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DELE exam preparation courses at The Spanish Cultural Association of Hong Kong

DELE, or Diploma de Español como Lengua Extranjera (Diploma of Spanish as a Foreign Language), is the only traditional exam to certificate the level of Spanish according to the Common European Framework of Reference for languages, that is following the levels A1 to C2. The other option to certificate the level of Spanish according the same framework is SIELE, although this one is an online exam with very particular features.


In the present article, we will focus on DELE exams and its preparation given it is the most popular option among Hong Kong students of Spanish. However, if you want to know more abut SIELE and its differences when comparing to DELE, please visit our webpage here.


DELE is therefore an exam of a chosen level, A1 to C2, that is paper based and to be taken into an examination room at a fixed date along the year. It is composed of four parts according to the four main communication skills: reading comprehension, listening comprehension, written expression and oral expression and interaction. Although in some other cities around the world the candidates may enjoy more options, in Hong Kong DELE exams take place in May and November, with an extra call in September only for A2 adult candidates.



The need to thoroughly prepare the DELE exam


Learning a foreign language and improving the level is something that a regular language course is aimed at. This type of courses is the most common, and are offered by a wide range of institutions across Hong Kong using also a variety of books according to the age of the students, the level and the methodology preferred by the institution and/or the teacher.


In contrast, DELE preparation courses are not so common, as well as materials and books for specifically preparing the exam and its parts are not so accessible and easy to find. However, we are convinced that thoroughly preparing the exam with appropriate materials and guidance is essential to succeed in the venture of certificating the level of language. At the end of the day enrolling in the exam also costs money, and we don’t want to waste it, right?


The main advantages of joining a DELE preparation course are the following:


1. You will get to perfectly know the different parts of the exam and the dynamic and structure of the activities proposed. It is logical that training for DELE exam should be skill-focused as it is the structure of the exam divided into parts.


In this sense, practicing with real past papers is fundamental and, as we will point later when talking about the materials to use, this is what we offer I our courses.


2. Knowing the exam is not enough if exam skills are not developed in accordance with its structure and parts. It is important then that the teacher helps the candidate to identify the best and most profitable ways to complete the tasks and increase the chance getting more marks, especially when not being 100% sure about the answer.


3. Although grammar is not, and should not be, the main focus of this type of courses, -the candidate should have covered it all before deciding to face DELE-, while training the teacher will always be able identify weaknesses regarding grammar and quickly help the candidate to fix them with clear guidelines.


4. Developing the vocabulary and widening it according to the topics considered for each level is also an essential part of DELE exam preparation. Learning a language is not so manageable and easy to control than learning contents in other areas. Vocabulary, idioms and word combinations for example, are almost endless in every language, and Spanish is not an exception. Therefore, DELE preparation courses are a way to secure that the student broadens his/her vocabulary in a bid to succeed in the exam.



Some extra reasons for choosing DELE in Hong Kong


Asking some of the students that have enrolled in our DELE preparation courses, the main reason underneath their decision was the achievement of a certificate for the level of language: “I think it is important to get an international qualification if possible, as the qualification may help or benefit further studies and employment (in the future)”, Agnes.

Also, having the feeling that the level is completed, and only achieving a certificate can give this step as concluded, is another reason. The same candidate said: “I do not just want to learn Spanish without completing any (official) exam”.


But there is also a strong economic reason for some of our students, and this is getting back most of the money invested in learning Spanish through the Continuing Education Fund (CEF) that the Government of Hong Kong offers to all its permanent residents.


The CEF is aimed at helping professionals to continue their development and improving their abilities and competitiveness. Some language courses taught by renowned Hong Kong institutions are considered under this scheme, so its students can get their enrolment fees back from the CEF if they fulfil some requirements. Hong Kong University School of Continuing and Professional Education (HKU SPACE) and The School of Continuing Education of the Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBUSCE) are the two main organizations offering this option for its foreign language courses, and among them Spanish.


And the most important requirement for students of Spanish to ask the CEF for the enrolment fees back is passing DELE as the only accepted option to certificate the level language achieved.



The foundations of The Spanish Cultural Association of Hong Kong DELE preparation courses: good organization, outstanding materials and well-guided self-study practice


One of the common features of a successful candidate for DELE, but also for any other exam or goals, is a good and clear organization of the steps to be taken and the time available for doing so.


