[lg policy] Canada: For service in English, please take this language test

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jul 24 15:00:37 UTC 2012

For service in English, please take this language test

Montreal -- Customer-service agents at the provincial health-insurance
board, the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec, are now expected to
do more than dispense information.

A new policy in effect at the agency requires employees who answer
calls from the public to judge people’s language skills as well as
answering questions they might have about matters relating to their
health care.

Where before callers were given the option of service in English or
French by way of a simple touch of the telephone keypad, it has now
become more complicated. Now some people who would prefer to have the
information given in English could be denied the service on the basis
of a subjective judgment of their ability to speak French.

The way it works now is that calls to RAMQ are answered automatically
in French, and callers are told that the agency first communicates
with its clientele in French. Only after half a minute of silence is
it mentioned that service in English is available by pressing 9. But
wait: that doesn’t automatically get you service in English.

What it gets you is another recorded message, this time in English,
informing you once more that the board prefers to deal with customers
in French. The agents who subsequently come on the line do not speak
English right away, even though the language of service chosen is
English. No, the agents proceed in French, and are then required by
the new policy to “use their judgment” to determine whether the caller
speaks French well enough to be able to hold a conversation about
health in French rather than English. Only if the caller fails that
test will service in English be forthcoming.

The health-insurance board maintains that the policy is nothing more
than an initiative to fully comply with the province’s French-first
language policy. However, even under that policy it has long been
acknowledged that anglophone Quebecers have a right to education and
to health care in their own language, even though delivery of such
service has been grudging and spotty in too many instances.

Officials at RAMQ seem to have forgotten former premier Lucien
Bouchard’s words some years ago, when he said in a speech at an
English community event: “When you go to the hospital and you’re in
pain, you need a blood test, but you certainly don’t need a language
test.” True, most callers to the health-insurance board are probably
not in pain, but they are concerned with matters of health. And even
if they are reasonably conversant in French, they may not be familiar
with medical terminology. This would apply particularly to seniors,
the age group in greatest need of health-care services.

In pain or not, one thing they certainly don’t need is to be subjected
to a language test, least of all by someone not formally qualified to
administer language testing, as RAMQ customer-service agents are For
service in English, please take this language test

It is hard to understand what benefit to the cause of French-language
preservation this policy will bring to make it worth the complication
it introduces to health-care delivery and the misunderstandings and
patient suffering that could result. It might be noted that no such
complication has been introduced by the provincial revenue service,
which is happy to collect Quebecers’ taxes in either French or
English, no test required.

The RAMQ policy seems like nothing more than sop to French-language
hardliners for whom any amount of English spoken in Quebec is too much

Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/life/service+English+please+take+this+language+test/6977148/story.html#ixzz21YIp06ql

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