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

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jul 26 15:08:00 UTC 2012

For service in English, please take this language test
The Gazette : Wednesday, July 25, 2012 3:35 PM

    Quebec language debates revived as sovereignty movement recedes

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.

Should Quebecers be able to have healthcare service in English?
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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

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
unlikely to be.

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

Sound off: What do you think? Will this cause more stress for
Quebecers who are already concerned with health matters? Let us know
what you think on Facebook.


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