One thing that is VASTLY different from any of my previous training has been the widespread diffusion of really good learning resources on the ‘net. Some are shockingly good, particularly for people trying for Canadian federal government levels.
The official sites fall into three groups:
- The Public Service Commission website — it explains the format of the test, how it works, etc., and even gives you some practice tests. Generally, most people using the site find that the practice tests are harder than the actual test, although that may simply be observational bias due to having finished a few practice tests, the actual test becomes easier because of their review work;
- The Canada School of Public Service site — this has options for existing employees to log in, and once in, to do a bunch of online tests as well as download a bunch of others (for reading comprehension and the written test). If you do the written test online, when you are finished, you can print your results and it also explains, for each one you got wrong, what the correct answer was and why the other options didn’t fit. If you log in to the site, and then click this link, it should take you directly to the test materials.; and,
- Old PSC materials — a bunch of these are unofficially posted online, some are even interactive, but I honestly don’t like the old ones. They were exponentially harder than the actual test, and a few people even with exemptions for writing were struggling to understand the best / correct answers.
For the “unofficial” or general sites, I think there are three groups:
- Translation tools — Everyone knows about sites like Google Translate, and while it and similar sites have improved over the years, many people know of stories where even Google Translate produced an amusingly bad translation. Many spam emails come in with poorly constructed english, often the result of a bad translation site. They’re good to translate a word or two or to look up the meaning of a word or phrase, but often without much variance. Enter wordreference.com which is flat out amazing. My professors introduced me to it, and when we’re struggling to understand a certain phrase that is used, how it is used, and some alternatives, or even just the translation, it is AWESOME. Kind of like a dictionary, a thesaurus, and a language translator all in one. It also links to Linguee.com for the translations at times, and it even has links to things like language forums where others might be struggling with the same phrase. While the government has the Termium Plus resource that has all the official government terms, WordReference is often just as good. Not perfect though. For example, WordReference would like certain words around “performance”, including the word “performance” itself. However, in the Canadian government, the official word and the only one acceptable in the exam is likely rendement. Still, an awesome resource.
- Learning tools — As I mentioned, lots of “tools” have cropped up with quizzes, overviews of rules, etc. One that is used around my department by several people is https://quizlet.com/13543303/vocabulaire-de-ladministration-publique-canada-flash-cards/. Another is http://www.lepointdufle.net/. However, if you want targeted french explanations out the wazoo, check out http://www.francaisfacile.com. Some of the sub-pages, like a whole host related to pronouns and how they work are flat-out awesome with tests/quizzes and explanations. Last but not least, there is also Amélioration du français; and,
- Oral language tools — After your friends give you the first advice all language learners hear (get a french girlfriend/boyfriend), people start offering tips on things to listen to more often. Like CBC Radio or TV5Monde. Or watching the Simpsons (which apparently has good dubbing for French). Or a host of other shows. A friend told me of a show called “Les pays d’en haut“. The list is long and distinguished, and while all of them are good just to “hear french” and to train your ear, I prefer ones that are directly related to work topics or at least phrases that I hear in a more professional setting. I also worry with the others that there are too many anglicisms that would be acceptable on the sites that I might pick up and use without realizing they aren’t the french I should use for my exams. Good for speaking with colleagues, not so great for the exam (the word “performance” is a perfect example of that). Instead, my professors referred me to another site online called Affaires des ressources humaines which has some interviews recorded and available for watching. They’re great interviews, with good structures related to persuasion, etc, and because they are about human resources in a large organization, they have lots of good vocabulary for offices. Yes, they still suffer a bit from anglicisms, but they are often easy to spot too. I was also referred to a good french podcast called Francais Authentique, and while the site is geared towards a whole course in learning french, the tool here is the link to the free podcasts. They’re not very long, pretty easy-going on various topics, and are often just simple short recordings. While the individual topic might not help individually, listening to them is good practice. Another good one for listening practice is Coffee Break french.
I would be extremely remiss I suppose if I didn’t mention the materials from my own language school where I’m studying. KnowledgeCircle uses https://mylearningmyway.com/ which has packages directly geared to the PSC exams — reading, writing, and oral. Sample tests that have been created to directly practice the same topics that the PSC will test. There’s even a free trial, and the pricing is pretty reasonable — $115 per test, or $245 for the full bundle. If you were gearing for a test, and just needed to practice the various tests, this is the way I would go. They’re that good.