Thoughts From After the TÉFAQ

Hello listeners err Facebook friends err uhh oh yeah, readers. Welcome to the sequel to Thoughts From the Intermediate Plateau. I wrote the last blog post only a few months before landing the job at Ubisoft, and I have a few anecdotes about how my French learning progressed since moving here, but none of them really have much value to other language learners. I’m going to focus on the one big challenge I faced after moving here: passing the speaking section of the Test d’Évaluation de Français pour Accès au Québec (TÉFAQ). After that, I’ll talk about where my French learning could go next now that I’m more or less past the need for formal French language instruction.

Speaking of which, the one class I took for the TÉFAQ didn’t go as well as I hoped. The teacher we had in the first few weeks had a medical issue and had to bow out, and I’ve referred to the one that replaced them in my notes as “The Tunisian Catholic Nun”. This is a little hyperbolic, but I have a good number of memories of struggling to get French words out of my mouth under the whip crack of “Vas-y Peter!” or trying to get started on a mock TÉFAQ speaking exercise (it was section A in the guide below), then the teacher rapid fire telling me something like 10 questions I could ask, and just sitting there at my desk in the Ubisoft office thinking “Ok, what am I even supposed to do now?”

All of the difficulty speaking that I described in Thoughts From Montreal 3 Part 1 was the result of what happened in that class. After months of hearing French all around me, I felt perfectly confident that I could pass the listening part of the test, but I felt hopeless when it came to the spoken part. At the worst moments, not long after I finished classes with that teacher, I struggled with the kind of doubts that probably many immigrants who have to learn a new language struggle with: Will I ever get good enough at this? How am I going to get permanent residency? The words just aren’t coming out of my mouth. How am I going to speak French again?

When I find myself in times of trouble, a Tiktok of Ruba Ghazal comes to me speaking words of wisdom:


Les Québécois et les Québécoises de toutes les origines doivent écouter cette vidéo de la députée solidaire Ruba Ghazal.

♬ son original – Québec solidaire

“The construction of our Québécois identity when we come to Quebec, it doesn’t appear as soon as your feet hit the tarmac. It takes time. I moved here at the age of ten and a half, I didn’t speak French. Then, some years later, after meeting Quebecers, feeling welcomed by them 35 years ago, hearing beautiful speeches when talking about immigration and Québec culture in a positive light, I integrated little by little. It was the same thing for my sisters, for my brother, for my friends, for my parents. So I want to speak to those young people who feel attacked by that rhetoric: you are Québécois. If you feel Québecois, you are Québécois…”

Hearing that all this takes time, that I didn’t need to speed run the immigration system after I made it through the border crossing, and that I would build my new Québécois identity step by step helped me pull myself together and figure out what to do next, and the next thing to do was to change my strategy.

Up to this point, I was under the impression that practising for the spoken part of the TÉFAQ was mainly about building up my conversation skills. The Tunisian Catholic Nun once said “You just don’t like to make small talk. Just think about the conversations you have with your friends!” during a particularly difficult class. So I’d do the mock speaking exams, but there was no special approach to take to it. Or I could do what the American education system drills into kids when it’s not teaching them how to respond to an active shooter situation: treat the standardized test like a standardized test. Don’t approach it like any conversation you would have IRL, understand that there is a rubric the evaluators are using to determine your score, and focus on having the kind of things they’re looking for on the tip of your tongue.

I was extremely lucky to stumble across the Youtube channel for Propulse Training, a TÉFAQ prep school here in Montréal. This channel has playlists of videos covering each of the four sections of the TÉFAQ, with example videos where students do mock speaking tests to demonstrate what passing work looks like. I worked my way through the playlist for the speaking section, taking notes any time I heard or thought of a useful tip.

At the end, I had a four page strategy guide for the final boss of my French learning. Before getting on the Metro to go to the Université de Montréal campus for my test, I printed the guide out and read and reread it until it was time to go inside. Here is the text of the guide, with a few edits for clarity. My advice to you is to read it, copy it into the document editor of your choice, watch the Propulse training videos for the sections of the TÉFAQ that you’re prepping for, and add your own tips and tricks. If you’re a beginner in French, feel free to skip to the end.

àâæçéèêëïîôùû (This isn’t a mistake. I wrote these up top so I could copypaste the accent marks rather than switch back and forth between an English and French language keyboard layout.)

“TEFAQ Strategy Guide – Expression Orale”

Section A

Section A of the exercise is about pretending to call somebody you don’t know about an ad in the paper. You have a very short time (one minute I think) to look over the ad, and you have to ask around ten questions to get a B2.

Strategy for forming questions

I. Des questions qui se commence par Où concernant

– L’addresse

– La proximité de métro/autobus

– S’il y a de la stationnement à proximité

– etc.

II. Des questions sur le temps, commençant par QUAND

ça commence quand?

La date

Les horaires

Les horaires du début, du fin

III. Des questions sur le tarif (price list) ou du prix (price), COUTE

Est-ce qu’il est négotiatble?

