By Mariam Mazhar
Petit poisson, petit poisson
Nager, nager, nager
Petit poisson, petit poisson
GLOOP GLOOP GLOOP!
And so goes my daughter during our weekly Skype sessions with my mom. Needless to say my mother is impressed of her granddaughter’s fluency in French; she can’t help expressing her pride before friends and family.
I remember when I had enrolled her in French Immersion, I was anxious and worried for not being able to help her as I did not know French myself. My mom thought I was pressurizing my daughter as learning another language was not that important and insisted that I was expecting a lot from my kid. I had given myself and my daughter three months to test out French Immersion, but I am glad to say that we did not have to re-consider our decision at all.
Those who have grown up outside North America will agree that as kids we were exposed to many languages. We were at least bi-lingual if not multi-lingual. Asides our mother tongue, one HAD to know English. We went for Quran lessons so we could at least read Arabic with a cursory understanding. Nonetheless we got to hear and learn many languages.
Now, being in Canada and in such a competitive world, knowing another language is a bonus. Should it be French? Why not? After all it is the second national language of the country!
I don’t think I was pressurizing my child by putting her in French Immersion. She is fluent in English, speaks broken Urdu, goes for Arabic lessons on the weekend and learns French at school and she is juggling it all really well. Kids mind are like sponges (I know you have heard that) and they ‘soak’ knowledge quickly in their early years.
FI is French Immersion
In Ontario you can send your child to regular (English medium) or French Immersion public school starting from Kindergarten or Grade 1, depending on the board. TDSB for instance starts early FI in senior Kindergarten, PEEL initiates it from Grade 1. Another difference is how much of actual teaching is carried on in French, some programs are full immersion, where ALL subjects are taught in French, other boards offer a 50-50 of English and French.
Extended French (EF) starts from Grade 7. There is no enrollment cap in EF. This means all students who register for the grade 7 program before the registration deadline will be admitted.
However there is an enrollment cap for early immersion, only a specific number of spots are available for students entering SK or Grade 1 FI. In PEEL district school board, the cap is set at 25 % of the total annual Grade 1 enrollment. If the number of students registered by the deadline exceeds the number of spots in Grade 1 FI, a random selection process system is used to identify students gaining entrance into the early FI program.
For school year 2013-14, students who currently have siblings in the elementary FI program (in Grades 2 to 7) would not be included in the random selection process and would be automatically registered into Grade 1 FI. However, students must register by the deadline to be automatically accepted into the Grade 1 FI program.
I know this all sounds too complicated but actually it is not. It’s just that FI is in high demand, specially among immigrant families. For many parents, French immersion is seen as a way to get their child into what they consider to be a better school. Some parents refer to it as ‘free’ private school.
Benefits of FI
Cognitive Skills: Research shows that speaking more than one language from childhood increases cognitive flexibility. This is not necessarily speaking French but any other language.
Better Scores: French Immersion schools tend to score higher on provincial exams.
Pick of the crop: FI classes are full of bright accomplished children, less children with behavioral problems, special education and ESL. It is also a way to get the benefits of a top public school even if you can’t afford to live near one.
Smarter peers: French programs are self-selected, often drawing the most involved parents and the most academic students. What parent wouldn’t want their kids surrounded by the smartest, most motivated peers possible?
Employ-ability: Research shows that unemployment rate for bilinguals is 3% lower than it is for Canadians who only speak English. They also point out that bilinguals earn an average of 10% more than monolingual people.
Some parents restrict their kids from joining FI program, thinking that they would not be able help their children with homework and academics. However, FI program is designed for students ‘without a French-speaking parent at home.’ It is designed such that it requires least help from parents and if any, instructions are always sent home in English so parents can assist their children well.
It is a wrong notion that learning a new language would affect the knowledge of an already learnt language. Children going to FI will retain their knowledge of English language or any other language spoken at home.
Not all schools in Ontario provide FI and you will not necessarily find your home school to offer FI . That means your child will have to be bussed to school or in some cases you might be responsible for pickups and drop offs. It is still manageable but you might end up having kids in different schools.
If later in a year you think that FI is not something that works for your child, you have the option to pull him out of the program and send him to regular school. It is not like you are stuck for lifetime in French scenario. Continual exposure to a stressful situation can undermine confidence. If you think that your child has been facing challenges year after year, it’s time to go back to English.
Remember that your child will not get fluent in French in first few years. Learning a language is process that does not happen overnight. Don’t over-stress yourself or your child and don’t expect them to be fluent speakers and writers in first few years. They will do it at their own pace.
Prepare and plan
Plan ahead: If you are thinking about putting your child in French Immersion, do your research. Talk to people in your community and social circle who already have kids in FI. Talk to your kid’s teachers.
Reach out: Contact Canadian Parents for French (CPF). It organizes information sessions and workshops for parents and families who are new to FI or whose kids are in FI.
Read French books together: Public libraries have a wide selection of French books and bilingual (French and English) titles are also available.
Play French games: There are numerous French apps available for both iPad and Android platforms. For me google translator has been a life-saver.
Watch French movies together: Go to your public library or Ontario Early Years Center (OEYC) for French story time. Give your child opportunities to speak French outside school.
Remember, if your child has the aptitude for it, starting him or her in French Immersion the best decision you can make. Just stay calm and know that you can do it!
About the author:
Mariam Mazhar is the Education contributor at muslimmoms.ca. She is a teacher by profession with a passion for kids, cakes and creative writing.