To read on more issues about the PSC SLE testing…

If what you read on this blog was of any interest to you,  then follow me on La Dame dragon’s Blog… not only will you have the opportunity to read more interesting articles on issues pertaining to corporate language training, but you will also be able to test your skills in French bi-weekly by taking my little quizzes and tests.

Also, if you are a Canadian public servant or someone who applied for a position within the federal government and are looking for the latest information on the French SLE testing (reading comprehension, written expression and oral interaction), you will certainly get some answers to your questions.  You will also get some useful tips on how to prepare adequately for those tests.

It is an invitation to join me and my loyal readers in a fun environment! You already missed out on many posts since last September… lots of stuff happened, which still inspires my stories!



C’est donc un rendez-vous au


La Dame dragon is Spreading her Wings and Leaving the Nest to Fly on her Own!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

When I started this blog some time in June, I had no clue where it would lead me… I had launched my new website at the beginning of May and, at the time, my web designer had set up an account for me on WordPress… just in case! It actually sat there for almost two months… I have to admit I was quite prejudice to blogging before I started doing it myself! Busy and time challenged, I had never read anything else but newspapers (and books of course!): the dragon was kind of a dinosaur indeed! Although open-minded, I had pre-conceived ideas on blogs… I was convinced people were using the net to rant, vent and write about their daily petty lives and, unfortunately, the first times I visited blogs my opinion was only reinforced! Until the day I logged in my WordPress account and came across many interesting ones: I then started to seriously peruse some posts and I have to say I did discover quite a few gems… So… mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

Since I had a knack for writing and sound knowledge in my field of expertise, I thought it could be fun to share my views, opinions and experience through a blog…  though I was not expecting anything out of it at the time.

My greatest challenge was to decide how I would present my topics! Stuff related to Corporate Second Language Training and Evaluation is kind of dry when approached from a theoretical stance… and, since my niche was also quite narrow, I had to find a way to attract readers without having them yawning after the first paragraph, dozing off after the second and snoaring after the third! I knew I could not build readership if I sounded too clinical… Thanks to my creative side and great sense of humor, I came up with the neat idea of introducing my topics using stories with recurrent characters.

My everyday work provides me with tons of topics and anything happening in a classroom is a trigger for a new story. Therefore I slowly introduced my characters one by one and, from there, followed them in their learning process… All of my former and present students saw no harm in using them as my main characters: actually they loooooooove it! Even Dave, who at the beginning was a little reluctant, finally agreed that using his devastating experience with the PPC at the Public Service Commission of Canada regarding his needs for accomodation was serving a greater purpose: his story created awareness among civil servants in Second Language training and informed them about their rights (information that is often shadowed by their employer)…

De fil en aiguille, de bouche à oreille, my readership grew… my students, their colleagues, their families, their friends… civil servants seeking information regarding SLE tests… individuals interested in the field… Because of my followers and growing number of readers, I decided it was time to move on… and have my blog connected to my website on my domain name… Et c’est maintenant chose faite! This blog moved to:

Thanks to my web/blog designer marti garaughty, The Blog Artist, who connected both my sites to make them interactive and created a pretty HOT blog with my unique brand… My new Blog will still be about Issues pertaining to Corporate Language Training and Evaluation (and related ideas) and my readers will be able to continue following my characters and their tribulations. We added new features (which were originally on my website) such as Correct your mistakes!, References and Tools, Suggestions and What’s on… pages that I will be now able to update myself as often as I want to keep you well informed…

You are invited to enter La Dame dragon’s Den

and enjoy a journey in my professional life!…

Thank you all!

See you there soon! 😉

The 3 Sacred Rules of the Holy French Grammar!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

Rule #1, rule #2, rule #3… Do you know them? Well… ask Seema then! She can recite them on the tip of her fingers! None of the previous rules we covered in class ever sank in so quickly and so deeply… and God knows that rules on the agreement of the past participle are pure non sense! Therefore it is not easy to teach them… all I know for sure is that we need to apply those rules, otherwise we will look (and even sometimes sound!) illiterate. For years I tried to come up with some rational explanations regarding their purpose and, unfortunately, I never found anything that could ease my students’ pain… Of course, I could choose to shadow those weird rules. Perhaps they are not taught in classes where French is viewed as a foreign language (Diane could enlighten me on that!), but here French is either people’s mother tongue or second language… it is not part of the foreign language curriculum: both English and French are the official languages of Canada. Consequently, we cannot avoid rules based upon their non sense and difficulty level… There are no differences in the way we teach either French or English as a native language and a second language. Francos and Anglos are equally in agonies when they learn French grammar… I tend to say it is only fairness!!! And somewhat it creates awareness among recalcitrant Anglos who think that French is a second class language (heureusement, c’est une espèce en voie d’extinction! à tout le moins dans l’Est du Canada…)… once they start learning it, they have more respect (if not admiration) for Francophones…

