Back to School

Since Canada is officially a bilingual country, a great deal of effort and expense has been put into ensuring that as many federal government employees as possible are bilingual. There is a particular emphasis on bilingualism here in eastern Ontario, in New Brunswick and in Montreal, Quebec – not only for government employees, but for anyone who wants a job anywhere that they are likely to have to deal with other human beings.

Most people living in these areas either grow up with two languages, go through school in French or English immersion programs, or learn the language later on in life at their own expense.

For federal government employees there are various opportunities to learn the second language at the employer’s expense and time. There several types of part-time courses you can take as part of your regular, annual learning plans or there is full-time French language training.

Unless you’re a senior manager/executive, it’s very difficult to get full-time French language training, for obvious reasons. Usually one of the only ways a regular employee can get French language training is to win a competition for a bilingual non-imperative position. Bilingual “non-imperative” means the position will be bilingual in two years, so basically, the person who won the position has two years to become bilingual or they lose that position.

However, I guess there is a large enough pool of federal employees who are already bilingual because about 10 years ago the public service more or less cancelled the “non-imperative” option for new positions, except in rare circumstances. This means that anyone not bilingual will have a very difficult time getting a government job and those who already have a government job will find it impossible to advance in their career if they’re not bilingual.

Once in a blue moon, however, the stars align and a department runs a competition looking for bilingual candidates and doesn’t find enough who are suitable. Then, after a lot of business case writing and justifying and pleading, they are allowed to run a “non-imperative” competition. I was lucky enough to win one of these non-imperative positions last year.

After a bunch of bizarre assessment tests, they determined that it would take me 30 weeks (7 months) to become bilingual to an acceptable government level. Now, eleven months later, they’ve given me a date to start my French language training. So, this fall, I go back to school.

Every day. Five days a week. Eight hours a day.  For seven months. To learn nothing but French. No vacations allowed.

I’m excited for the opportunity. I’m excited for the change. I’m really excited to become competent in French.

From others who’ve done the full-time language training, I understand it will be grueling; that you have to eat, sleep, breath and poop nothing but French if you want to pass the exams; that you have to take your exhausted brain home at the end of the day and do a few hours of homework every night and read French magazines, newspapers and books and watch nothing but French TV. I’ve never yet heard anyone say they had a great time.

I think it’s the grammar. I’ve done some French courses part-time and of course did French back in elementary and secondary school, so I have some idea of what to expect. French grammar is insane. Masculine, feminine, regular, indicative, subjonctif, imperative, conditionnel, imparfait, passé compose, future anterieur, infinitive, participle, words that have 12 letters, of which only the first 2 are pronounced, a lot of shrugging and pursing of lips… I may have to start smoking fat, smelly cigarettes, etc., etc.

Ah me. Can my ossified old brain handle all this? I don’t know. I hope so. I did offer to go to France for 6 months instead, promising to come back fully bilingual, but they wouldn’t go for it. Merde!

I definitely will have to immerse myself completely into this thing, though. And I’m pretty sure that’s going to mean I won’t have the time or the brain space to blog with any regularity – unless it’s to conjugate some French verbs and that would be kind of boring, I think. So, I probably won’t be around the blogosphere much. I probably won’t be doing much of anything, ever again, until next summer…… except maybe drinking… I might feel the need to do more of that…but only French wine or Cognac or Calvados or other French stuff.

We’ll see.