It’ll come as no surprise to my regular blog readers, that this week’s blog is the sequel to last weeks’ edition of ‘Parlez-vous Anglais‘. For those of you wondering how on earth I fared in my English test, then please read on ….
As a prequel to applying for any additional residency visas, one is obliged to go through an exhaustive English test. In my case, I spent all of last Saturday at MacEwan University School of Aboriginal Studies (you couldn’t make it up, this stuff just writes itself) for a gruelling set of tests. Biometric authentication(!) was the only way in, and candidates were stripped of everything except 3 HB pencils, sharpener and an eraser.
Entering my first lecture theatre in 20 years along with 70 other ‘foreigners’ from about as many countries was quite the experience. The doors were locked and examination conditions were enforced with draconian vigour. One chap near me was the first to be shouted at, for having the temerity to turn over his answer sheet before being instructed to do so. The timid Iranian girl next to me nearly jumped out of her burqa.
The invigilator/dragon began barking instructions at us for the listening phase of the test. Thirty minutes of capturing numerous details from a CD playing different conversations. I thought I was onto a winner, when the second exercise involved answering questions on ‘driving in the UK’. Tempted to start answering before the CD had started playing, I held my nerve and listened with interest as a lady speaking the Queen’s english and voicing a BBC-type accent reminiscent of those adopted by the corporation pre-1980’s, began a conversation on the CD with a hesitant gentleman asking inane questions to which she patiently gave a response. It was during the conversation when the topic turned to the ‘free-flowing traffic in Manchester city centre’, that I was tempted to object and claim this was falsely misrepresentative, but I resisted and distracted myself by watching the bemused look on the face of the fella from the Ivory Coast sitting alongside.
There followed 60 minutes of a written multiple choice paper with another familiar (to me) subject. A detailed comprehension exercise on the 3 Peaks Challenge up Snowden, Scafell and Ben Nevis. Having finished early I began musing what a Korean sitting in Canada with very little English would be making of this challenge. Judging by the wailing coming from the girl behind me, not a lot.
Another 60 minutes (no bathroom breaks permitted), and a chance to shine by writing 2 essays on given subjects. My piece on writing a complaint letter came naturally, and I had to curtail my enthusiasm and not get too carried away with the second topic entitled, ‘Some people believe family are more important than friends. Discuss.’ At the end of this session, “PENCILS DOWN” was screamed. Mr Ivory Coast was clearly finishing a word off, but in so doing earned the full wrath of Dragon lady. She flew at him from the lectern, grabbed his pencil and forcibly scrubbed over his last 2 paragraphs. As he’d only managed to write 3, I thought this a little harsh.
After the 3 hours duration, we were almost finished and answer papers were rigorously collected, collated, checked and counted. We had been provided with detailed instructions at the start of each session and throughout the morning, on how to complete each answer sheet – starting with inserting our name, candidate number and today’s date at the top of each and every page. A written example was shown to us on each occasion on what to do. At the very end of the morning and after checking the papers, one of the invigilators approached a Middle-Eastern lady sat in front of me and began insisting that her name was not ‘John Smith’, even remonstrating by showing her her passport in front of her and imploring her to remove all such reference and put her actual name on each sheet. At this point, I realised that I was sat in a room where English truly was a foreign language to the majority, reflecting that my worries about what the content of each module would be and my ability to answer them all correctly, was minuscule compared to most of the others in the room.
With a thumping headache and ballooning bladder there was only the final test of the day to be faced. We had to depart the lecture theatre and navigate our way to a different part of the University. I was mistaken as a member of staff on several occasions by my fellow foreigners, whose ability to understand what on earth was happening next, let alone where they needed to move to, was clearly beyond the realms of their English comprehension. We made our way across campus, where we waited in an ante-room and were called one at a time for the verbal interview. I dutifully took my British passport (the only one in the room) forward and was again finger-printed before entry to a different cell with a different menacing invigilator.
This test was verbal, and recorded. I was asked to speak for 2 minutes on my beliefs on the importance of being able to speak a second language. Maybe it was the last straw, or the levels of exhaustion, but I put forward the view that a second language would be unnecessary if only people took the trouble to learn English properly. I was just getting into my stride when she cut me off with the 2 minutes elapsed. With a face like thunder she posed question 2. Could I talk about a time when I had been forced to use a second language, and how did it make me feel. By this point I was beyond caring, so I talked about the time I had been thrown into a foreign country with no preparation to live amongst non-English speakers. She seemed to be warming to me at that point, and with a sympathetic smile asked me which country it had been. All goodwill evaporated when I told her it was Canadia.
Interview over I was ejected from the room (not backwards and bowing like the Thai chap before me), and await my results which will be issued to me via traditional Canada post after 13 days. I fully expect to be deported soon after.