After all that hard work, all the stress, I didn’t use my french much at work. I really felt uncomfortable displaying my crappy language ability with my professional colleagues, and over time, I got more and more rusty. I was fine for reading, I was fine for listening somewhat in meetings (I can understand enough in context, as long as multiple people aren’t speaking at the same time and I can actually hear what is being said and it isn’t rapid fire speed!). But I rarely spoke it.
Fast forward five years, I was looking at promotions and things. And I needed to renew my oral and written french. Written was simple, a mild review and I got my B again. For my oral, I wanted to go on a refresher course before my test and my boss offered me 2 months of full-time to see if I could get my C (which I would need to move up). I figured C was impossible, not even on the radar, but a few weeks doing my B refresher would be great.
I went to a private school this time, and I was one on one with the teacher. Face to face. Nowhere to hide. Day 1, speak french for 7 hours. It was brutal.
But you know what? I did it. I struggled, I was rusty, my structures were weak, but I did it. I could communicate still. Not awesome, I needed work, but my retention was good.
Days 2 through 4 were similar, I got stronger every day. The vocabulary was back, I was doing pretty well. Part of the practice had been to recount the above story of my french training, so they knew all about how I barely got my B, I was back to renew it, and if possible, get an evaluation if a C was even going to be possible. Ever.
On Day 5, I had my fifth interview of the week with Jade (I had two tutors a day, mornings vs. afternoons). Jade was my third “tutor”, in my career. One at CIDA, the extra one at Asticou, and now Jade. Jade was awesome. Normally, all french teachers work the same way. If they have to explain something to you, they do it french. They never switch to English. Total immersion. Jade’s approach was that if I was making a simple error, and he could explain it really fast in English to correct it, he would do so, then we would move on. Worked perfectly for me.
But on Day 5, Jade and I talked for about 2 hours and then he said, “Okay, let’s stop here, and talk in English for a bit because I need you to understand something pretty fundamental.” I expected a bit of a tutorial, on something I should already know, so I braced myself a bit.
He said, basically, that I must have misunderstood my third test with Jacques. By Jade’s evaluation, I was already back to being a B after a week, and would be well into being a really strong B if I did another week. As such, there was no way I hadn’t been an obvious B five years before, particularly as I hadn’t done anything to “improve” since then because I hadn’t been using it.
A light went on. That’s why the test was 55 minutes. That’s why the role play was so extensive. That’s why I got asked opinion questions and hypothesis questions. Those were C level tests.
I had indeed been on the line probably — not between A and B as I feared, but between B and C. Praise the lord and pass the ammunition.
I was already feeling pretty dang good by the end of day 4 that it came back so fast. But to have my tutor tell me if I wanted just my B I could take the test in two weeks? And that C was not only possible but even achievable?
There was no feeling like it ever in my history of language testing. I could actually do this. I wasn’t the worst french student ever. I wasn’t an idiot. I could actually do it. I still had to take control to get there, but I could do it.
Preparing for my C
I spent the next seven weeks that summer preparing for my C-level test. It was obvious, even to me, that the B was a lock by the end of the second week. It was just going to be if I could do the hypothesis, opinion, and role-play stuff well enough to get my C. Unfortunately, the cockiness proved to be my undoing.
When I did my C level test, I was ready. I went in, did the test, out in 30 minutes, good to go. I got a B.
I expected it, somewhat, but it still hurt. I had the option to go and listen to the exam with the head of my school, and I jumped at it. I wanted to see what I did in a real test situation. He wanted to hear it because he thought I should have passed too. They don’t always let them in to hear it, but he pushed. So in we went.
Listening was beyond painful. I couldn’t shut up on the tape. They asked me a question, I answered it in 2-3 sentences, dead on, perfect. Then I digressed and tried to show off, I guess, so proud of my ability to speak french. For another 8-10 sentences that went farther and farther afield. For no other reason than being nervous and cocky. The school owner agreed — I failed, not because I wasn’t a C, but because I was stupid in how I answered the questions. Dumb cluck.
My summer french training was over, and I went back to work. I was now competing for an EX job which required me to have CBC for my profile. I had EBB, so I just needed the C in oral to pass that part, if I qualified for the rest. The test would be in about six months, so we hired Jade as a tutor and he came in a few hours a week, helping me maintain. It was not the ideal structure, and I was swamped at work, but it was the best I could do. In March, I went for another test.
As per my previous attempts, there are the classic tips on how to prepare before the test…listen to stuff only in French. Meet with your instructor, practice for at least 30 minutes. Do nothing in English. Good tips for being “french ready”, but I ignored all of them.
For me, the problem was being “test ready”, calming my nerves and maintaining self-control in the interview.
So I got up that morning and walked down to a diner near my house. Ate a leisurely breakfast, read a book. In English. Listened to music, in English, on the bus on the way to the interview. Got there, tuned people out and just listened to music. No stress, just me and the tunes.
I went into the interview, and I took a small hematite stone out of my pocket and held it in my right hand. I’m not into stones, that’s not what it was for. When the interviewer asked me a question, I rubbed my finger in a sweeping motion…once for first sentence in response, second time for a 2nd sentence, third time for a third sentence. And then I shut my mouth. Clamped it shut. Three sentences max in response, and I refused to open it until she asked me another damn question. No cocky running off at the mouth this time.
It made the interview a bit stilted. She even seemed surprised once or twice when I stopped elaborating, and she had to go on to the next question, not expecting me to finish so abruptly. But I did it religiously. Once, twice, thrice. Shutting up now. My wife wishes I would do that now!
I nailed the C.
I failed the EX interview, actually was never even in contention because the DG made it clear he was pissed I had passed the written even though I was so “junior”, but I didn’t care. I had my C.