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


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:


I do not Need to Do Anything! Do you? Yet… I Have to!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

I am kind of time challenged this week… believe it or not, we are already at the end of August! Summer Holidays are over and school will start next week… I am under the impression summer went by without having seen it! It is probably due to the non stop shitty weather we had… actually I am still waiting for summer to arrive! Well… not really… I finally gave up hope this morning: 7 degrees Celsius was the wake up call I needed to resign myself to the consequences of Global Warming…

Dave returned from PEI, rested and rusted as well! It was not a big surprise… two weeks away, in a place where French is almost non existing, what can one expect? Not much… I am used to it, therefore he will need a good refresher and I can handle it without getting too frustrated! The Holidays’ aftermath comes with the job!

Before the “warm” season is over, I decided to organize one last “pedagogical” activity : dinner and theater “en français”… The young crowd took a raincheck so, once again, only the crooners will attend… James hates when I refer to us as “crooners”, he prefers the use of “more mature”… whatever James! If it makes you feel better… but it will not make you feel younger! This time, he was the one in charge of booking the tickets (I always delegate this part to a student: I do believe it is good practice!)… Il s’en est tiré avec brio! Of course, making reservations through the net is much easier than over the phone… but still… he had to deal with an unilingual web site where all instructions were in French! Clicking on the right icon was kind of imperative… otherwise we could have ended up having dinner on Wednesday and attending the play on Thursday (which would have been quite inconvenient for everybody!)… BUT! we are all set for next Wednesday.

Okay… I have digressed enough! I now need to focus on the topic of this post… Yeah… I need to… or do I have to?… Là est toute la question et… entre les deux, mon coeur balance! When I first arrived in Ottawa, I thought people here were quite needy: “I need to do this… I need to finish that… I need to go there… I need to be out of here by… I need to talk to you… I need to call this guy…” Actually I never really paid attention when Anglophones were using the expression need to… I started to notice it when I kept hearing Francophones using avoir besoin de the same way Anglos use it: “J’ai besoin de faire ceci… j’ai besoin de finir cela… j’ai besoin d’aller là… j’ai besoin d’être sorti d’ici avant… j’ai besoin de te parler… j’ai besoin d’appeler ce type…” YIKES!!! Of course, all this was part of the “franglais” repertoire so specific to this area… I knew I could not do much in order to fix the misuse of avoir besoin… I do hate bad French, but I do not have the soul of a missionary either! On the other hand, I could never let it go in class… I thought Anglophones “needed” to know the proper usage of this expression in French.

Monday, the problem arose once again… Last week, Seema had learned new idiomatic expressions such as avoir hâte, avoir envie, avoir le temps, avoir l’air, avoir la chance, avoir peur and, of course, avoir besoin… I had given her homework asking her to come up with a series of sentences using those expressions followed with de and a verb. She did well until she reached the famous avoir besoin de… then her sentences sounded “English”… Once more, I had to explain the usage of that idiomatic expression in a French context: unless it is a matter of life or death, we do not use avoir besoin de, we rather use devoir (must/have to)… For instance a sentence like this one in English “I need to see you after work” is translated with “Je dois te voir après le travail” or “Il faut que je te voie après le travail” in French… Of course, Francophones also have needs, but not this type of needs… Saying “J’ai besoin d’air… (I need some air…)” is correct…

People who study French are proud of their new knowledge and, at the beginning of their training, they like to spread it around and share their discoveries with their colleagues (especially the Francophones)! It sounds perfectly natural to me, but apparently I am an exception! In 2000-2004, I had a full time contract with the PSAC to train many of their employees… over the four years I spent there, I gained the reputation of being the Dragon Lady or worse, the Slave Driver… among my students, those nicknames were endearing… yet not so endearing among the Francophones who believed I was a snob from Montréal… using the 24 hour system, petit déjeuner for breakfast, déjeuner for lunch and dîner for dinner! In other words I was their worse nightmare come true and I was considered as a pest… did I care? NOPE!!! My job was to teach these Anglos how to communicate efficiently in a business oriented context… Street French cannot be used in the workplace! It only conveys a bad image and I never understood why Francophones around here would be so recalcitrant to polish their business image…

