My French Immersion Experience
I have been asked many times in the past 15 years if having my kids in French immersion was a good idea. Here are some of my thoughts:
Both my kids went full immersion, my daughter from senior kindergarten at age 5–6 and my son a bit later halfway through grade 1. We were told that by grade 3 they would be equal with English main stream students in terms of having caught up with lessons.
We decided to enter this program because my son was hugely exceeding expectations for grade 1 in English only school. His principal and teacher thought he’d thrive in the more challenging environment of learning a new language.
My son graduated 2 years ago but in grade 11 had had to go back to English main stream. He wasn’t able to earn enough credits in the courses he wanted to graduate with, for a French certificate. He is now going into year 3 of computing at a prestigious university. My daughter has managed to stick with the French until the end and was accepted into a very competitive program for dental hygiene starting next year. They obviously learned how to be successful students.
As a parent, I was concerned about a few things related to being in French immersion. My kids are both honour roll students but they had to learn new subjects, including sciences, in French. Also, sex ed was taught in French which was very confusing for them.
Looking back, I feel the school itself should have a lot to do with the decision. We have two French immersion elementary schools (SK to 8) in my area and my kids both reported that in their grade 9 French high school classes, they thought the kids from the other school were much more advanced and had fewer comprehension issues.
We encountered several teachers in their schools who went above and beyond to make sure our kids got something out of their education other than just passing grades. Many of our teachers were truly invested in and cared about how things were going. My kids both have favourites and fond memories they will cherish forever. So do my husband and I from our English only schools.
There aren’t many kids in French immersion who have learning disabilities so your kids don’t necessarily gain an understanding of other people’s challenges. That being said, when it is discovered your child has a learning disability, you are strongly encouraged to put them in an English only school. One friend, who was from a French family and her kids grew up speaking both languages, constantly had to fight to keep her dyslexic daughter in the school with her older sister. The school cooperated eventually and her daughter benefited by having the full attention of the special service providers which did not have to be shared with any other students – because there simply weren’t any others.
Overall, I think both my kids are happy they speak the two official languages of Canada fluently. They have, in my opinion, reduced English spelling abilities versus if they were in the English stream, which perhaps in this day and age of automated ‘spell checkers’ isn’t a big deal. As parents we spent a lot of extra time filling in the gaps we felt existed in their history, English, sciences and culture studies.
I questioned and doubted our decision every step of the way with both of them but we stuck to it. We always told them the decision to stay or leave French immersion was up to them after grade 8 and they both decided to stay.
Biggest pet peeves?
1. I think the schools are able to artificially manipulate the statistics of the quality of education they offer quite easily with the standardized testing every 3 years. Therefore these results are not reliable.
2. The final proof that your child has successfully achieved their French language education occurs in their final year. It is through a procedure called the “DELF’ test and consists of written and oral testing and the students have to decide on what level of ability they wish to be tested in. Successful candidates are then certified as officially bilingual in Canada. The thing is, these kids have spent their entire student careers learning the Canadian French language but this final certification test is in the Parisian French language. SIGNIFICANTLY different. And they only get one chance to pass it.
You have to make your decisions based on your own children. I believe you need to be willing, as a parent, to put in more time to make up for things you think need to be included in your kid’s education in English. I also think kids need to be encouraged to be avid readers in both languages – in and out of school. Keep a close eye on their progress and become fixtures in your children’s schools so issues can be dealt with instantly and thoroughly. Understand the plan and supplement where you can. As with so many areas in life, you must be the advocate for your family.
Kids are sponges and I am very happy my kids are bilingual. It is something that has benefited them so far with part time jobs and confidence and I believe it will continue to benefit them throughout their lives.
As we enter the last month of French immersion with our daughter, I can now say I am glad we made this decision especially in a world where there is so much competition for jobs that every little difference helps.
Every kid is different – what is your experience?