Is this another mangeur de hot-dogs as PET would say?

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Is this another mangeur de hot-dogs as PET would say?

Breaking the spell of French immersion

The reality is that the vast majority of students across Canada who enrol in French immersion drop out by high school, and are then thrown back into the English stream, often with both language and subject matter gaps in their learning.


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My youngest was enrolled in a French immersion program. She dropped into the English stream after Grade 9 and we immediately saw an improvement in her interest and performance. One point, however, that I would dispute is the characterization of French immersion families as largely white, middle class upwardly mobile. My daughter's class mates were of a variety of racial, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, even more so now that she's in Grade 11, English stream.

I think French immersion programs are enormously important, but they could use some serious tweaking. What's the incentive for student teachers to choose French? Better pay? More paid prep time? Anything? 


Are the French teachers all from Ontario, or are some of them are from Québec or New Brunswick? (Acadians). Or francophones from other countries, whether in Europe, Africa or elsewhere? I believe that teachers are generally paid more in Ontario than here, but the cost of living can be higher too.

Yes, there are definitely problems with the programme, but scrapping it would leave more pupils with the unilingual handicap of so many anglophone North Americans.

We have to think that at least some of the immigrant pupils remain fluent in their parents' language, so they are less likely to have that handicap (in terms of brain development and flexibility in later life).



What do you think are the reasons for this?



MegB wrote:

My youngest was enrolled in a French immersion program. She dropped into the English stream after Grade 9 and we immediately saw an improvement in her interest and performance.

Sean in Ottawa

I have criticized others for making assumptions that their personal experience is the same as others or portable as a rule. I want to be clear that I make no such presumption in this case about my experience with French Immersion. Here are the facts of my experience:

I went into FI in Quebec at grade 7 in the 1970s. This came to be called late immersion. My family was very low income. I chose to go into it myself. In grade six, my French had the lowest letter grade of all my subjects and I thought I would never pass French without a concerted effort. I was discouraged by the teacher but ignored the advice.

At the start of the immersion, we were tested and my level was extremely low. At the end of the first year we were tested again and I had the second highest increase after a person who went in with even less French than I had (She had arrived from China with no French at all). I stayed in the program till the end of highschool. By then a couple other subjects were not in French but most were.

I left able to express myself in French well and with a love of the language. French is nowhere near the level of my English but I can function.

I do think we had better than the average of teachers in the English program. I think that more of the students wanted to be there than the regular program and more had engaged parents but there were all income levels. This makes sense given that it is an elective -- someone is engaged to choose it.

It is also true that at the end of the program we tested higher in English than those who were in the English program. Some may say this is a sign of streaming but I also think that formal second language training improves the understanding of the first and allows a person to see their own language in a theoretical way rather than rely on "what sounds right."

I have been told that early immersion is better than late. I have also been told that the Quebec FI system is better.

I think apart from an ability to understand and speak to more people, I gained a different understanding of Canada from being able to speak French. I chose to live in Quebec for quite a long time and engaged with my community there in a way I could never have without FI. I think people think differently in a different language and culture and this provides insights I would never have had.

I have had things about my life that I regret. French Immersion is something I never count among them.

I cannot presume to know the experience of others but this is mine and why I am so biased in favour of it.

Mr. Magoo Mr. Magoo's picture

I studied French in public school, when we had no choice in the matter, but I kept with it in highschool when I did have some choice, right up to Grade 12 (but not in the then-existent Grade 13, where I was all STEM).

I think I could have got so much more out of it if my parents had spoken any French at home.  My father, who grew up in Arvida, was totally fluent, but my mother (who grew up in Sarnia) couldn't speak a word.  My dad loved to tell the story of when he taught me the French word for "seal" and I ran around saying it and my mother didn't know what to do.

So I guess I grew up like a lot of Canadian schoolchildren of my vintage:

1.  I can read French pretty well.  I don't think I would be confused by French signage and suchlike, though of course I can be stumped by vocabulary that's unfamiliar (e.g. I never learned the French word for "escrow" ).

2.  I could write some French if I had to, but I'd get the gender wrong a lot of the time, and my accents would be all over the place.  Also, I probably couldn't do a third-person possessive or whatever.  I'm all "I have, you have, she has".

3.  I could probably also speak a little French, if I really needed the toilet or something, but my syntax, grammar, vocabulary and accent would be mortifying, so I'd probably just pantomime peeing.

4.  If someone is speaking French, I might be able to say "something about a pencil" and "there was a clown", but mostly I'd be "stop, stop, STOP, slow down... and enunciate, SVP!"

As a sidebar, I sometimes joke that about a quarter of my French vocabulary comes from bilingual packaging.  I don't think we were ever explicitly taught about "flocons de mais" so how else would I know that?


Even in Ottawa, which is right on the border, it will mean you have a very different vision of Ottawa, Gatineau, and the surrounding reasons. Byward Market is very Franco-Ontarian (and west Québec).

I'd love to envision immersion in Indigenous languages and cultures as well...