The three basic rules on the past participle agreement are no exceptions… Teaching them (as well as learning them) is like pulling teeth. Since there is no logic, I summarize and present them in a crude manner:

Rule #1: “Être”

The past participle ALWAYS agrees with the subject of the verb

e.g.: Elle (subject, f. s.) est allée (f. s.) au cinéma hier

Rule #2: “Avoir”

The past participle agrees with the direct object IF and ONLY IF this direct object is placed in front of the verb

e.g.: Elle a écrit (no change) sa lettre (direct object) / Elle l‘ (direct object, f. s.) a écrite (f. s.)

Rule #3: “Les verbes pronominaux”

a) verbes essentiellement pronominaux – Rule #1

e.g.: Elle (subject, f. s.) s’est soudainement souvenue (f. s.) de ce jour-là

b) verbes accidentellement pronominaux – Rule #2

e.g.: Elle s‘ (direct object, f. s.) est lavée (f. s.) / Elle s’est lavé (no change) les mains (direct object) / Elle se les (direct object, f. pl.) est lavées (f. pl.)

I am quite flexible when I give explanations, but when I do teach those three rules I keep everything simple and I do not dig any further: they are complex enough and pushing too far would only confuse my students. All they have to do is: memorize, memorize, memorize and then apply, apply, apply until it becomes a reflex…

Exceptionally last week Seema, James and Dave attended the same class… Since both James and Dave will have to write or re-write their grammar tests soon, I saw an opportunity for them to review those sacred three rules (which are widely used as traps in government exams!). Seema and I had ended our last class just before rule #3, therefore I moved on knowing that both James and Dave could help her understanding this last basic rule on the past participle agreement. She had already learned the two first rules and she was quite at ease applying them… and surprisingly she had not put her complicated analytical thinking at work… her grinder was off! I thought it would go rather smoothly with the last (but not the least!) rule…

I am usually very patient with my students… well… read me: usually!!! When I lose my temper, it is mostly due to my trainees’ tendency to peel every layer of every small rule… for some reasons, it pushes the right button! And… I’m passionate! One of my very French traits!

After a quick review of rule #1 and rule #2, I asked the guys “When do you apply rule #3?” Dave turned to Seema and said “you have two types of verbs and you…” I then stopped him and repeated my question… Same analytical answer from Dave. Then James jumped into his peer’s explanation and went on with another even longer one… Bingo! I had already raised my voice by two or three notes but at that point I just yelled at both of them “Are you listening to my question? When I ask you a simple direct question, just answer it and don’t start with the justification!” I just could not believe it! They both looked at me saying “Yes but we do have two types of verbs…” Okay guys, time off! “When I ask you when you do apply rule #3, the answer should be: when using pronominal verbs! End of the story!” Useless to say that Seema was looking at me with her big eyes… in total dismay! Of course, she knew about my occasional outbursts yet she had never been a witness on the front line! On the other hand, James and Dave did not make a big fuss of it… only because they are kind of used to my ways by now…  They know it is for their own good! 😉

Later that day, on our way back from our evening at the theater Seema said she had a real good understanding of rule #1, rule #2 and rule #3… actually she had never learned something so quickly in her entire life! I guess she will never forget those three golden rules in French!

The next morning she talked to Alice about the three rules on the past participle agreement… then she recited them… when she got to rule #3, Alice said she had no recollection of this specific rule (if she had ever learned it!)… Seema’s answer was “Well… now you know it!” Alice’s last comment was “Maybe I need to be yelled at more often, then I would remember all the rules!”

Yesterday, almost a week later, Seema came to class and we moved on with exercises on rule #3… for the very first time in my entire career, I did not have to refresh a student’s memory: those three very important rules are engraved in Seema’s brain forever… and I know she will not fall into traps when she will write her grammar test. Three little non sense rules that can make a huge difference between a B and a C

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

“Je ne veux pas aller à l’école, car on y apprend des choses que je ne sais pas.”

Marguerite Duras


The Ultimate Test: Less Challenging than Anticipated!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

Last Wednesday we had a guest speaker… Exceptionally Seema, James and Dave attended class together that day. I took advantage of this rare opportunity for asking Elmadi to stop by and gave us his impressions regarding his oral test.

