Je ne suis pas parfaitement bilingue, mais...
March 8, 2011 11:31 AM   Subscribe

Canadian English-French bilingualism filter: I suddenly (in 6 days) need to take a French language test that would help me in qualifying for a bilingual position in which I'm interested. Is there anything I could study in 6 days that would increase my chances of scoring higher?

I am a native English speaker, but I speak French well enough to conduct clinical social work interviews in French. However, my abilities are not super graceful and certainly not perfect business French. Does anyone have any experience with French language testing for the workplace? What could I do to increase my chances of scoring well? If it helps, the field is healthcare and the city is Ottawa. Thanks for any ideas!
posted by analog to Work & Money (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Je n'ai aucun experience avec les testes professionels/gouvernementaux, mais je suggerais eviter explicitement tous medias anglais pour la prochaine semaine. Ecoutez seulement le Radio-Canada francais - et attendez particulierement aux expressions idiommatiques. Lisez les journaux francais pour trente minutes chaque jour. Jasez avec vos amis francophones. Maybe you could scan the Becherelle for a grammar refresher, too.

I reckon they'll be looking for some understanding of colloquial (as well as Air Canada) French.

Again, no specific test-prep advice but immersion surely couldn't hurt.

Bonne chance!

Man, writing the above was more effortful than I'd expected.
posted by nelljie at 11:48 AM on March 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Watch a lot of French television? Go to to watch most of Radio-Canada's shows. Maybe something like "30 vies", a show set in a high school, would be useful.

Do you know if the test is oral or written?
posted by OLechat at 11:49 AM on March 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding There are undoubtably some french TV channels in Ottawa that you could watch which will include subtitles as well. Do you know any native French speakers? If you do you could take them out for lunch and speak only in french, with them correcting you on your errors. Write down your mistakes and let that be a basis for your grammar review.

Good luck.
posted by Homo economicus at 11:58 AM on March 8, 2011

Response by poster: Do you know if the test is oral or written?

I believe that the test comprises a comprehension section in which I read a French story and then choose, via multiple choice, answers that indicate I've understood the piece, and then a conversational piece. I am more worried about the conversational component. I understand that there is no actual written prose section (thank goodness). I think part of the test will sort of be like this.

Thank you so far for your responses, they're very helpful.
posted by analog at 12:06 PM on March 8, 2011

Best answer: There are a lot of quick quizzes, plus explanations, on Other than that, I can suggest listening to The News in Simple French; I think you can get a transcript also.
posted by amtho at 12:30 PM on March 8, 2011

I know a lot of people in Europe practice their English via Skype. Can you find a native French-Canadian speaker so that you could get some more experience in conversation? Bonus points if you practice with phrases that you are likely to use in the interview.
posted by amicamentis at 12:39 PM on March 8, 2011

Yes, immersion. I'm functionally bilingual, but French comes much easier to me when I've been hanging out with french people or watching french media. the best way for me to get back into it when I'm feeling particularly monolingual is a french movie with english subtitles. I highly recommend the Dans un Galaxie movies as they are both hilarious and full of day-to-day french and lots and lots of puns - puns always get me more into a language for some reason.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 12:59 PM on March 8, 2011

I'd suggest spending the next 6 days immersing yourself in French. Ban English from your life to the greatest extent possible, read only french media and listen to the news in French, and do your best to think in French.
posted by zug at 1:06 PM on March 8, 2011

This may seem obvious, but just in case you didn't know, you can fine more information on the tests here.
posted by aclevername at 1:07 PM on March 8, 2011

Best answer: Is this with the federal oft or the city of Ottawa? If it's with the government i would suggest practicing giving your opinion on inane subjects. When i had to get my C-levels the oral exam was the hardest part and the hardest part of that exam was in giving your opinion. For example, what's your opinion on teleworking? Ugh.

The trick for me was to come up with a basic template into which i could slot opinions on any kind of boring question. Never waffle and try to give an one-the-one-hand answer. That's the surest route to failure. Be direct, take a stance (it doesn't matter if you believe it or care about it, it matters if you can speak about it), give two or three reasons why this is your opinion. You can throw in a "Some may say otherwise..." kind of element at the end, but wrap it up with "Cependant, moi, je crois que..." blah blah blah. They want to see that you can make an argument and nuance it in some way.

