Friday, June 03, 2005


Bilingually embittered

I'm a child of the Trudeau era. I learned to sing my national anthem in two languages, was willing to accept one of 13 television stations in 1970s southern Ontario as devoted to French, and have grown acccustomed to the fact that even though French and English share equal space on food packaging, the French is invariably on the first side you turn to when trying to read product information or prepation instructions.

In theory, I believe there is room for two official languages in our country.

In practice, on a personal level, today I disagree.

As I mentioned before, I've been taking French lessons. Actually, I've been taking French lessons my whole life. I started in grade 6 and by the end of high school attained a level of French aptitude exceeded only by most preschoolers.

On and off through my government career, I've taken additional language training, and now at least I can muddle through enough to be able to follow the thread of a conversation and offer a grammatically ugly but at least comprehensible contributions to the discussion.

The government categorizes your linguistic aptitute in three areas: reading, writing and oral interaction. They rate you on a scale of nil-A-B-C-exempt, with probably the majority of positions requiring an intermediate (B) skill level. Unless you score the golden "exempt" level, you have to be re-tested every five years.

I was last tested on June 27, 2000. At the time, after befriending my young and unilingual French teacher and spending the spring teaching each other our own maternal language, I pulled off an advanced rating on my reading skills, and intermediate on my writing and speaking. Then I had two babies and two year-long maternity leaves nearly consecutively, and spent a lot more time at home changing diapers than conjugating verbs.

Which bring us to today - and don't think I didn't hear you saying, "Finally!"

It seems I'm doing quite well on a competitive process for a senior communications advisor position. (How the government promotes people, through competitive process instead of whimsy and piccadillo, is a blog for another day.) Suffice to say, much to my surprise, I've successfully jumped through the hoops of a written exam, an interview and have submitted my references. Since I have provided said references with long and flowery scripts (and hefty bribes) embellishing my finest qualities and half-realized achievements, I find myself having done far better than I expected and am actually quite close to possibly getting this promotion.

Except for the language thing.

It could all fall apart because of the language thing.

Even if in the best case scenario, I am successful through the whole competitive process (no small hill of beans, to be honest), unless an appointment to the position is made before June 27, I will have to retake the language test. If I don't pass my language levels, I am no longer a qualified candidate and it all slips through my fingers.

Now, I realize this isn't the end of the world. I still have a job (although if I don't pass my test, I also lose my $800 a year bilingual bonus) and I'm sure there will be other opportunities for competitions in the future. And in my own estimation, I'm right on the edge of being able to pass the language test - it could go either way, depending on the alignment of Mercury and Venus and the amount of sleep I get the week before the test.

I could fill a blog with rants about the inefficiecies of the competitive process in the federal government, and another entire blog with rants against official bilingualism. In general, I think they both work and are a mediocre compromise for a necessary evil.

But as usual, in this little cyberspace fiefdom, it's all about me. I'm sulking because I'm about to spend all my free time (ha!) for the next three weeks cramming on French grammar. And I've got this really amazing book I'd rather be reading.

Wish me some bonne chance, will ya?

Edited after the fact to add: And here is the material I will be studying. Go ahead, click on it. There's a little something for everybody. Awe and impress your friends!