Elmadi had just returned from one year full time FSL training after having obtained the required levels (reading, written expression and oral expression) of his position. I was interested in having his testimonial because I had no clue regarding the new oral test implemented June 16, 2008. Of course I had read a document providing an exhaustive description of this new test, but I had never actually spoken with someone who had taken it. After I heard that Elmadi was back to work, I asked Dave to invite him to pay us a visit so we all could learn from his experience.

I was not sure whether he would accept or not… actually it was quite intimidating: I was asking him to do a presentation in French in front of his colleagues and, even worse, in front of their teacher who could judge the quality of his second language. I do not know many civil servants who would be willing to put themselves in such a situation… it is like being tested again! Yet Elmadi (a real gentleman by the way) accepted with grace… Of course I could have had met with him on my own, but I thought it would be very useful for my students (who will soon have to be tested) to hear the scoop from a colleague who had gone through the same painful process: months of training, ups and downs, frustrations, worries, anxiety, etc.

He finally knocked on our door some time around 11 o’clock that morning… I was kind of surprised to see he was totally at ease with me… Obviously, as a rookie, he had not heard about me yet! Without necessarily looking for it, I have the reputation of being a dragon and I doubt there is anyone left in this building who is not a bit scared of me! Rumors as well as reputation travel rather quickly in a workplace… In a way I am glad he was introduced to me before he will be told how “mean” the French teacher is!… Actually I am not mean, I am only tough! But viewed from the outside, my unique personal way of dealing with problems in the classroom may be misinterpreted…

Apparently learning French was difficult for Elmadi… yet is there anyone out there for whom it is not difficult? Even the ones who seem to learn with easiness encounter walls sooner or later! How delightful it was to hear his first words “Ne vous inquiétez pas, l’examen oral est facile… très facile!”… Since I had never heard someone say something like this about the oral test, I must admit I was a bit skeptical! Either the Public Service Commission lowered its evaluation standards or Elmadi was on some really good drugs that day! The test description I had read a couple of months ago had not left me under the impression it was easy and even less “very” easy… But I had no reasons for doubting Elmadi’s word! His statement was undeniably sincere…

I was very surprised when he said in the first part of the exam he was asked only two or three questions (the description said six)… I wanted to know if it were accidental, but he confirmed it was the usual trend. Great! According to him, those questions are more or less a mise-en-train“Où travaillez-vous? Où votre bureau est-il situé? Quelles sont vos principales tâches?”… A real bonus indeed!

In the second part, he had to listen to four recordings… “Mais très simples… de courts messages téléphoniques de 10 à 30 secondes chacun max!” Incroyable mais vrai!!! I asked him to provide us with some samples. The two first recordings sounded like this: “Bonjour, je vous rappelle que la réunion du conseil d’administration aura lieu demain matin à 9h”, “Bonjour, veuillez prendre note que la réunion du 2 septembre a été reportée au 4, à 14h”, “Bonjour, je vous ai envoyé les documents que vous m’avez demandés. Vous devriez les recevoir demain au plus tard.” The two last ones involved two people having a very short phone conversation. Then, the assessor asked him to summarize those messages and conversations… since they were very short, all he had to do was to basically repeat the whole thing. On top of it, he was allowed to take down notes on paper… Gee! L’enfance de l’art quoi!

I expected him to tell me that the third part of the test was much more difficult… On the contrary he said it was quite easy. Of course, this testimonial is based upon Elmadi’s opinion… some other people might think differently. Any oral test will always remains subjective… no one will ever convince me that it is possible to evaluate oral proficiency objectively! The Commission’s panel of experts can spend years and years on modifying the tests yet they will never be purged of personal opinions and subjective assessments. Anyways… je retourne à mes moutons!

So… in this third part of the exam, the assessor proposed him three topics and he had to choose one he would like to talk about. He was given 1.5 minute to prepare his 2 minute monologue : sort out his thoughts, organize them in a coherent manner, etc. He said those two minutes, when he talked, went by very fast…

Finally, there was the fourth part which is usually reserved for people being assessed for a C level. Elmadi had probably done quite well in the previous parts because the assessor made the decision to try and push further. Most of the time, it is the best way to determine if a candidate who displayed good skills is actually a B or may possibly be a C. Obviously Elmadi was a good B and not a C… I was kind of relieved to hear him say this last part was very difficult because, at that point, I was concerned about the Commission’s standards regarding bilinguism!

