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! 😉

Triviality or… Significance?

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

After a long weekend spent in Montréal, it is time to get back to this blog of mine… Believe it or not, my English is kind of “rusted”! Well… kind of… Let’s say I have to trade my French hat for my English hat! Before I get into the heart of my topic, I want to open a parenthesis. For those of you who follow this blog, you certainly noticed that I have short fuses regarding bad French… especially when I come across ads or road signs. I have been advised several times to just let it go… I am fully aware there is not much I can do to correct this lamentable situation. On the other hand, let it go would mean surrending my rights as a Francophone… and hopefully I will get offended by bad French for as long as I will live! The day I would renounce would be the end of me… Then I would become an assimilated product… BUT! Do not worry… this will never happen!!!

Montréal is the champion of road repairs… there is always something going on, year after year… actually, this city’s road network always look like a giant construction site! When I lived there I paid little attention because it was part of my daily life… now that I live in Ottawa, where road repairs are done in a much less noticeable way, I hate driving in Montréal.  Of course, useless to mention that traffic is bumper to bumper most of the time… yesterday, on my way back home, highway 13 looked like a parking lot: since I was literally sitting in the traffic, I had time to read the road signs. I am so used to the ones I see every day in Ottawa that I almost lost the correct French expressions and words from sight… It was pure delight to see “Accès à la 40 Est barré” instead of “Sortie Moodie fermée”, “Accès au chantier” instead of “Entrée de camions”… I never thought one day I would sit in my car and be overjoyed by road signs… it was like seventh heaven! Unfortunately, this feeling only lasted for 90 minutes: reality hit me hard when I reached Ottawa!!! Oh well… 90 minutes are better than none…

Last week, Joseph had sent me a link to an article written by Colleen Ross, a reporter with the CBC. He thought I would be interested in a recent study showing that people living in two cultures might unconsciously change their personalities when they switch language. Ross, intrigued by this study, wrote that she kind of experienced some change herself: she thinks she adopts a more aggressive behaviour when speaking German and displays more joie de vivre when speaking French. Of course, German is not the most romantic language in the world! I tried and learned it for a while and yes! because of the pronunciation, I do believe I sounded angry all the time! When I flirted with Italian language, because of its fluidity, I felt I sounded too mielleuse… which certainly does not agree with my personality! Since language reflects culture, it somehow activates identity… I really do believe our mother tongue triggers who we are only because, depending on what language we learned first, we do process information differently… Yet I do not believe that switching language modifies personalities or identities.

Unilingual people living in bicultural or multicultural environment are different from the ones living in one culture… only based upon the fact they get exposure to other cultures than theirs. For instance, unilingual Anglophones living in Québec are quite different from those who live in Ontario or Alberta… Even their English is different: they use gallicism the way Francophones use anglicism… they are branching the toaster instead of plugging it… they go to the dépanneur because they do not remember the word in English… they will talk about their kitchen skills instead of their cooking skills… they paint with a spatula because they do not know what a palette knife is for!… they take the métro in Montréal because the word subway was never in usage… they go to the pharmacy… And yes they do exude exuberance and joie de vivre! Without having to switch language!…

Back in the early 90s, I had a couple of students in a large national accounting firm… partners were a mix of Anglophones and Francophones… most of the time, they would not get along too well… referring to each other as “Maudits Anglais” and “Damn Frenchies”… One year they had a three day national conference in Calgary and they all attended. After they came back, I noticed a drastic change regarding rapports between Anglos and Francos… and of course, intrigued, I had to ask “What happened in Calgary? What drug was used in the food?”