One day, after class, Catherine (one of my students in a beginners’ class at the time) had attended a meeting led in French… I had just taught the proper usage of avoir besoin… During the meeting, she had heard Francophones using that very same expression numerous times in the wrong context (i.e. with the English meaning). Later that day, during a coffee break, she asked some colleagues who had been attending the same meeting why they had not used the verb devoir instead… before they could answer, she proudly went on with the explanation I had given in class earlier. She was in the middle of a sentence when she suddenly felt a dozen of dirty looks on her and her boss asking PAAAAARDON????” She then started stammering and said she probably was wrong… having confused the rules… and she ended up apologizing… For what for God’s sake? For having tried to educate them on the proper use of avoir besoin in French? Catherine is probably the most diplomatic person I ever met and I doubt she did it with arrogance… she indeed was only proud to share her new knowledge with French-speaking colleagues. The next day, she told us about the tribulations of the day before… that day, all the employees enrolled in French made a pact: anything that would be said in class would stay in class forever… and for four years, they hold on to their promise!

I saw this happen more than once in different places afterwards… and it saddens me… These people are only enthusiastic about their French classes, their new knowledge and their learning progress… It does not take long before they realize they should keep their mouth shut outside the classroom… It seems they do not get any encouragement from the native French-speakers… If I were asked why, I would be tempted to say it is only because they are envious of them… but I could be wrong… it might be because, for years, Francophones were the only ones with bilingual positions and perhaps they feel threatened by this new hord of bilingual Anglos…

“Pour certains, les contrariétés sont un prétexte au découragement. Pour d’autres, c’est une incitation à se surpasser.”

François Garagnon

More Challenging?… I am not quite Sure about this One!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

There is this French teacher in Michigan, Diane, I really do admire… we pay visits to each others’ blogs regularly… Hers and mine, although both about teaching and learning French, are quite different… She teaches pre-schoolers and teenagers while I teach adults in the workforce. Although each of us has experience with opposite “clientele”, there are a couple of things we share: creativity, enthusiasm and genuine passion for what we do… Earlier this week I had left a comment on one of her posts, telling her how impressed I was with her multi-task abilities… Personally, I do believe teaching kids is much more challenging than teaching adults! Her reply was interesting… she wrote she was more at ease with 3-12 year old kids than with teens because she thinks teaching young children who are at a natural stage of language development is easier than teaching teenagers and adults who can be much more challenging…

Obviously we view the universe of teaching from different perspectives due to our personal experience… Actually I am scared of kids!… Their candid way of asking questions (questions that often leave me open-mouth) is so disarming sometimes! And by the way they look at me, I do know I cannot get away with some evasive answer… and they just will not let go until I give them an answer that totally satisfies them! In other words, no bullshit… only honest answers… And God! This can be really intimidating!…

It reminds me of a conversation I had with my niece, Alex, during one of her visit in Ottawa… at the time, she was 5 or 6 years old at the most and quite “mature” for her age… but messy like only kids can be! Therefore I had kindly asked her to put away the toys she had spreaded all over the basement before going out to the park… I remembered I had also offered to help her so it would take less time (Alex tends to visit Dreamland while doing stuff she does not like to do and it slows her down dramatically!)…

While cleaning her mess, she bluntly said “It shows you are a teacher and not a mom!” Of course I was not sure what she was trying to tell me, so I asked why… She then provided me with a sensible thorough explanation (I admit her answer was quite clever for such a young kid and I actually had no arguments to present in counterattack!) “Well… you never tell me what to do, you simply ask me… and you never raise your voice like moms do all the time… it is like you are giving me choices except that I know, by the tone of your voice and the look in your eyes, there will be consequences (bad of course) if I happen to make the wrong choice… and with you, there are no threats… only promises!… and I only know teachers who treat children that way!” Hmmm