Once again, he had to listen to a tape… but this time, the recording was much longer and the topic was abstract (well… someone with a C level is expected to speak about abstract notions and concepts!)… afterwards he was asked a series of questions ” Êtes-vous d’accord sur la façon dont le gestionnaire a répondu à son employé?”, ” Si vous aviez été à la place de cet employé, auriez-vous tenté de trouver une autre solution?” … et ainsi de suite… He actually did answer, but he was not able to elaborate on the topic. Consequently, he received a B… and it is what he was tested for. He now meets the requirements of his position in reading, written expression and oral expression… Elmadi will be able to relax until he will be re-tested in five years. My recommendation is that he tries and maintains his French level (by using it!!!) so he will not have to go on training again…

À la lumière de cet exposé, if my trainees show confidence, keep focused on answering questions in a simple manner and avoid analyzing everything… chances are Dave, James, Susan and Jessica will get their B level easily (and Seema later on… she still has a long way to go before her testing). I am a little less confident about Alice’s performance… not because she is not close to a C, only because my gut feeling tells me the oral test standards for the B were considerably lowered and I am afraid the standards for the C were raised… By 2010, most positions that are currently BBB will be turned into CBC… therefore I do think a B will become what an A is now: nothing! No candidates are actually tested for the obtaining of an A… the minimum requirement being a B, someone getting a lower level is considered unilingual. It looks like competencies’ inflation to me!… People might need more and more skills to prove their competence in their second language…

Elmadi’s presention was good… he was at ease and quite confident… yet if he had been tested with the older version of the oral test, he would have failed his B… My assessment is based upon the Commission’s criterias before June 16, 2008… it has nothing to do with Elmadi’s communication competencies in French… His message was conveyed in a way we all understood. And I want to thank him personally for his time and insight… I do believe he managed to reassure those who will pass the oral test very soon. The more we know, the more we will be ready to face the music…

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

“Il n’y a pas de problème; il n’y a que des solutions. L’esprit de l’homme invente ensuite le problème.”

André Gide


The Unfathomable Abyss of the Human Brain…

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

I have always been staggered, if not fascinated, by the functioning of the human brain (especially when that brain belongs to an Anglo!)… This ugly grey spongious “raw material” is extremely “hi-tech”! No computers will ever think like a human brain, as sophisticated they might be… every time I see a story on the latest technological gadget, I am quite impressed! Not with the whatsit itself though… rather with the brain behind it!…

In the early 70s, I had come across an article saying that the human brain was getting more information on a daily basis than the brain of a man from the 19th Century during the course of his life. That was almost 40 years ago (am I that old? Gee!)… before the computer age! Just try and imagine how it is now: Instead of a daily basis, we are probably now speaking of a hourly basis (and I am generous here!). This little ugly thing is quite resourceful, is it not? Fortunately, our brain has the capacity to sort out that information for us and retain only what is useful and interesting… Otherwise we all would turn insanely insane! And… Thank God, this is probably why most of us suck at trivia games! Who can possibly remember every little insignificant thing that is thrown at us?

Monday I introduced the demonstrative adjectives to Seema : ce, cet, cette and ces. It certainly was not one of the most difficult concepts she encountered (compared to personal pronouns objects, demonstratives are a piece of cake!)… I often accuse my students of being too analytical, especially scientists like James, Dave and Seema… I try and do my best to provide them with clear and easy explanations because I do believe it is useless to complicate something that is already complex enough to start with. I consider that they do not need to shell and dig deeper into rules which, most of the time, make no sense… yes, there is usually a reason for their being yet it is “the way it is”! I used to think both Dave and James were my toughest students: always analyzing stuff… just unable to live with my basic explanations! When pushed too far, this type of thinking process, unfortunately, can only lead to confusion when applied to language acquisition. Sometimes, you just have to let it go! Well… I had not met Seema! I really do not have a clue of how her brain is actually functioning… Many times I tried to follow her reasoning, but I miserably failed to understand it!

It would be impossible for me to list examples here because I would not know how to do it logically. Do not get me wrong here! Seema is veeeeeeery intelligent!… Yet sometimes I believe it is a deterrent to her learning. Although I admit she makes me laugh all the time! Thanks to her good sense of humor!…

Back to Monday… she was working on filling in the blanks with the correct demonstrative adjective (according to the gender and the number of each noun)… Of course, Seema always reflects out loud! There was this sentence: Ils ont pris ____ avion. I heard her saying “Avion… plane… okay! plane is masculine singular.” For a minute there, I probably looked like a total idiot… then she said “Cet avion! Plane est masculin, non?” Yes Seema! avion is masculine, plane is not! Because “plane” is neither masculine nor feminine… “plane” is neutral just like any other nouns in English! “Really?… well it’s big! enough to be masculine!” she said. “Okay Seema… rewind the tape and éclaire ma lanterne s’il-te-plaît because I really don’t have a clue what you’re talking about!”

