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! 😉

A Little Common Sense would not Hurt? Would it?…

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

Still wrapped up in the Jenn and Dave’s saga, this morning, I came across another non sense… Because of special accommodations, I had requested (6 months ago) that Dave’s FSL tests should be formatted to suit his special needs and that he should be given more time (because of its duty to accommodate, the Public Service Commission had no other choice than accept my request, though the paperwork took forever!)… Consequently, he wrote the first part of one test Monday morning and he will write the second part Friday morning.

In the meantime, we are still working on those practicing tests (useless to say that this exercise is totally draining and frustrating, without mentioning it does not really help!) trying to develop strategies that will allow him to pass his B level… because, right now, it is about anything except knowledge of the language. When there is no reasonable solution to a problem, we are still left with the creativity card, aren’t we? The question is: how can we go around the problem with a minimum of collateral damages? I am not a trainer this week, I am a strategy coach… one who yells on top of everything! I do admit I lost my temper a couple of times this week. But, Dave is a great guy and he does not take it personally… Heureusement! Nevertheless, this process is excruciating for the two of us… He fails, I fail also!

Would it cross your mind to give a Grade 5 class a Grade 12 test? I hope not!!! It would be a disaster for those kids’ self esteem and self confidence, wouldn’t it? Well… believe it or not, the experts who design the tests measuring the Canadian civil servants’ abilities in their second language apparently think it is fair to submit everyone to the same tests, disregarding the level they are required to obtain. The gap between an A and a C is huge! Someone with an A level can hardly get by in the second language… Someone with a C level (although ranked as barely functional) is expected to grasp (almost) all the nuances and subtleties of the language… The B level is somewhere in between and its definition has never been clear to me: my understanding is that it is the minimum level you must have in order to be able to fill in any position with the government (only a few positions are described as unilingual English), but this is only temporary since, sooner or later, those positions’ required level is turned into a C.

Would it be that complicated to have two different tests: one to assess the B level and another to assess the C level? Since the actual tests’ content targets both levels, it would take less than one hour to sort out the questions pertaining to each level and then split the test in two… of course, there would not be enough questions on each test, but adding a few more would not be that painful! Anyways it would certainly be less painful for the panel of experts than it is for people who have to write the tests the way they presently are… All it takes is a little common sense! The question is: is there anyone left with such a basic and essential quality in a machine where everything is buried under red tape administration, bureaucracy, documents with no significant content or message?

Language training in the Public Service, after 35 years, is now out of proportions (and somewhat out of control)… This is something (it appears) that was never actually regularly assessed, reviewed, scrutinized or submitted to quality control… I do believe it is only a matter of time before the bomb explodes! Based upon the Canadian Law on Official Languages, it is impossible to rewind the tape and go back prior to 1972… Bilinguism is here to stay (like it or not!)… But, the whole process has to be studied and put back on track with a maximum of efficiency and a minimum of expenses: so much money has been and is currently wasted on this massive training of the Public Service workforce… it is time tax payers enjoy a break!… All it takes is a hero with a bit of common sense

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

A Breath-taking Plunge into Hades

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

I must admit I have little patience (if none at all!) for computers, technical stuff, red tape administration, ignorance, incompetence and bad taste! Yet I have the patience of an angel when I teach people how to speak, understand, write and read French. However, there are moments in my professional life when I do lose patience and get angry… I am very passionate regarding certain aspects of my work and, if someone ever grazes one of my sensitive spots, I then spit FIRE!

In a couple of days, two of my students (Public Service employees) will be tested on their FSL written abilities so they can obtain their job position’s required levels (one is going for a C and the other, for a B).

The young woman looking for a C wrote the test a month ago and she missed her level by 2 answers (she needed 57 good answers out of 80 questions). According to me, she is bilingual: she spent her grade school and high school in French immersion and she attended McGill University in Montreal. Se can work and live in French, there is no doubt about that in my mind!

The man looking for a B started his FSL training (from scratch) in August 2007, therefore French has not sunk in yet… it will take him years to grasp the language nuances and subtleties (given he will use and maintain his French)… for him to be able to get his level, he will need 46 good answers out of 80 questions (although this version of the test has been replaced with a 65 question version June 2, 2008: something to talk about some time later!).