The answer I was provided with did not really surprise me… When the Anglophones got to Calgary, they immediatly mingled with the English-speaking crowd, leaving the few Francophones on their own… At dinner, on the first day, they were sitting with colleagues from different cities in Canada when they suddenly realized they had absolutely nothing in common with these guys! Then they could see and hear their Montréal French-speaking colleagues having a blast! When the Anglos at their table started to comment on these loud Québécois and make fun of them, they took sides with no hesitation! They moved to their Montréal colleagues’ table and never looked back…  Afterwards Anglos and Francos reconciled because they had taken consciousness of their similarities… before this experience they had only looked at their differences…

For or against this study’s results, I firmly believe that exposure to bicultural/multicultural environment is a plus and people who stay confined in their own culture are missing out… what they would never do or say due to their cultural background might be acceptable in another culture… therefore are they expressing all facets of who they are or could be?…

“La meilleure façon de ne pas avancer est de suivre une idée fixe”

Jacques Prévert

I do not Need to Do Anything! Do you? Yet… I Have to!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

I am kind of time challenged this week… believe it or not, we are already at the end of August! Summer Holidays are over and school will start next week… I am under the impression summer went by without having seen it! It is probably due to the non stop shitty weather we had… actually I am still waiting for summer to arrive! Well… not really… I finally gave up hope this morning: 7 degrees Celsius was the wake up call I needed to resign myself to the consequences of Global Warming…

Dave returned from PEI, rested and rusted as well! It was not a big surprise… two weeks away, in a place where French is almost non existing, what can one expect? Not much… I am used to it, therefore he will need a good refresher and I can handle it without getting too frustrated! The Holidays’ aftermath comes with the job!

Before the “warm” season is over, I decided to organize one last “pedagogical” activity : dinner and theater “en français”… The young crowd took a raincheck so, once again, only the crooners will attend… James hates when I refer to us as “crooners”, he prefers the use of “more mature”… whatever James! If it makes you feel better… but it will not make you feel younger! This time, he was the one in charge of booking the tickets (I always delegate this part to a student: I do believe it is good practice!)… Il s’en est tiré avec brio! Of course, making reservations through the net is much easier than over the phone… but still… he had to deal with an unilingual web site where all instructions were in French! Clicking on the right icon was kind of imperative… otherwise we could have ended up having dinner on Wednesday and attending the play on Thursday (which would have been quite inconvenient for everybody!)… BUT! we are all set for next Wednesday.

Okay… I have digressed enough! I now need to focus on the topic of this post… Yeah… I need to… or do I have to?… Là est toute la question et… entre les deux, mon coeur balance! When I first arrived in Ottawa, I thought people here were quite needy: “I need to do this… I need to finish that… I need to go there… I need to be out of here by… I need to talk to you… I need to call this guy…” Actually I never really paid attention when Anglophones were using the expression need to… I started to notice it when I kept hearing Francophones using avoir besoin de the same way Anglos use it: “J’ai besoin de faire ceci… j’ai besoin de finir cela… j’ai besoin d’aller là… j’ai besoin d’être sorti d’ici avant… j’ai besoin de te parler… j’ai besoin d’appeler ce type…” YIKES!!! Of course, all this was part of the “franglais” repertoire so specific to this area… I knew I could not do much in order to fix the misuse of avoir besoin… I do hate bad French, but I do not have the soul of a missionary either! On the other hand, I could never let it go in class… I thought Anglophones “needed” to know the proper usage of this expression in French.

Monday, the problem arose once again… Last week, Seema had learned new idiomatic expressions such as avoir hâte, avoir envie, avoir le temps, avoir l’air, avoir la chance, avoir peur and, of course, avoir besoin… I had given her homework asking her to come up with a series of sentences using those expressions followed with de and a verb. She did well until she reached the famous avoir besoin de… then her sentences sounded “English”… Once more, I had to explain the usage of that idiomatic expression in a French context: unless it is a matter of life or death, we do not use avoir besoin de, we rather use devoir (must/have to)… For instance a sentence like this one in English “I need to see you after work” is translated with “Je dois te voir après le travail” or “Il faut que je te voie après le travail” in French… Of course, Francophones also have needs, but not this type of needs… Saying “J’ai besoin d’air… (I need some air…)” is correct…