Then she explained how her brain had processed the info I had given her regarding genders (at that very moment, I wished I had been a cell which would have enabled me to enter her brain and follow the thread of her personal logic!)… Some time ago, I had told her about one of my former students who had reacted strongly (a macho reaction, nothing more!) to the fact that voiture was feminine… according to him, a car had to be masculine because traditionally cars were part of male culture (???)… Since I had seen a potential endless argument coming, I had told him the French had thought of him by giving him un camion instead of une voiture!

Personally I would have forgotten about such an insignificant anecdote, but Seema had not! She had stored this information somewhere in her brain so she could retrieve it one day! Fine! But Monday I was still unable to link the truck to the plane… she told me a truck was big and a plane was even bigger, therefore it had to be masculine! I was about to tell her it was not relevant at all… gender was not based upon sizes!… Then I quickly reviewed nouns like autobus, autocar, métro, bateau, navire, voilier, paquebot, train, sous-marin… they all are masculine!!! And… they all are BIG! As illogical her explanation may have appeared to me, as true it was… I am pretty sure one day I will find an exception to Seema’s rule, but French is made of exceptions and, let’s be honest here, absurdities… one more will not add to the difficulty level!

I realized each of my students has a different way of processing the information I give them each time I see them… what makes sense for Seema would probably make no sense at all for either James or Dave… They all have their own schemes, their own grids, their own cross references, their own tips… and who am I to tell them they are wrong? As long as it works for them and they learn, I do not really care which path they take… Of course I would prefer them to take the simple, straight path… but, for some, it is necessary to go down a winding path only because they have a tortuous reasoning… I guess this is why they are scientists and I am not!

Whatever they do to accelerate their learning process… whatever their reasoning is, they all end up reading, writing, understanding and speaking French by reflex (which is the ultimate goal)… Today, during class, I had a 20 minute casual conversation with Susan in French… a couple of times, she plugged a y without even thinking of it and what I saw in this young woman’s eyes was pride and pure bliss!!! At the end of the day, it is all I need to convince myself I did my job! and not any job… a great job!

“L’obstacle est le chemin.”

Proverbe zen

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


The #2 Fear Factor

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

If age is the #1 fear factor (read my previous post) for most people thinking of learning (or being compelled to learn) a second language, FAILURE is certainly the 2nd one! But… the question is: what are they afraid of actually failing? Of course, people learn a new language at different paces… some pick it up very quickly, others may need more time… but I never met anyone who could not learn at all! We all learned how to speak our mother tongue, didn’t we?

In my practice, I observed that Anglo-saxons were the ones who feared new languages the most… And I have no rational explanation for such a phenomenon… They believe (falsely) they lack the necessary skills, therefore they are not the most confident when they enter a language training program. Around here, Francophones say it is only because Anglophones are too arrogant to learn French (or any other languages)… I totally disagree on this! When they brag about the fact they do not need to learn a language they will never use anyways, they are only masking their fear… They have their pride and they do not want to admit publicly they are scared.

Compared to French, English seems much easier (is it???)… Obviously there are less rules due to the fact that the English world is not divided in two: feminine vs masculine… so many rules in French are derived directly from that particularity alone! And learning how to conjugate verbs is not an easy task either… In French there are no words such as would and will to turn a verb into either a conditional present or a future. That being said, every language has its differences and difficulty levels… for instance, in English, learning the right pronunciation is probably the most difficult… take the sound “ough” in words like though, trough, through, tough, thought… it is quite a challenge for anyone who does not have a “good” ear!

If I had to come up with some kind of explanation, I would say that, in North America, native Anglophones did not feel the need to learn a second language for a very long time… but the world evolved and being unilingual may close a few doors in terms of job opportunities. It is probably the reason why now so many English-speaking Canadians send their kids in French immersion schools… the very same people who, less than 20 years ago, did not see the benefits of being bilingual… while their parents are still afraid of failure, those children have a positive attitude and they enjoy learning French!

Among civil servants who must learn French in order to get or keep a position, this fear is even greater… because not only they do feel inadequate, but they have the Épée de Damoclès hanging above their heads: the fear of failing their tests!!!

Today I started preparing a young woman for her oral test… she told me how nervous she was: there was no need for it because I could feel her stress the minute I met with her… it was obvious she was not anticipating to have any fun during her 8 weeks of part-time training!