I did not quite know what to think of that statement… was it a compliment or a reproach? I had to confirm either one, so I could sleep that night! “Is it a good or a bad thing?” She gave me that charming smile that always had the power to have me melt in a second “Don’t worry! It is good… because you treat me like a grown-up and not like a brainless kid! I am little but not intellectually challenged!” Children are amazingly smart and, if I had to teach them, I would be consistently monitoring my answers so that I would not sound too stupid! Kids are very judgmental and consequently they can serve you daily with real heartbreaks! It is much safer to deal with adults… even if they think you are a moron, they will not tell you!

Viewed from that angle, it is without a doubt less challenging to work with adults! On the other hand, when I consider the pedagogical aspect of teaching adults vs young children I do agree with Diane. Adults are fully developed (well… we hope!) and learning a second language does not come naturally… it requires much more effort and work… unlike children, they are far from being sponges and their abilities for absorbing are almost non existing. They need to be structured and able to make connections with their mother tongue… consequently, I have to provide them with exhaustive explanations and show them the inherent differences between English and French syntax… it is necessary to break down each sentence so it makes sense for them… Since it is important they think in French and lose the habit of translating literally from English, when it is obvious they do not understand one of my questions, I will repeat it replacing the French words with English ones but making sure to keep the same structure… For instance: “Y aura-t-il une réunion des employés à San Francisco d’ici trois semaines?”… if I ever had to repeat this question in English, it would sound like this: “There will have it a meeting of the employees at San Francisco from here three weeks?”… Although I am using English, I am still keeping my students in the French thinking mode…

Most teachers dread beginners and they will do anything to avoid teaching beginners’ class… since most of the time it is impossible to avoid them all, they really suck when they are compelled to do it! If the conversational approach works with learners who take French for mere recreational purpose, it certainly does NOT with the ones who need French for work. And, unfortunately, not many second language teachers are equipped to face such challenge…

More than once I have been accused of using English in class… as if explaining grammar rules and abstract concepts in French to people who can hardly say bonjour were not a big waste of time!!! Let’s use some basic common sense here pleaaaaaaase! Indeed I do not have any casual conversations in French with my students, unless those are occurring in a controlled environment using only what they learned and know well, until they have covered everything they need to know… And when finally we can do it, they sound like they have been speaking French all their lives!… and, most important, I do not have to interrupt them every two words to correct their mistakes! Why? Because they do not make any!!! They learned the correct way to express themselves, therefore they are not carrying on bad habits… Perhaps some would argue my method takes more time. It looks that way at the beginning because it takes some time to teach basics by layers… BUT! when my students jump in the water, they know how to swim like Olympic swimmers!!! They go for GOLD and nothing else!

If both my method and program take all of my students by surprise at the beginning, it does not take long for them to realize their efficiency… because they can actually see their progress… they do not need me to assess them…

Back to my first question… what is more challenging? Teaching children of teaching adults? I do believe both bring equal challenge… Teaching has never been recognized for its true value… Yet it is the most difficult job (also the most important)… If you think being a doctor is more difficult, think twice… behind each great doctor, there was an even greater teacher!…

“Ne vous souciez pas de n’être pas remarqué. Cherchez plutôt à faire quelque chose de remarquable.”


A Sudden Shift of Wind…

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

I have been operating my own business for 20 years now… I first started in Montréal under the name of Langplus: back then, I was working with large pharmaceutical companies, accounting and law firms, commercial insurance brokers… On site one-on-one French training was considered as luxury goods by employers and that privilege was saved up for Presidents, Vice-Presidents, CEOs and Partners. In the course of more than 10 years, I trained only two women who were partners in large accounting firms. In other words, I was offering and providing an exceptional service that was, most of the time, included in the annual performance bonuses of high ranked staff.

