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 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:


The Unfathomable Abyss of the Human Brain…

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

I have always been staggered, if not fascinated, by the functioning of the human brain (especially when that brain belongs to an Anglo!)… This ugly grey spongious “raw material” is extremely “hi-tech”! No computers will ever think like a human brain, as sophisticated they might be… every time I see a story on the latest technological gadget, I am quite impressed! Not with the whatsit itself though… rather with the brain behind it!…

In the early 70s, I had come across an article saying that the human brain was getting more information on a daily basis than the brain of a man from the 19th Century during the course of his life. That was almost 40 years ago (am I that old? Gee!)… before the computer age! Just try and imagine how it is now: Instead of a daily basis, we are probably now speaking of a hourly basis (and I am generous here!). This little ugly thing is quite resourceful, is it not? Fortunately, our brain has the capacity to sort out that information for us and retain only what is useful and interesting… Otherwise we all would turn insanely insane! And… Thank God, this is probably why most of us suck at trivia games! Who can possibly remember every little insignificant thing that is thrown at us?

Monday I introduced the demonstrative adjectives to Seema : ce, cet, cette and ces. It certainly was not one of the most difficult concepts she encountered (compared to personal pronouns objects, demonstratives are a piece of cake!)… I often accuse my students of being too analytical, especially scientists like James, Dave and Seema… I try and do my best to provide them with clear and easy explanations because I do believe it is useless to complicate something that is already complex enough to start with. I consider that they do not need to shell and dig deeper into rules which, most of the time, make no sense… yes, there is usually a reason for their being yet it is “the way it is”! I used to think both Dave and James were my toughest students: always analyzing stuff… just unable to live with my basic explanations! When pushed too far, this type of thinking process, unfortunately, can only lead to confusion when applied to language acquisition. Sometimes, you just have to let it go! Well… I had not met Seema! I really do not have a clue of how her brain is actually functioning… Many times I tried to follow her reasoning, but I miserably failed to understand it!

It would be impossible for me to list examples here because I would not know how to do it logically. Do not get me wrong here! Seema is veeeeeeery intelligent!… Yet sometimes I believe it is a deterrent to her learning. Although I admit she makes me laugh all the time! Thanks to her good sense of humor!…

Back to Monday… she was working on filling in the blanks with the correct demonstrative adjective (according to the gender and the number of each noun)… Of course, Seema always reflects out loud! There was this sentence: Ils ont pris ____ avion. I heard her saying “Avion… plane… okay! plane is masculine singular.” For a minute there, I probably looked like a total idiot… then she said “Cet avion! Plane est masculin, non?” Yes Seema! avion is masculine, plane is not! Because “plane” is neither masculine nor feminine… “plane” is neutral just like any other nouns in English! “Really?… well it’s big! enough to be masculine!” she said. “Okay Seema… rewind the tape and éclaire ma lanterne s’il-te-plaît because I really don’t have a clue what you’re talking about!”

Then she explained how her brain had processed the info I had given her regarding genders (at that very moment, I wished I had been a cell which would have enabled me to enter her brain and follow the thread of her personal logic!)… Some time ago, I had told her about one of my former students who had reacted strongly (a macho reaction, nothing more!) to the fact that voiture was feminine… according to him, a car had to be masculine because traditionally cars were part of male culture (???)… Since I had seen a potential endless argument coming, I had told him the French had thought of him by giving him un camion instead of une voiture!

Personally I would have forgotten about such an insignificant anecdote, but Seema had not! She had stored this information somewhere in her brain so she could retrieve it one day! Fine! But Monday I was still unable to link the truck to the plane… she told me a truck was big and a plane was even bigger, therefore it had to be masculine! I was about to tell her it was not relevant at all… gender was not based upon sizes!… Then I quickly reviewed nouns like autobus, autocar, métro, bateau, navire, voilier, paquebot, train, sous-marin… they all are masculine!!! And… they all are BIG! As illogical her explanation may have appeared to me, as true it was… I am pretty sure one day I will find an exception to Seema’s rule, but French is made of exceptions and, let’s be honest here, absurdities… one more will not add to the difficulty level!

I realized each of my students has a different way of processing the information I give them each time I see them… what makes sense for Seema would probably make no sense at all for either James or Dave… They all have their own schemes, their own grids, their own cross references, their own tips… and who am I to tell them they are wrong? As long as it works for them and they learn, I do not really care which path they take… Of course I would prefer them to take the simple, straight path… but, for some, it is necessary to go down a winding path only because they have a tortuous reasoning… I guess this is why they are scientists and I am not!

Whatever they do to accelerate their learning process… whatever their reasoning is, they all end up reading, writing, understanding and speaking French by reflex (which is the ultimate goal)… Today, during class, I had a 20 minute casual conversation with Susan in French… a couple of times, she plugged a y without even thinking of it and what I saw in this young woman’s eyes was pride and pure bliss!!! At the end of the day, it is all I need to convince myself I did my job! and not any job… a great job!

“L’obstacle est le chemin.”

Proverbe zen

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


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!

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…