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! 😉

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:


Trivia Games… Definitely not Flattering for the Ego!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

Thursdays are pizza days at the cafeteria of the building where most of my students are working… Usually I have lunch with either Dave or James and… when they are not available, I ask Seema to join me… Wednesday James told me he could not make it this week because he was part of a team for Trivia from 12:00 to 1:00 P.M. When I asked Seema, she said she was also part of a team with Alice… Then I was invited to go and sit (quietly of course!) behind Alice, so I could observe. Hey!… why not? I thought it could be fun!

When I got there, Seema had already grabbed a chair for me and I ended up between her and Frédéric… of course I was not supposed to participate since each team was made of 4 players… BUT! how is it possible to keep your mouth shut? Actually, it is impossible! Even more impossible when you have a big mouth like mine!!! Although I was not of a big help to the team… shame on me!!!

The first 10 questions were about Canada… Pfff! a piece of cake, n’est-ce pas?… False! The team was made of three non-native Canadians: Seema (Indian), Alice (South-African with Scottish background) and Rod (Hong Kong Chinese)… the fourth participant was a young Québécois pure laine, Frédéric. Since I was kind of part of the team by default, we were actually two native Canadians from Québec. Finally we were quite an interesting brochette and we were hopeful to do well…

We were disenchanted right at the beginning… Our glaring inaptitude sent us down the dumps and none of the following questions ever raised our spirits… Five intelligent and well educated people who could not answer basic questions on geography or History… Both Alice and Seema studied in British Columbia and they were able to name the highest mountain… But when we were asked about the largest lake, we all agreed on Superior Lake (one of the Great Lakes) based upon its name… Duh!… the right answer was Huron Lake… To the question “what day was celebrated the 400th Anniversary of Quebec City?”, we all knew it was at the beginning of July and we voted for the 4th although Alice was convinced it was the 3rd… well… she was right! Useless to say both Frederic and myself wanted to cringe under the table! Two Québécois de souche, beaten by a South-African woman!!! Shame on us!!! Then we were asked to give the name of the longest bridge in our country. We all have been on that bridge at some point in our lives… we could tell the location, but we arbitrarily wrote “Centennial”… the answer was “Confederation” and, how generous of the scrutineers… they gave us half of a point! I am convinced James got the answer right since he is originally from Nova Scotia, and his team got one full point!…

Alice, Seema and Rod had an excuse for not knowing certain things related to Canadian History and geography… but what excuse did Frédéric and I have? Since we are no morons, I will say it is due to the Québec Nationalism… in school, we were taught about every little detail related to Québec and then about the world: I hardly remember anything that was said about the rest of Canada… Okay, my excuse sucks! But I will hold on to it so I will not feel too stupid… We did not do well on those 10 questions because of the Québécois’ natural penchant for contemplating their own belly buttons… Right Frédéric?

In the ensuing rounds, I (and probably the other players too!) banked on Frédéric’s age to come up with the correct anwers to questions on movies, TV shows, actors, etc… Well… I realized age had nothing to do with Trivia: it had to do with personal interests and taste… Frédéric shared with me that he did not watch television, therefore… he was not more knowledgeable than the rest of us… As for myself, I only managed to come up with one good answer in the Movie category: Ghandi! I thought Seema would know right away… NOPE! It appears we know more about other countries than our own… except for the Americans, of course!

Our answers on The Olympics were probably our best… Rod and Alice seemed quite well informed on that topic… I would have wished Diane (the French teacher from Michigan) had been part of our team, or at least, I had had access to her blog during the game… a couple of weeks ago, she had written a post answering the very same questions that were asked yesterday… I had read it and I thought I had learned something… indeed, I had… but apparently it never sank in… once again, I realized that information retention was linked to interest… and since I never was an Olympics’ fan, I am not surprised I sucked in this round also! Finally… we did not do great, although we were not the worse players. Alice said something that stayed on my mind all day… she had the correct answer to a question and Rod asked her if she was sure “Yes I’m sure! For once, I can show I have an education!”

