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8 More Things to Know About French Immersion

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Je parle français. I am not native to the French language; neither of my parents speak a word of French, and I don’t live in an area where French is prominently spoken. However, I have worked in a variety of jobs as a French-speaking employee, visited French-speaking areas where I was able to comfortably converse with locals, and even have some favourite French YouTube programs I really enjoy watching.

I am the product of French Immersion.

It was an easy decision to send my kids to French Immersion. My husband agreed, regretting that he didn’t get the opportunity to learn in his youth, since he is now having to learn as an adult for work.

Yesterday I read an article that really made me say “WHAT?” out loud. It was an opinion from one mother who has pulled her kids from the program. After reading it several times, I get the impression that it has more to do with her expectations of the program and possibly some issues with that particular school. I have had a completely different experience, so I feel it is beneficial to share the view from the other side of the fence.

1. It’s boring It’s hard work!

If I was put in a room with a teacher who only spoke Russian, I wouldn’t call that boring. I would call that challenging. Boredom is subjective, and kids are much more adaptive to these situations than adults.

The curriculum set out by the government determines what is taught in the classroom, so saying that a FI student is only learning to say the word “cat” while an English student is learning all about “cats” is completely wrong. My kids come home every day with not only new words in French, but also a world of knowledge on the subjects they are discussing.

Imagine having to learn both how to speak the words AND all about the subject in the same amount of time as someone only having to learn about the subject? That’s not boring; that’s hard work. Some kids shut down when they are presented with hard work, and it’s up to the parents and teacher to work together to get the child through that.

2. Immersion is not necessarily for gifted kids (or kids with a learning disability) can be great for kids of all levels of academic brightness!

In her article, she writes, “the principal agreed that most gifted kids are not a good fit for French immersion—they require a more stimulating environment.” I am appalled that a principal would make a statement like this, and that makes me more convinced that this particular parent had problems due to a breakdown in their particular school environment. As in the English stream, some kids in FI struggle academically while others excel – and often the language has nothing to do with it!

Math is still math if taught in French or English, and a child who struggles with it in French may also struggle with it in English. My oldest (grade 4) is a gifted student but with behavioural issues as well. He excels academically, and at the same time, the school has been using a variety of resources to help him with his behaviour challenges. My youngest (grade 1) is behind the rest of her class and struggling in all subjects, however there has never been any talk of removing her from the program. Instead, we are working together with the teacher to help her. We had a huge breakthrough just this morning with her reading! One of my children even has a non-verbal student in their class.

In Ontario, we recognize that not all kids learn the same, which is why we have IEP’s or Individual Education Plans – Many parents think of these as something negative or that it means their kid is remedial, causing parents to want to remove their child from the program, when in reality having an IEP in place can often mean that your child simply learns in a different manner (and may even be brighter) than the majority of their classmates and needs a modified plan to help them succeed.

3. There is a limited pool of French immersion teachers:

This is one point I won’t debate. I think this is very board-specific and an issue that perhaps needs to be discussed with local government officials. If this is a problem, we need to fix it.

4. It’s rote learning:

In any school, many different styles of learning are used each day. As parents, our opinions might differ on the myriad learning styles used, but lumping the entire French Immersion curriculum in to one learning style is ridiculous and untrue. While one may feel having a weekly dictée to encourage regular practice of their spelling is an outdated method of teaching, others see this as a tried and true method that works.

If you are concerned about what types of learning techniques are used in class, talk to the teacher. It’s up to you as a parent to keep an open line of communication and be involved in decisions about learning styles to help your child.

5. Many students are not a good fit:

She writes, “the principal at my kids’ school says only one in three kids are a good fit for immersion.” I scoured the internet all afternoon, and have yet to find anything to support this statistic. Perhaps she’s getting that based on the number of kids leaving her program, but then again, in my opinion a lot of parents leave the program for the wrong reasons.

While I will certainly admit there is a chance she may be giving actual facts, it really means nothing until you’ve put your child in the program and seen for yourself whether or not they are a good fit.

6. There’s a split between French and English streams:

I won’t debate this one either, because it’s definitely school/age/class specific. We don’t attend a split-stream school, but I also know that kids can be mean and naturally a divide will happen in countless situations. I don’t see this as any different from when kids naturally group in to their little clans “the cool kids,” “the jocks,” “the artsy kids,” etc. While I can’t stop the other kids from calling my kid names, I can teach my kid that it’s not nice to retaliate with equally hurtful words.

7. My high school French is not good enough to help them… but my pool of resources is:

My parents could barely say “bonjour” when my sister and I began our French Immersion schooling, so of course they struggled helping with homework. That didn’t mean my sister or I were any less successful in the program than kids whose parents could read French. We still laugh when my mom tells the story of me coming home having just learned the French word for “baby seal” and her sending me to my room while she called her French-speaking friend to confirm. 

Why do some parents get more frustrated than others? I remember nights sitting at the kitchen table, parents with the French-English dictionary in hand, debating meanings and attempting to decipher the homework instructions. They gave it their best shot and my homework somehow got done. Today, we have no excuse. We now have the technology to translate literally at our fingertips. I also know of a parent in our class who made special arrangements with the teacher to have the homework instructions emailed in English each afternoon. From day one, a French Immersion parent must be an involved parent and be willing to go that extra mile. Yes, it’s something you need to be aware of ahead of time, but it shouldn’t scare you. Think about it this way: the school wants your kid to succeed. If they thought parents couldn’t handle it, then would they really want to make your child suffer?

8. Their greatest skill is conversational French:

I read and write in French daily, and even have experience in business translation. Conversational French is not my only second language skill. Learning a second language is important for so many more reasons than just being able to speak it.

The second language can open doors. When I was in University, my friends were all working minimum wage in jobs they hated and had nothing to do with their future career prospects. I had a job in an office, doing work I truly enjoyed, making twice as much money because they needed someone who could read and write fluently in French. After university, I landed a job that paid me to get training for easier-to-obtain certifications because I was bilingual—and finding someone bilingual was much more difficult than paying for taking technical training.

At the end of the day, we all have different opinions and experiences and there will always be people who disagree. I know first-hand that the second language has the opportunity to really enrich our children, so of course, I am a huge advocate for the French Immersion program.

I also believe parents have a huge responsibility to ensure their kids are given every chance to succeed. While quitting might be the best option for some kids, it may also be an option used when a parent doesn’t understand how to get help—or want make the effort.

If I could pass on one piece of advice to any parent with a child starting school, it would be to do your own research, find out what you are comfortable with, and make a commitment about how involved you will be before you sign them up for French Immersion.

Advocate for your kids and give them every opportunity for success.

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This blog post is in response to Emma Waverman’s Today’s Parent article 8 things I wish I’d known about French immersion

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Jenn Perry

The author Jenn Perry

Entrepreneur, Child-Wrangler and Domestic-Goddess-Wannabe, Jenn is a married, mother of two. She is also the founder of That's So Social and Editor in Chief of Travel Mavens. Likes: travel, eggs benedict, yoga pants, dogs, and Netflix.