What are their chances to succeed? If they were tested on their knowledge of the language (grammar, structure, vocabulary, idiomatic expressions, verbs, etc.), I would say Jenn would get an E (exemption) and Dave would probably get his B without struggling too much.

Unfortunately, the way federal public servants are evaluated has nothing to do with the real world and they have to take the tests (writing, reading and oral) on an average of three times before they achieve their levels. Nothing to lift their spirits, or mine!

Prior to their evaluation, we run a marathon of practicing tests (copies of previous tests): apparently this is an indicator of how they will do on the actual test. This idea is odd since, when they go for the real evaluation, the test is anything except similar to the ones they have been practicing with for weeks. I have been working with those practicing tests for years now and all they assess is: tolerance to stress and frustration, strategy, decoding and interpretation skills. Francophones, if they were submitted to such evaluation in French, would fail big time!

To illustrate my point, I did collect a few samples of non-sense questions that appear systematically in those tests. For instance, in the sentence (…) On ne va pas à la conférence _______ l’exposition; on reste (…), I have to pick between ni à, pas de, pas and ni le. Obviously the right answer is ni à although it is inconsistent with the sentence which should read: On ne va NI À la conférence NI À l’exposition!

And what to say about something like this? In the sentence Il mange _________ des légumes, il est végétarien, my choices are: seulement, trop, beaucoup, plusieurs… here I have to switch my French hat to my English hat and pick seulement knowing it is an anglicism. This sentence, if written correctly, should read: Il NE mange QUE des légumes (…); something my students DO know for a fact!

Another type of questions is even more dreadful because, in the multiple choices, there are two good answers: Le chef de section près _______ elle est assise est malade, as usual I am provided with 4 choices (de quoi, de qui, dont, duquel) but! I have two good answers, de qui and duquel. Here I have to guess which one the panel of experts decided was the only correct answer! It is a 50/50 guessing game, something that should never occur in a test!

A sentence like the following, even if not intended to compel me to choose the wrong answer, might just do that: Consultez votre agenda, car l’autobus pour Toronto part _____ Montréal à 20h30. My choices here are en, par, pour and de… If I am tired and less alert than usual, I will see pour Toronto and conclude they want pour Montréal as well, although it is grammatically incorrect in both cases. Wrong! The correct answer is de Montréal. If originally the sentence had been written correctly, I would not have been misled (…) l’autobus À DESTINATION DE Toronto (…)

Of course, I have many other examples, but I would have to write a book instead of a post. On the other hand, I have to underline some recurrent mistakes that, according to the panel of experts, are correct… therefore, when writing the test, I have to rule those out as being mistakes: à titre de renseignements which is the translation of for your information does not appear anywhere either in old or new tests, they use the anglicism à titre d’information (at least they are consistent!). There are lots of c’est ainsi, par exemple and ainsi, par exemple… those are called pléonasmes in French and refer to the use of two words (in a row) with the same meaning: one is more than enough… make your pick!!! But, please, don’t use both!

And what to say about a sentence like this: Est-ce Pierre à qui veulent parler Stéphane et Martin? Even Molière’s work has been re-written in modern language so that we can understand his plays… therefore, why just not write: Est-ce à Pierre que Stéphane et Martin veulent parler (the way we do normally speak and write)?… Nope!

So… will Jenn and Dave get their levels? With this type of testing, there is no guarantee at all… If I had to bet on the winning horse, I would pick Jenn because of her sound background in French. Dave does not have yet what it takes to win such a race (unless he is lucky that day!)… not because we did not work hard enough, not because he is not a good learner, not because of a lack of knowledge… only because he still has to develop and perfect his strategy skills in order to be able to play the guessing game the right way.

As for me, I will feel sick in my stomach until I get their results… and I will be angry at the so-called panel of experts. Who are they anyways? What are their credentials? Where are they from? What is their field of expertise? I know only one thing for sure: their testing tools are more than questionable…

And when you read a staffing notice sent to all government employees talking of “une piscine (swimming pool) de candidats” when referring to “a pool of candidates”, I do wonder… would this notice have gone through the hands of the very same panel of experts? Unless it went through some free translator provided by Google…

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