Saturday, October 6, 2012

Soapbox Mail: French Immersion is not for every child

This blog is nearing three years old, and on a fairly regular basis I receive email from people commenting on, or asking questions about, something I've written.  I've had a few questions from people thinking about joining  the military later in life, and I've answered them directly.  

One came in very recently from a Toronto woman about her daughter, who is enrolled in French Immersion.  Rather than summarize I will share it with you:

We read your article posted last year regarding you enrolled your two little ones to French Immersion. In the article, you stated the benefits of staying in FI.

Our six-year-old daughter, ######, is now in Grade 1 in FI program in Toronto as we took the opportunity to put her in. My husband is a strong supporter of FI, but unfortunately we are not agree with each other. He refers your article to show me the benefit of staying in FI. I read it and very glad that your two sons are success in FI program. However, on the other hand, I don’t know how to reconcile your situation with ours.  Here is our background: We immigrated to Canada from China in 2005, and my daughter born in Canada in 2006, she didn't learn any English till Junior Kindergarten as our parents took care of her at home. She speaks Chinese very well but not good in English. Till now, her oral English skill is still at beginning level. She transferred to FI School at Senior Kindergarten, and she learned some basic French like numbers, colors, some name of objects. Now she is in Grade 1, the teacher requires her to read a French book each day which we have to ask our neighbor’s daughter for help as both of us don’t know any French. Also, she has weekly assignment. Also, her ability to communication with her peers is not good, plus she is not that open. I worry about it will affect her interaction with her peers. The last concern I have is still around her English skills as we live in an English society, so English is a must. I think that focus on English in Elementary school is very important for her. If she conquered English, French can be learned in Grade 4 in Extended French Immersion Program. 

In opposite, my husband believes she will excel in English, French, and Chinese but he can't provide enough evidence to convince me. He also states that the qualities of average student in FI are better than ones in English Program and it is hard to get a spot in FI program.

Now, I am really struggling and frustrated. I don’t know if I can get some advices from you? Also, may I ask if you have same background with us, will you keep her in FI?

Thank you very much and very appreciate your help!

The bottom line question...given the circumstances these parents are in, would I keep my child in French Immersion.  Probably not.  I sent a reply to this woman's husband and this is what I wrote.

Dear Sir,

With the greatest respect, I think it is fantastic that you want your daughter to be able to speak both of Canada's official languages as well as your mother tongue Chinese. You obviously place a great value on education, and for that you are to be highly commended.

I gather from your wife's email to me that your child's situation is somewhat unique.  She is already somewhat bilingual, speaking Chinese very well thanks to the time she spends with her grandparents.

It seems from what I have been told that ######'s English is not as strong as her Chinese.  Living as you do in Toronto, obviously you are aware of how important a strong foundation in the English language is.  Most of her interactions in Toronto will be with people who speak English only, and many people will judge an individual by how well or how poorly they speak and write in English.

When I wrote my article on the benefits of French Immersion, it was written with the thought that people reading it would be parents of children who already have a strong foundation in the English langauge.

In my view sir, the greatest gift and biggest advantage you can give your daughter is to ensure she has a strong and solid foundation in the primary language of the place where she is living and where she will grow up.  In Toronto obviously that is English.

I don't want to discourage you about French, and I should tell you that I now live in Quebec and am fluently bilingual although I didn't start learning French until I was in grade 7, at 12 years of age.

I know its a difficult decision and that you are very interested in giving your child all the advantages possible so that she can succeed in life.  In my opinion the most important thing for her is to establish a strong foundation in English, and after that is firmly in place I have little doubt she would excel in learning French or any 
other language.

No matter what decision you make I wish you much luck.  Your daughter is very lucky to have parents like you and your wife.

Kindest Regards,

I don't know what this couple's ultimate decision will be, but I hope things work out regardless of whether their daughter stays in FI or not.  Given her parents commitment to education I think she already has a lot going for her.

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