I often wondered how those people would have reacted if they had known that my previous clients were “guests” of Federal penitentiaries!… It made no difference at all in my book! but perhaps it would have in “theirs”… I never treated CEOs with more deference than my guys behind bars… in my eyes, both inmates and corporate executive officers deserved equal respect (I bet for a minute there you thought I treated the latter in a cavalier manner!)… Actually, my experience in prison taught me a few good lessons I never forgot and always applied in my business: you can exert your influence on someone without being either authoritarian or manipulative… but still asserting yourself. And of course, although younger than most of my corporate clients at the time, I was never impressed by them… I had been around hardened criminals and murderers long enough to learn not to judge people on what I saw: among them, there was an ex-lawyer sentenced to life in prison for having killed (with premeditation) his partner!… Each of us has the inner potential of crossing the fence, no matter what we do for our living!…

I have been digressing again… should I tell everyone I am the kind of person who likes smelling the roses along the way? When I write a post, don’t worry, I know exactly where I am going! Yet I cannot help it… I have to follow the thread of my thoughts and, sometimes, it takes me in Dreamland!!! However, I always come back to my initial topic…

Dès lors… de retour à mes moutons!

When I launched my business in Ottawa, mentality had changed a bit: I started teaching mixed groups (a first for me!) where there were more women than men… Since I had always taught to “male only” groups (and by no means standard!), I needed to adjust! It took me a while though… I was used to a different audience: a bunch of tough guys I was able to kick asses around without thinking twice because usually men get angry, but forget in no time! I quickly realized this approach did not work with women after I saw a couple of them burst into tears because I had asked them (and insisted in spite of their reluctance to do it) to conjugate the verb “être”! Some quit and the ones who stayed were real pain in the butt, because they had never forgotten the trauma I had inflicted them before their colleagues! Oh well… women are like that… so I tried my best to change my blunt manners and, to certain extent, I was successful.

There is one thing that never changed in the course of my practice: only people in management positions can have one-on-one training… Until not long ago, I always worked with people in their forties and fifties – aging crooners like myself (no offence! reality being we are no longer spring chicken folks!) – I could always relate to because we were products of the same generation… it was (and still is) easy to find some common interests to discuss in French…

Last November, I met ZZ… a young man who took one-on-one lessons with me for three months. Since he was quite advanced in French, we were able to have “real” conversations… the problem was to find some mutual interest we could discuss! Ô miracle!!! During a casual conversation on TV shows, we found out we were both addicted to the series LOST… Before the fourth season started in January, we went on a marathon and watched again the previous seasons on DVDs (at home, not in class!) and we always spent 30 to 45 minutes discussing our theories. We had found a connector and we forgot the age gap between us… I also realized how quick he was at refreshing or learning grammar rules and concepts. And I was quite impressed with his methodology… Of course, his school years were not that far behind him and he still remembered the terminology used in grammar (in English as well as in French).

Then, in March, I started one-one-one training with Jenn (my youngest student so far… 23 years old)… freshly out of McGill University, this young woman was a dream to work with… Teaching her was so easy… even when we were covering stuff she had never heard of before, she grasped it in no time and, most important, remembered and applied it immediately. Once again, in spite of our age gap, we connected right away… and we were never out of topics to discuss…

More recently, I started to train Susan and Jessica, both in their late twenties… they are savvy and it is easy to introduce complex notions because they absorb quickly. Actually, Susan is sooooooo enthusiastic with her French lessons, sometimes it is scary!… On the other hand, I really do appreciate it because she does not hesitate to put every effort in her learning and that only will help her to achieve her goal. With someone like her, I can set the bar very high and I know she will be able to eventually reach her full potential. Jessica was a bit more reserved when she started her training… the first time I could feel she was on guard… but I do think she is okay now… she is also a quick learner and I have no doubt she will reach her required level in French… I know I can push her (she is a smart cookie) so she will give me her best.

