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


An Image is Worth 1,000 Words…

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

Yesterday was our evening at the theater! For me it is very important that my students get the essential exposure to French Canadian culture… I refuse to confine them in a classroom doing grammar and practicing for their tests. They need to breathe some fresh air and take the pulse of the real world… Perhaps am I exceeding what I am asked to do… Perhaps am I too demanding of my trainees… Perhaps should I just do my job and go back home after class…

Well… I cannot! The idea of teaching them for the mere purpose of writing tests and passing an oral interview kills me! I want them to learn French for life… I want them to use their second language as much as they can… I want to give them the will to “live” in French beyond the government tests… I want them to have a choice… I want to pick their curiosity enough so they will wish to maintain their knowledge of the language. It is also vital that they understand the French world surrounding them…

Unlike other language providers, I take my trainees out regularly… it is a reward for their hard work. Although having dinner and attending a play in French was pretty difficult for them, especially Seema who is a beginner, they all had the time of their lives… and they are looking forward to repeating the experience.

The Théâtre de l’Île in Gatineau is a wonderful spot… Built in 1886, this former Château d’eau had many vocations throughout the years. Ravaged by a fire in 1974, the Hull City Council and the National Capital Commission joined their efforts, in 1976, to create the very first municipal theater in Québec.

Le Théâtre de l'Île situé dans le Vieux Hull

Le Théâtre de L'Île situé dans le Vieux Hull

Since an image is worth a thousand words, I thought of posting pictures of our evening instead of trying and describing it with simple words… Look at the smiles and be the judge!…

Dîner sur la terrasse du Théâtre de l'île, entourées de magnifiques jardins

Dîner sur la terrasse du Théâtre de l'Île entourée de magnifiques jardins

Tout juste avant le lever du rideau

Tout juste avant le lever du rideau

The teacher seems more exhausted than her students!

The teacher seems more exhausted than her students!

La Dame dragon, James and Seema after the play

La Dame dragon, James and Seema after the play

La Dame dragon, James and Alice... still smiling!

La Dame dragon, James and Alice... still smiling!

The three survivors of a long evening!

The three survivors of a long evening!

I dedicate this post to three brave “soldiers”, Alice, Seema and James, who were not afraid to jump into French… swim for their lives and… win the Gold Medal!!! In my book, this experience was the real test for them (and much more enjoyable!), not a fake test in some artificial setting like the ones they will have to take… Chapeau mes amis!

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

“Les deux pieds sur le sol, on ne peut apprendre grand-chose sur le saut en chute libre.”

Joyce Maynard

Photo Credit – Le Théâtre de l’Île:


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


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


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

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Louis Aragon, écrivain français

Photo Credit:


Long Weekends and Summer Holidays: My Worse Nightmare Come True!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

Dave is currently spending his summer holidays in PEI and will be back August 18… Before he left, he was supposed to file his accomodation request for his second attempt at the written test. He was told it would take 4 to 6 weeks before he could have a re-testing date. Since I have not heard from him, I suspect he did not do it! Well… he was kind of disgusted with the whole thing when he left… perhaps he needed to put it on ice for a while. What I fear the most is that he might be quite rusty by the time he will get back! I do not believe he will hear much French in Prince Edward Island!!! Of course, he took all his books (grammar, short novels, Astérix) with him swearing he would review and keep up with his French… Unfortunately, experience taught me otherwise! Most of the time, the books stay in the suitcase!… Can I blame my students for not making the time while vacationing? Not really… I am not sure I would be more disciplined than they are.

Learning a second language is not like learning anything else… when you get away from it for more than a day or two, you start forgetting simple notions and regressing quickly. I always remind my trainees that what took them three months to learn and assimilate will take only three days to vanish!… Advanced students do not face that problem because French is kind of engrained in their brain, but it is another story for beginners. Fortunately, what seems gone forever can be easily retrieved yet it takes a while… therefore, there is no room for new stuff! During that time, the meter is running… This is problably why I hate deadlines so much! Language cannot be learned in a specific time frame… there are moments when people just soar, then there are moments when they literally suck! Learning a second language is made of ups and downs… sometimes, my students reach a ceiling and they cannot absorb anything new for a while… THAT stresses them out more than necessary! For me, it is only business as usual… I only have to be patient and tell them “On se calme le pompon… tout rentrera dans l’ordre sous peu!”… Their brain is only overloaded with information, abstract concepts and rules… it takes some time to sort everything out. Let’s not be panicky here, life is too short!!! And…after all… it is only French!!!

Nevertheless there are a few small things people under’going language training can do to maintain their knowledge… it only requires commitment and a minimum of effort!… It actually sounds pretty much easy, doesn’t it? Except that, in reality, it is not as simple as it sounds…

One hour per day… only one lousy hour… I am not asking anything else from them! Instead of reading the paper in English, they can choose to read Le Droit (even if they merely read the headlines!)… Watching a TV program in French will not kill them either: Radio-Canada has excellent shows… they only have to pick one that agrees with their taste and interest and watch it on a regular basis… Listening to the radio in French while driving is not that demanding… is it? La Courte Échelle (Québec Publisher) has a great variety of novels for juniors (from age 8 to 16)… easy to read and quite interesting! Bottom line, it is a matter of choice

For instance, yesterday Susan told me she had rented a made in Québec movie (Maëlstrom with Marie-Josée Croze) over the long weekend… I was indeed very proud of her! She could have watched it in English, but she chose (wisely) to watch it in French… she admitted she had selected the English sub-titles, but hey! who cares? If it made her feel more comfortable, why not? Living in Canada is a bonus because, by law, all DVDs must be in both English and French… all it takes is a couple of clicks: Menu, French and Select… C’est l’enfance de l’art quoi!

On the other hand, this morning, Seema struggled through the entire two hours of her session with me… She was totally lost (and I seriously doubt it was because of the backlash caused by the Backstreet Boys’ presence at The Marshes last Monday… Sam did recover! Unless mom is a secret admirer of these guys… actually I saw them on the news, I would not even pay attention to them if they were sitting next to me! What fame can do… n’est-ce pas?)! The results of three days away from French… she left the classroom feeling guilty! Guilt is probably the worse feeling to live with… and there is no need for it! Seema is a very well organized woman, in both her professional and personal lives… since I know she has the required self-discipline, it falls to her to make the time for French and stick to her schedule. I work with adults and I cannot tell them what to do as if they were toddlers… They have to make that choice for themselves and, then, they will get rid of the annoying guilt that consumes their lives!… And… do I have to remind my students of their upcoming tests? The clock is ticking buddies!!! Consequently, apply your freedom of choice wisely…

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


“Dans sa pleine liberté, l’esprit est pareil à cet insecte stupide qui passe la moitié de son existence à filer un cocon, et l’autre moitié à le détruire.”

André Suarès, écrivain français


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



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