French Immersion

So, as unbelievable as this is to me and as hard as it is to think about it, next month I have register my son for school. If you know me IRL then you probably know that I tend to get all misty at the thought (no, I would not say “weep uncontrollably” but I am a weeper and since I have been known to bawl at Canadian Tire and coffee commercials, it shouldn’t be surprising that my baby going off into the world would do it). My friend Pam and I, whose children have known each other since before they were born, already have our first day of kindergarten plan solidified. It involves dropping the kiddies off then getting quite drunk (ensuring that hubbies will care for the children once they leave school, of course) There may also be a tattoo involved in there somewhere. We say this somewhat facetiously (but ya never know). The point is that I really hate to think about it. I mean, this is sending him out into the big, cruel world. People can be mean to him and bully him. Teachers will start to judge him and it won’t be all about “as long as you try your best, sweetie, that’s what’s important”. And as if the thought of all that is not enough, our house is now embroiled in a big French immersion debate. Maybe you can help.

Hubby is of the belief that my son should start French immersion in Kindergarten. He really wants him to be bilingual and I’m cool with that. The problem is that most everyone I know who has done FI or whose children have done it, all say that when you start them in Kindergarten, they never quite learn English as well as if they hadn’t done FI from the get-go (although statscan says differently). Husband’s response to this problem was “well, will he really need English that much?” My response to that involved more exasperated sounds than words and possibly some repeated smacks to hubby’s arm. The other thing you can do with FI is have them start later (junior high, I believe) but I know of children who have really struggled trying to catch up in school when they chose this option. There is an information session we’ll be attending next month in order to find out more. Apparently, from what I read online, the personality of the kid, rather than his capacity for language, is the key indicator of if FI is right for him. In the meantime the debate rages on. Any advice or personal stories relating to French Immersion would be greatly appreciated.

17 thoughts on “French Immersion

  1. I am one of the first guinea pigs in the french immersion program. I started kindergarten in French and did not have ANY English class until grade 4 (over 3 decades ago). My sister’s English did not suffer at all. My English grammar was week until high school, but reflecting back, I think that this had more to do with me as a learner than the program itself. I chose to put my daughter in early french immersion. The program has changed, they get English much earlier now. She is in grade 6 and although she continues to be in French immersion she is winning awards for her English writing so obviously it did not affect her English at all. That being said if a child has difficulties with language learning I truly believe that focussing on one language is essential.

  2. Pingback: This Much is True » Blog Archive » French Immersion Recap

  3. Hey Tina

    I wasn’t going to post a comment, until I saw some people were against French Immersion.

    I took late French Immersion, starting in Grade 7. I went on to attend one of those five week courses in Quebec in hight school and ultimately major in French at MUN. I never quite felt my French was up to par, though, and some of the little kids that I met at various French events could speak French really well. At age 14, I was super impressed.

    I don’t know about “that kind of parent” but I know I would want my kid to be “that kind of kid.” As I see it, French Immersion students are a little smarter and generally more well-rounded.

  4. Thanks Kim for posting (just like you promised). I’m sure your little guy will do great with it.

  5. Hi Tina,

    Since we spoke last week on this issue I had to come on and have a read. It seems that people have very strong views on FI or English. However, what really matters is what will work for YOUR own child. As we all well know, all children are different and I would like to believe that parents know their children best and therefore should make the decision based on that. What works for one child will not work for the next child.

    My personal view… my son is going to kindergarten in September 2008 and we are struggling as well with what to do. I feel he has mastered pre kindergarten skills very well, he can write his name, he knows the alaphabet upper and lower case, he knows where he lives, etc. These are skills that will be reinforced in kindergarten… I have the fear that my child (because he already has these skills) will become idle… when he is idle he can be trouble. I think the introduction of a second langeuage will keep his interest. I feel it will work for him… however it is not written in stone that he will stay in FI.

    That is my view… maybe I am completely in left field but I feel it will work for my son… and that is all I have to worry about… what I feel is best for him.

    Take care, I am sure we will speak again soon.

    All the best.

  6. Nice post, its a really cool blog that you have here, keep up the good work, will be back.

    Warm Regards

    Biby Cletus – Blog

  7. I find the defensive vigor of parents who have chosen K-FI quite drole.

    Steve is quick to add New Brunswick as a prime career location for your french-fluent child.

