Le Culte des “Mots-Liens”: An (mental?) Aberration!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

I must admit that, before teaching French as a second language within the Public Service of Canada, I had never heard about the so-called “mots-liens” in French! However, I was constantly reminded of their importance… At first I thought everybody was talking about articles, prepositions and conjunctions… well, it made sense, right? Until the day I was told I was not emphasizing enough the famous mandatory “mots-liens”, if not deliberately ignoring them… I was kind of surprised since I had always insisted on the connectors mentioned above…

Then someone gave me a list (and what a list! I do not even remember how many pages, but there were many… too many indeed!) containing all the “mots-liens” they needed to memorize in order to be successful in all their tests (written, reading and oral)… My reaction was “what in the hell is this???”! Trainees had to memorize and ultimately use words like néammoins, en revanche, en outre, outre cela, d’une part… d’autre part, à prime abord, certes, en effet, de fait, en fait, dorénavant, désormais, nonobstant, cependant, toutefois, par conséquent, conséquemment, en conséquence, premièrement, deuxièment, troisièmement, finalement


Who speaks (or even write) using those words in the 21st Century??? Of course there are some we use occasionally (mainly when we write) yet expressions like outre cela and en revanche have been “reléguées aux oubliettes depuis belle lurette”!… Today no one is preoccupied with style any longer, only with efficient communication. Do you know anyone who speaks English with expressions such as hence, henceforth, furthermore, thus, thus far, on one hand… on the other hand, nevertheless??? I do not!… with the exception of Robert Guy Scully (a well known erudite bilingual Canadian former journalist) who even speaks French in the passé simple tense. But, for some mysterious reason, he sounds so natural that we do not even notice the stylish language he is using (soooo melodious indeed!)… yet coming out from anyone else’s mouth, all these obsolete expressions would sound pompous, if not ridiculous!

 I created turmoil among many of my students who had been brainwashed by Le Culte des “Mots-Liens” gurus when I told them to forget about the list! Some of them had even designed templates containing almost all the connectors, planning to fill in the blanks with whatever! Useless to say it took me lots of patience to de-program the most recalcitrant! But, I am stubborn and I never gave in… My job was to teach them how to communicate efficiently in French and that meant to bring them back to the basics: grammar and syntax!

This week I started with a new student: Jessica is going for her B in oral expression… she was told, by another teacher, she was close to her level. It did not take me long to assess her… she is only an A and, in order to bring her up to the required level, we will have to work seriously on her weaknesses (verbs, prepositions, pronouns, etc.). I just do not get it! Why most language trainers do not speak the truth? Is it because they want to sound “nice”?… Is it because they think their students will not like them anymore by telling them the truth? Or is it simply because they have no clue regarding the language requirements of each level?

Yesterday, going over some essential grammar points, I realized Jessica had never heard about important notions… I could not help it, I bluntly asked her: “What did they teach you?” The only plausible answer she could come up with was: “I don’t know… maybe they just wanted to keep it simple.” If keeping something simple means ignoring basic rules essential to a good understanding of the second language, it has the opposite effect than the one sought in the first place! French is complex… not complicated! Yet, by not providing the basics, those teachers are indeed complicating it. And it seems I am always the one called to the rescue so I can fix the mess they left behind!

Without pretending to generalize, I know for a fact that most FSL teachers/trainers in Ottawa are not qualified for the job… They are either former History teachers, engineers, scientists or accountants who happen to speak, write and read French (for a large number, French is not even their mother tongue!)… I never understood that phenomenon! Would you let an accountant perform heart surgery on your child? Or a cardiologist advise you financially? Or an electrician fix major water leaks in your basement??? I do not think so… Then why giving the responsibility for training thousands of civil servants to just anyone who is not qualified? What kind of results can one expect?

I am specialized in my field… I have educational background and years of experience to support my expertise… yet… is it really valued and recognized? Well… I think the ones who contract with me do when they need someone to put out fires and have no one else to turn to!… It is a bit upsetting though… I would prefer them to trust me right from the beginning. When they contract with language schools or anyone claiming to be FSL teachers, it seems they are only looking at the cost… yes indeed my fees are higher (although not by much)! But I obtain results in less time than my competitors (no need for anyone to under’go full time training with me)… on the long run, by choosing qualified people, they would actually save the money they had intended to save by contracting with cheaper providers… Quality, professionalism and competence come with a price tag…

Robert G. Scully who announced his retirement as a journalist but will continue to do some television shows...

Robert G. Scully quit the CBC/SRC as a journalist in 2000, but continued to work for television... A great reporter I always loved watching and listening to! Impeccable grammar/syntax in both French and English...


This blog moved here, if you are ever interested to get more information on those issues…

“On sait que le propre du génie est de fournir des idées aux crétins une vingtaine d’années plus tard.”

Louis Aragon, écrivain français

Photo Credit: http://www.radio-canada.ca/nouvelles/49/49328.htm



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