Quel est le type de méthode de paiement?

Avez-vous une réduction [pour par exemple les é Les enfants? Les ainés?]


Quelle est la durée de l’excursion?


Est-il possible de réserver via votre site web?

Acceptez-vous des paiements par Interac (Québec’s answer to Paypal)?

Votre annonce mentionne “tous niveaux”, est-ce aussi adapté pour tous les débutants?

Concernant le guide, est-il francophone ou anglophone?

En outre, quels documents sont nécessaires à l’inscription?

Ajouter des adverbes

Organiser vos questions en catégories




Il est important de:

a. Inclure le numéro de téléphone lorsque vous approchez la personne.

b. Ne pas oublier de spécifier ce que vous voulez

c. Indiquer où et quand vous avez vu l’annonce

If you encounter a word you don’t know, you can:

1. During the 1 minute prep, you can ask the examiner to explain it

2. Don’t use words you don’t understand, talk around it. This is a skill I picked up at Middlebury German School. You can usually pick up some kind of contextural clues from the sentence/paragraph the word appears in and ask some related questions or make a related comment that will tease out the meaning.

Section B

Section B is a slightly different exercise where you pretend to call a friend (who you use the personal tu form with instead of vous), summarize an ad in the newspaper that’s different from the one in Section A, and try to convince the friend to sign up for the service/buy the product shown.

1. Présenter

Cover the necessary details in the ad. Use these phrases to introduce each point in order:

1. D’abord, il s’agit de…

2. Ensuite,

3. Plus,

4. Après,

5. Enfin,

2. Convaincre

You can think of arguments in certain rubriques

Environnement (C’est mieux pour la planète)

Finances (Ca va vraiment améliorer tes finances!)

Expérience et émotions

Société (Nous sommes en 2024, tu dois essayer quelque chose plus dans l’air du temps)

More example strategies for Section B

0. Use arguments with possessive adjectives, e.g. Je sais que [ta famille/ton budget/ta blonde/tes finances/tes enfants]. It’s an (invented) personal argument the other person can’t refute. Ex. Je sais que tu dépenses plus de $200 par mois en cigarettes, c’est enorme et cela affecte beaucoup ton budget.

1. Argument from personal experience, j’ai vécu ça la semaine dernière, c’était incroyable!

2. Plug it as a tourism thing: Oh the sights you’ll see!

3. Push cultural side, it’s enriching for you and your students

4. C’est à la mode / dans l’air du temps! Tout le monde le fait

5. Compare it with another activity & describe why it’s better.

Comment passer du niveau B2 à C1

1. Regrouper vos questions/conseils/arguments

ex. Côté financier…[questions/arguments]

2. Bien écouter votre locateur et repondez correctement. Répondre avec des idioms ou adverbes

Ex. Je comprends tes réticences, mais tu dois vivre avec ton temps

3. Si possible, développer une empathie avec votre éxaminateur.euse

-Look ‘em in the eye

-Give personalized answers

4. Be careful with your pronounciation

Idiomes pour convaincre

Qu’est-ce que tu attends pour essayer [nouvelle activité]

t’inscrire à [cours]

faire ta part [bénévolat]

Tu n’as aucune raison d’hésiter! [infinitive]


Postule sans délai! [pour un emploi]


Il faut qu tu postules sans délai! [pour un emploi]

Tente ta chance! [pour un concours]

Autres exemples:


Ask if you got the right #?

Est-ce que je suis bien au …?

IDEA: Ask if they accept paiement par cryptomonnaie

Fake type on the computer “Oh il me semble que votre site web ne fonctionne pas. Avez-vous une page sur Facebook?”

If they have a website, ask for email.

If they have a website & email, ask for their Facebook page

Y a t-il une surveillance de la plage?

Votre annonce mentionne “repas sur place”. Est-il possible de consulter le menu?


Des bonnes idiomes à utiliser

Est-il possible de…

Y a t-il…

Est-il nécessaire de…

Je suis intéressé à participer à

J’ai quelques questions à vous poser

Connecting phrases/questions – Section A

Auriez-vous 5 minutes à m’accorder pour répondre à quelques questions?

Avez-vous 5 minutes à me consacrer?

La raison de l’appel

Je vous appel pour avoir plus d’information au sujet de

Je suis tombé par hasard sur votre publicitié dans le Journal d’Outremont…

Je suis très intéressé(e) par votre annonce / ça m’intéresse beaucoup

J’ai toujours été passionné par [sujet de la pub]

Premièrement/Ensuite/Donc, pourriez-vous me dire…

Je vous remercie d’avoir répondu à mes questions

un grand merci à vous

Merci pour votre [temps/gentillesse/patience]

J’ai maintenant toutes les informations nécessaires, merci

Je tiens à vous remercier et he vous rappellerai demain pour confirmer…

Here’s what I got on my tests

The column on the right with “Niveau” at the top shows where my score fits in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). The lowest level is A1 and A2, and the highest is C1 and C2. My B2 in the listening test means I’m somewhat below what could be expected of a native speaker, but good enough to land a knowledge job in French like I have. My C1 in speaking means I’m close to the speaking skills of a native speaker.

