Once and for All!…

I cannot believe my last post was in August!… It is probably a sign that I was way too busy to write… indeed I was! Fall brought several contracts with various Departments and, consequently, I am back on the road… I still have many online students but I have to share them with Angèle because I waste quite some time on the road every day!…

What is new in the SLE testing department?… Not much except that lots of people are being tested all the time. Since most entry level positions now require levels BBB, more candidates have to be tested at some point in the hiring processes. Of course, the new Reading Comprehension test led to a wave of panic… before, no one really cared about this test, which was relatively easy… today, it is a whole different tune… we also have to prepare our trainees to take that exam… as if working on the Written Expression and the Oral tests was not enough! Well… it keeps us busy I guess!

Before I start talking about something that has been bugging me for a while now, I would like to let everyone know that Seema finally got her C in oral after several attempts! I am very happy for her because she had lost her zest lately… she was craving to go back to work… after too much time spent into boot camps!

Congratulations Seema!!!

Most of the time, when we are preparing people for their oral exam, we do not encounter resistance because they are ready to do whatever it takes to achieve the level they need. Take Marjorie for instance… Angèle and I prepared her for the C on a full-time basis in October and, believe me, it was not easy for either one of us. Yet I have to say that Marjorie was a great team player… I was literally bombarding her with grammar and syntax notions every single day and she always made a point to apply her new skills when practicing with Angèle later in the day. At the end, she could not be more ready to confront her torturer last week… she had integrated all the notions she needed to make use of during the test and, most of all, she had gained confidence in her abilities tremendously… Angèle and I know that she performed very well when she went for her interview… unfortunately, her assessor was the one everybody in town dread to have… because this “urban legend” has the reputation to never give level C… will Marjorie break the pattern?… Actually, after more than one week, she still did not hear about her results which is unusual for someone who is a PSC employee… «À suivre…»

That being said, it sometimes happens that some people who are asking for our help are skeptical and refuse to follow our instructions and advice. But, after arguing for a while, most of them realize that we are professionals and we know our job! Yes… I agree… our methods are unorthodox and we push people to their limits so that they will give their best during the test… We put them in a box where there is little (if no) room to move… Why? Because we know exactly what will be expected from them during the oral interview… therefore we provide them with the tools, tips and strategies they will need in order to satisfy the assessors and meet the criterias of the level they need to achieve…

Of course, people who never took a PSC SLE test before or took the test prior to June 2008 are more or less expecting a 45 minute conversation with someone who will arbitrarily decide if they pass their levels or not… well, it is not that simple. First of all, it is a TEST and not a casual conversation… Candidates are expected to demonstrate specific abilities, use specific complex structures and accurate work-related vocabulary… and rigid criterias have been established for each level… I have seen many people who were fluent in French fail this test because they had not shown enough of what is needed to achieve a C for instance… Yes! it is frustrating and… Yes! it is ridiculous to some extent… yet there is nothing we can do in order to change the way this test is conducted. And those who do not want to abide by those rules will probably not get the levels they need…

A couple of weeks ago, I was a bit frustrated… and I opened up to Marjorie… she was in that predicament herself and I wanted to know how she felt about my method… of course, she agreed that it was a painful process but she also knew that she had no other options, having already missed her C once… Then I asked her how I should explain and describe my drastic method and I am quoting her here:

I developed a strategy specifically designed to target and address all four elements of the PSC oral expression exam. Rather than focusing on generic language instruction, I focus students on the vocabulary expected from PSC employees in the workplace. The test is not a conversation, it is an exam whereby you must demonstrate specific elements of speech. My philosophy is to situate and prepare students to be comfortable with all four elements of the exam and to prepare them for a successful result at each level.

 I think this summarizes the method I use to prepare my trainees to be successful at the oral test. And… like it or not, it has been proven to be efficient since most of our students obtain the levels they actually need to meet the language requirements of their positions.

Therefore, for those of you who are looking for help in order to be well prepared for the oral test, please read the above carefully and make sure that you are ready to make the commitment of being put into a box and work on doing exactly what will be expected from you when you will be facing your examiner… and remember, it is a TEST… not a conversation with someone you will ever have a coffee with afterwards…


«La vie, c’est une boîte d’instruments qui piquent et coupent. À toute heure nous nous ensanglantons les mains.»

Alphonse Daudet





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  1. Emily
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    Hi! I’ve been searching online, looking for a language instructor in Ottawa who can help me reduce my anglophone accent when I speak french. I couldn’t find any answers online, and I happened upon this blog and am hoping that you might have an idea of where I could find a language/accent coach. Thanks! 🙂

    • Posted January 11, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Permalink


      Unfortunately I can’t really help you with this… and I don’t know whether the language schools in the area actually do this or not… because of the Ottawa status, most of them are specialized (like I am) in preparing civil servants (and aspirant civil servants) for their SLE tests. But you can try by calling a few of them… maybe Berlitz offers such a program in addition to what is the most in demand here.

      Good luck! 😉

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