April 23rd, 2011 by

Early French Immersion: Our Pros & Cons

Parenting is never without its difficult decisions and for the most part I feel like I have handled them with ease and tact and things have always flowed quite well for us in that matter…but there is one decision that is weigh in heavily on me and it is hard for me to wrap my head around what the right thing to do is.  When Jacob first started school I had every intention of putting him into the French Immersion program in the September of the year he turned 5 years old….well guess what snuck up on me – the boy is turning 5 in June.  We went to the various orientation sessions and have learned everything possible about the early immersion program and quite frankly we are faced with an inability to make a decision.  We have gone back and forth on this decision for the past nearly 6 months and now we are hit head on with a deadline to decide…Tuesday. I sent out a public cry for help on my Facebook page a few days ago seeking out the opinions of other people and I guess this is my second cry for help including the much anticipated list of pros and cons that we have thought about as we decide. I ask my readers to thoughtful consider these lists and chime in by leaving a comment on this blog post to tell me your gut instinct.

In keeping with a spirit of optimism let me start by the list of PRO-IMMERSION ideas:

If he was successful and completed all of the required hours of learning through primary, middle, and secondary schooling he would be considered bilingual and a second language may come in handy for a future career choice….in addition French is the joint national language of Canada along side its familiar English counter part.

This is the year he would need to enter – you can always enter and withdraw from the program but once you are out you can not get back in if you “change your mind”…you can not enter the early immersion program without starting in SK.  Teachers can decide at any time that your child is “not right” for french immersion and your child would slip back into the English language learning program (this cold also be a con – see below) so it is great that they are not stringing struggling children along.

Bilingualism has been show to have a positive effect on cognitive skills.

Bilingualism helps makes 3rd or 4th language acquisitions easier (as long as the alphabets are the same).

Jacob has advanced skills in English and Mathematics and is currently reading at a grade 2-3 level and completing math at a grade 1-2 level when he is just 4 years old….I worry about boredom causing behaviour problems at some point and wonder if the french immersion program would keep him interested as it is all new to him.

And finally the CONS of FRENCH IMMERSION  (from our point of view)

The move into the french immersion program would mean a move to a new school – at this new school he would have to be bused and the bus does not pick up directly at our home – it is at a centralized location about four blocks from our house…his current school is pretty much directly across the street from our home.

If he remained at his current school he would have the same teacher again next year who he loves and whom we also appreciate and respect greatly. His new school would only have  half day of classes where as his old school would start being full day as of next year.

It is very common for Early Immersion students to show a lag in their English literacy and writing abilities during the primary years. (although some research suggests that they do eventually catch up).

There is a large criticism that students do not in fact become completely fluent and that their structure of the language suffers in the area of grammar and problems in their speech pronunciation.

The french immersion program is often referred to as an “elite” program due to the fact that most students registered in it are from a higher social class – due in large part to the over-achieving parent syndrome I think.

The instruction is entirely in french from kindergarten straight through until the start of grade 4.  My work hours will not always permit me to be home to assist with homework and my husband has zero ability to assist with french learning.

Where he is quite ahead academically I feel he makes up for this with a slight lag in social skills – although his teacher says he is “on par” in regards to his peer group – it is painfully obvious to me that Jacob is not interested in typical childhood activities with the other kids in the school yard… due in large part to his obsession with phonics, letters, and math.  I recall my own experience with french immersion and at that time the immersion kiddies were considered “social outcasts” – I’m not sure what the idea is at this time.

I wonder if I am over-obsessing about him being bored in class – would it be a mistake to take him out of a place where he is confident and successful academically and press him to be challenged – am I being one of those over-achieving parents that I never wanted to be?  Kids have so much pressure and stress these days – it’s a known fact that childhood anxiety disorders are on the rise because parents are placing too many expectations on their children.

If he got pulled out of the program at any point he would have to restart back into a new school with new classmates that he didn’t know and this could happen at any point along the way.

I’m sure more things will come to mind after I am done posting this but I would at this time be curious to think what you would do if this was your decision?!  Would you take the leap?  Would you leave well enough alone?  Don’t fix what is not broken?  Would you go for the challenge?  What would you do if it was your child?

Tags: ,

11 Responses to “Early French Immersion: Our Pros & Cons”

  1. avatar Catherine says:

    I am in the same situation now trying to decide for our Jacob, if he should start French immersion in SK. What did you decide?

  2. avatar Natalie says:

    I am also in the same situation as you Melissa (and Catherine) and felt like your words were exactly the thoughts in my brain! I too am curious as to what you chose for Jacob? Are you happy with your choice and why? Any help in our decision would be greatly appreciated :)!
    Thank you.

