1. French immersion: Early talkers may find it easier to parle en Français
If you’ve got a chatty little kid who started talking early and progressed quickly to full sentences, that’s a pretty good sign she may do well in French immersion, says Joanne Robertson, who taught immersion for nearly 20 years. Does your child pick up new vocabulary easily? Imitate speech she hears from you or from books? Notice that the word “cat” starts with a hard “kuh” sound, just like the word “kitten?” This awareness of sounds suggests your child has an affinity for language that could make her keen on learning a second one.
Anxiety in new situations may also make early French immersion tough on your kid, says Robertson—a good thing to keep in mind if your child is, for example, the type who stays on your lap with her face hidden in your neck for a whole year of playgroup. “The child who fears risk or fears making mistakes might not do as well,” she says.
2. French immersion: homework time may be a lot easier if mom or dad can speak French
Loukia Zigoumis—whose 10-year-old, Christos, entered late French immersion last year in grade four—was told it wouldn’t be a problem that she isn’t fluent in French. Still, homework duty ended up falling to her husband, whose French skills are stronger, and the Ottawa couple ultimately put Christos in tutoring once a week for help.
However, Nancy Wise, a French immersion educational consultant based in Toronto, stresses that school boards are expected to make their programs suitable to all kinds of learners from all kinds of backgrounds. “Most of the parents don’t speak French—that is what the program is for,” says Wise.
3. French immersion: Your kid isn’t going to learn French overnight
If your child is struggling after a couple of months or even longer, that doesn’t mean French immersion isn’t going to work out. “It’s important that parents have realistic expectations about their children’s performance and allow room for them to adapt,” says Kathy Hennessey, who teaches French immersion at Connaught Street Elementary in Fredericton. In New Brunswick, French immersion begins in grade three, so “kids who are used to being able to perform well right at the start may experience frustration at first,” Hennessey says. On curriculum nights, she reassures many worried moms and dads that language acquisition takes time. For some kids, things will start to jell within a month; others may need a bit longer.
Speaking two languages has even been associated with better memory, visual-spatial skills and creativity. Therefore, in French immersion, your kid will certainly develop those skills but time is a key factor here.
4. French immersion: Some kids will struggle in either stream
If your French immersion kid is having trouble, French may not be the issue. Consider that she may actually have learning problems unrelated to French immersion. Earl Hauser’s daughter, Raquel, started French immersion in kindergarten. “We eventually discovered she had a learning disability in reading and writing, so learning in both English and French was too much,” says the Calgary dad. “But if she was only taking English, she would still have had the same disability arise.” Hauser and his wife ended up taking Raquel out of immersion for grades five and six so she could focus on writing and reading in English. Last year, Raquel began a grade seven late-immersion program.
5. There are not enough French immersion teachers—and that could affect your kid’s experience
While the supply of good immersion teachers varies depending on where you live, be aware that your child’s school may face staffing problems. Jennifer Hicks has three kids in immersion in Toronto public schools. She’s been impressed with the quality of her kids’ French immersion teachers—until they go on maternity or other leave. “The pool of long-term occasional (LTO) teachers to hire for those positions seems really shallow,” she says.
Good french teacher experienced in French immersion program is really important and can make the difference with your kid’s involvement in the courses. Make sure, you ask and check for experiences and certificates required by the schools. It may vary depending on where you live.
French immersion: Trust your own instincts
Teacher is French immersion program advice to parents contemplating the program is to “remember that you know your child best.”
In Ottawa, Loukia Zigoumis says she now knows French immersion is not right for her son. She and her husband decided to take him out of immersion for grade five and instead put him in the school’s extended French program, which will give him more French instruction than he’d have in the core program without the struggle of taking all of his subjects in French. “His main interest is math and science. He’s getting good marks in all areas except for French. We felt with his strong desire to learn as much as he can about science in English, we should make the switch back,” says Zigoumis. Her gut feeling? “French immersion isn’t for everyone.”