Of course, being a thinker, I did not stop pondering on what happened yesterday… I do not really know what the other players’ interests are, but I know mine well: any questions related to arts, literature, cinéma d’auteur, fashion, philology, ethymology, languages or traveling would have been easy for me to answer… as for Alice, I am convinced she would have been terrific in a round on cycling!

Knowledge, in fact, is based upon individual interests… we all may have heard of the same stuff (in school or elsewhere), but we did not necessarily “learned” it… I hated physics, maths, statistics, biology and chemistry… and I do not remember anything of what was ever said in class… on the other hand, I have vivid recollection of latin and greek… although I do think I forgot most of it, I know I could do either a latin version or thème quite easily. Same thing with all those old languages I learned in university some 25 years ago (picard, anglo-normand, occitan, francien), I know for sure I can sit down and read texts written in any of these languages and understand them naturally…

Learning occurs when learners are interested in the subject… learning is about knowledge retention… I can hear the same information day after day and it will never stay with me, only because I could not care less!

This is the reason why it is so important for me to get my students interested: not in French itself, but rather in the way it is presented to them… Teaching them only with work related stuff is not a good idea: they need to read, write, hear and talk about stuff that arouses their curiosity and appeals to their personal interests… otherwise, the second language will never stick with them for very long. Perhaps for the few minutes their oral evaluation test will last… but never beyond…

“Je suis un écrivain célèbre dans un pays qui ne lit pas. Souvent, quand les gens me reconnaissent, ils me disent qu’ils aiment beaucoup mes films.”

John Grisham, écrivain américain

Dinosaur Land… Have You Been There Lately?

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

I know someone who has been away from work since May 2007… she is on full time training in the now most popular language school in town (the one with a brand new feature : each individual classroom equipped with a personal fridge! WOW!!! I am convinced having easy access to cold drinks – not included in the package though, trainees must bring their own – greatly helps learning French…)… Well… it does not seem to ease Belinda’s learning process… She had to take both written and reading tests a couple of times before she finally got her B. Yet she was not out of the woods because (I do not remember exactly how many times she tried) she keeps failing the oral test systematically!… she first took the old version, then she was on a pilot project and, finally, she went back and took the final new version. Last time was at the end of June… usually, civil servants who fail any of the tests have to move on with their training and they do not go back to work until they get their required levels… Therefore Belinda is still attending school, but she asked to be re-tested only at the end of August instead of the end of July hoping for better results next time.

Personally, I believe it will make no difference at all… even if they keep her on full time training for months! It is obvious this woman has reached her ceiling… she is no longer learning anything… the switch is off for good! Her only salvation is to get away from that toxic environment… take a few steps back and the time to breathe… then she could have a couple of weekly one-on-one lessons in her office… Right there, she would feel more confident: back on the job, surrounded by her colleagues, in a familiar environment (with or without a personal fridge!) and, most important, productive again!

I just do not get it! It pisses me off upsets me to see how those language schools work! They have one way and they will never adapt their teaching methods according to their trainees’ personal needs… of course, I do know why: they do not have a clue about how to accomodate learners’ specific needs… they are not specialized in the Adult Education field… and I bet they never heard about andragogy principles! It looks like trainees are merely livestock… they feed them for the slaughterhouse (the tests)! I am sure Belinda is relating to this right now… Fortunately, many civil servants adapt to that rigid obsolete teaching style and they manage to survive and get their levels (not without lots of sweat, frustration and more than one attempt)… but there are also many Belindas…

In the Spring of 2006, I contracted as an independent consultant with a language school (the most popular one at the time and, by far, the best in my book… although far from being perfect! if you know what I mean…) to train producers and reporters at the CBC. I had been approached based upon my corporate image and program… Kind of flattering in a way… I worked there for one full year until the CBC’s demands increased and I asked for more money (they were willing to pay the extra amount, but the school thought I had trespassed some forbidden territory! Never talk money with them… they will perceive you as an ungrateful monster! and tell me, why should I be grateful in the first place?)…