Anyone else would have not paid attention and would not have let her express her true feelings and fears… They would have started the army drill right away, letting her know that she had little time and she could not afford to waste any of it discussing issues that were irrelevant. Well… I did waste some time with her to discuss what indeed is very relevant to me!!! And while doing so, I slowly brought her back to some grammar basics… it did not take long before she felt totally at ease! When she left, I knew I had gained her trust and, from there, everything will soar… I admit we laughed a lot and we made fun of the upcoming oral test, but she also actually LEARNED more about French…

I managed to put her fear of failing the test asleep for at least the duration of her training… of course, she will get nervous again when we will approach her testing date. Yet I am convinced she will be confident that she will succeed and if she ever failed her B that first time, she will not take it as the worst moment of her life… she will only try it again until she gets her level! At least, no one will have had her feel like a failure. Hey! the woman will get 32 hours of training before her test… what do you expect??? Being realistic about what she can achieve and what she cannot will help her to go through this much more easily…

And Susan… I promise you one thing: I will do my best to make your training enjoyable and useful… I will not push you around and force French down your throat for the mere purpose of passing a test… I do not keep official statistics records on my students’ achievements! Give me your best girl, and I will be proud of you!…

The End of the Road… The End of my Rope…

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

That’s it!… The verdict came in Wednesday (quite fast actually!)… Of course Dave could have pushed the issue further, but the PPC would have dragged the process for months. The question was: was he ready to invest more effort and energy into something that would probably totally drain him and leave him without any gain at the end? I would have myself chosen to pursue only for my very own satisfaction of having shaken the tree… but, it is not about me! It is about a man who can no longer be under such stress without seeing his condition worsen. And, since he will have to take his written test (the current 65 question version) again, he has to think of that stress first! He has not decided yet whether he will re-write his reading test (he already got his required level, but we both know he can get a C) or not… that will be up to him.

The answer from the PPC was really disappointing… Actually it did not answer the requests that were made: It was a long reasoning on the benefits of converting raw scores into standard scores… apparently, in some instances, candidates would find “standard scores easier to interpret because the numerical values for the mean and standard deviation are consistent across test versions”. In other instances, candidates would prefer “raw scores based on familiarity with these values”. What do you prefer? I do not need your answer because I know for sure you prefer to know the exact number of questions you got right!!!

When David told me he had obtained 42/80, I was quite proud of him because he had answered more than half of the questions correctly… At the time, we were not aware that both, the cut-off scores and his score, were standard! At least, the PPC was kind enough to provide him with his raw score which is 36/80! That changes everything! He did not get half of the answers correctly… as his trainer, it is what I need to know because it is the only way to assess his actual level and try to figure out what his weaknesses are (of course, if he had access to the test he wrote, it would certainly help! but in our dreams! that will never happen!). He was also provided with both, the raw cut-off scores and the standard cut-off scores:

  • Level A    Raw 27    Standard 36
  • Level B    Raw 41    Standard 46
  • Level C    Raw 58    Standard 57

Apparently the fact that the scores would be reported as standard scores was publicly communicated in advance on the PPC web site (given someone can find the said web site, which is incorporated in the Public Service Commission web site!). How come then Jenn, Janet and ZZ who had done thorough research prior to their tests did not know (and still do not!) that their results were actually not reflecting the exact number of correct anwers? Also they never questioned the fact they had not received any official signed document stating their levels, assuming it was part of the new procedure… Dave searched in the PPC archives to find such a public announcement: all he could find was a memo sent to assessors to tell them the PPC would do the conversion into standard scores (therefore they had to forward all candidates’ answer sheets to the PPC) in order to avoid any mistakes. Average John/Jane Doe would not even understand the content of such a message anyways, thinking it is addressed to specialists and has nothing to do with the tests themselves. Usually, when communicating news or modifications publicly, we use plain English to make sure everybody will understand… not some internal statistical jargon… Anyways…

Before all of this, although I always thought the Commission’s testing tools were questionable (once I met a guy who had obtained an E – exemption – in reading and a X – no knowledge at all – in oral interaction… he admitted he knew nothing, but had always been very lucky at lottery and multiple choice exams!) and seemed to be focused on figures (for mere statistical purposes I guess!) rather than on knowledge of the second language, I had never contemplated the possibility of finding out flaws such as the ones I discovered while researching for Dave’s appeal. All I can say is that all this is very sad… and even more sad because the PPC will always come up with some rationale or reasoning that actually no one (unless they are experts in the field) can argue.

What will be next? Well… since Dave’s new accommodations will take long, his training will be extended (again) until he will re-write his tests.. and since his raw score brought his weaknesses to light, I will have him review some grammatical basics (I do think we will have plenty of time for doing so…)… all this will postpone his oral test and I will not be able to focus on that until he gets his required level in writing. What a waste of time and money!

