September 01, 2006

A world of Francophones

Currently I work with four french speaking individuals. It doesn't bother me at all…partly because they all know I can understand every word they're saying, therefore they don't say anything (in front of me anyway…) that they don't want me to hear.

Now, my position is I BELIEVE English essential. Which is a fancypants way of saying that you don't necessarily need French in this job. Which is surprising to me, since I am technically unit support (another fancypants term meaning assistant) and I would think that they want whoever is in this position be able to converse with anyone who calls. Not to mention that I think its now mandatory in the federal government for all jobs to be bilingual. Maybe its just new jobs that are listed and certain levels…dunno. I guess it isn't as crucial for my position since my program is relatively small and we don't get many calls. But I would really like to have a better grasp of the language so I could eventually move up, away from this position.

ANYway, when I first came back and realized that I was surrounded by Francophones, I thought "Great! Maybe I'll get some practice!". Not so much. They all want to practice their English with me! Which is actually kind of ok since I'm incredibly shy about speaking French in front of Francos because I know my accent is terrible.

Which brings me around to language training and testing. Back when I, and the majority of the agency folk in my branch, became indeterminate (fancypants…it means full time and that status pretty much will stay with me until I retire), they had us all go for language testing to see where we stood. The levels are weird…A means you can understand some, maybe write and talk a little, but you kinda suck. B means that you understand most of what is being said, you could write an email if you had to, and can talk well enough to make yourself understood. C is excellent communications skills all around. There are three tests to be taken. Two are written, and are done on the same day. If you get to a level B on these tests, you can be scheduled for your Oral Interaction test. Which makes everyone sweat. Its hard. The teachers look for perfect grammar, use of certain key terms regarding your work and tasks etc.

So back six years ago, I took the written tests and got B on both of them…no sweat. Then I only got an A on my oral test a couple of months later. Which was disappointing, but not unexpected. I started language training shortly after, but never got to the level in my speaking that I thought I could be re-tested and pass. Then I went on parental leave. I came back and found out that our lovely new minister at the time had scrapped language training. Super. So while I was back (for eight whole months between the boys…heh), I couldn't continue my classes. And my B levels ran out last summer, as they require people who receive A, B or C levels to be re-tested every five years. Unless you're lucky and achieve the elusive E (Exempt) level, which means you never ever have to take a government language test again. I'd LOVE to get that, but odds are I never will.

Since I came back, I've learned that the new (Francophone...) post-election minister has re-introduced language training. Unfortunately I think I've missed out on the fall term as the person who is in charge of booking is off until next week, which is when the new sessions start. I'm hoping there might be an opening for someone at my language level, but I'm not holding my breath as lots of people in the branch were really pissed when the classes were cancelled last time and they all jumped on the chance for more training.

I do find it frustrating that there is no point in even applying for a job you qualify for (or even just enjoy, so you apply even if you don't quite qualify) if you don't meet the language requirements because you will be automatically screened out. I guess can understand why the rules are in place, but to me, its most important that higher level officers and managers have a good grasp of French, not necessarily us lower on the totem pole.


Anonymous Beanie Baby said...

I think there are only three or four positions in my branch (of well over a hundred) that are bilingual. My french is basically non-existent, so thank goodness.

Good luck with the language thing! You're right, it's pretty important if you want to go anywhere with the feds--as I know from experience. *sigh*

1/9/06 20:22  
Blogger Tanya said...

oh wow...i guess that's thanks to being in ottawa. lots more demand for french here.

at least it looks like i'll be able to get in training this term...just have to fill out the form.

5/9/06 15:21  
Blogger ccw said...

I had no idea. Very interesting.

Glad to read that you will be able to get your training this term.

6/9/06 11:37  
Anonymous Donna said...

I hear ya'! I'm starting training AGAIN, for the millionth session, on Sept 11th. Bad omen for passing an oral test? Probably. I've been tested on the oral part 3X and gotten an "A" 3X. (Only in govt is a "C" better than an "A"!)I really think that the in-house training is good for maintenance but to really improve you need the 3-4 month intensive training currently only offered to upper-level folks in bilingual positions. So I can't get the "real" training b/c my position is English Essential and I can't apply for another position b/c I don't have the language component. I guess as long as you can speak 2 languages it doesn't matter if you have the competence, skill, experience or education as well. They also say that I just have to practice a lot at home and with co-workers. OK, but if we spoke french AT HOME I wouldn't need the stupid training! It's a vicious cycle and it makes me frustrated to think my career is stalled with 24 years to go before retirement. Can you sense the bitterness? ;-)

6/9/06 12:59  
Blogger Tanya said...

donna, EXACTLY. so incredibly frustrating. the fact that we NEED the training/levels to move up beyond where we are, yet only those in high levels rate the "good" training. fack... the countdown is SO on...i have 24 years to go as well. we'll have to have a big old soirée in 2030. ;)

ccw, i'm glad too! kind!

6/9/06 21:24  

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