    I understand that parents have to justify the decisions they make, but let’s face it: Most of our children are not going to end up in careers or locations where they need to speak French.

    So ok, let’s add New Brunswick to the list of great opportunities.

    And don’t forget France.

    And maybe we should learn Spanish in case we want to work as a nurse in San Antonio, Texas.

    Yes, let’s learn Spanish… in kindergarten!

    Without a doubt, learning a language may open doors for your children — in specific areas.

    So does playing the violin.

    My 5 year-old daughter will do late french. If she becomes interested in languages before that, or if she goes in a direction that the knowledge of another language will benefit her, I shall give her that opportunity. She’s bright and she’ll get it.

    But not in kindergarten.

    That’s a decision I have made that suits my family.

    For me, that’s the no brainer: A “normal” kindergarten with every chance in the world to enrich her language skills in the future.

    Everyone can only make the best choice for their family. While I do agree with Trudy and Mombie — that there is an “elite” attitude in some circles (you wouldn’t know but doing french was like going to the polo club!) — I have friends and acquaintances who did the research and chose to put their kids in french for the right reasons, out of interest and love of the language. I think that’s great and I respect their decision.

    But I cannot agree that your child will have an advantage over mine because they did early french.

    They don’t and they won’t.

  8. We decided not to put The Boy in FI because he was rather reserved and shy and we thought that FI would just be too overwhelming for him.

    Like Trudy, I get annoyed at people who act as if we are somehow depriving him rather than acting in (what we feel are) his best interests. Not that anyone here is doing that, I mean in face to face interactions.

    I speak French quite well, and can read and understand a lot of spoken French just from my Gr 6-12 French and 2 courses in University. I figure The Boy can always amp up the French later if he is interested or if it is necessary.

    Tough decisions all around, this parenting business.

  9. Thanks to everyone who has responded (and please keep them coming). I think the variety of responses is an indicator of why this choice is difficult but every bit helps.

    My son is very verbal and has a great grasp of the language but he is not too interested in things like the alphabet and reading. I know this might be a boy thing or maybe his age (athough I could read at his age) but it might also help us figure out if this is right for us. Like I said, keep the opinions coming. I appreciate them all.

  10. We moved to New Brunswick just as our son was entering grade 1. He was excited about the idea of going into French Immersion (believe it or not, he WAS). He’s in grade ten now and we don’t have single regret. I believe that the earlier you immerse them, the easier time they have with it. They don’t translate, they just learn. BUT, you know your child better than anyone. You know if he/she has the capacity to do it. You are better off going for English only if you think you are setting him up to fail.

    Here’s what we had to deal with…

    1. Learning in BOTH languages is slowed up front. They catch up by the time they get to grade six.
    2. Helping with homework was sometimes a challenge, particularly in math as the years went on.
    3. English expression (written) suffered. But I don’t know if it would be better if he was taught exclusively in English. I’ve met many adults who cannot write properly.
    4. He won’t speak French in front of us. It is school work to converse in French.

    I’d say do it. Helmut is wrong… there’s plenty of requirements to speak French outside of Ottawa and Quebec. New Brunswick is truly a bilingual province. It’s also close enough to “‘ome” that one wouldn’t mind so much if your future adult kids moved there for work.

    Being bilingual opens more doors for your children. It’s a no-brainer. Go for it.

    C’est tout. Merci.

  11. Heather, I didn’t mean to lump all FI parents together. What I resent is the attitude that just because you belong to a certain socio-economic class, you will automatically put your kids in FI without even exploring whether it’s best for those particular kids. I didn’t by any means intent to imply that all parents who put their kids in FI have this attitude; I know that many are like you and others who have posted here, and actively explore and learn about the program and make the choice that they think is right for their child. I’m sorry if it sounded like I was dissing parents who chose FI; I certainly did not mean to do that.

    I just resent the implication (which I have gotten from some people) that there’s something “wrong” with me or that I’m somehow giving my kids less of an education because they are attending school in English.

  12. My girls are in FI, grades 1 and 4, FI from kindergarten. We put them in because:

    From living with them for the first five years of life, we figured they could handle it: they were bright, language-oriented, with large vocabularies already and ready for school;

    I speak French reasonably well and am taking courses to keep up, so I am be able to help them, not to mention just have normal conversations in French;

    it’s easier to get out than get in, or so we were told (although starting later is always possible), and we were prepared to pull them if necessary;

    honestly, it didn’t involve huge sacrifices of time and/or money (we don’t have a car, and a school offering FI is in the neighbourhood; we weren’t prepared to get a car or move to accommodate FI, but YMMV).