Over a period of seven months, I trained seven different small groups of producers and reporters working for The National… Then, I was asked to take over five groups (technicians, cameramen, editors, archivists and local news producers)… each group had 7 hours of weekly training (a full day with me). At first, they were reluctant… they had heard about my methods and high demands, and I knew I had no more than half of a minute to grab their interest… otherwise I was dead meat! They had been on training for ages… but they knew nothing! Their former teacher, a History teacher, would spend mornings giving them dictations (excerpts from Les Filles de Caleb) and afternoons compelling them to watch the TV series based upon the same novel… well, Les Filles de Caleb had been a popular series but, honestly, who cares about what happened in a Québec small village in the early 1900s? All it only ever achieved was operating like a powerful sedative on everyone! I quickly changed their daily diet: grammar basics, conversations in a controled environment for 6 hours… Then I traded Les Filles de Caleb for Rumeurs (a modern up beat urban series with people working in the publicity and communication field – much more appropriate for this audience!)… an episode of 30 minutes followed with a discussion on it.

It did not take me long to realize there were four people who could not follow their peers’ pace… I saw them crying and getting quite frustrated. I took action right away: I re-arranged all the groups and took those four individuals together… of course, it created a real commotion at the CBC… they never had anyone to reshuffle groups and modify the schedule… Unfortunately for them I never budged and they finally gave in after eight days… Useless to mention the ones who had experienced difficulties until that day (because of some learning differences) finally started to understand and make noticeable progress… After I left, one of them told me the school had put the groups back the way they were before I made modifications… and she said she was bursting into tears again! In a way, I felt bad for them… but hey! I cannot save them all, can I?

My point is… when a teacher (given this person is actually a “teacher”) sees that nothing works, it is time to show some creativity, consider other options and find solutions… and sooner, the best!!! Otherwise, many other Belindas will be added up to the list of failures…

“Comment se fait-il que, les petits enfants étant si intelligents, la plupart des hommes soient si bêtes? Ça doit tenir à l’éducation.”

Alexandre Dumas fils, écrivain français

Urban Myths Die Hard!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

I was in Montreal for the long Canada Day weekend… Every time I have a few extra days off, I do love to go back “home”. I got used to my life in Ottawa, but something is missing… it is not quite a city yet (though we now have our share of murders!)… anyways nothing to compare with Toronto or Montreal.

My Montreal’s friends still wonder why I moved in Ontario (I had my personal reasons): we always end up by having those heated conversations around English vs French… they cannot understand why I do not insist on living in French all the time! Well… it would take too much of my energy and… I do not mind switching to English when I cannot get my message across in my mother tongue.

One of them now works for an Association with two branches (Canada and Québec). Of course he has to come to Ottawa often and, on the weekend, he was complaining about the fact no one dares to even try and speak French to him… colleagues as well as Government representatives. Like many other Québécois, he is convinced Anglos are too arrogant to learn and, if they do know French, they will not make an effort.

Do I agree with him? Not quite… Actually those people are terrified! They do not know enough to feel at ease with their second language. Perhaps they would try in a casual setting, but certainly not in a formal meeting!

One of Ottawa’s urban myths is that Anglophones can learn how to speak, understand, read and write French in four months of full-time training! Where does this weird statement come from? I have absolutely no idea! The only thing I am sure of is that every single soul in this town does believe it! Was there someone out there who achieved such a hard task years ago and, then, set the standards for the whole Public Service? God knows!…

Is it ever possible? Unless someone is what I call a faux-débutant, no way! Someone with no knowledge of French (except for a few basics learned in high school) cannot learn in either 4 or 6 months… But! The Public Service of Canada does believe it can be done! The language schools promise they will bring people to a B level in this amount of time (useless to say they do not believe in what they promise!)… and the trainees themselves believe so, until they realize (normally after a few weeks) they will not be able to make it (then, it is the ensuing series of panick attacks and disgust!)…

Consequently, training contracts are extended endlessly until people get their required level. Learning French this way is a traumatic experience, nothing else! For months, they have trainers (who would need serious training themselves!) forcing abstract notions down their throats until they can pass the tests! Therefore… what do you think happens once this dreadful process is over? What would YOU do? Exactly!!! Since they feel inadequate in their second language, they prefer to stick to English!

