Find or share French Activities in your Community

Learning a language without practicing it is like reading music without playing any: not great fun.  One of the ways to make your child’s learning more interesting is to seek out French activities in your area. That can mean fairs, festivals, story telling, etc.

If you would like a French event posted on this page, please email the details to info@immersionhelp.ca

Why choose French Immersion?

Why Choose French Immersion?

Most people agree that French is the language of romance and everything chic. That being said, in case you are looking for benefits that might be a bit more substantial, or marketable, consider the following:

There are many good reasons why the French Immersion program has grown in Canada from a class of 12 to over 200,000 students in the last 45 years. You will find below a non-exhaustive list of benefits that an immersion student may enjoy.

The quick 10:

1)      Allows students to become fluent in both of Canada’s official languages

2)      It’s easier for young kids to learn a second language

3)      Increases memory capacity

4)      May enhances cognitive and problem-solving skills

5)      May enhances listening and concentration skills

6)      Creates a sense of pride and accomplishment (how many things are your kids better than you at?)

7)      It can be a definite asset on a competitive job market

8)      It’s very useful for travel: over 200 million people speak French (either first or second language)

9)      Makes it easier to learn another language later

10)  Exposes your child to different cultures: the teachers might come from places as diverse as Eastern Canada, the Prairies, France, Switzerland…

Info for the academically inclined:

The French Immersion program has been the subject of countless studies and debates since its inception.  The most common purposes of the studies has been to determine whether learning French impacts the English skills – either positively or negatively – or whether it hindered knowledge acquisition in other areas.  Dr. Jim Cummins has devoted many studies to the subject of second language acquisition. Even though his earlier studies date from the 1970s, they have been confirmed many times by more recent surveys.  For more information on Dr. Cummins’ work, visit http://www.iteachilearn.com/cummins/ .

Three main principles stand out in the many studies done on the subject:

  1. The interdependence between the level of proficiency in the first and the second language:  high levels of proficiency in the first language promote a high level of proficiency in the second language (Cummins, 1976).  Research has consitently shown that French Immersion students lagged in literacy tests in the early years (grade one) but that by grade 2, the lag started to disappear and by grade 5, the immersion students showed better literacy skills. While this is no guarantee that the Early French Immersion program will enhance your child’s English literacy skills, it does demonstrate that if there is an influence on English skills, it is in most cases a positive one.  Note that there were never any lag in English oral skills detected in the Early French Immersion students.
  1. The  immersion students are able to transfer their skills from French to English without difficulty (Genesee, 1979).  This is a very important factor. One of the main worries of parents is that the skills learned in French would not be useable by the child in an English context. It has actually been demonstrated through various studies that through the course of elementary school, immersion students tested on subjects such as mathematics at first performed at the same level as the students in the regular English program but several studies have shown that the immersion students actually outperformed the other students by Grade 6.  Again, this is not a guarantee that the Early French Immersion program will enhance skills in all areas. However, it is a commonly accepted fact that Early French Immersion students develop sharp cognitive and problem-solving skills and it seems reasonable to accept the fact that they are able to use those skills in fields other than language learning.
  1. Cummins’  “Threshold hypothesis”: students most benefit from learning a second language once the first language has reached a certain level of competency and is also used and improved outside the school. In our context, it means it would be advisable that at the time when children enter an Early French Immersion program, they be competent in their first language (we’re talking about oral skills here). When the first language is strong, the child will be able to “transfer” their skills from one to the other and will also be able to become strong in the second language

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French Immersion FAQ

What is French Immersion?

French Immersion is a program whereby most or the entire curriculum is taught in French (hence the term Immersion!).  The concept has grown from a class of 12 students in 1965 in Quebec to more than 200,000 students today across Canada. It has been designed to allow children who come from non-French speaking families to develop a high level of proficiency in French.  The percentage of French spoken in the classroom depends on the school and the teacher. Sometimes French will be introduced gradually in kindergarten while other times the teacher will speak French almost exclusively and use body language, gestures and facial expression to assist with comprehension. Typically, all of the instruction happens in French until Grade 7 except for English classes who often start in Grade 3 as a separate subject.

What are the benefits of French Immersion?

The benefits of learning a new language at a young age are many.  Here’s a summary of the main benefits you child might enjoy if enrolled in Early French Immersion:

  • heightened mental flexibility and creative thinking skills: research has shown that French Immersion students faired better in several cognitive tests than their English-educated counterparts. Having to process all the information of the curriculum in a foreign languages stimulates neuro-pathways which help the children process information more effectively.
  • Learning a new language from a young age is much, much easier than learning later.  The brains of 5 and 6 year olds are wired to literally absorb information. You will be amazed at how quickly they pick it up.
  • The opportunity to learn about the rich French culture: keep in mind that the French teachers in Canada are typically native of regions as diverse as Québec, New Brunswick, the Prairies, the West Coast, France, Switzerland or Belgium (or many other places).  Along the way, your child may be able to learn from people with many different culture backgrounds, which undeniably fosters curiosity and sensitivity to other cultures.
  • French Immersion also typically boosts a child’s self-esteem. How often does it happen than your child is better than you at something?  Their sense of pride and achievement more than makes up for the challenges.
  • French across the globe:  over 120 million people in over 50 countries speak French.  You would find it useful to know at least some French in places such as Africa, eastern Europe or several countries in Asia for instance.
  • English is the dominant language in the business world but your child likely already knows English! French is a very common language in diplomatic circles such as the United Nations, NATO and also at the IOC and the International Red Cross.