I realized the machine is way too big to try and win a battle against it… however, it is every single civil servant’s right to ask questions and request more information when they think their rights have been encroached upon. It is a matter of self-respect and integrity… and, perhaps, if there are enough people out there to start asking questions, the Commission and the PPC will eventually show more transparency and communicate better with the people they are assessing. If nothing else, Dave won something worthy… he standed up for his rights and found the courage to rock the boat because he knew he was right… In my book, he is a true winner!!!

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


And… to whom it may concern:

The cut-off scores for the new 65 question written test, in effect since June 2, 2008, are expressed in RAW scores, as well as the obtained scores!… 8)

B = 33, C = 47, E = 57

The cut-off scores for the reading test remained unchanged and are also expressed in RAW scores, as well as the obtained scores!…

B = 38, C = 51, E = 59



My Unfailing Optimism was Severely Shaken!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

When I thought things could not get worse, but only better; I have been confronted with harsh reality… The crushing news came in Wednesday and I have to admit I reacted physically by literally throwing up! My first reflex was to jump on that computer of mine and write a post… Then, I thought it would be wiser to calm down first because I would probably (well… certainly) have used a language that does not suit my classy and sophisticated personality. Actually I was ready to go on the rampage and attack almost any living soul on earth (that bad!)!…

Yesterday, although I felt a little less vindicative, I chose to postpone my writing and I took Dave to the movies instead of having our regular class: I truly believe in the therapeutic virtues of pedagogical activities when frustration level reaches a critical point. Although I could feel he was upset with the news as well, I thought he was displaying stoicism under the circumstances: something I cannot do myself… you see, I am French… therefore I have character and I have been cursed at birth with a latin temperament (or should I rather say “temper”???). Anyways, watching “Astérix aux Jeux Olympiques” had an immediate soothing effect on both of us… We crowned the afternoon with a beer and some nachos on a patio, on the Québec side of the Ottawa River. That was the perfect setting to discuss calmly about the next step to take following the negative response from the PPC (Personnel Psychology Centre).

I doubt the lady who wrote that response will ever come across my blog, but I would suggest her to adopt another tone when addressing people’s requests or comments. Although a psychologist, she totally lacks interpersonal skills! Without mentioning writing skills… because the explanation she gave to justify the Commission’s decision not to review Dave’s results (in spite of their own wrong doing) is not clear at all… I suspect it is on purpose: more confused the explanations are, chances are the reader will feel inadequate regarding the technical aspects of this field of expertise and, consequently, will drop the case. Too bad for her, but Dave will only bring the issue one step further on a higher level of the hierarchy (that alone should annoy her enough! A little taste of her own medicine will be more than a beneficial lesson for her…)…

In that maze of lies and hiding games, I must say though there is at least one sensible individual among the PPC staff who attempted to attenuate the impact of such a decision on Dave’s spirits… of course, probably being one of the last in the PPC food chain and one of the last survivors of a dying out species (i.e. reasonable, fair, understanding, humane), she does not have the power to overturn the decision that was made… but she took the time to write him an email inviting him to call her if he ever wished to discuss the issue further. What struck me was that she did not cc that memo to any of her supervisors… rather unusual in the Public Service of Canada!

Without getting into details right now (at this point I do not have all the info I need to confront the Commission and, then, prove them wrong), the current debate (which is of a very intellectual and statistical nature) is around standard scores vs raw scores. Apparently, the cut-off scores of the 80 question version of the written test were standard scores, but the cut-off scores of the new 65 question version of the same test are raw scores. To make a long story short, this is the reason why the PPC refuses to convert Dave’s results into percentage. “It would not be appropriate or meaningful”… to quote the nice lady! Pardon me? What are we talking about here? Between October 1, 2007 and June 2, 2008 people’s marks would not have been their raw scores?

I have been contacting people who have taken the 80 question version written test while it was in effect… none of them ever received the usual form officially issued after having taken either reading or written tests showing their marks and the cut-off scores for each level (all of them in raw scores). Only one of my contacts did not get back to me and I suspect his answer will be exactly the same: no official documents to prove anything! Unless he got one in October… he was one of the first candidates to take the 80 question version (he failed so he had to take the test again in February)… before the standard scores came into effect… Because I think the shift occurred some time after the new test was implemented (after the Commission realized the failure rate was dramatic!)…

Right now, it is where we stand… in the middle of something that is even more complicated than anticipated… furthermore, the monumental flop of the written test reform would have been shadowed and covered up (I have a document claiming that the 80 question test was a valid and reliable measurement tool… and most tested people achieved their levels… why to convert their raw scores into standard scores then? And why to come up with a new 65 question version?)… Questions, questions, questions… and so far, no answers! I do believe it is time for the Commission to account for its flaws and wrong doings and to be transparent… It is the least past, present and future tested civil servants deserve…

This blog moved here, if you ever are interested in reading more on those issues…

Imagine the Consequences… If Only THEY Knew!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

Finally, Jenn and I managed to get together for that “celebration” drink yesterday… I really enjoyed our time together although it was pure madness in the weather department! Sunny wall-to-wall, then five minutes later, pouring rain! Indeed we cannot really plan an entire evening on a patio this summer without occasional tropical rain… Oh well… we are Canadians and we are tough, aren’t we?

