Francophobia or Ignorance?

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

While surfing the net, the other day, looking for some newspapers’ articles relevant to training among Canadian civil servants; I accidently came across a website that gave me the creeps…

I will not give the link because I do not want to publicize thoughts and opinions that are expressed on that site. The few lines I read made me feel as if I had landed in some neo-nazi or KKK territory. Of course, everything is under the cover of anonymity… all I know is that it is run by a group of Canadian civil servants (apparently based in the NCR) who describe themselves as oppressed! I doubt they really know what being oppressed means!

At first glance, it looks like these people only want to fight language policies and regulations in the Public Service of Canada which they consider as disenfranchising unilingual civil servants. On their home page, they posted numerous newspapers’ articles regarding training and testing. On one of them, referring to the fact that 97% of the training was in French vs 3% in English, they candidly suggest that the Governement should “educate” that 3% and leave the remaining 97% alone. What they probably do not know is that, between October 1, 2007 and January 16, 2008, 3,687 candidates were tested in French vs 4,320 in English… Bilinguism (when it does apply to certain job positions within the Government) is required from all civil servants (Anglophones, Francophones and Allophones) and English-speaking people are not treated differently… if there is less training in English, it only indicates that Francophones and Allophones are already fluent in English.

I can understand that some frustrated and jaded civil servants would like to see bilingual positions return to unilingual, unfortunately that will not happen! Therefore, I was wondering about the purpose of such a website… it is when I clicked on different links that I realized it has nothing to do with training and testing. If so, there would not be a list of inequities between Québec and the rest of Canada!

Also, they state that Québec is unilingual French (I am originally from Montréal and it is a plurilingual city!) and only 4% of the population outside this province speak French (of course, the source of this information is not mentioned anywhere). According to Statistics Canada, in 2001, Canadians’ mother tongues were 58.55% English, 22.62% French and 18.83% others… for a total of 41.45% of the population speaking another language than English. And, between 2001 and 2006, the immigration rate grew by 13.6% (adding to the percentage of people whose mother tongue is not English). And, something very interesting here: in 2006, only 27.1% of Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver population were Canadian Born… Many immigrants are trilingual (especially in Québec)… With such a large number of people born outside the country, it is only fair to have two official languages in Canada (depending on where they settle down, they might choose to speak either English or French: we live in a free country, don’t we?). Therefore, let’s not speak any longer about the vast majority of native unilingual English Canadians… this majority is drastically on the decline!

My fear is that discouraged civil servants, after having gone through months of FSL training and keeping failing the tests, might rally such a group. The mere idea that I can be surrounded by some of those Francophobics when I go from one Department to another makes me sick! But, since I am an optimistic individual, I like to believe that this group is not as large as they pretend to be: when I look at how popular French Immersion schools are in Ottawa (kids attending those schools obviously have open-minded parents), it tells me I do not live in a town infested with Francophobics after all

Already one Federal Department has censored this site and the “oppressed” ask people to re-register using their personal email address, accusing the Department of denying them freedom of speech. Freedom of speech? This site is about propaganda… not about opinions. And why would they ask for donations if it were only a platform for venting and whining?

I am 100% in favor of bilinguism… and civil servants are very lucky to be able to learn a second language on the job with their full salary and training entirely paid by their employer. And I do firmly believe that the majority of them are in favor of learning French… being bilingual is an asset for life, not just a position’s requirement.

Yes! Things could be improved… training could be enjoyable and testing could be less dreadful… right now it is not! Because people are taught to the tests from day one until the very end : something that may last more than a year… Then they must pass tests that do not reflect reality, often more than three times… Consequently they end up feeling stupid and totally disgusted with French.

I do train civil servants and I teach them the way I know as being the best: I teach them French for any life situations… I give them exposure to French-Canadian culture… I bank on their life experience and creativity to make their learning experience relevant and interesting… and I never talk about the tests! When they are scheduled for evaluation, then I submit them to an excruciating drill… except that it does not last more than a couple of weeks. When they are tested, they DO get their levels… if not the first time, the second time. And they all have good memories of their training…

All we need is a better system… it is feasible if the right issues are raised and the questionable testing tools are seriously re-examined… A website such as the one I found is definitely not the solution!

