Becoming Bilingual

Benefits accrue for students enrolled in French Immersion programs.

Becoming Bilingual

Photo: Gerri Photography

 

“I like speaking French; I like travelling to Montreal and Quebec City and being able to understand what people are saying,” says Nathan, a 10-year-old student in Grade 5. “When I grow up I want to go to Paris.”

Both Nathan and his older sister Kaitlyn, who is in Grade 7, are thriving French Immersion students who have both been in the program since kindergarten. Their mother Kathy is very pleased with their success and feels that being bilingual will give them an advantage in their future careers.

“The goal of French Immersion programs is to be able to function in both languages so that students can work effectively in either one,” says Mélanie Bergeron Langlois, Instructional Leadership Consultant at the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board.

Benefits to students

Experts agree that immersion is one of the most effective methods of learning a new language. French Immersion programs are very popular – there are now over 300,000 French Immersion students in more than 2,100 schools across Canada.

Educational research indicates that knowledge of a second language strengthens first-language skills and that the ability to speak two or more languages generally enhances reasoning and problem-solving skills, as well as creative-thinking skills.

“Studying French expands children’s communication skills and opens up other educational opportunities that can have career benefits down the road,” says Sharon Lajoie, Student Achievement Consultant with the PVNC Catholic District School Board. “And the awareness of other cultures can broaden a student’s view of the world.”

Designed for English parents

Mom Kathy is not bilingual and was initially worried about being able to help Nathan and Kaitlyn with their homework. “I took French from Grade 7 to Grade 9, but it wasn’t offered beyond that, so I was a little rusty,” she says. “But the kids’ school provided very good support for parents, offering courses to get us up to speed.”

Bergeron Langlois points out that, “French Immersion programs were created for students whose parents do not speak French. But parents need to be encouraging and have the belief that learning French is important. Parents can also support their children by visiting French language websites, watching French television programs and singing French songs together.”

The 36-page online booklet, A Treasure Chest for French Immersion Parents, provides translations of common words and phrases so that parents and children can learn together. It’s available on both the public school board website (www.kprschools.ca/

Programs/FrenchImmersion.html) and the Catholic school board website (www.pvnccdsb.on.ca/schools/documents/French_treasure_chest.pdf ).

Is your child ready?

“Any child can benefit from being in French Immersion,” says Bergeron Langlois. “And the earlier they start, the better.”

Lajoie says that children who tend to thrive in immersion usually have strong communication skills in their mother tongue, have strong listening and focusing skills, and generally have a positive attitude towards new experiences.

“Sometimes, there is a bit of a lag with their English in the primary grades, but this is normal,” says Bergeron Langlois. “Learning a second language takes between five and seven years. In the junior grades, students catch up and most often surpass their English counterparts by Grade 5 or Grade 6.”

Kathy says that Nathan had some trouble in Grade 3 when he was expected to write more in French, and wanted to go back to English. But once he got over that hump, he was fine.

More job opportunities

Graduates of French Immersion programs can consider many options in their future careers, ranging from positions in education, national and foreign government service, the travel industry and businesses around the world.

Bergeron Langlois notes that, “Having a second-language definitely prepares students to participate more effectively in the workplace and in the global economy, and provides them with a distinct advantage, both in Canada and internationally.”
Joanne Culley is a writer and documentary producer with two sons. She can be reached at joanne.culley@sympatico.ca or through her website at

Author: Joanne Culley

Joanne Culley is a writer and documentary producer with two sons; joanne.culley@sympatico.ca or www.joanneculleymediaproductions.com.

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