Is French Immersion for all children?

All children are accepted in the French Immersion program. Does it mean that it is suitable for all children? That is an ongoing debate.  Many children with learning difficulties can still reap the benefits of learning French while for others, the challenges could be too great. It is important to realize that the most important factor is the comprehension. A child who understands what is being said can learn all the concepts of the curriculum even though they might have some difficulty writing or reading. Keep in mind that most schools have learning support available. Make sure that you communicate with your teacher regularly, listen to the advise given by the support team and realize that everything is being done to help every child succeed in the program. In some cases it may be recommended to you that your child switch to an English class. Those recommendations are not made lightly and remember that at such a young age, children typically adapt to change very well. Therefore, moving to an English class, if recommended, should not be seen as a failure but as a way to give your child the best possible opportunity that suits them.  Starting French Immersion IS most definitely for all children and most children thrive in the program. Just make sure you monitor your child’s progress and keep his/her best interest in mind.

Will my child learn the same things as peers in the English Program?

Yes, the curriculum followed is exactly the same. The only difference is that it is taught in French.

How good will my child’s French be?
The million dollar question!  First, you will likely be amazed at how much your child understands after only a few weeks of classes.  Research has shown that reading and comprehension in French Immersion students becomes almost as good as a native speaker.  Now how well a child will speak can vary greatly from child to child. Like with every other subject, some students will achieve better results than others.  Some students will be able to develop a French accent very close to that of a native speaker and will use rich vocabulary and correct grammar while others will have a lesser level of proficiency but will still be able to easily carry on a conversation.  All you can do to help your child develop a better French is to expose them to the language. (See “how can I help my child if I don’t speak English?)

What about the accent?  The type of accent that students develop will largely depend on where their teachers are from. Just like in English, people from different regions speak with different accents (Canadian, Southern US, Scottish or Australian for instance). Don’t be concerned about the accent your child is developing.  We are talking to our daughters with a French (what people here call “Parisian”) accent.  We have noticed that while attending her French Immersion classes, she is starting to pronounce some words with a “ Canadian” accent.  Does it matter? It matters in the sense that it shows that the French language is alive and culturally very rich.  Learning different accents is fun and it makes learning a language even more interesting.

Will being in French Immersion affect my child’s English language skills?

The author of ‘Yes. You can help! Information and Inspiration for French Immersion Parents’. Pat Brehaut and Judy Gibson have concluded the following:

The results of 30 years of studies undertaken from St. John’s to Victoria are clear and consistent: early total immersion students tend to lag behind English-program students in more technical aspects of the language (e.g., capitalization and spelling) until they have had a year or two of English language arts. However, by grade 5 or 6 (even if this subject has not been introduced until grade 3 or 4), they perform as well as their English-program peers.

Will my child be bilingual?

It is difficult to agree on a definition of bilingualism. Your child will function in the two languages. Andre A. Obadia, from Simon Fraser University, in his 1995 article “Thirty of French Immersion” sums it up:

“In French, their reading and listening skills are close to those of native French speakers. Their productive skills, such as speaking and writing, although not at par with those of native speakers, allow them nonetheless to carry out normal conversations. They are generally self-confident when they speak French”.

What will happen if my child does not continue in Immersion?

Almost all children are able to be successful in French Immersion. Brehaut and Gibson, quoted earlier, express it as follows:

“learning difficulties occur with the same frequency in French immersion as in the regular English program. There are students with dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, behavioral problems, below average levels of intelligence, and other barriers to learning who are doing well in immersion – and becoming functionally bilingual!”

The decision to leave depends greatly on the individual child and circumstances.

Depending on the reasons for leaving the program, the child’s feelings may range from a sense of relief to a sense of failure

Dual track school learning assistance teachers and principals are well aware of how to deal with the situation and will be available to counsel both parents and student as well as help make the transfer as smooth as possible.

How will my child communicate with and understand the teacher?

Your child will communicate in English until he/she has the language skills necessary to express himself in French. As in learning his first language, understanding French will come much earlier than being able or willing to speak it.

