I am currently in a French course on the base, but I’ve been just a little frustrated with that lately. There’s always some uncertainty about whether the course will continue into the next stage (I could be attending class through July, or it could be over before Christmas; I’ll never know if the course will continue into the next stage until a day or two before it is scheduled to start). I’ve gotten used to having a schedule again, and feeling like I’m DOING something, so I really hate the thought of my course ending with no other option on the horizon. Québec’s Ministère de la culture et des communications (MICC) offers one year of free French classes to immigrants living in Québec. I tried to enroll once previously (in June of this year), but I was not far enough along in the immigration process to be admitted. Last Friday, I wrote to the gentleman with whom I had previously corresponded to inform him that I am now a permanent resident and to request admission to the French course.
I’m nowhere near conversational in French yet, but I really do “get by” just fine in one-on-one interactions with people. The phone, however, is still a bit of a challenge. I can make restaurant reservations, and I can order a pizza, and I can call to inquire about a business’ hours. That is pretty much the limit of what I’ve attempted. The last time the gentleman from MICC called in response to my application (five months ago), I was not at all able to handle the call on my own. I had to wake poor husband up from a nap to take the call, as my oral comprehension of French was completely inadequate (I just kept saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” over and over again in French). I was really proud just to understand when I was asked, “Is there someone there who speaks French who can help you?” (Because Québec. Of course they don’t offer services to immigrants trying to learn French in Canada’s OTHER OFFICIAL LANGUAGE. But that’s another blog.)
This time, husband was away from the house, taking up his old fencing habit. (How French, eh?) The phone rang, and I was on my own. Unlike the call in June, after asking the gentleman to speak slowly, I was able to catch about 80% of what he said. I learned that I would need to submit a new request for admission online, then email my new file number to him, along with any supporting documentation required. What I DIDN’T learn in that phone call (not sure if he didn’t tell me, or if I didn’t catch it), was that after I completed the application and sent him the information, I would be given (or, as it stands in my mind now, be “subjected to”) an oral competency test on the PHONE.
I had sent off the required information and was happily puttering around in the kitchen, starting to make a marinade for dinner. Then the phone rang. It was once again the kind gentleman from MICC. And he started asking questions. He now knows that I’m 33, I don’t work here in Québec, but I do study here, that I arrived in July 2012 and haven’t left Canada since, that my husband is military and I’m in a French course on base, that I hope to be bilingual eventually, and several other mundane things about me. At one point, he asked me the name of my best friend. I told him Mark. THEN he asked me *why* Mark was my best friend. Not remembering how to say “asshole” in French, I replied, “because he is mean like me.”
I think it went pretty well.
I had to do a writing test, too. He told me that I should write a letter to Mark, telling him about my life in Québec. I said I understood and would do it immediately, and that I write better than I speak. He said I was too modest, which (true or not) made me feel good.
I know I blundered around a bit, and my spoken French is still pretty bad, but it is pretty encouraging to think back to where I was in early June, and then compare it to where I am today. Progress is slow. Sometimes it’s slow enough that I fail to realize I’m even making any. But I AM making progress. It’s nice to be reminded. Being bilingual is still a far-off dream, but another year or so, and I can probably claim to be conversational. At least with patient, friendly people.