There is a shift of wind… I believe I will have more and more young fellows to train… if, at the beginning, I were not sure I could connect with this generation of young adults; I now see it differently… I do learn a lot from them… as much as they do learn from me…

“Il est aussi difficile de gouverner une maison pleine de filles que d’alimenter un grand feu avec des brindilles.”

Proverbe Tamil

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 #2 Fear Factor

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

If age is the #1 fear factor (read my previous post) for most people thinking of learning (or being compelled to learn) a second language, FAILURE is certainly the 2nd one! But… the question is: what are they afraid of actually failing? Of course, people learn a new language at different paces… some pick it up very quickly, others may need more time… but I never met anyone who could not learn at all! We all learned how to speak our mother tongue, didn’t we?

In my practice, I observed that Anglo-saxons were the ones who feared new languages the most… And I have no rational explanation for such a phenomenon… They believe (falsely) they lack the necessary skills, therefore they are not the most confident when they enter a language training program. Around here, Francophones say it is only because Anglophones are too arrogant to learn French (or any other languages)… I totally disagree on this! When they brag about the fact they do not need to learn a language they will never use anyways, they are only masking their fear… They have their pride and they do not want to admit publicly they are scared.

Compared to French, English seems much easier (is it???)… Obviously there are less rules due to the fact that the English world is not divided in two: feminine vs masculine… so many rules in French are derived directly from that particularity alone! And learning how to conjugate verbs is not an easy task either… In French there are no words such as would and will to turn a verb into either a conditional present or a future. That being said, every language has its differences and difficulty levels… for instance, in English, learning the right pronunciation is probably the most difficult… take the sound “ough” in words like though, trough, through, tough, thought… it is quite a challenge for anyone who does not have a “good” ear!

If I had to come up with some kind of explanation, I would say that, in North America, native Anglophones did not feel the need to learn a second language for a very long time… but the world evolved and being unilingual may close a few doors in terms of job opportunities. It is probably the reason why now so many English-speaking Canadians send their kids in French immersion schools… the very same people who, less than 20 years ago, did not see the benefits of being bilingual… while their parents are still afraid of failure, those children have a positive attitude and they enjoy learning French!

Among civil servants who must learn French in order to get or keep a position, this fear is even greater… because not only they do feel inadequate, but they have the Épée de Damoclès hanging above their heads: the fear of failing their tests!!!

Today I started preparing a young woman for her oral test… she told me how nervous she was: there was no need for it because I could feel her stress the minute I met with her… it was obvious she was not anticipating to have any fun during her 8 weeks of part-time training!

Anyone else would have not paid attention and would not have let her express her true feelings and fears… They would have started the army drill right away, letting her know that she had little time and she could not afford to waste any of it discussing issues that were irrelevant. Well… I did waste some time with her to discuss what indeed is very relevant to me!!! And while doing so, I slowly brought her back to some grammar basics… it did not take long before she felt totally at ease! When she left, I knew I had gained her trust and, from there, everything will soar… I admit we laughed a lot and we made fun of the upcoming oral test, but she also actually LEARNED more about French…

I managed to put her fear of failing the test asleep for at least the duration of her training… of course, she will get nervous again when we will approach her testing date. Yet I am convinced she will be confident that she will succeed and if she ever failed her B that first time, she will not take it as the worst moment of her life… she will only try it again until she gets her level! At least, no one will have had her feel like a failure. Hey! the woman will get 32 hours of training before her test… what do you expect??? Being realistic about what she can achieve and what she cannot will help her to go through this much more easily…

And Susan… I promise you one thing: I will do my best to make your training enjoyable and useful… I will not push you around and force French down your throat for the mere purpose of passing a test… I do not keep official statistics records on my students’ achievements! Give me your best girl, and I will be proud of you!…

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!