La Rentrée!… Open House, Free Assessments, Freebies, Contests and More!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

GOTCHA!… Of course I will not be doing any of the above! First, I do not run a school… Second, serious thorough level and need assessments take time and there is a price tag attached to it… Third, in my field, I do not see the relevance of giving away pens or keychains with my name on it… And finally, and not the least, when I hold contests people have to work in order to win! The prizes? Fun and Pride!!! At the end, each participant is a winner!…

There is fierce competition here in Ottawa among language schools… actually, there are too many of them… they grow like mushrooms! Speaking of mushrooms… I will have to take my students to the movies again soon (we will first attend dinner and play this week! Let’s not be too greedy here…)… The last time we were at Starcité in Gatineau, we saw the trailer of a new Québec movie: “Truffe” with Céline Bonnier and Roy Dupuis. I do not really know what the whole story is about, but it appears a group of people starts growing truffles in Montréal’s underground… truffles suddenly being the modern “or noir” (black gold)! And from what I saw, the plot seems to be quite spooky! A must see!

Where was I? Oh yeah… language schools growing like mushrooms in Ottawa! Most of them have been established for quite a good number of years and they are unique… by that, I mean they do not belong to a school chain… the bulk of their students are civil servants. In other words, they mostly contract with the Public Service Commission of Canada… in order to be on the standing offer list of language providers, they have to answer tenders… just doing that is time consuming and, most of the time, they have people dedicated to that sole task! Since the training program is provided by the Commission for groups, the competition is more or less based upon their location, the physical environment and their facilities (for instance, how many fridges? how many phones? how many classrooms? how many parking spaces? how many Tim Horton’s or Starbucks in the surroundings? how many windows? and… I am not kidding!)… On top of group training, they also provide one-on-one training… usually, the “client” (a civil servant in a management position) picks three schools from the list, pays them a short visit and makes a choice based upon feelings more than upon anything else… Sometimes, future trainees are strongly suggested to pick one school over another: if not from their employers, from their peers who are there or went there! Yet their final decision is rarely made on the program content itself (since there is no real structured program, all depends on who their teachers are!).

Then there are those international language schools that have roots all over the world: their prime vocation is to welcome foreign students for several months so they can learn English in the Canadian National Capital… some of them also teach several foreign languages (Spanish, Italian, Chinese, German, Polish, Greek, etc.)… It did not take them long to figure out there were also great opportunities for French training in Ottawa! The government is kind of the city’s milk cow regarding language training and, of course, those schools want their share of the cake! I doubt they are on the providers’ list for group training… it would exceed their physical accomodation capacities, unless they would rent more space in different buildings across the city. Therefore they are not really threatening for the other schools… yet they have a plus with tenders requiring training in many Canadian locations at the same time (Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Montréal, Calgary, Winnipeg, etc.).

Since those schools “à caractère international” are focusing on one-on-one training, they bank on stuff that will be appealing to civil servants… physical environment, classrooms’ comfort, their “nice” approach and their perfect understanding of the necessity to balance personal and “academic” lives (and a bit of condescension to top everything!)… Unlike the other schools, they use full pages in local newspapers to advertize and explain their programs.

Joseph, a long time student of mine (who, by the way, is not a civil servant… he is a self-employed communication consultant), is one of my best informants : curious and witty, he loves to poke up my fire!!! Last week, he gave me an ad/article he had read in some newspaper. It was about one of those international language schools trying to attract manna!

I do not really know where it comes from but all those schools like to call themselves “Academy”… it sounds kind of obsolete to me. The one I am talking about here is not different with regard to this designation… The article was to invite people (read civil servants) to attend their Open House sessions held over a five day period… an opportunity to meet with the faculty, have a free level and need assessment, receive gifts and get a chance of winning tickets for some popular show in town.

