... Since neither English nor French are particularly easy to learn, therefore it woudl make sense to choose one or the other to serve as the common language. In Quebec, a logical enough solution to to adopt French for the purpose.
I agree. I am in favor of the language laws in Quebec requiring the use of French as the working language in businesses and in protecting the primacy of the French language on signs etc. I don't think there should be an English school board. It is not at all necessary to have the goal of perfect fluency in both French and English. But, most people of average intelligence are perfectly capable of achieving basic functionality in a second language.
Sure. As I'd mentioned above, if you can give them a good 2000 hours of instruction, you;re right. And where will we get the money, let alone the qualified teachers, for that enterprise nationwide? Are we to lead the world in this and show them how much we can outspend the rest of the world to reach national bilingual success where all other countries have failed? Can you point to any national model that has worked?
I think there should be one school system and that it should be primarily French. I have studied educational pyschology and second language teaching. There are key points at which infants and young children must be introduced to the sounds of foreign languages even if they don't actually learn the language at that time. Infants learn to distinguish sounds in the first six months of life. It is not impossible to learn as an older child, or as an adult, but it is far far more difficult. Sound recognition as well as pronunciation correlates to mother tongue because our ears are trained to hear the sounds of that particular language, and our mouths learn to formulate those sounds. Children who learn two languages from birth generally master both with ease.
Clearly you skipped a few chapters. Here is a quote from Penny Ur from page 286 of 'A Course in Language Teaching: Practice and Theory' (Cambridge University Press, ISBN 7-5600-2050):
Many conventional assumptions about differences between children and adults in language learning may turn out, when subjected to careful examination or research to be not quite so obvious or inevitably true as they seem...
Owing to the length of the quotes I'll just summarize some of them here in my own words. First off, she refers to research that debunks the myth that on an hour for hour basis, younger children learn a second language faster than older children and adults do. In fact, some evidence shows the opposite to be true. She likewise debunks the myth that there a second language must be taught early in some critical period, again debunked. There appears not to be any critical period. This likely comes from research showing that younger children can learn pronunciation faster than older children and adults. Remember though that pronunciation is but one extremely limited facet of second language learning, and one that can be easily overcome by a clear explanation of how to produce the sound. These are just some of the myths she sets out to debunk in her book.
Then going back to Formaggio again, in her book refered to above published in 1995 (again, translation mine):
If we can't gain time horizontally, then let's try vertically: instead of more lessons in high school, let's start teaching foreign languages earlier, in elementary school! This solution has been chosen in many countries already.
At first sight, this solution appears really good, as children do learn to speak various languages with amazing ease. We find the best examples in immigrant families.: while the parents long, or even forever, remain incompetent in the new language, the children often assimilate it just by imitating local playmates. Another example is the children of an inter-ethnic couple. It often occurs that they can speak in either language while the parents themselves remain incapable of communicating in each other's languages without regular errors. So it is true that the younger one learns a second language, the more easily he'll reach the necessary competence in its practical use.
But not always!
The theory works only if the child is immersed in the concerned language environment or if they live with someone who uses the second language with them regularly.
Classroom conditions are a whole other thing. (One school year for our pupils for 3 hours of second-language learning each week is equal to 8-10 days for a child exposed to the language for 10 to 12 hours each day!). During the limited time available, the teacher must recreate a natural learning environment for a whole group of kids. Too big a task! The results are generally very modest: a few memorized chants and rhymes, a few social conversational formula, and a few expressions relating to a few topics. An obvious advantage is that they have the chance to learn foreign pronunciations quickly owing to their imitative abilities (an advantage only if the teacher's pronunciation is perfect).
Younger children receiving foreign language instruction do possess knowledge that other children their age who have not studied the language don't. But, since this instruction has strict limits, children who do learn the same language at a later age can achieve the same results in a shorter time. The differences that may appear significant at first, are quickly narrowed, and sometimes even eliminated.
Considering that I have found many books on the subject that have debunked the myth you are now defending, I must conclude that you have not read many books on the subject.
Another important concept is motivation. People learn speech in order to communicate something they want to communicate and that motivation is intrinsic not extrinsic. That is, teaching math in French isn't as effective as showing a movie popular with a particular age group. Teaching a five year old to say "want to play ball?" is far more effective than teaching a five year old to say 1 plus 1 is 2. Nevertheless, teaching a five year old to say "want to play ball?" is still useless if that child doesn't know someone English with whom they want to play ball. There is no communicative purpose under those conditions.
As you ought to be aware, motivation is an important part of any teacher training course, and has been for many years. So when do you expect the statistics to improve? I'm sure you're aware of the adage that to repeat the same act hoping to get a different result is sheer lunacy.
Recently a 3 year pilot project of selected students (50/50 French/English) experimented with alternating French and English instruction for half the year each of the three years. It was very successful.
Now this is something that makes me livid with Canadian linguistic research. We conduct the research under perfect conditions and then wonder why it doesn't transfer to the mainstream. Your example of the 50/50 above is among these lunacies. Of what practical use is this research, paid for with our tax dollars, to an average linguistically homogeneous school as is the case in the vast majority of local communities across Canada? So are we to pay the plane ticket tor relocate entire populations to replicate these results in schools across the country? We find the same with Canadian research in bilingual schools. Sure the rate of success is absolutely astounding, but let's not forget the money put into hiring fluently bilingual teachers for every subject. Good luck achieving that nationwide. Foreign schools that have adopted this Canadian model should tell us something. I remember a Cameroonian professor telling me how this Canadian bilingual model was replicated with amazing success in a few elite private schools in the country. I'd found the same in China with one teacher raving about how all the children in the elite private school she was teaching at were all coming out fluent in English and Chinese thanks to the fully bilingual staff that the school could afford.
It's no surprise that countries concerned about universal as opposed to elite bilingualism don't give this Canadian research so much as a first glance. It might be fine for private elite schools with the funds to replicate these research conditions, but such research is useless if applied in mainstream schools with access to the funding a typical public school has access to. From that standpoint, we really ought to be looking at the European research that is conducted in average schools, intended to find solutions that are applicable across the board and not under ideal conditions.
Setting up the ideal circumstances for second language learning is impossible but it is not impossible to get closer. The practice of preventing the teaching of English prior to 3rd grade is the worst possible policy. Doing preschool and kindergarden or even grade 1 in the second language would be ideal. Most important of all, encouraging animosity and resentment towards a language group sets up a major barrier to learning that language. It also encourages social strife between groups and a garrison mentality.
While I agree with your last sentence, again, how is it that you have studied pedagogy and yet have not ever encountered rebuttal to these myths. There are reasons why public schools make these decisions, which are a combination of economic, linguistic, and other factors. Second-language education policy ought to be based on hard research based on typical real life circumstances and not educational mythology. What worries me more than an average citizen being unaware of these facts is that supposedly trained teachers are buying into these myths themselves.