In retelling all the problems I had leading up to the test, but also thinking about some of the speaking and listening milestones I reached out of class (e.g. listening to very long and complex technical talks at work in French, the conversations I had at the QS convention, etc.), and now looking at these results, I’m realizing that I probably could have passed the TÉFAQ if I had taken it a few months earlier and had the confidence that compiling the guide from those Propulse videos gave me. Readers, if you can read and understand the above guide, follow along with the videos, and make my guide your own, I’m confident that you’ll pass too.

So what’s next?

I’m currently taking a French conversation class with a teacher I get along with. It will run for a few more weeks, and I might as well finish it . Between the French I hear all around me and increasingly use at Ubisoft and the time I spend on Québec Solidaire stuff, I’m getting closer and closer to making it the language of my day-to-day life.

One practical thing I need to figure out is a better keyboard setup or to get and memorize French accent keyboard shortcuts, because switching back and forth between English and French layouts for accent marks is tiring. At Middlebury, they gave us a quick cheat sheet to show how we could easily write the three vowels that take an umlaut (ä, ö, and ü) and the infamous ß in Windows. I need something that simple that I can easily pick up. I did notice the day that I’m making the last edits on this blog post that they’re offering a free French writing class focused on professional writing. I might be able to improve my French writing and figure out a better keyboard setup at the same time.

There’s also an increasing stack of books, movies, and documentaries that I’ve heard about and should take a look at. Some of them are the kind of thing I might want to write a review of for this blog. Like I said in TFM3 Part 2, one reason I talk about QS and the left in Quebec is because I want American (and, let’s be honest, English Canadian) leftists to hear about how the left operates differently in other countries. Let me know if you want to hear more about them:

  • Les têtes brûlées by Catherine Dorion, a book by a former QS Member of the National Assembly (MNA) about her time there
  • Godin by Jonathan Livernois (foreword by Ruba Ghazal), a biography of the former MNA for the neighborhood I live in
  • Ce Qui Nous Lie, a collection of essays by the 2018 QS MNA cohort plus guest authors
  • Brève histoire de la gauche politique by François Saillant (foreword by Alexandre Leduc, also a QS MNA), like the title says, a brief history of the Left in Québec
  • Du coeur au combat : Françoise David en cinq temps by Lisa-Marie Gervais, a biography and series of long interviews with the first co-spokeswoman of QS.
  • Tenir tête by Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, a memoir of the author’s involvement in the Maple Spring.
  • À Contre-courant compared with Knock Down The House, the idea being to compare this documentary about QS in the early 2010s with the Netflix documentary of The Squad.
  • La Candidate compared with…the last season of West Wing? Veep?
  • It’s not in French, but as long as we’re talking about books I might review for the blog, I’ll add Dirt Road Revival: How to Rebuild Rural Politics and Why Our Future Depends On It by Chloe Maxmin & Canyon Woodward. As you know from TFM 3 Part 3, I’m probably not gonna like it.
  • Also not entirely in French, but Bon Cop Bad Cop because people keep telling me to see it
  • Probably some stuff by Xavier Dolan, a famous Québécois director
  • The Elvis Gratton films…I’m not gonna try to describe those until and unless I actually review them.

Next, it’s a sad fact that, since moving here, I’ve been relying heavily on the fact that Montreal is a bilingual city in very critical contexts (banking, insurance, etc.). Now that Bill 96 is a law and I can’t really communicate the provincial government in English because I’m an immigrant who has been here more than 6 months, this might not be a problem until it’s a very big problem.

Finally, I might take Comprendre Les Québécois to make that last bit of progress in oral comprehension. This might sound weird after attending not one but two QS conventions and 14 hours carpooling time, but I still struggle with how everyday spoken Quebec French skips so many more syllables than what you see in writing. For example:

I still think they cut out syllables because it’s too cold and they don’t want their mouths open for too long.

With that, we’ve reached the end of the blog post. I don’t know if I’ll write another blog post specifically about my French learning after this unless there’s a very clear milestone that I reach, but chances are the next post you see from me will be a review of something from the above list.

Finally, I want to thank everyone who helped me, in one way or another, to get to this level of French. Whatever atrocities take place in the US over the next decade, these people played a key role in making sure I don’t get caught up in them, and neither does anyone I help to get out in time:

  • Mrs. Rickard from the A Beka French video classes I watched way back in high school
  • Hugo et al. fom InnerFrench
  • Everyone at Duolingo French
  • Elsa from Piece of French
  • Elisa from French Mornings with Elisa
  • Genevieve from maprofdefrancais
  • Helene from Wandering French
  • All my teachers at The Alliance Française de Boston et Cambridge
  • Ruba Ghazal, for reminding me that all this takes time
  • My co-workers at Ubisoft Montréal, especially H for going above and beyond to speak French around me


Permaculture designer and game developer. Biggest toilet fan on the internet.

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