The “faculty”? I beg your pardon but, here in this country, only universities have faculties… and they refer to their faculty staff (made of professors!), a faculty not being people! “Meet with our staff” would have been much more appropriate! I bet this school originates from Europe (like most of the other international language schools established in the NCR)… And trust me, none of their teachers deserves the title of a faculty member… even those with PHDs do not since their expertise is not in Linguistics, Andragogy or plain Adult Education (if so, they would be teaching in university, not in a a private language school where they are more than underpaid!)…

Then there is a long article promoting their services… with of course a diatribe against their competitors accusing them (indirectly) of wasting their students’ valuable time by giving them ineffective lessons and using poorly thought-out learning strategies (I admit I kind of agree with that although I do believe there are some language schools that are good and get results… the trick is to find them! and for some reason, I do not think this particular school attacking the others belongs to the cream!…). On the other hand, I did not read anything substantial about their very own program… words and only words with no real meaning… They emphasize on support, practical and motivational advice, adults’ need accommodation (some explanation here would have been a great idea!) and flexibility… nothing on how they teach and achieve goals…

When I meet with a potential client, I do talk about my method, my approach and my program in plain English… I show my books, I explain both my method and out-of-the-box approach, I show them past tangible results and I do not talk about anything else than corporate FSL training! And I never leave a meeting by giving them promotional articles with La Dame dragon written on them! But hey! if they ever really want something from me, other than my expertise, they can go on my web site and download my artistic La Dame dragon wallpaper for their computer screens… this way they will have me right in their faces all day long!…

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

“Il faut s’attendre à tout en politique, où tout est permis, sauf de se laisser surprendre.”

Charles Maurras, homme politique français




  1. foreignlanguageteacher said,

    August 24, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    Though I’m completely unfamiliar with the language school scene, I hear what you’re saying about marketing vs. expertise. In fact, what I’d love to see you take on in a future post are all of the expensive language learning programs for sale on the internet. Although I’ve previewed one and it wasn’t bad, it’s still a far, far, FAR cry from real instruction with a real live, qualified person. I’m sure I’ve been annoying the authors of some of these sites that are dedicated solely to marketing this program or that. “Fluent in 8 weeks.” Oh, please. One blogger went as far as to say that it’s useless to even offer language instruction in schools . . . just use this program. blah, blah, blah (I’m sure you can only imagine that I couldn’t let that post go by without a comment!)

    And another thing is the term “fluent.” How is language ability assessed in Canada? Here, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) developed the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines. We talk of proficiency levels on a pretty specific continuum . . . Novice Low, Novice Mid, Novice High, etc. All of our education standards and benchmarks are based on these national standards. So even though I am often teaching and writing about fun, little activities, the METHOD and OBJECTIVES are always there, because I’m a trained teacher and I take the outcome/assessment piece seriously. Though I’m not a certified in the OPI (Oral Proficiency Interview) I have received training in the modified oral interview used with children.

    I worry about other language bloggers (present company excluded, of course), internet/cd language programs, and now these language schools that you write about. Promises of “fluency” (easy, convenient, “fluency”) with no actual substance.

    Keep tackling these serious topics in your blog. I look forward to internet users turning to your advice as an authority on second language learning. Thanks for another interesting post 🙂

  2. August 24, 2008 at 8:21 pm


    As always you provide me with insightful comments… I really take them seriously because you are a professional and you are a dedicated language teacher.

    Here, I doubt there are any national standards regarding proficiency in the second language (unfortunately)… actually the only ones I do trust are universities because their standards are excellent.

    As for the private language schools, most of them are not even accredited! Actually anyone from anywhere can decide to open and run a language school! It’s scary, it is the least I can say!… The few ones that are accredited are not worth much better, because the requirements are next to none! Once again, they are not asked to show any program they’re using (good thing for them since they have none!).

    The only standards I do know are the ones established by the Public Service Commission of Canada (and only for their employees)… and, once again, they’re questionable! A “C” level, for instance, is supposed to be functional but the evaluation standards are much too high (indeed they meet the standards of bilingual)… In my book, anyone who can pass the level C tests is fluent in French… no question about it!

    “Fluent in 8 weeks”? They’re actually generous 😉 ! I’ve seen much worse: for instance, this guy claiming it is not necessary to attend FSL classes since he came up with a $10 booklet that provides you with everything you need to become fluent on your own! I have over 1,000 pages divided into 6 books! Do I need to go back to school and re-learn the basics of FSL teaching???

    You’re right I should write a post (or many) on those expensive internet language providers. I’d love you to provide me with some links (blogs or schools you actually visited)… then go on my website and on “La Dame Dragon” page, you’ll find my business email… it is the only account I do log in daily!

    Thanks again for your great commentary on this piece!!!

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