Ideally, in French immersion programs all activities and learning during the elementary grades, except for English language arts, are in French.
Studies have shown that there is no reason why immersion programs should not be suitable for 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 ability, however, is not related to performance in French speaking skills.
By the same token, children with learning difficulties will experience some problems in trying to cope with the French immersion curriculum --- the same problems they would encounter in the English-stream program. Learning assistance should be provided to them, whether they are in immersion or in the regular English program. These children (except in rare circumstances) should not be denied the satisfaction and pride that come from becoming bilingual.
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 comprehesion 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 the French spoken by immersion students is often a red herring because it 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. The new technologies (Internet, video-conferencing, multimedia materials, etc.) will help students to establish links with Francophone communities around the world. These opportunities for interaction should help students to improve their sociolinguistic skills.
It is not uncommon to see immersion students reading English fluently even though no formal classroom English instuction 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.
At home , your child should be free to read for pleasure in French or in English and be encouraged to talk about his/her experiences at school. Showing interest in what your child is doing at school and providing encouragement and support is of the utmost importance.
For example, you can help by sitting by your child and encouraging him/her to complete his/her work or study his/her lessons. This will help your child in the short and long run. It is particularly easy to work with your child in math, social studies, science or art because they can be done in English at home. Eventually, and as soon as possible, your child will become an independant learner.
Other examples: when there is a "dictee" (spelling exercise) to practise, and if your pronunciation is reasonably good, you may ask the child to say the words to you first and then repeat the words so your child can spell them. It is often an amusing exercise when your child tries to teach you how to pronounce French words. You can transcribe words phonetically to remember how to pronounce them. You may also wish to ask the immersion teacher to record one or more "dictees" to practise at home or your child can make the recording and you can play back the tape. Your child can work using the teacher's voice.
For more information about how you can help, please see the list of selected CPF resources available.
Transferring a child out of French immersion should be a decision that is made first of all by parents, usually in consultation with the immersion staff. Especially at the elementary level, guidance may be provided by a school-based team generally made up of the French immersion teacher, the English teacher, the counsellor and the learning assistance teacher.
Please remember that in the English stream, where there is no alternative, the child with learning difficulties must stay in his/her program. The existence of this option of transferring the child out of immersion sometimes encourages a parent to transfer the child too hastily. Apart from some extreme cases, children with learning difficulties should not be denied the right and privilege of becoming bilingual and also should be able to draw satisfaction and pride from understanding and speaking two world languages.
Teachers should work in co-operation with the learning assistance teacher to provide help based as much as possible on a child's particular learning style. Parents are encouraged to participate in the process if it will help the child.
- 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 example, a Swedish immersion program is offered to children at the age of 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 communications strategies and by making experiential activities meaningful.
- Research has shown the positive results of language immersion programs in Canada and other countries.
While it is "natural" for children to learn French in very early immersion programs, it requires motivation to work much harder when immersion starts in later grades (grade 6 or 7). Students in these grades will want their opinion to count in the decision to enter the French immersion program and the decision will be dependent on their attitude to, ability in and perception of French.
Results of Late immersion programs (with some differences in favour of Early immersion) have been positive.