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

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Don’t we have a Law on Access to Information (ATI) in Canada?

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

I usually do not write that often… mainly because I have so little time to myself, spending hours on the road going from one client to another. But, today, I have a break (sort of!) since Jenn and Dave are writing their SLE test. I am kind of hyper, waiting for them to update me on how they did… so I decided to keep my mind busy and focus on something else. Hopefully, this way, time will fly and I will worry less!

What will happen if they fail? Well… they will not have any other choice than going back to be re-tested in one month! In the meanwhile their training contract will be extended (something that rejoices the Language Schools!)… I have seen people spending almost two years away from their jobs in full time training: enough to discourage even the bravest warrior!

Here is how the system works… three or seven days after civil servants have been tested (writing and reading), they receive an official letter with their marks (e.g. 49/65) and the level they obtained (B). If the latter is not the one required for their job position, they are invited to apply for another testing date (it may take more than a month, depending on the monthly date tests are updated: they cannot re-write the same tests). At no time, they can refer to the tests they wrote and there is no document of any kind to give them feedback. Consequently they are in the dark, as well as the individuals in charge of their training. For some inexplicable reasons, those tests are unavailable (even under the Law on ATI) as if they were classified TOP SECRET although they do not content any threat to national security!

On the other hand, there is no such fuss regarding access to tapes. When they are assessed on their oral skills, the whole interview is recorded on tape. When they get their results, if they ever failed, they receive a document pointing out their weaknesses so they know exactly what to focus and work on to make sure they will pass next time. If they wish, they can book an appointment with their trainer/teacher and, together, they can listen to the tape and “see” where the interview went wrong. They are not allowed to take notes but, at least, they know what they have to improve in order to achieve their level.

I do not see why something similar could not be arranged for those who wish to learn from their mistakes in previous writing/reading exams. Of course, I am not suggesting that they get their copies back! This would degenerate into the biggest smuggling in the History of Canada! I just can imagine government employees distributing (or even selling) copies of those tests to the ones scheduled to write within the same month! Although I am not convinced it would help since no one can memorize 65 questions and long texts… yet it would give a pretty good idea on the type of questions asked!

Actually, access to their tests could follow the same procedure as access to their tapes… People could request an appointment with their trainer/teacher and sit in a room with plenty of time to go through the whole tests. It would definitely ease the training process and… the pain! But it seems nobody cares! The Government certainly does not… the civil servants adopted the attitude of defeatism and… the schools? They are not interested in accelerating the process because they are in this business for the $$$… More often their students fail, longer the contracts are… they have no interest in blowing the whistle and seeing their profits decrease! I do think differently… I do not run a school, I do not make my living based upon volume… I built my professional reputation on quality and results… and anything that could help me to target specific needs for a specific goal would be more than appreciated!

I think I do know why access to their tests is denied… first because I suspect no one ever really asked for such access. Unless hundreds (or perhaps even thousands) of civil servants push the issue, I do not believe anyone else has interest to make those tests available. Those who design the tests would not want people starting to file grievances or ask for a review of their tests because they found mistakes : imagine someone like Jenn (and many others) who missed her level by 2 answers having access to her test… based upon the previous tests content, we assume there are potentially enough mistakes (I included some in my post A Breath-taking Plunge into Hades) for her to be able to have her results modified! Such access could provoke unwanted reactions among civil servants, but also among the Public… nothing like this stays secret for very long and, then, the Press would make sure every single Canadian who pays income tax is fully aware… after all, who is paying for this massive training?… No Governement (previous, present or future) would want such a far-reaching possible scandal… Let’s be realistic here: not all Canadians agree on the Official Languages Law and Policies… something like that would only give them ammunition…

But… whatever the reason is, under the Law on the Access to Information, every single civil servant who fails SLE tests has the right to ask! The question is: who will be brave enough to ask first???…

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