And if they ask a question and you're not quite certain of what was asked, ask them to please repeat it plus clairement et plus lentement. That's better than answering a different question than was asked because you misheard it.
posted by fso at 6:23 PM on March 8, 2011

Response by poster: These are all really best answers, thanks everyone!
posted by analog at 6:14 AM on March 9, 2011

Best answer: I took and scored an exemption on the Government of Canada French comprehension and written expression tests and a C on oral. Much of my success on the written expression exam was because I used a mnemonic device to know what kinds of things they were looking for on the written test (which was largely trick questions based on common problems anglophones have with French): PAGANS. It stands for (links go to relevant sections on the above-mentioned and excellent

Preposition - sometimes there are subtle differences to what a verb will be with à vs de or they will try to trick you when we will say "to" in English but they would use "de" in French.

Anglicism - they will try to trick you by writing something in French the way we would say it in english, such as "that makes sense" =/= "ça fait du sens", but rather "ça a du sense".

Gender - when learning common patterns to what gender a word will have there are exceptions and they will test you on these. ie, words that end in -age are typically masculine, EXCEPT for when they are one syllable, like "plage", which is feminine. (le) disque is another one they will ask.

Agreement - although this is sometimes linked to trick gender questions, as above, they will also test for this in verb endings, particularly on être verbs in passé, but also on avoir verbs that will agree with an object in a clause separated by "que", like "la femme que j'ai vue portait un sac brun".

Negation - basically the order of ne... plus jamais rien aucun(e) personne and so on - and remembering that these ditch the "pas". Watch out for "ne...que" as well.

Spelling - they will try to use English spellings for French words, like "adresse"

For the oral test, fso is right about the importance of having opinions about pointless subjects. They will expect a lot of your vocab to be about work-related things and will be testing for certain levels of advancement (descriptions near the bottom of that page), and the test will go from easy in the first question (which tests from X to A level), a little harder in the second (A-B), medium in the third section (B-C) and more advanced in the fourth (C and above). In the first, they are looking for basic sentences with general vocabulary but not much finesse; basically question and answer format. The second becomes a little more complex, sometimes looking for multi-clausal sentences with more advanced ability, use of subjunctive, etc.

Basically you'll want to say a lot, use the little words at the beginning and in the middle of sentences that show you have a level of comfort with the language (d'après moi, selon moi, premièrement, d'habitude, etc), constructions that show you get subjunctive (il faut que, je suis content que, j'ai peur que que, bien que, etc.) and, especially in the listening and response section, that you understand how to form indirect speech.

Recording: "J'aime les Senateurs. Ils ont joué un bon match de hockey hier soir."
Tester: "Qu'est-ce qu'il a dit?"
You: "Il a dit qu'il aimait les Senateurs et qu'ils avaient joué un bon match de hockey hier soir."

In other words, these tests are not so much going to test your ability to understand and speak French, but rather your ability to take government tests - it's about learning to work within the system as much as it is about knowing French, which is a major pitfall for most people who DO know French, but don't realize that aspect of it.

Bonne chance!
posted by urbanlenny at 10:53 AM on March 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks urbanlenny, I caught your helpful contribution just in time!
posted by analog at 3:49 PM on March 12, 2011

Response by poster: Oh, fellow Mefites, I took the test today and I'm afraid that I tanked on the oral section! It was really hard! My reading comprehension section involved reading a one page French story and answering (in English prose) about three pages of questions, and the written section involved writing a social work assessment (minimum 15 sentences) in French. I think I did OK on the comprehension and written components, but certainly not on the oral section, which involved having a basic conversation with someone, then a more nuanced conversation, then listening to a tape and being asked to translate (this latter part was brutal). There was no multiple choice section - I wish there had been.

Thanks everyone for your help, your suggestions were all very useful. I will know better what to do next time...
posted by analog at 5:14 PM on March 15, 2011

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