In the closing address at the annual conference of the Canadian Association of Immersion Teachers of 1985, James Jones offered this answer:

“It is frequently claimed that the use of English by teachers in the French part of the program should be avoided at all costs… Surely need should dictate the practice. Immersion kindergarten teachers usually begin using some English and gradually phase out its use. However, in the case of classroom crises such as a sick or injured child the need for communication overrides the all French dictum. A very difficult concept involving values in social studies, for example, could be clarified with an English word or two.”

Will my child be learning the same things as in an English class?

Yes, the children follow the same curriculum as English classes. The only difference is that the instruction takes place in French. All subjects are identical otherwise.

Is French Immersion only for “bright” children?

All schools have bilingual learning assistance teachers to support special needs. (Ranging from difficulty in math to gifted).

Research indicates that the only children who are very poor candidates for French Immersion Programs are those with poor auditory discrimination (being unable to distinguish between similar sounding letters and words) or with poor auditory memory (being unable to remember what he/she has heard). Program placement will not determine a child’s success. A child will do as well or as poorly in French Immersion as he/she would do in an English program. Parents need to support their children and have a positive attitude towards the program.

I don’t speak French. Will this be a problem? How will I help with homework?

A problem. No. A frustration. Yes. Your child’s teacher can give you ideas on how you can help your child with his homework. Also, see publications available at your child’s school for more ideas and suggestions. Programs us as the Immersion Help Program (www.immersionhelp.ca) would provide you with activities you could do with your child.

How will I know how my child is doing?

Through formal (report cards) and informal (phone calls and visits) communications with the teacher.

How will I communicate with my child’s teacher?

All French Immersion teachers speak English.

Should I read with my child in English?

Yes. The shared experience of reading with your child is particularly valuable in shaping an interest in reading.

Some children, on their own, do learn to read in English.  All children certainly begin to do so during the first term of Grade 3.

Can I transfer my child into a French Immersion program at the beginning of Grade 1?

Entry in the French Immersion program is usually possible in Kindergarten and Grade 1 but you should of course check with your school.

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How do you define a French accent?

There is a lot of bias when it comes to accents. First of all, no one has one, from their own point of view… Some accents supposedly sound more “sophisticated” than others, some make one sound “knowledgeable” and others that make you sound, well, maybe a bit less knowledgeable. Of course that is all from one perspective.

I have heard some parents of French Immersion students worry about the kind of French that their children will be learning. “Will it be Parisian French, or Quebecois French?”

I was born and raised in France (not Paris) and moved to Canada when I was 25 years old.  In this country, my French is qualified as Parisian, which is very strange to me for several reasons which I will get into a bit later.

An accent typically comes along in a package that may also include unique mannerisms, vocabulary and expressions as well as a separate culture altogether.  One of the many benefits of learning a different language is to be able to communicate with the different people who speak it.  That connection through language allows a person to enter a separate world featuring different beliefs, ways of doing everyday things, ways to interact with each other, maybe its own arts, etc.

When I studied English in a French University, we were taught “proper” British English, the supposedly pure English.  Except for the odd monitor from North America, I don’t recall anyone with a non-British accent.  Interestingly enough, I have not been to the UK since high school but rather flew over the Atlantic and spent a lot of time in Canada where I had to re-learn a lot to be able to communicate effectively.

If you are an Anglophone Canadian, you are able to communicate with people with cultures and backgrounds as diverse as Scottish, Australian, Indian, South African and so on. Some of those peoples share little but their language, even though their accents and expressions might be very different.  The point is that if you meet those people, you can communicate with them, learn from them and share interesting facts.

Back to my French being Parisian.  You know that even within a country, there can be many different ways of speaking the national language. Think of Canada with the Newfoundlanders or the US with the famous New York accent or the southern drawl. It is the same thing in France.  People from Paris tend to have an accent (from my perspective of non-Parisian of course!),as do some people from Brittany (west), Alsace (east), while people from southern France have a very distinctive accent that can make it difficult for a fellow Frenchman from the north to understand.

My daughter is in a French Immersion program in BC. What should I wish she learned at school? What would be more “desirable”?   I think that first of all, the type of accents that she will be exposed to will not influence her learning in a significant way, either negative or positive. The fact that I moved half-way around the world and am still able to send my daughter to school in French is a blessing.  Children in Canada are spoiled, French Immersion is a wonderful opportunity.  Canada being a country that attracts citizens from around the world, French teachers tend to have extremely various backgrounds.  My daughter could have teachers who came from places as diverse as Switzerland, New Brunswick, Poland or Québec. Wow! How cool is that? Can you imagine the richness that comes with such a variety of cultures? In the five years that I learned English at school before university, I did not have even one teacher from an Anglophone background, not one! I also learned German for 7 years, same thing, not one teacher was from a german-speaking background.

So when you hear where your son’s French Immersion teacher is from, embrace whatever the response is.  Whatever “version” of the French language they might learn that year will make them culturally richer. I sure wish I had had that chance.