To my friend in Montreal, I will just say that people he sits with in meetings simply do not know how to use French in real life contexts… Yes! they had training but they never learned how to communicate. Who’s fault is it? Not theirs!… Once again, the system is responsible for this national failure. Why? Because no one seems interested in reviewing an obsolete process that has been in place for so long… Pure laziness? or… refusal to admit one’s guilt?

Until the day someone will stand up and ask for change, this Ottawa’s urban myth will be around and well alive… Who will be brave enough to stop feeding it?

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


The #1 Fear Factor

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

In this series of posts, I will write about topics relevant to on-going language training, answering questions, discussing issues most learners have, facilitating their learning process and much more. My findings are the combined results of andragogical (andragogy is the word used for adult pedagogy) theories and my sound experience in the field.

That being said, I thought of starting this series with the universal myth of AGE… How many times did I hear “I am too old to learn a second language… I cannot concentrate any longer… I cannot remember anything… I wish I had learned French when I was a kid… etc.”? Too many indeed! This is why I always dedicate a couple of hours at the beginning of any training to explain a few facts so that this negative attitude will not affect my trainees’ learning.

Small children actually learn a second language much faster than adults and children in grade school. But not because of their age! It is only due to their lack of reasoning, questioning and knowledge: they are like sponges absorbing anything the world throws at them and they copycat adults. They only do what they are being told to do until they find their own ways and that comes when they develop the ability of reasoning.

Never ask a 4 year old child to translate the word chair in French or the word chaise in English, the answer will be “Duh!”… Small kids divide the world in two: French and English… they do not connect both languages! Yet, when they start reasoning and making that connection, they go through confusion and it is not uncommon for some to spend a year or two refusing to speak either English or French. Fortunately enough, this phase goes away after they figured out the reasons why they were so mixed up! Although some of them stick to their decision of speaking only the language they chose.

Adults (young or older) do not go through development stages as children do and, because of that, they learn differently: they need to understand the whys and the how, they need answers that make sense to them, they need to connect their mother tongue to the second language and they need to make use of their life experience (their best asset in their learning process).

Yes! There are some deterrents to their learning, but those have nothing to do with their age. All depends on their environment and not on their abilities to learn… Young adults are normally fast learners because their school years are not far behind and they have a methodology.

From my own observations, I would say that adults in their thirties and early forties are the ones who struggle the most due to the pace of their personal and professional lives: they are working towards promotions at work, if married, they have small children requiring lots of care and attention, they often have all sort of training going on in order to broaden their knowledge, they are either hockey moms and dads or soccer moms and dads… and most of the time they learn a second language for the mere purpose of getting a promotion! This generation X is seeking results overnight and they easily get frustrated when they realize that learning a language takes time and lots of effort.

Learners in their late forties and over are probably the best learners of all! The Baby Boomers are not as eager to get a promotion because they are already planning their retirement, therefore learning another language is a personal goal rather than a professional one. Their children are adults and do not require their devoted attention any longer so they have more time for themselves: learning a second language is still a challenge for them, but they enjoy it more than their younger peers who feel pressured all the time.

Hopefully this article demystified an old myth and will encourage people of all ages to consider the positive aspects of learning a second language and jump into a pool of fun… because adults are not much different from children: they learn better and faster when the door is open on creativity… But that will be the topic of another article… Stay tuned!