French Immersion decision

Does anyone out there have experience with being in a French Immersion school system?

The school that is the most convenient for us to register our daughter in this fall (for kindergarten) has changed to a 100% French Immersion school (no English classes). I’m curious to hear about other Dopers’ experience with French Immersion programs - good and bad.

Thank you!

Our 6 year old is in year #2 (grade 1) of Immersion, and loves it. She corrects my pronunciation. We make sure she reads English as well as French, and Math, though taught in French, uses an English text. I believe having a francophone teacher helps (wife had mostly anglo teachers in French Immersion when she was young and thought it suffered). Not sure how plentiful they are out there…

I would recommend it whole-heartedely, regardless. I am not an expert by any stretch, but I cannot see the downside when they start this early and get English at home.

Thanks ThePylon.

I guess I want to know why people think it’s important?

To me it seems like a frill, like playing piano or dancing or hockey … I am having a hard time understanding the practicality of it.

And my big concern is that her English skills will suffer.

I thought it was important in Canada if you wanted, say, a government job? I mean, why give your kid fewer options instead of more?

I wish wish wish I’d had the option of French immersion from age five when I was a kid. I know almost no French and I find that that handicaps me in understanding what goes on in this country. It’s always a good idea to be able to read and communicate with the other 20% of one’s countrymen (er, countrypeople?)

And if you’re in an English-speaking community, the English skills won’t suffer. Kids always pick up the local street language if they live somewhere for long enough.

One kid in French immersion, grade 5: one not, grade 7.

The one in French immersion likes it a lot, however it’s only half days, the other half being English, of course. So our experience isn’t 100% French immersion. What could possibly be problematic about learning two (or more!) languages at an early age? Even if your English grammar suffers slightly you’re still miles ahead of a lot of Canadians.

I notice you’re in BC where the full benefits of French aren’t particularly evident. Here in Ottawa you can’t get a job in a retail store without being bilingual. Well, that might be a bit of a stretch in the west end of the city, but most retail and all customer-facing jobs at the municipal and federal level are bilingual mandatory here.

I took French all the way through high school, while living in southwestern Ontario at the time. I mention the location because it too is an area where almost zero French is spoken and the benefits of learning a second language were not evident to me at the time. I’m nowhere near fluent, but I can get by in French. With the aging civil service in the country, growing up bilingual opens beaucoup des portes! Definitely go for it. Your daughter will thank you later on.

I’m not an expert by any means, but I do have a BA in Linguistics, focusing on second-language learning and instruction, and to my knowledge, there is absolutely no reason not to do this, and every reason to do it. If she’s only speaking French in school, her English certainly will not suffer. On the contrary, all the research I know of indicates that language skills in general, and cognitive skills overall, are strengthened by learning more languages. Here’s a recent example. And learning new languages becomes easier as you learn more, so even if she never needs French, she’ll have a leg up on learning any other language later in life, even something completely unrelated. And absolutely, now is the time to do it. Kid’s brains are primed for learning language, but that ability drops off precipitously in most people around puberty. The idea is that our developing brains don’t learn individual languages per se, but rather, we learn “language”, and then we learn how language works in English, how it works in French, and so on. But if we’re only exposed to one language, our brains tend to extrapolate the specific details into general rules, making it harder to learn other languages. If she gets that foundation now, it will have a lasting impact, even if she ultimately never uses French.

And for what it’s worth, I don’t have kids yet, but we’ve got a little Lumpy on the way, and I am adamant about teaching him or her multiple languages as soon as possible. We have family nearby that speak another language natively, so that’s an obvious opportunity for semi-immersion, but if there were an immersion school in any language, I’d jump at the chance. I’m just saying I’m not recommending anything for you that I wouldn’t wholeheartedly endorse for my own children.

I took French Immersion up until Grade nine, and my daughter is currently enrolled in French.

We chose that option for a few reasons:

  • She is a tad precocious, and as a Jan baby, is a little older than the rest of her class - so it provides more of a challenge

  • I believe people that learn a second language as a child have an easier time if they choose to try and learn another one later

  • As a Canadian, it opens the spectrum of Government jobs, and also gives her a leg up with almost any other employment.

  • In Manitoba, she would have to take Basic French in Junior High, which is almost universally hated. In immersion French is fun!

I just believe in giving my kid any advantage I can - this one was pretty painless and as a former Immersion kid, I can help with homework.

From a Gov’t of Alberta (where they don’t have much more call for it than BC) Study at:
Impact of Second Language Education:

Intellectual Potential

  • Students fluent in two language score higher in both verbal and non-verbal intelligence.
  • Students studying a second language are superior in divergent thinking tasks and in memory ability and attention span.

Scholastic Achievement

-Second language students have higher test scores in reading, language and mathematics.

  • Each additional year of second language training created a greater positive differential compared to students not receiving a second language.

Effect on First Language

-Second language education significantly strengthens first language skills in areas of reading, English vocabulary, grammar and communication skills.
-The earlier the start, the greater the positive effect on the first language.


-Students studying a second language have superior cross-cultural skills and adapt better to varying cultural contexts.
-Students studying a second language display greater cultural sensitivity.

Economic Potential

-There is an urgent requirement for qualified speakers of languages other than English in areas of science, technology, medicine and global commerce.*
This study seems to address your concerns…

I was in French immersion for one grade while I was living in Montreal: 7th grade.