  3. avatar Krista says:

    I am struggling with the same decision! My son is in JK at our neighborhood school and loves it–he also has dad as principal. I decided he would attend French immersion starting in SK,but am now having second thoughts… What did you do??

  4. avatar Nur says:

    Hi There, i am in the same situation right now – please share with us what you decided on – and how you your son is doing right now.

    Thanks!

  5. avatar Noah says:

    What is the desire to place your child in French Immersion? Is to learn a second language, which is great. To expand their cognitive skills? I come from a long line of scientists and financing. I’ve taught as a professor across Canada (Toronto to BC) and hold several degrees. I’ve also taught art teacher. I can’t say French is that vital, or would open any doors in my profession. Most of my friends who have had FI are now in journalism, teaching, government.

    During my medical interviews at prestigious colleges across the US and Canada, the thing that people were most interested in was my passion for arts, music. I think learning a second language is a good thing, I speak a second language. However, I’d say art, music, creative thinking are just as important. I’ve heard a few of my friends (English professors at UofT, Uof A and UBC) mention that FI students generally have a harder time with English writing, composition, creative writing. Is this important? Well in Western Canada, and in the least linguistic field of all (science), the demand for writing is essential. During my thesis (both of them), I’ve written 150-200 page manuscripts and numerous articles for publication. All edited and re-edited by peer reviewers from all over the world. Law, Dental, Medical school have large english essay writing and analysis components in their relative entrance exams.

    We now have to raise our children in a world full of ‘Tiger parents’, inundating our children with ridiculous sport schedules, baby Einstein’s, and tutoring, for what we believe will be the greater good. I can’t say I subscribe to this, nor do any of my child psychologist colleagues. I grew up a rural town, lots of free time, fishing, I was an average student all through elementary school, but loved arts and creating stories. Discovered my own passion for sports. I think that lifestyle served me well, gave me a relaxed disposition, independence (moved to Toronto for university on my own at 16) and instilled confidence in myself. I watched students during my schooling, commit to the alcoholism, drugs and even suicide due the pressures that were placed on them. Shameful and completely unnecessary.

    It depends on the world and field you want your child to grow up in. A lot of my FI friends, no longer speak French, since transferring to English in high school, as they had no facility to exercise their French. I don’t buy into all of this fanaticism. The research supporting FI is weak at best (we need longitudinal studies – to examine how these students perform in the real world, and where they end up.) Schools are a poor substitute for parenting. Don’t get me wrong, French is a prolific language, but unless you live in Quebec or Ottawa, or have French in your heritage, I don’t know. Most of my friends in finance and the health field, wish they could speak Mandarin or Cantonese now. It is the business and burgeoning language of the future.

    Of course, we can not predict where our children with end up, but from what I’ve seen, I think I’ll hedge my bets on a good English school for my two boys.

  6. avatar jennifer says:

    Thank-you Noah, your thoughts are valid and have given my argument a new direction. I like you lived in a small town with loads of free time allowing me to grow,and learn by my own accord, not from someone else making those decisions for me! How selfish of me to rob my kids of passion.

  7. avatar Beth says:

    I am in the same situation with daughter right now. We are currently moving and the small community we are going to is almost all bi-lingual. We feel that french could be a benefit to her but are also concerned about her english skills lacking. Although we haven’t made a firm decision, I think that my husband and I have both agreed that if we decide to go with the french school I would essentially home-school english.

    I appreciate your comments Noah. My husband has often thought that Mandarin or Cantonese would be more beneficial from a business prospective.

    I will be interested to see what other people have decided.

  8. avatar devo says:

    A couple of points:
    - studies on French Immersion, though admittedly largely limited to the elementary/highschool ages, suggest that there is no long-term negative impact to English-language competency. In fact, multiple studies show an overall greater competency in BOTH languages among French immersion students when compared with French-as-a-second language students (i.e. normal stream students) by the time both groups reach highschool
    - Noah’s arguments seem to be directed completely against 1) high-pressure parenting; and 2) the limited utility of French in English-speaking Canada. For the first, there’s no reason why that needs to be a necessary component of French Immersion schooling. It’s like saying you shouldn’t encourage your children to take Drama classes or play hockey because show-business parents often pressure their children and some hockey dads yell at their kids on the ice. It’s nonsense. For the latter – yes, there’s some validity to this. However, there’s often limited direct utility in learning anything about the rest of the world, but we encourage it in society because it’s important to broaden the horizons and opportunities of ourselves and our children. And if you’d like to start lobbying the province for a publicly-funded Mandarin/Cantonese-immersion program, I’ll give it some serious consideration!
    - I too grew up in a small town back in the fabled olden days when everything was awesome and children ran free and wild. I didn’t go to French Immersion, but both of my brothers did. I can say conclusively that we all had pretty much the same childhood. Don’t let French Immersion become some big, scary boogeyman. Maybe your kids will be able to spend a semester abroad one day. Maybe they won’t be able to find French courses in highschool and they’ll forget everything by the time they’re 16. Who knows? Contrary to Noah’s scary predictions of alcoholism and suicide (wow – way to keep things in perspective!), your kids are probably going to be just fine whether or not they’re enrolled in French Immersion, so if you can live with some of the valid arguments JM raises in the article, why not give your kid a new opportunity?

  9. avatar Luz Mckinlay says:

    Im impressed, I must say. very rarely do I discovered a blog that’s both educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, youve hit the nail on the pinnacle. Your opinion is outstanding; the matter is something that not lots of people are speaking intelligently regarding. I’m extremely happy that I stumbled across this in my hunt for something relating to it.

  10. avatar Pat Warnell says:

    I am in Nova Scotia Canada. My son who is now in Grade 11 has been in the EFI program since grade primary. Our decision to place him in the early french immersion was based mainly on the fact that we were afraid he would be bored in an all English Program. Neither myself or my husband speak french. Up until he reached high school he excelled in the French program. One tiny bit of advise I have for parents considering enrolling their child in this program is that there really isn’t a lot of emphasis put on English. He is struggling with English Literature now and has been since he began High School. Students need to have completed 9 French credits in order to be certified as bilingual. Has anyone else come up against the difficulty with English?

  11. avatar toto says:

    I have 7 year old twin boys in grade 1 FI in York Region. I was very excited about my sons attending FI as I believe in Canada’s 2 languages. I did all my research, most of it was very positive and starting the kids early would make it easier for them. I attended the parents meetings and felt my kids were in amazing hands. They confirmed that by January my kids would understand and speak the language. Well, here is a little of my experience: The boys first test was a cross word puzzle and a picture of a word matching game. Now take into consideration that jk and sk was singing and learning social skills. Now they’re just starting to learn to write letters they are given this kind of test. So needless to say there was a whole bunch of X’s on every line marked with a Red Permanent Marker and a big sign on each page with the letter (F). My sons were so excited to show me their first test and asked me what all the X’s and F”s meant. In January they were given their first math test, it was 4 pages long, The first page was for them to construct a graph of: horses, pigs etc. then the following 3 pages were questions to be answered about the graph on the first page. This is how the system starts to break your kids spirit. Now its February and I received the boys first report card which I am supposed to sign and give back. Both boys received N’s in almost all areas, which is the lowest grade they can give. They say the boys are not getting the language and we should consider placing them back into the English system. Both report cards were identical the grades and comments were exactly the same for both boys. It appears they copied and pasted information and just changed the names. Well, the Principal signed off on this and never noticed that both report cards were identical. My sons have missed 2 days of school this year and were late twice. Yet they say they are not getting it. Everyday, they bring home at least 5 sheets of home work, if they don’t complete something in class they are told to bring it home and I am supposed to help them with it. I have found tutors which charge around $40/hr. and this is for grade 1. I have searched for after school activities ie. sports, book clubs etc. where the boys can complement the French language. I found a gymnastics school where the owners and many of the coaches are French but they refuse to speak French to the kids. So much for a bilingual country. Well, I am not someone to give up, but its an up hill battle where the FI system is against me. Although, I get my kids to school everyday and my boys are rarely sick, they actually want me to teach them French at home. They’re tests make absolutely no sense for a Grade 1 Class: cross word puzzles and graphs written in French and then decorate it with Red Ink. I was TA in University and was not allowed to use red ink to mark papers. As a parent I am very proud of my sons they do understand a lot of French they can watch children programs and understand almost everything, they have amazing accents and are very excited to speak the language. However, they cannot seem to live up to the expectations of the school. So am I going to keep them in there after the school has expressed they don’t want them. So next year they are going to go back to the English system why am I stressing my self about all this French. I’m in HR and I see tons of resumes of French speaking people who cannot find a job here in Ontario.

    In conclusion, I would say that in Ontario the French Teachers may know the language but they no absolutely nothing about teaching. At, least in the English system I can help my kids my self and not have to pay all these high tution fees.

Leave a Reply