For this reason, the core of our DELE preparation courses is a strong and well-planned timeline that will help the teacher not to leave anything behind. This timeline has been developed by our Academic Coordination together with official examiners of DELE, as well as it has been tested and set up by well experienced teachers of our organization.


Teacher Gara, also an accredited DELE examiner by Instituto Cervantes, preparing her DELE course lessons together with Antonio, academic coordinator in our institution.



The timeline serves as a road map to guide the teacher either in individual training classes or when preparing students in small groups (3 to 4 students). It is also adapted to different length of lessons, 1 hour and a half or 2 hours, according to the level and number of students per group. Moreover, although this document is clear on the tasks to be done along the training session –referring to the materials we will speak below- and the time dedicated to each of them, it leaves some flexibility to perfectly fit the need of the future DELE candidates. This was highly appreciated by our students as we can see in their opinions:


We discussed with the teacher which part we wanted to focus more. Then, she helped to [appropriately] allocate the time of each lesson”, Dunia (candidate of a 4 students group).


[The timeline] Was flexible because I could put more time on the writing and speaking with the teacher as I was doing better in the listening and reading”, Agnes (candidate taking individual DELE preparation lessons).


As said before, the number of options when thinking about study materials is not big, so selecting the most appropriate books and sources is essential for the success of the candidate. The materials do not only have to provide a number of good quality and real past papers, but also guidelines and advises to better complete the exam, as well as meaningful activities for widening and easily memorizing vocabulary of every topic considered in the exam.


In The Spanish Cultural Association of Hong Kong we have analysed a wide range of materials in order to work with the most suitable ones, as well as we have adapted parts of them when needed in order to fit the profile of our students. We even provide extra materials and worksheets in some areas and topics, just a few of them, where the main sources are weak.


Our candidates highly rated the materials used. While Dunia though they were “helpful and useful”, Agnes was more detailed in her descriptions declaring they were “user-friendly because they included both language production exercises (writing and speaking) and language comprehension activities (listening and reading) so that I could practise any form of the language”.


Using appropriate materials and sources is essential for a successful DELE preparation course and for the candidate to live a good and confident experience in the final DELE exam.



Finally, and being pretty honest, we can say that attending the weekly training sessions is the minimum work for preparing DELE, but further work is to be done if wanting to secure the final success in the exam and very good results are expected. Consequently, self-study between lessons is highly recommended.


Furthermore, from the point of view of getting the most of the time with the native Spanish teacher during the lesson, we know that there are parts of the learning practice that the student can do on his/her own. Then, what is the reason for using –wasting- part of the training sessions on this?


Let’s talk for example about some listening practice that the student can do at home, and even self-check, just needing to ask back to the teacher when not understanding properly the mark scheme or important parts of the transcriptions. This way it should be easy to think also about written expression, that the student can practice between lessons. However, we still understand the high importance of the teacher’s feedback on the student’s written practice, so we always guarantee the allocation of some time for this along the next lesson.


Self-study can be very useful as well for the student to bring the learning of new vocabulary as far as desired, especially if, as we also provide in our courses, it is well guided and worthwhile.


From our past students asked, Agnes highly appreciated and -we could even say- enjoyed studying and practicing at home on her own between lesson:


[Self-studying] allowed me to recap and revise the knowledge I learnt in the lesson. The activities proposed by my teacher were perfectly balanced with the pace of the face to face lessons, and no improvement is needed from my point of view”.



The final results


Luckily, Agnes and Dunia got their DELE A1 certificate, Agnes achieving outstanding results and Dunia happy with her performance when taking into account the effort done. Since Agnes has only studied in our institution, she is not eligible for any CEF refund of fees, but Dunia yes will apply back for the fees she paid at the HKBUSCE for her Spanish Introductory course.


Both of them also declared that the DELE preparation course made them feel very confident the day of the official exams. After their Gara’s –their teacher- help and guidance, Agnes and Dunia had a very clear idea about all the parts of the exam, the best way of facing each of them and even how to better use the breaks between the different parts for getting mentally ready for the next step but also for relaxing without losing the focus.


Thanks a lot to Agnes and Dunia for their useful feedback on our courses, as well as thanks Gara for supporting the writing of this article.

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