People who study French are proud of their new knowledge and, at the beginning of their training, they like to spread it around and share their discoveries with their colleagues (especially the Francophones)! It sounds perfectly natural to me, but apparently I am an exception! In 2000-2004, I had a full time contract with the PSAC to train many of their employees… over the four years I spent there, I gained the reputation of being the Dragon Lady or worse, the Slave Driver… among my students, those nicknames were endearing… yet not so endearing among the Francophones who believed I was a snob from Montréal… using the 24 hour system, petit déjeuner for breakfast, déjeuner for lunch and dîner for dinner! In other words I was their worse nightmare come true and I was considered as a pest… did I care? NOPE!!! My job was to teach these Anglos how to communicate efficiently in a business oriented context… Street French cannot be used in the workplace! It only conveys a bad image and I never understood why Francophones around here would be so recalcitrant to polish their business image…

One day, after class, Catherine (one of my students in a beginners’ class at the time) had attended a meeting led in French… I had just taught the proper usage of avoir besoin… During the meeting, she had heard Francophones using that very same expression numerous times in the wrong context (i.e. with the English meaning). Later that day, during a coffee break, she asked some colleagues who had been attending the same meeting why they had not used the verb devoir instead… before they could answer, she proudly went on with the explanation I had given in class earlier. She was in the middle of a sentence when she suddenly felt a dozen of dirty looks on her and her boss asking PAAAAARDON????” She then started stammering and said she probably was wrong… having confused the rules… and she ended up apologizing… For what for God’s sake? For having tried to educate them on the proper use of avoir besoin in French? Catherine is probably the most diplomatic person I ever met and I doubt she did it with arrogance… she indeed was only proud to share her new knowledge with French-speaking colleagues. The next day, she told us about the tribulations of the day before… that day, all the employees enrolled in French made a pact: anything that would be said in class would stay in class forever… and for four years, they hold on to their promise!

I saw this happen more than once in different places afterwards… and it saddens me… These people are only enthusiastic about their French classes, their new knowledge and their learning progress… It does not take long before they realize they should keep their mouth shut outside the classroom… It seems they do not get any encouragement from the native French-speakers… If I were asked why, I would be tempted to say it is only because they are envious of them… but I could be wrong… it might be because, for years, Francophones were the only ones with bilingual positions and perhaps they feel threatened by this new hord of bilingual Anglos…

“Pour certains, les contrariétés sont un prétexte au découragement. Pour d’autres, c’est une incitation à se surpasser.”

François Garagnon

Another Ineptitude: “Formal” French!!!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

The adjective formal may take various meanings in French depending on the context: formel, en règle, positif, en due forme, cérémonieux, solennel, compassé, formaliste, conventionnel, raide… When applied to languages, it just makes my face twitch because I do hear stiff (raide)! And, in my book, there is nothing like a français raide!

When I first arrived in Ottawa, I had contracts with Unions… I remember a manager asking me what “kind” of French would I be teaching his staff: French from Paris or “joual” (Québec slang)? Of course, I could not help it and my answer was a bit cynical “And what about French?” … Speechless, he looked at me in total dismay… “Yeah… you know… plain French?”… Neither “French from Paris” nor “joual” can be taught anyways since both are regional slangs!

French… a language that everybody understands, independently of where they are from, is… well… the one spoken on the Radio-Canada News! Accurate words, correct syntax and excellent pronunciation without any accent… No Francophones would ever think of qualifying this French of “formal”! Yet, for some reason, Anglophones are convinced that formal French does exist… IT DOES NOT!!!

Last Friday, I was asking Jessica a series of 200 questions (in a controlled environment) she had to answer using the correct pronouns for replacement and verb tenses… I do believe it is a perfect exercise for civil servants in view of their oral tests: no “real” conversation, only direct answers to specific questions. Suddenly she asked me why I was always addressing my questions using vous“And why not?”… Her answer did not really surprise me… she said her former teacher (actually teachers) had told the class that vous had been traded for tu… that Francophones were no longer using this obsolete pronoun… Since Anglos do not really know the difference, they use tu in all occasions and trust me, by doing that, they might sink into deep shit some day!

