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Politics CRA to spend $42,900 to help dyslexic worker learn French

The Canada Revenue Agency headquarters.

The Canada Revenue Agency has 40,000 employees but the department is spending at least $42,900 helping one worker, who has dyslexia, learn French.

The employee, who has not been identified, has already had two years of federal French language training at two different schools all to no avail, CRA documents show. Now, the federal tax agency is turning to a private school in Ottawa for one-on-one training to help the staffer pass the government's language test.

The worker has been signed up for an initial six-month course at the school, costing $42,900, according to a recent CRA tender for the contract. However, the tender notes that because of "the individual's previous history with language training" the contract can be extended for three additional six-month sessions, "as it may take the individual considerably longer to meet the required language requirements." That could bring the total cost of the language training to $171,600.

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"The agency has a duty to accommodate employees for the purpose of achieving second language levels," said CRA spokeswoman Béatrice Fénelon. She added that these types of contracts are rare. This is "the first one in the last three years."

The federal government requires most managers and workers in designated positions to be bilingual and it has a series of tests employees must pass to meet the requirements. In most cases, employees are retested every five years to make sure they have kept up the second language.

The CRA's training contact is with the L'Académie de formation linguistique, an Ottawa-based private school that specializes in language training and courses for people with dyslexia. The school charges about $44 an hour for the training.

The school's founder, Louise Ward, couldn't comment on the specific CRA employee, but she said the language training shouldn't take two years. "Believe me, dyslexics can learn as fast as anybody else if properly taught," Ms. Ward said.

She added that government language training programs don't work for people with dyslexia because they usually involve groups and instruction from books. "It's a waste of time, a waste of money and waste of people," she said. Her school doesn't get many contracts like the one signed by CRA, but she believes the civil service should do more to help people with dyslexia because they have a lot to offer. "Dyslexics make excellent managers," she said. "They are people who think out of the box."

Ms. Ward, who has dyslexia, has been working in the field for roughly 20 years and also runs an Ottawa school for children with learning disabilities. She said that about 20 per cent of Canadians have some form of dyslexia and that many civil servants who have trouble learning French or English probably have no idea they are dyslexic.

She said L'Académie de formation linguistique has developed a unique training method that uses sounds, symbols and motion. The program is so successful, she added, almost anyone can learn a language twice as quickly as in a traditional book-based format.

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"Six months, it should be no problem," she said. "Everything could be done very rapidly, very smooth."

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