    From talking to adults, we discerned that having learned even some of something at a young age makes people more open to re-learning it or learning more of it later in life, as the need arises. The young brain is very absorbent, less so as it gets older.

    trudyj, I grumble at the idea of being lumped in with brainless yuppies because I’ve taken the opportunity to enrich the lives and education of my kids. If “That Kind Of Parent” is one who is interested and engaged in their child’s education, takes the time to talk with and read to them, and thinks raising the kids is their most important job, then yeah, I’d like to be called that. Doesn’t happen every day but it’s a goal! I have met parents who don’t care, and they’re kids don’t do well no matter what language they learn in.

    By the way, they both learned to read English on their own. Even the seven-year-old can rock through short English chapter-books. Interestingly, they regard reading French as “school work”, whereas I know children in the English stream that regard READING as “school work”. Shudder.

    I agree with helmut re: talking to prospective teachers. Parents in your school, too. You’ll get a sense of the atmosphere and that will tell you a lot.

  13. There are always options, too. FI can start with kindergarten or with grade 4.

    I haven’t noticed my kids haivng any less time for drama and dance or play because of FI, but then I have no other terms of reference.

    We went with FI because of the offered chance to learn a second language. People outside North America can speak two or three languages as a matter of course. Why not take the opportunity?

    So far it’s working for our daughters.

    My husband and I can both limp along in spoken French and have no trouble reading it, so that might be a factor, too.

  14. I have a huge bee in my bonnet about middle-class, professional parents (in St. John’s anyway) choosing FI for their kids without knowing a lot about it, just because it is “the thing to do.” My kids are in English school because FI isn’t a priority for us; I think the transition from home to Kindergarten is challenging enough without having to do it in a whole different language! I think FI can be a good choice if you have researched it and really believe it is the best choice for your particular child, which is what it sounds like you are doing. I just don’t like the kneejerk reaction of some parents that “Of COURSE you will be doing FI, becase you’re just That Kind of Parent.”

  15. Hey Tina, how’s it goin’?

    I know how you feel, I did a lot of research on this issue over the past year or more. This french thing is very trendy right now.

    To me, it’s like learning any other skill. Nice to have, but is there something else my child could better spend her time doing?

    I hear too many parents moaning about the abundant homework in kindergarten and lack of time for other activities and — I don’t care what Stats Can says; (check who wrote the report) — the fact that English suffers greatly to be jazzed about the idea of French studies for a kid that age.

    I’d prefer her to enjoy being a kid for now and later develop other cognitive abilities, playing chess or the piano. (Because unless she goes to work in Ottawa or Quebec, what’s the point?)

    Be sure you do tend to lose it if you don’t use it. My mother-in-law was born French. Fully French. She left New Brunswick at 18 and moved to Montreal. Left Montreal at 22 and came to St. John’s. Now she barely knows any French at all.

    If my daughter wants to become bilingual she can make that decision later in life and gain this skill, likely in one year with a normal high school background of french.

    There’s no right or wrong in this.

    If it is simply your preference in a type of enrichment, then sure, why not? There is certainly nothing wrong with knowing French.

    The thing you have to ask yourself is: Why do I want my child to know French?

    I found it beneficial to talk to teachers in your community, both the ones teaching french and those not. You’ll get a feeling in your gut about it. I did.

    Just my $0.02.

  16. Tina,

    My 5 year old is in K-FI and I have my 4 year old starting in September in FI. Well, actually, he is currently in Kinderstart FI.

    Delaney (my oldest) has taught us so much since September and everyday, he teaches us something new. The hardest part (and it’s not homework) is to understand that they are taught in French and that you can’t expect them to translate or be translators.

    I feel more than anything that it is “our fear”, but really, we are only offereing them better choices as they mature.

    I feel very confident that I made a wise decision and the right choice for both my boys.

    If you would like to caht about it, drop me an email or call me sometime at Ruff-Spots main #.


  17. Both my daughters are in FI. The younger is in K now, the older in grade 3. Both girls have a very strnog grasp of English. If anything, the structure of learning a second language is reinforcing their understanding of their first language.

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