I had an argument with one student one day (he was an Union representative) about the proper usage of the second singular personal pronouns (vous vs tu). The week before he had attended a conference in Montreal and he had asked the Hotel staff to address him with tu and call him by his first name. Of course, no one paid attention to his request and just moved on with vous and Monsieur… Since he was insisting, an employee told him it would not be proper/polite to address him otherwise and… he would probably lose his job given that familiarity with clients was not the Hotel’s policies. Right away he thought this Hotel’s employees were oppressed by their employer and, because of that, he would not hold a conference in that Hotel… ever!!! I spent some time (too much indeed because Johnny was an irreducible activist for Human Rights) explaining the difference between vous and tu… but he was very stubborn and I ended that heated discussion with my final argument “Okay then! Suit yourself… and boycott all hotels and businesses throughout the French speaking world!”

Fortunately Jessica agreed right away with my explanation… I told her that, when she will go for her oral test, the examiner will address her with vous and she will have to do the same… only based upon the fact that they do not know each other… Tu is used with family, friends and colleagues (assuming we have some kind of relationship with them); otherwise vous is the keyword! Usually vous is used most of the time at work… I cannot imagine myself on the phone asking a potential client “Comment t’appelles-tu”! It would be like asking someone you do not know “Hey buddy! What’s your name by the way?”… Kind of rude, n’est-ce pas? At some point, Jessica asked me if she had been rude to me by addressing me with tu from the beginning… I reassured her: given the nature of my work, it is important that my trainees feel comfortable with me and addressing me with vous would prevent them from having that essential trust in me!… But I told her we had to use vous when practicing for her exam, so that she would get used to it and sound more natural.

So-called formal French is not only associated with vous and tu… since I never use “est-ce que” to ask questions (I prefer the use of inversion), my students think I am speaking “formal” (assuming they ever heard questions asked with inverted pronouns! most of them do not have a clue!)… actually it is the common way to turn questions. Personally, I link “est-ce que” to “baby talk”… You have to keep in mind I am teaching French for work, consequently my trainees need to speak and write correctly (not formally!)…

There is also the widely spread use of the near future… a tense you will never see listed in the Bescherelles simply because it is an anglicism and… laziness… we do tolerate its usage (only spoken though!) for an action that will occur today, yet I advise my students to use the futur simple all the time… therefore there will be no risks (or temptation!) to use a near future during their oral tests! On the other hand, you will find the passé surcomposé in the same Bescherelles (only conjugated with je though… for space saving purpose)… and amazingly none of my students who ever learned French before knows about this tense! C’est à se demander ce que l’on enseigne dans les classes de français langue seconde! Would I be wrong to say “almost anything” except “correct French”?

Once again, this “sin by omission” seems to be intended to keep learning simple! Simple for who? The students or the teachers? My vote goes to the latter!… The day (which is not tomorrow for sure!) language schools and their alledged teachers will adopt an ethical code regarding the way they teach people in the workforce, maybe I will be able to rest at peace… but, then, I will have nothing left to blog about!…

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

“Si la cause est bonne, c’est de la persévérance. Si la cause est mauvaise, c’est de l’obstination.”

Lawrence Sterne


Grammar Limbo!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

Today is a day off… I took Seema and her 17 year old daughter for lunch at The Marshes Golf Club (2 minutes from my place). Food was excellent, the view magnificent and the patrons, well… awesome! Two of the Backstreet Boys were there playing golf (there will be a concert tonight at the Scotia Bank Place)… apparently they were giving away tickets and backstage passes! Sam was on the verge of passing out! She certainly regretted her stop to the restrooms: those precious few minutes would have allowed her to actually meet with the guys when they dropped off their cart!!! Seema and I, being older, were not sharing her enthusiasm… but we certainly had fun watching her! She was told every time there is a concert at the Scotia Bank Place, the stars stop by The Marshes to play golf: she is now seriously thinking of getting a job there next summer!

Sam and Mom... slowly recovering from the fact she had missed the BOYS!

Sam and Mom... slowly recovering from the fact she missed the BOYS!... Sam! Not Mom!!!

Now back to French… and everything it entails! Sometimes I do wonder… Do I spend too much time teaching grammar? Some would argue that, what is the most important, is being able to communicate efficiently orally… I certainly do agree on that! But it is equally important to communicate efficiently in writing. Around here, written French is really poor and… it bugs me!