It was a great experience. I came in knowing only a little bit of French, and came out speaking much better.

We had one period a day of English class which was taught in English (of course).
So we kept our English skills up.

In any case even though it was so long ago, I still feel it was beneficial both cognitively and socially to learn another language.

I wouldn’t stress at all about your daughter’s English skills. I don’t have experience with a French Immersion program, but my oldest child has been in a 50% spanish immersion program for the past 7 years. One funny thing about the kids is that at school but outside of the classroom - none of them spoke in Spanish - not even native spanish speakers to other native spanish speakers.

I had three kids, all of whom went through French immersion. They all came out fairly fluent, although in the years since then, living in the US, I think their fluency has declined.

The kindergarten teacher really spoke no English and her classes were entirely in French. The first and second grade teacher also spoke only french in the classroom, although they actually could speak English. They learned to read only in French. Starting third grade, they were taught reading in English. From that point on, they had more and more in English, although always at least some French. In HS, they took French (the same curriculum and provincial exams as used in French schools) and always at least one other course taught in French. And HS English of course. Then they went to American universities and have not been back. Except for one son who spent a year actually working here and was assigned to manage two other people whose English was poor, so he actually used his French then. But that was 15 years ago.

Did their English skills decrease? Absolutely not. If anything, all their linguistic skills increased. All three are known as excellent writers. One son has written two books, one self-published and the other published commercially. And my daughter is “Supervising Copy Editor” for New York office of Nature Publishing Group (which now publishes, i.a., Scientific American).

The experience was entirely positive, even if had no (with exception mentioned above) vocational impact in later life.

I have worked with two people from New Brunswick who told me their parents enrolled them in French Immersion Programs and both were VERY happy with the results

Thank you. I appreciate the opinions and experiences being shared here!!! I’m amazed no-one has anything negative to say about the topic! How often does THAT happen here? :slight_smile:

My daughter went through a public French immersion school starting in kindergarten and now she is in 10th grade. It is probably the best decision we could have made except for the fact she spells badly in two languages. She is fluent in both French and English, and could read and write at college level in both languages by about 7th grade. (Well, except for that spelling thing, which may just be genetic.)

The way our system works is that they are full immersion till second grade at which point they started an English reading class for an hour a day to make sure that the kids were prepared for the state mandated testing in third grade. Other than that it was immersion until 6th grade when they moved to the high school. That school includes the other local immersion programs. The high school gets among the highest test scores in the state, even though it is in a district that is usually substantially below the state averages.

Things to watch for.
[li]At upper level grades you may need to supplement math and sciences, particularly if they stay full immersion. It can be very difficult finding teachers that are certified in both.[/li][/ul]
[li]We had real problems in 6th grade when they hired a very nice young lady to teach the immersion social studies. She had minored in French, but the kids had substantially more of the language than she did, and there is nothing snottier than a group of 6th graders that know they are better than something than you are. I think she had a really rough year.[/li][/ul]
[li]Some kids just don’t take to the language. It is usually boys who get some language development later, but some girls too have problems, it can show what might be a mild language disability that wouldn’t otherwise ever come up.[/li][/ul]

In the long run. we are really glad we did it. In our case, we had a kid who was particularly verbal anyway, and it played to her strengths. If you choose to do it, you will be giving your child a gift you will never regret.

I have a close friend who was in a French Immersion program in elementary school. Came out of it fluent, is still fluent to this day(25+ years later). However we are in the US and frankly, and I don’t know where you are, but being fluent in French around the majority of the US is pretty much useless. Every now and then we’ll run into a random situation where it comes in handy, but that’s exceptionally rare. Spanish immersion would have been much more helpful, as far as practicality goes. Around here(DC) at least.

I was in French immersion from grades K through 5 (in a Manitoba public school.)

I now live in Montreal, make my living as a translator, volunteer extensively in politics and education in almost entirely French-language environments, and speak two additional Romance languages.

(Results may vary.)

Thank you everyone. I believe we have made our decision and we will be signing her up. French Immersion in our district is from K - 12. You can leave the French Immersion stream at any time, but you can’t enter it after grade 1. After grade 1 it is complete immersion, students are only spoken to in French and all of the homework assignments are in French.

French is certainly not a language you hear a lot of, but I have a greater appreciation for the value of learning ANY second language, and the learning benefits in general, especially after reading what some of you have shared. Her father and I are reasonably well educated people who love to read and who have strong writing skills (although my posts here may not be the best proof of that!), so we will be able (we hope) to help her keep her English skills and grammar up to par so that she is not limited in any way when she pursues a post-secondary education.

I have a niece and a nephew, who each did 4-5 years of french immersion in primary school, and both are still fluent today. Of course, one lives and attends school in Montreal, but still.

I was forced into french classes in school and it was dreadful, and I was horrid at it. Immersion is so much better for everyone. Once I began to travel the world I was often embarrassed when I had to admit to multilingual Europeans I could not speak french. They often assumed, being a Canadian, that I could. I wish immersion had been available to us as children.

I completely endorse the French immersion program. This is absolutely the best way to learn a second language, and at absolutely the right time in the child’s development. There is plenty of research to back this up, and the fact that the child’s first language will not suffer because of it. And it should make it easier to learn more languages later on in life.