I met my tutor for breakfast, we had a quick conversation in french to get me ready, and off I went.
This was my third attempt. When we all did the first attempt, we went in cocky. We had heard there was an examiner named Jacques, “Jacques le Couteau” was his nickname, and we all wanted Jacques. We were ready, send in the heavyweight. None of us had him and we all failed. For the second test, it was just a blur. For my third test, I just wanted out. I was a bundle of nerves, and I was focused on remembering my structures, rules, stories even. I was ready, but still nervous. I was introduced to the examiner, and he said, “Bonjour, je m’appelle Jacques” and I just about soiled myself.
Jacques? Anyone but Jacques! I was doomed.
We started off a bit rusty, I was reeling with it being Jacques, but I recovered when we moved past the chitchat warmup and into the actual test. I was ready. I had my techniques ready. I knew how to tell a story, and open doors where I could talk about more in that area, while shutting others that I didn’t want to get tangled up in. Perfect. I tell him I have three main tasks at work (part of the lie that is french testing — it isn’t to talk about your actual job, it’s to talk about the fictitious version of the job to demonstrate that you can speak french), and I described the first task. I opened a couple of doors, but does Jacques take them? NO! He’s Jacques, he won’t be distracted with my parlour tricks! The battle is on!
He asks me to describe my second task, and I do! Awesomely! With flair even. I think. Another couple of doors at the end to allow me to segue to my hobbies. No dice, Jacques has the scent!
We discuss my third task. I’ve now been talking for almost 35-40 minutes, with Jacques asking me follow-up questions about my tasks. What the hell? Followup? On tasks? There’s no need for followup on tasks! How bad am I doing???? Usually the test is less than half an hour, you only go longer if you’re on the line.
We finish with tasks, Jacques pulls out a role-play. With questions, back again for more. Like I’m a supervisor talking to staff and answering questions. I am so far out of my depth at this point, I’m drowning. I’m now pushing 50 minutes talking about a job that DOESN’T EVEN EXIST!
He asks me another question, something hypothetical, and I crash. I tell him I really don’t have an opinion about it. Honestly, I actually didn’t really know what he asked me, I didn’t understand the question. But in my 5 seconds of stalling, I pretended I did. Which meant I couldn’t then ask him to reformulate or repeat it, I had just told him I understood it. And at the 55 minute mark, he wraps it up.
I go home and wait for the guillotine. A day passes, no results. Second day, no results. Results have been coming same day for most people, and I did the test in the morning. It should have been same day for me. Usually, if there’s a delay, it means someone else is listening to the recording to see if they agree with the rating. I’m on the line between A and B, I know it. And I bombed the last question, I must have failed.
On day three, I go out for lunch, and come back to a voicemail. The school has called to say my results are in. The woman says in french, and in the slowest voice ever:
Yes, I’m calling for Paul Sadler.
I am calling because you took the test earlier this week.
For french oral.
You were trying to achieve Level B.
And you received Level….
(blurb that can’t be understood).
So, blah blah (garbling) blah, call us back.”
I listened to that message repeatedly. Six or seven times trying to understand it. It sounded like B, but I wasn’t positive. I finally figured out the extra garbling was “felicitations” i.e. congratulations. Hence it must be B and not A. And no, A doesn’t sound anything like B in french or english, but it was so messed up on the recording, I couldn’t be sure. I called the school and got voicemail. Damn it!
Another 20 minutes, another voicemail exchange, and I had my results. I did indeed get my B.
Me. The one who was on the line for language. Who had exhausted all his hours doing it. Who could now go back to work and figure out what his job was. I had my B.