For a long time, studying languages has been depreciated : in school, intelligent students were encouraged to go in Sciences or, if they were really rebuffed by that field, in Social Sciences. Now that suddenly communication has a value, people are asked to know how to write correctly overnight! Francophones have a hard time writing in their mother tongue, therefore is it fair to ask Anglophones to master written French as a second language?

Personally, I see language learning as a package: speaking, understanding, writing and reading are inter-connected… And the mere idea of seing my trainees as illiterate products kills me! And… without the grammar basics, they cannot speak anyways!

With civil servants, I do not ask myself the question twice: they are trained to pass tests! Writing and reading are part of their learning (like it or not) and… those tests would not be more difficult if they were tailored for Francophones! There is a dichotomy though: their employer want them to be excellent in French yet that very same employer cannot communicate efficiently… in their everyday simple communications as well as on their numerous web sites. In my book, a web site that did not passed in the hands of a good editor or proof reader is like a boutique with dirty shop windows: I really do not feel like entering it and, if I find the courage to, I do not want to stay…

As for badly written job ads… would you apply? I would not! I will not even sign with snowblowing contractors when there are spelling mistakes in their flyers!!! For me, it shows a flagrant lack of professionalism and I have my doubts regarding their business success… Looking at the French version of the Public Service of Canada job posts, I really do wonder… But hey! It is the government… no matter what, they will survive!

I know how difficult it is for Anglos to learn French grammar (as a matter of fact, I do not know many Francophones who master it!)… but it is a necessary pain in their learning process… I certainly do try my best to alleviate the weight of all the non sense rules French has carried on thoughout centuries, but I do not ignore the most difficult ones either… and the day I will be asked to stop teaching grammar, I will retire… French is French… If you are up to the challenge, you will enjoy learning it… and if you are not, well… learn Esperanto!

“Quand on ne peut revenir en arrière, on ne doit se préoccuper que de la meilleure façon d’aller de l’avant.”

Paulo Coelho, écrivain brésilien

Road Signs and Signposts in Delirium!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

Okay… Ottawa has not yet been officially declared bilingual, although it is the National Capital of Canada… a country that has two official languages (English and French). Since this city shelters the Federal Government, one would think City Hall would have embraced the law and policies on bilinguism a long time ago! Nope! Quite a dichotomy, don’t you agree? Nevertheless, both Ottawa and the province of Ontario make every effort to “translate” road signs in French… yet the results are often pathetic, if not hilarious!

Personally I am rather ashamed of living in a city where almost everything that is written in French sucks! It seems even more obvious this summer with all the road repairs across town and the widening of the highway 417 in the west end. Actually I would prefer having all the signs in English only! I am convinced I am not the only Francophone here having noticed how bad the translation is… One would guess that both the City of Ottawa and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation have translators and editors… it seems they do not use them unless the ones they have can only do literal translation… and if it is the case, well… replace them with staff qualified for the job! Professionals who do understand the language nuances and can adapt texts in a way that the message will be clear to all.

Because of the nature of my work, I travel across town daily to go from one client to another and… I cannot help it! All these road signs and postsigns are flashing before my eyes and, at the end of the day, I am irritated… I am thinking of the tourists from Québec, France, Belgium and other French-speaking countries: we (myself included! unfortunately…) must look like Barbarians! Both my city and my province bring disgrace on me! I have to admit this is something I take personally… go figure why!

I collected a few horrific samples (rather an easy task by the way!)… For instance streets, roads, highways are fermés around here (of course they do not agree the past participle, which most of the time reads fermé – masculine, singular – and often the accent is missing ferme… then I think of a farm!). Yes, fermé is the translation for closed… but all depends on the context! Unless there is a door, a lid or a trap, we cannot fermer something in French… the correct translation of street closed is rue barrée! But, the winner is without a doubt: La nuit Fermetures des voies Eagleson-Moodie! I admit I do not really understand this road sign (even in English!), since both Eagleson and Moodie are exits, not lanes…

