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In another one of those interesting little twists of fate, a friend once asked me if I’d ever been to any Italian film festivals, or if I knew of any. I actually hadn’t at the time, although the question piqued my interest and I decided to do a quick search on the Web to see if I could find anything in London. Quite quickly, I came across the website of the Italian Cultural Institute in London. This is an official organisation, affiliated to the Italian Foreign Ministry (typically referred to as “La Farnesina”, after the building in Rome), that promotes Italian language and culture in various cities around the world. It’s the Italian equivalent of the British Council, which plays a similar role for the UK.

Reading their events pages, I noticed that they run some free public screenings of Italian films. Although I decided I would definitely go along (as I did), my attention was drawn to the pages about an examination called the CELI (Certificazione di Conoscenza della Lingua Italiana, or Certification of Knowledge of the Italian Language). There were five levels of difficulty, from CELI1 (beginners) to CELI5 (advanced/fluent). There was also CELI5 DOC (docenti, or lecturers), which was aimed at people wishing to qualify as teachers of Italian. The exam would take place at the Institute and the actual marking and certificate would be provided by the Università per Stranieri di Perugia (the Foreigners’ University of Perugia). Many students from around Europe and the rest of the world go to Perugia to study Italian, so this would be an official certificate from a well-known Italian university.

Well, I felt the germ of a desire growing in me. What if I were to take the CELI5 exam? Surely not. I hadn’t really spoken any Italian for years. The exam had five parts: reading, writing, listening, speaking, and linguistic comprehension. I downloaded some of the past exam papers. They were tough to say the least. Anyway, the challenge took over and I signed up for the next exam, which gave me about four months to prepare.

Nearly every day I spent an hour or so going through the past papers, reading Italian websites online, reviewing grammar rules, and listening to Italian radio (usually RAI2 or 3) and podcasts. It was intense. My friend found it amusing that from her simple question about film festivals, I had ended up preparing for a ridiculously tough language exam. 🙂

Finally, the day arrived, about a few weeks after my return from Trieste, so I was hoping I was still in a sufficiently ‘Italian’ state of mind to help me with the exam. There were about ten or so students taking the exam but I was the only one doing CELI5. The pressure was on!

First up came the listening test, which consisted of listening to a radio interview and answering various questions about the content. Then came reading, followed by writing (hardest of all) and linguistic comprehension. Finally, the bit I was actually looking forward to–the speaking test. This mainly involved having to speak in some depth about various photographs and pieces of Italian poetry.

I had to wait about three months for the results. I got a B. 🙂 I was very pleased with this to say the least, although when I looked at the breakdown in the marks, I realised the writing test had been the one that had let me down a bit. Oh well, you can’t have it all.

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