Italian B1 Citizenship Language Test Results!
Updated: Sep 15, 2022
About the B1 Cittadinanza Italian Language Exam
A couple of months ago, I wrote about how Marco and I trekked from Melilli to Milazzo for my Italian language exam. Passing the B1 level exam is now a requirement for securing Italian citizenship by marriage.
I'd initially planned to take the exam in the U.S. earlier in the spring, but woke up with a killer migraine on the day of the test. So, while we were in Sicily, I contacted every Sicilian language school until I found one that offered the exam in July: the Laboling school in Milazzo.
The B1 Cittadinanza exam is an abbreviated version of the full B1 exam. It contains four parts: listening comprehension, reading comprehension, written production (writing in response to a prompt), and oral production (speaking on a subject).
Learning Italian...Without Leaving Our Brooklyn Apartment
I started studying Italian in the early days of the pandemic. At first, I signed up for both the Duolingo and Babbel apps. Language learning apps are not the best. To be honest, I don't think you can learn a language with an app alone. They're fine for practicing vocabulary, but not that useful otherwise.
After a year without much consistency or progress in my studies, in January 2021, I buckled down. I started working with Italian tutors online through iTalki. I embarked on a whole self-created Netflix immersion program. My first big win there was being able to understand cheesy American teen comedies dubbed in Italian (with Italian subtitles).
I also discovered what turned out to be key to bringing Italian into my daily Brooklyn lock-down life: Olly Richards' StoryLearning program.
As is clear from this blog, I'm a writer and I love stories. The StoryLearning method capitalizes on this by using actual stories (written and audio) tailored to your level as a language-learner. The program teaches you grammar and then, through the stories, demonstrates it in action. I'm still using the program today, because it's so flexible and fun. Yes, I'm a huge fan.
Once Marco and I arrived in Italy, I also had the chance to practice my Italian multiple times a day. Chatting with cousins. Chatting with neighbors. Calling customer service lines (phone calls are the hardest). Messaging on WhatsApp with plumbers and electricians.
And, my favorite, arguing with delivery guys!
It took me a whole month before I was able to actually win an argument in Italian with a delivery guy. But let's just say, it was a very motivating language goal.
Italian vs Sicilian
One wrinkle of studying Italian in Sicily is that some people, particularly older generations in villages like Melilli, speak more Sicilian than Italian. And, yes, Sicilian is a very different language (it's even recognized by UNESCO as an endangered language).
When people are speaking Sicilian, I can barely follow conversations. This is especially true for what Marco and I refer as "old man mumble Sicilian." In these cases, I rely on Marco for translation, since he grew up listening to the language.
Adding to the mix, among Sicilians who have lived for long periods in the U.S., there's also the phenomenon of Siculish: the Sicilianization of English language words. Luckily, Marco taught me some key words just in time to understand a joke his uncle made.
baccausu - Siculish for outhouse, from the English words "back" and "house," but today refers to any functioning bathroom.
All of this makes studying Italian among Sicilians a true adventure. Indeed, one of my first goals was to be able to have a conversation in Italian with Marco's elderly Sicilian father who speaks little English.
When Marco and I visit his father, we've developed a complex system of communication. I say something in Italian. Marco's father answers in Sicilian, with a few Siculish words. Marco translates to English, then we decide together how to reply in Italian. I'm happy to say, it mostly works.
My Italian B1 Exam Experience
Before the exam, I searched Facebook Italian language learning groups for everything I could find about first-hand experiences with the test. The best tip I found was that you'll be given two exam documents.
An exam booklet, which contains the readings, multiple choice questions (for the listening and reading comprehension sections), and the prompts for the writing section.
An official "answers" sheet where you fill in the bubbles for the multiple choice questions, and another sheet for your "written production."
The trick is that you can write all over the exam booklet (especially for your notes during the listening portion), but your answer sheet needs to be pristine.
Since it was July, I had expected the exam session to be poorly attended. But the classroom—which had brilliant orange walls—was full with about twelve nervous test-takers, all women.
A couple of the other B1 hopefuls seemed to know the teachers at the school, and two women appeared to be friends. But most of us sat silently, albeit nervously, at our desks in the hot room, the windows open to the street to catch the slight sea breeze. Masks were required, which I was grateful for.
When the teachers, also women, came in to begin the exam, they closed the windows and turned on the air conditioning. It's fair to say, we were all still sweating.
In total, I was at the exam center for about three hours. My favorite portion of the exam ended up being the written section. Of the two prompts, I chose to respond to the second one: "write an email to a company you'd placed an order from, but the company had sent the wrong items." I needed to explain to the fake company, in Italian, what I'd ordered, what they'd sent, how it had inconvenienced me, and that I demanded a refund.
All those arguments with delivery guys would actually pay off on my exam!
After the exam, friends and family asked how I thought it went. I mean, it's like taking finals. You hope you pass. You felt like you knew the answers. But let's be honest, you could be mistaken.
That sense is magnified with a language exam, particularly the writing and speaking portions. A single sentence, written or spoken, presents a hundred ways to make a mistake. Did you use the right verb tense? Did you conjugate it correctly? What about those pesky Italian prepositions?
While I felt good about the written portion, I was nervous about the oral portion because I had made a strategic error in topic selection.
Okay, let me back up one second. For the oral exam, I was led into a room where I sat at a table across from the instructor. Before the exam, she explained what would happen in Italian. First, she'd ask me basic introductory questions about myself (such as why are you studying Italian?). Then, I'd have to speak on a topic. I don't remember all the topics, but there were between three and five I could choose from. And I had to choose in advance.
I'd been nervous about getting a hard topic. But one of the topics was perfect and easy: Talk about your language study methods. The other topic that stuck in my mind was to discuss art and music. Yeah, that one sounded tricky.
I had only seconds to decide. In advance, I'd told myself to pick the easiest topic. But for some unknown reason I chose the art and music topic!
With the topic selected, the teacher clicked on the old-school pocket tape recorder, and the oral exam began.
The intro parts when great. And then came the hard topic I'd foolishly chosen.
I admit, I stumbled. I couldn't find the correct words to say what I wanted. But I strung some together nonetheless, until the instructor mercifully clicked off the tape recorder.
The final exam materials, the answer sheet, written section, and the audio recording of me attempting to discuss ART, would all be sent "to the north." Meaning, to the university in northern Italy where graders would review everything and determine if I had passed.
The instructors warned it would take at least one month, potentially two, to get our results. We were given a slip of paper with our individual exam code and instructions, obviously in Italian, for how to navigate the university's site and find our results.
I expected the results to take months. But I started checking about one month post-exam anyway. Nothing. Nothing. And then, a couple days ago, there they were. The results!!!
The site's results page font was very tiny, so I had to click open the certificate to figure out if I'd passed.
I was thrilled. But in reviewing which sections I did great on (listening or "asc." and writing or "scr.") and which ones I did "good enough" on (reading or "let." and, unsurprisingly, "ora." or speaking about ART), I became more motivated than ever to study.
The exam results are essentially a personalized study guide, tailored just for me. I know what I need to practice. I need to read more, keep learning more advanced grammar, and expand my vocabulary.
With the language exam behind me, I'm obviously going to continue studying Italian. But I also now have the incredible privilege of officially starting the application process for Italian citizenship. Which means there is a lot of paperwork in our future.
The whole process could take several years. There's really no way to predict if my application will move quickly or slowly. I've heard people's experiences both ways.
Regardless, I don't mind paperwork at all. Especially if the end result is living in Sicily with Italian citizenship.