French Immersion is a Canadian made educational program in which a child whose first language is not French - studies in French. French Immersion began 30 years ago in response to parental demand; research shows that it is the most effective way for a child to become functionally bilingual. In BC Early Immersion starts in Kindergarten or grade 1. Late Immersion usually starts in grade 6.
Ideally, in French Immersion programs all activities and learning during elementary grades, except for English arts, are in French. Canada's French Immersion programs have attracted positive attention from many countries around the globe. For the last decade some countries, particularly in Europe and the United States, have been offering immersion programs often patterned on the Canadian model. The goal of the French immersion program is to graduate students who are functionally bilingual. This means graduates are able to communicate effectively in French as well as in English.
Consider these research findings: students whose parents have positive attitudes to French tend to do better in French. They also develop a more positive attitude toward French and Francophones. You can play an active role in your child's success in French Immersion, even if you don't speak French....support and encouragement are biggest factors.
Is French Immersion for all children?
French Immersion has sometimes been criticized as an “elitist” program. In fact, with more than 32,000 students enrolled across 47 School Districts in BC and the Yukon and hundreds of thousands across Canada, French Immersion has proved itself to be a model program of choice in public education. It is open to all, reflective of the community and gives access to a remarkable program, regardless of parent income or social status.
Studies have shown that Immersion programs are suitable for almost any child. Of course, children with above average academic abilities generally have an advantage in most forms of learning - particularly, in the case of Immersion programs, in the development of reading and writing skills. High academic skills,however, are not related to performance in French speaking skills.
Children with learning difficulties will experience some problems in trying to cope with the French Immersion curriculum -- the same problems they would likely encounter in the English-stream program.Learning assistance should be provided to them, whether in Immersion or the English program. These children should not be denied the satisfaction, pride and personal growth that comes with being bilingual.
Why should I choose French Immersion for my child?
One good reason is that it opens more doors for your children and for their future well-being. Graduates of a full Immersion Program can expect increased appreciation of other languages and cultures, enhanced career potential, a greater facility for learning other languages as well as a more global view of Canada and the world.
Is French Immersion for everyone?
Immersion is suitable for children of all academic abilities. French Immersion may present an additional challenge to your child but it is not to be confused with enrichment. It is a program developed for the specific purpose of giving Anglophone school children the opportunity to become bilingual, while still maintaining their English skills. The Immersion method was created for children whose classroom language is not their first language but they study in French. If you have any specific concerns, check them out before you enroll your child in French Immersion. Call the Ministry/Department of Education, CPF or talk to a kindergarten or Grade 1 French Immersion teacher.
Will my child learn the same things as peers in the English Program?
The French Immersion and English curricula are the same as specified by the Ministry/Department of Education. The only difference between the two programs is the language of instruction.
Should I register my child in Early Immersion or Late Immersion?
It is estimated that about 80% of all French Immersion students are enrolled in early Immersion programs. The popularity of this program can be explained by many factors:
- Studies have shown that it is easier and more natural for a child to learn another language at a very early age. In Finland, for instance, a Swedish Immersion program is offered to children at age three.
- Early French Immersion teachers are very conscious of the fact that at first children do not understand the language. The teachers provide clear explanations using various communication strategies and by making experiential activities meaningful.
- Research has shown the positive results of early language immersion programs in Canada and other countries. While it is "natural" for children to learn French in early Immersion programs, it requires motivation to work harder when immersion starts in later grade (6 or 7). Students in these grades will want their opinion to count in the decision to enter the French Immersion program and that decision will be dependent on their attitude towards the French culture.
How available is French Immersion?
Over 250 school boards and districts across Canada offer French Immersion programs. Check the CPF Immersion Registry at www.cpf.ca which lists schools that have French Immersion programs in every Province and Territory.
When is English introduced?
This varies from province to province, but in BC for the Early French Immersion program, it begins by grade four when students are exposed to one period a day of English language arts. Within a year or two, they should be reading in both languages. Skills in one language can be transferred to benefit the development of the other.For the Late French Immersion program, students will have taken English language arts up to Grade 5. Grade 6 will be offered in French and students will be re-introduced to English language arts again in Grade 7.
How good will my child's French be?
The level of proficiency in French will vary from one child to another in the same way as performance in mathematics, for example, will vary from child to child. Some students speak French making many mistakes while others might be taken for mother-tongue French speakers. The language skills of French immersion students are consistently superior to those of core French students (who study French for 20 to 50 minutes per day). In general, immersion students' French oral and reading comprehension skills (receptive skills) will be almost on par with those of native French speakers. Speaking and writing in the second language (productive skills) may not be as advanced as their comprehension skills. We must remind ourselves that French for these children is, after all, their second language and that English is the predominant language in their environment. To dwell too much and too critically on the quality of French spoken by immersion students is often a mistake because one ignores the fact that immersion students not only communicate effectively in French but also learn the skills of communication: selecting the right words with the right nuances, adapting communicative strategies to get the message across, cracking the right joke without making a cultural or linguistic gaffe, and establishing a positive environment by creating a friendly atmosphere with the native speaker. It will take years of immersion schooling before your child will reach such a level of achievement and comfort in a second language. As an example, imagine yourself being able to understand Chinese spoken by a native speaker at a normal speed and that you are able to communicate, in a normal way, albeit while making some mistakes, with that person. Wouldn't that be wonderful?
French immersion teachers and parents should constantly seek out opportunities for the children to use their French with mother-tongue French speakers. Current technologies (internet, video-conferencing, multimedia materials, etc.) can help students establish links with Francophone communities around the world. These opportunities for interaction should help students to improve their sociolinguistic skills.
Is my child going to lose out in English or in subjects taught in French?
In most cases, learning another language enhances a child's English ability. Children can learn much about English by learning the structure of other languages. Common vocabulary also helps children learn the meaning of new words in English. Experimental studies have shown that no long-term delay in native English language development occurs in children participating in second language classes, even in full immersion programs. Research has shown that throughout Canada, French immersion students perform at least as well in many aspects of English-language achievement as those who are enrolled in regular programs. Understandably, in the first two or three years (primary grades) of French immersion your child may show some lag in certain areas of English-language skills such as spelling, capitalization, etc. These lags are temporary and usually disappear when English language arts are introduced. It is not uncommon to see immersion students reading English fluently even though no formal classroom English instruction has yet been introduced. This is due to the phenomenon of transfer of reading skills from French to English. Having the same alphabet makes this process of transfer much easier. Various studies have shown that immersion students perform as well as English-stream students in all school subjects such as math, science, etc.
When in doubt ... check it out!
Your encouragement and belief in the value of a second language will strengthen your child's learning experience. Ask the teacher and/or your CPF chapter to suggest some out-of-school French language activities that will be fun for the family and will enhance the school program.
By joining Canadian Parents for French you will receive Provincial/National newsletters, be kept aware of and involved in your child's activities and have many more resources available to you!
FUN IN FRENCH!