Speaking of exits, there are a couple of them closed on the 417 at the time and we have to use alternative ones… In English, I have to use Moodie, in French they want me to utiliser Moodie! To do what with it? I utilise a pen for writing… tell me, what is the use of an exit? In French, we borrow an exit (a road, a street, a highway, an elevator, stairs, etc.)… Use Moodie should read Empruntez Moodie

Because of the works on the 417, there are warning signs for motorists to pay attention to the trucks entering and exiting the construction site using the left lane… For months, Truck Entrance was translated with Entre de camion: entre means between and camion should be plural camions (I doubt there is only one single truck entering the site)! I do not know what happened but, this week, I noticed this sign had been corrected (although the accent is still missing… yet it is an improvement! There is still hope!) and replaced with Entree (if they had written Entrée, it would be peeeeeeerfect) de camions.

Downtown, Bank (one of the busiest streets in Ottawa) is closed for major repairs (for a third year in a row) and because stores’ owners were furious, the City decided to install a sign saying Business as usual… In French one can read Commerces (or Magasins? I admit of being a little fuzzy on this particular detail) ouverts comme d’habitude… L’art de compliquer les choses! Commerces ouverts would be enough for every Francophone to understand (we speak French, but we are not retarded!).

Deers are continuous threats to motorists’ lives around here… therefore there are plenty of road signs to warn them of the possibility of being hit by one of those mastodons (not a pleasant encounter, trust me!). There is one close to the exit to my place that says Night Danger Next 15 kmDanger de nuit Prochaine 15 km… would it be that difficult to agree the adjective prochain with kilomètres (masculine, plural) and write Prochains instead?

And the list goes on… and on… and on… but I kept the best one for dessert! Believe it or not No Standing has been translated with Ne Pas Rester Debout!!! Okay then, if I cannot stand up, give me a bench or even better a couch where I can sit or lie down for a while!

Perhaps I should offer my services? Well… I do not think so… I am convinced there are a couple of excellent translators and editors out there who would be thrilled to get a job with the City Hall or the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. May I make a suggestion though? It would be so simple to send a few inspectors to Gatineau, Québec (it is only a bridge away!) just to take a look at road signs and postsigns… it would not cost anything to the Ottawa tax payers and it would make the Francophones happy! And I am sure that the Ville de Gatineau and the Ministère des Transports du Québec would be more than flattered to help their neighbour with a lexicon on correct terminology… free of charge, as pro-bono!!! Because the Québécois are proud of their language and they will do anything to protect it and keep it in good shape…

At least, no one has translated “Dead End” with “Fin Morte”!!!

My pride as a Francophone, although severely endangered, is still alive…

Welcome to the Land of “Bienvenue”

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

There is a running joke among my students… one of them, who often has to go to Tunney’s Pasture (a campus with only Public Service buildings located in the Ottawa West-End), renamed this complex “The Land of Bienvenue”. Why? Because every time he says “merci”, Francophones reply with the traditional franglais “bienvenue” (the literal translation for “you’re welcome”)… on the other hand, when someone tells him “merci”, he always replies with either “de rien”, “il n’y a pas de quoi” or “je vous en prie” (the correct expressions to say “you’re welcome” in French). I can imagine those people’s faces: they probably think he is an arrogant Anglo who wants to show off his unfailing French! Too bad, because they would gain to follow his example by correcting their anglicized language…

Due to its geographical location, Ottawa is a nest for contaminated French… because most Francophones in the NCR work for the Government and, consequently, speak English more often than French. Inevitably, both languages are kind of blended in a slang that is specific to this area and that is called “franglais” : a mixture of English and French… actually an unilingual Francophone would have a hard time to understand this language, which is what I refer to as “English syntax with French words”!

Yesterday, I experienced another misunderstanding of that type… I had to call the National Call Service Centre and, by force of habit, I asked for service in French (though everytime I do so, I regret it!). The young woman I spoke to was obviously an Anglophone, but hey! since she was responding to a call requesting French, I assumed she was bilingual… she was! well… kind of! During the whole conversation, I had this imperceptible feeling she was not really grasping what I was saying… being bilingual means grasping nuances and subtleties of the second language. A couple of times, I was tempted to switch to English… then I thought it would be rather rude and I kept dealing with her in my mother tongue although my discomfort was only growing bigger and bigger! She was a charming individual though : very helpful! But not quite ready to deal with technical questions addressed in French.