We ended up at Heart and Crown, a popular Irish Pub in the Byward Market… I really enjoy going out with my students: I teach them French and about my culture, in return I learn alot from them… For instance, yesterday, Jenn told me she would “teach” me a little bit more about Irish traditions and customs. Then she showed me the symbol on our place mats and I realized she was wearing a gold ring with the exact same design. She explained to me that, if you were wearing it with the tip of the heart towards you, it meant your heart was taken and you were not available… on the other hand, if you were wearing it with the heart pointing to the world, it meant you were indeed available and open to meeting someone. I thought it was very sweet and subtle at the same time! I went to bed last night knowing I had learned something new…

That being said, we still have not heard anything regarding Dave’s appeal… He filed his request last Wednesday, consequently tomorrow there will be a follow-up! We cannot let these people breathe for too long, otherwise they settle in their bureaucratic ways and then, we do not hear from them in weeks, even months! We already lost more than six months, enough is enough! He cannot afford to stretch this situation any longer… and there is nothing like pressuring for answers to keep people moving on issues! When it comes down to harassment (if you do not harass bureaucrats, you will never see the end of anything! It is deplorable, but there are no other ways… unless you are ready to wait forever!), I am a pro! And, honestly, I am fed up with this whole story… I only want to see it solved, so we can move on and prepare him for his oral test… Should not everything be solved to our satisfaction and should it become a little ugly, it is comforting to know his directorate fully supports him! However, I doubt anyone involved will take the risk of seeing this whole story become known on a large scale…

Speaking of spreading… Imagine for a second what would happen if the candidates who took the written test between June 2 and June 13, and missed their targeted level by one or four answers (which means they will have to re-write soon!) knew about the truth???

In a previous post, I had pointed out the discrepancy between the cut-off scores of the new written test (65 questions) before and after June 16. Since the new test came in effect June 2, we are talking about only two weeks!!! During that short period, candidates needed 51 good answers in order to get their C… then, candidates who wrote the very same test a bit later (on or after the 16th) needed 47 good answers to get the same level… Janet, who took the exam during that “floating” period got her C with 52 good answers: that was close! Imagine she would have had 50 good answers… she would have failed, right? But, on the 16th or after, she would have succeeded with the same 50 good answers. I do not know how many people write SLE tests each week… Normally, a testing room holds 40 people and there are tests each working day (in many different locations)… How many people took the written test between June 2 and June 16? A lot!!! And… how many missed their levels by 4 answers??? Just imagine if they knew about it… because of course, it was not publicized… it came to my knowledge because I happened to know a couple of individuals who were tested during those two weeks and after…

When I started this blog, I was not anticipating much traffic since I was writing about issues that concerned only a very small proportion of people (mostly located in the NCR area)… I was amazed when I found out it actually generated regular traffic. What suprised me the most was the terms used in search engines: obviously these people were looking for legitimate information regarding SLE tests in the Public Service of Canada (and they landed here instead!)… I could not figure out why! I always assumed people about to go on second language training were provided with some sort of package containing all the info they needed and all the useful links to the Commission website… NOPE! I was told everyone is more or less left in the dark and has to find information by “googling” on the net. In French we call this le système D for DÉBROUILLE-TOI! (or DÉMERDE-TOI!)… Incroyable, mais vrai!

One would think transparency is required so that people can be well informed before they go on training… Well… I thought so… I know why Jenn had to wait for almost three weeks before she got her results… The Commission was probably wavering about “should we change or not the cut-off scores on the written exam? If so… how many good answers?…”

Okay, they finally modified the pass marks… but, what about the ones who failed during the period these bureaucrats were pondering upon what to do and how to do it? Of course, the cut-off scores between June 2 and June 16 have been eradicated from the Commission’s website (if they ever were posted!)… and who will go back there regularly, unless it is publicly known the cut-off marks are changed from time to time? No one!… This is probably why the decision-makers just keep sweeping everything that could be alarming under the carpet… much easier to deal with, don’t you think?

This blog moved here, if you ever are interested in reading more on those issues…

« Older entries