichin’ time. There were so many chicks, you know? We partied the whole time man.”

  7. Henry says:

    Chilean and argentinean spanish are not very different, are they?

  8. Benny Lewis says:

    I’ve also done the DELE superior, but I was lucky to have only had exposure to Peninsular Spanish up to when I did it. I’m now moving to Buenos Aires and learning all the beautiful differences. As far as vocabulary goes, the test does *try* to be international and some of the speakers in the Aural section are Latin American, and occasionally some “American” words will come up that you would never hear in Spain. But the priority has to veer towards one dialect. Keep in mind that Spanish movies and TV shows make it across the Atlantic (as well as the opposite direction for Latin American telenovelas) and I find that most Latin Americans are at least somewhat aware of those words they would never use (the same way as I understand American English words as an Irishman, even though I may never use them myself).

    @James – that kind of sentence (which Ryan just translated) would NEVER appear in any kind of formal examination, including in Chile (unless it was a formal examination about slang). The Spanish equivalent would never be tested on the DELE. The formal Spanish expected of you in that exam is quite different to actual spoken Spanish. (one example; the use of “ustedes”, you plural, is encouraged and comes up on the exam in several different places, but in two years in Spain I never heard that word/conjugation other than for formal speeches, with “vosotros” taking over all the time). For academic purposes, knowledge of slang words and informalities are not very much prioritized (even though they are obviously important). This is why I think it kind of works as an “international” examination; formal written Spanish is much more consistent, especially in every aspect of the examination except the vocabulary section, even if there are obvious differences.

    I agree with Roni and Zachary; France have taken control of their language and promote Parisian French as the best version to be used internationally, but the ‘Office québécois de la langue française’ are also doing a great job in Webec. Once again, Quebecers are aware of French words they would never use, mostly thanks to the media. Although sadly the opposite isn’t true and when a “joual” word slips out of me if talking to a French person, they never understand it (once again this is paralleled with most Americans not being even slightly aware of any British/Irish/Australian/etc. words). It goes back to the philosophical question of if you “really” speak a language if you can’t be understood everywhere that language is spoken…

  9. Strika says:

    I am Mexican and I understand very your Chilean phrase (even if we don’t use those words in Mexico). I think that sometimes understanding depends more on willingness than knowledge.

  10. Strika says:

    I meant to say: I understand very “well” your Chilean phrase… Sorry for the mistake!

  11. Peter says:

    The term you are looking for is “pluricentric language” – see

    There are lots of them around – Mandarin Chinese has both PR China and ROC Taiwan standards, High German has Germany, Austria and Switzerland as standards, Macedonian and Bulgarian are variants of one language, as are Moldavian and Rumanian etc.

  12. James P says:

    pluricentric 😉 that´s it.

    (1) bacán won; la pasamo la raja. Había harta mina ¿cachai? Puro carreteando tóo el rato, won. In UK English would be something like “It was wicked, mate: F*ckin brilliant time. There was loads of fit girls, know what I mean? [not sure how to translate this next bit in slang]. We just partied all the time, mate”

    (2) The recent DELE papers I have seen are testing peninsular slang and idioms. Obviously I gave you an extreme example. It´s more amusing. Here´s a realistic one (again using Chilean Spanish)

    ¿Qué tal la nueva vecina?
    Mmm, no sé…. Es muy siútica.

    Is she:
    (a) very standoffish
    (b) intimidatingly elegant
    (c) very pretentious

    I have to say I don´t really like the DELE exam from what I have seen of past papers so far due to the multiple choice answers for the listening and reading comprehension. I could simultaneously interpret the listening and translate the reading or give a paraphrase of either in Spanish, but I am instead forced to try and work out which of three cryptic summaries best fit the text. Sometimes all of them seem to, other times none. It almost seems more a test of how well I understand the examiners and not the language (interestingly the Spanish (ie Peninsular) head of the language school where I am taking it agrees with me both on the vocab issue and on the multiple choice questions). Now I guess they do it like that as it´s much easier (read cheaper) to mark, but despite being “easier” it´s less fair, as you can understand it perfectly and still get it wrong. Not looking forward to the exam.