Later during the day, I received an email notifying me that my request had been forwarded to the Help Desk. Quelle horreur! In the Action Requested field, the question (in English) was not even close to mine… I thought if I were not taking action right away, I would eventually get an answer (but not the one I was looking for) and I would have to start over again… Since I have no patience for red-tape administration, I replied to this email re-phrasing my question IN ENGLISH this time, to make sure there would be no further misunderstanding. A few minutes later, I got a confirmation that my email had been attached to the original request. This morning, I received the answer I was looking for and I was able to move forward!

Of course, nothing is simple when dealing with the Government and I also had to check a couple of things with the Agence du Revenu du Canada. This time, I did not hesitate when I asked for service in French: this Department is located in Shawinigan, Québec and I knew I would talk to someone who would understand me. It took 5 minutes at the most and I had my answer.

There is certainly an effort on my Government’s part to accommodate its French-speaking citizens, but it seems it does not work properly. I consider myself lucky to be fluent in both, French and English, because when I cannot be understood in my mother tongue, I can easily switch to English… although I would prefer to be served in French. But, what about Francophones who are not bilingual? Do they not deserve a better service?

I made a decision this morning: from now on, I will ask for service in English when I will have questions to address to the Public Service of Canada… only because time is money and I have other things to do with my time than waste it on trying to get my message across, when I can do it in my second language and accelerate the process.

This is the Land of “Bienvenue”

Why do I sometimes Feel like a Second Class Citizen?

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

My students and I often play a game we call Find the mistakes in actual documents written or translated in French. I do believe it is a good exercise because it allows me to talk about some rules I would probably not cover in class and… I can teach them about anglicisms and “faux-amis” (words that are almost the same in both English and French, but have different meanings).

Most of the time, we browse through the Public Service of Canada website and we discuss the texts. This week, we decided to compare posts for job positions within the Government. We picked one that was looking for people to work in Ottawa and another one that was looking for people to work in Shawinigan, Québec.

I could not believe what I read!

Obviously, the document for the position in Québec was written in French and, then, translated in English. Far from being perfect, it was quite acceptable… at least we could clearly understand what they wanted and the choice of words was accurate. I saw a few anglicisms but, in the whole, I thought it was satisfying.

On the other hand, the document for the position in Ottawa was anything, but clear! In French, we talk about compétences linguistiques but in the translated version they were referring to compétence dans les langues officielles (???)… useless to mention “official languages” since we all know they are talking about French and English (unless we now have a third official language I am not aware of!). Anyways I won’t dissect the 6 page document because it would never end! All I can say is that, after having read it a couple of times, I still had no clue what they were looking for… it is when any bilingual Francophone makes the decision to click on English!

My point is: I am a Canadian citizen now living outside Québec and, for some reason, I do feel like a second class citizen in my own country. I think I do know why… I feel this way everytime I come across translated documents. Do translators in the Public Service botch the job??? It looks like it… and the message I get is that I am not worth the effort of trying to communicate in my mother tongue in a way I can understand… it is like telling me (and all Francophones living outside Québec): “Stop complaining, I am addressing you in French although I know I’m doing a poor job at it!”. It looks like it is only about Politics!!! My Government is accommodating me and I should not say a word… because it could be worse… well, there is nothing worse than being insulted! Anyone murdering my language is attacking me personally… it is like telling me I am a second class citizen and I should not be here.

My Government seems to have double standards regarding French… when they are addressing the Québécois, they pay more attention because they know it would not play in favor of federalism in this province already too much distinct! Living in Ontario, I deserve the same respect I deserved when I was living in Montréal… If a Christmas tree is offending to some people, politicians will do anything to please them and they will quickly call it a Holiday tree… What if offending me (and millions of Francophones) with bad French?… Don’t we deserve that this issue be addressed and solutions be brought?…