How I studied (successfully) for French B2 exam

In June 2019 I sat and passed the B2 exam in French. According to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, this is a vantage or independent user level which should take about 600 hours of study to achieve.

Here is how I studied for this and the tools I used in case it is useful for someone else.

My starting point was that I had studied French at school until GCSE, ie until I was 16 (about 20 years ago). I’d got an A* in that exam but was frustrated when going to France that I still couldn’t really understand anyone or communicate. So I decided to try and improve my French level and the B2 level seemed achievable without actually living in France, but stretching enough to be worthwhile.

I was also trying to fit this work in around a full-time job and having young children at home. I had two hours of commuting to and from work each day, an hour on the bike and an hour on the train and this was my key study period. It’s definitely true that learning a language is not hard, it’s just long. Persistence and consistency are the key, and finding ways to fit the language learning into your daily life and routine. For me that meant using lots of audio, reading the kindle or watching French Netflix on the train.

Key Resources Used

My key resource was Anki and the flashcard techniques from Fluent Forever. Anki is magic. It’s just an amazing method for getting information into your brain and making it stay there. I made 2,400 French cards in the end and I can’t imagine trying to learn a foreign language without it. If this tool was around when I was at school my life would have been a lot easier.


The key thing I learnt from Francais Authentique was that listening is a great way to improve your French (or any other language), but you need to be understanding at least 70% or so of what is being said. You should then listen to the same material over and over again, potentially consulting transcripts as well until you are understanding more like 90% of what is said. This can be pretty boring but it is also very effective. You should also enjoy and be interested in what you are listening to, which goes against the previous direction really…

  • Francais Authentique
    • This is a great set of podcasts and I also actually paid for some of the materials he produces. They were useful and improved my French for sure, but quite boring so I’m not sure I would do that again. Having the transcripts as well as the audio was handy though
    • Was very useful to just have the materials there though, so even when not feeling super motivated I always had the next lesson available and could keep pushing through.
    • This is a great daily podcast which gives the news in easy French. It’s 10 minutes long so I would listen to it 3 times in a row on my cycle into work
    • Genuinely interesting to hear different news stories that were not picked up in the UK
    • Probably should have graduated from this to more difficult, but great to have something immediately accessible and interesting
  • Affairs Sensible
    • This is a great podcast, it’s around an hour long and the first half is usually the telling of some event, followed by a panel discussion
    • There are also some purely fictional episodes which are interesting as well
    • Really enjoyed listening to this, a good one for when going out running or cutting the grass
  • podcasts
    • Some great podcasts here, I can’t remember all the ones I listened to but a wide range of interesting stuff
  • Netflix in French (with or without subtitles)
    • In particular Call My Agent (Dix Pour Cent) and Marseilles
    • These are great to watch and didn’t feel like studying at all


The key tool for my reading practice was my Kindle – it is magic for reading in a foreign language for 2 reasons

  1. It has an inbuilt dictionary so you can immediately look up any word you don’t know
  2. Any word that you do look up is added to a list, so that you can go back and make a flashcard for it and learn it

I started out reading the Harry Potter stories in French, but I’ve never been a fan of those books and was not learning any particularly useful vocabulary. So I switched to reading the Inspector Maigret books which I really did enjoy. It can be difficult to find ebooks in French and I’m sure there are good deals out there I didn’t find


The first thing is that listening to lots of French will improve your ability to speak, and your accent and fluency so just doing lots of listening practice improves your speaking anyway.

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But my main speaking practice was through italki, where you can find people who will give you French lessons online for very reasonable prices, c. £15 / hour. This was great, I could find someone to fit in my schedule and do the classes from home and it worked really well. It is important with this to be clear with the tutor what you want from the lessons, and also don’t be afraid to change tutor if the one you have isn’t working out.


I didn’t do enough writing and this was reflected in my scores. The main resource I used was kwiziq. This is great for improving grammar and is really helpfully organised into the DELF levels so you can tick off everything you need at a particular level. In retrospect though, I should have done more actual practice of the sort of tasks you get in the exam

italki also allows you to submit pieces of writing which will be corrected by the community and I did this a few times.

There is a certain style of writing that you need to execute in the B2 exam, beyond just writing correct French and I didn’t practice this enough.