    (3) Chilean and Argentinean Spanish share a number of features: some vocab (like “mina”, “chau” for “hasta luego”, “re” for “very” and “auto” for “car” instead of “coche” or “carro”), and some phonetic features (both are lowland Spanish with aspirated segment final s), but they are also very different. Chile has a depressingly large amount of unique vocab which means that everyone struggles when they first come here (or at least the Argentinean, Uruguayan, Paraguayan, Bolivian, Mexican, Colombian, Costa Rican and Spanish speakers I have talked to about it), the “vos” form is not only morphologically, but social-linguistically very different. Etc etc. Some linguists place Chilean Spanish in it´s own group (at the very least Argentinean and Uruguayan have to go together, and arguably Paraguayan)

    (4) The thing that I didn´t make explicit, which is perhaps the most interesting thing to me, is how the dynamic of how different standards are seen socially in the other “center(s)/centre(s)”

  13. AR says:

    Standard Hindi and Standard Urdu can be considered a pluricentric language because they differ greatly in vocabulary (and sometimes writing system. Urdu IS sometimes written in Devanagari).
    Then again, they cannot be called a pluricentric language because they are both based on the basic grammar and vocabulary of the Khariboli speakers in and around Delhi.
    The language that is neutral (when spoken) is usually called Hindustani.

    Language can also be pluricentric in the same geographical location, by having very, very distinct registers. For instance in Bangla (Bengali), literature before about 100 years ago was written in Shadhubhasha (sagely language), which was based on a more archaic language and had many direct Sanskrit loan words.
    Today, the written standard is called Cholitobhasha (current/running language) and is based on the spoken language of Nadia (Nodia) district in Central West Bengal.
    People speak all kinds of dialects all over the country but the written language is essentially the same. People speak the neutral written language to people from other areas.

  14. Peter J. Franke says:

    Adding to Dutch: another, not mentioned by Ramses (very first) comment, variation of Dutch is the Indonesian-Dutch ( “Indisch”) . Still spoken by the so called “Indo” population in the Netherlands as well as by Dutch related families within Indonesia and by old Indonesian recidents who learned Dutch at school. Like Flamish, Antillian Dutch and Surinam Dutch, Indisch Nederlands has its own accent and expressings.

    Question for Helena: What about Goan Portuguese?

  15. Maggie says:

    @Roni and Zachary:

    Yes, the situation with Parisian and Quebec French is similar. Recently, I was in Finland on vacation flipping channels on tv and came across a Quebec TV program that was actually subtitled into Parisian French. I mean, I’m from Canada and live in Ottawa so I am used to hearing Quebec slang, but I’ve been to Belgium and France and I can’t imagine that people there would actually have that much trouble understanding the show…

  16. James P says:

    I´ve been told by people here that Chilean telenovelas are dubbed into standard Latin american spanish so that they can be sold to other countries 😉

  17. Phil says:

    Apparently, Norwegian never had a standard due to the fact they were taken over first by Denmark then Sweden who imposed their languages as the language of administration and prestige.

    This is reflected in the written system. There’s bokmal and nynorsk, but apparently Norwegians pick and choose from both systems to represent more closely their speech.

  18. Michael says:

    It’s interesting because considering French to be a pluricentric language can only be a fairly recent distinction. Up until recently TV and radio news anchors were required to use very European pronunciations.

    I think it needs to be argued that classifying a language as pluricentric should not be a thing done lightly or hastily, and any one distinction as such can often quite easily be countered. Nowadays most, not all, but most countries allow their national dialect of a given language to be used on the news, in newspapers and in other formal settings reserved for a “standard.” But how many of these standards are recognized as standards abroad, outside of these countries? English has two indisputable centers, England and the US. But we all know that there are tons of other countries where English is spoken and all use their own dialects, or at least pronunciations as their national standards. But are these standards recognized as such internationally. Largely no. Most people who want their children to learn English would want them to learn either British English or American English. New Zealand English and Canadian English are not often picked by students of English as a desired “standard” to learn, unless it’s for a very country-specific reason, rather than simply just “to learn English”. I think this needs to taken into account when we throw around the word “pluricentric.” By this thought process languages like French, Dutch, German and Mandarin Chinese (spoken) would seen to be “mono-centric.” These languages have only one standard that is internationally “recognized” and sought after. Many of my Québécois friends often complain that they cannot get jobs as French language teachers abroad, because their French is considered sub-standard, a “bastardization” (of course I vehemently disagree, but the ignorant folk, shall we call them, do in fact believe that).
    Languages like English, Spanish, Portuguese and, I would agree with AR, Hindi/Urdu can indisputably be considered pluricentric since we can see that internationally you have people desiring “en masse” to learn both standards.
    Norwegian is an interesting case, along the lines of what AR was talking about with Bengali.
    Serbo-Croatian is another one for thought. It certainly has two “centers” from where different versions of the language come, but can the two official, formal, standard forms (again going with only spoken) really be considered different enough to warrant being deemed as different standards, and from there pluricentric?

  19. Polly says:

    Wouldn’t Arabic be considered a multi-centered language? There are several standards: Levantine, Gulf, Maghrebi, Egyptian, etc

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