Just say ‘non’: The problem with French immersion - Macleans.ca

Just say ‘non’: The problem with French immersion

French immersion—meant to inspire national unity—has turned into an elitist, divisive and deeply troubled system

Second-grade French immersion student Alyvia Spencer does her homework with her mother, Hannah Spencer, in their Salmon Arm home. (Photograph by Mikael Kjellstrom)

Second-grade French immersion student Alyvia Spencer does her homework with her mother, Hannah Spencer, in their Salmon Arm home. (Photograph by Mikael Kjellstrom)

Hannah Spencer isn’t the kind of mom who leaves anything to chance. When she wasn’t keen on her child attending the English-only school in their zone of Salmon Arm, B.C., preferring her daughter study French immersion at Bastion Elementary, she sent out her husband, Cody, one Saturday night in 2012 to wait by the district’s education centre to check if anyone had lined up already. With limited enrolment, registration was first-come, first-served and Cody was early. Sign-up started on Wednesday.

“We heard about other years with the lineup forming and finishing within an hour,” Hannah says. “If you didn’t get there fast enough, you would miss out.”

Cody slept in the family vehicle that night and the police noticed him parked outside the centre. When he told the officer of his wife’s request, the response was apt: The officer called a few RCMP colleagues, who also wanted their kids enrolled in French immersion, and warned them the lineup was imminent. When Cody decided to start the line around 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, right next to him was a local RCMP parent.

Pretty soon, the news had spread to Chantelle Prentice, 25 km away in Enderby, B.C. Looking at the Fraser Institute’s elementary school rankings, she figured the two top schools her son could attend were Bastion Elementary or the private school King’s Christian, but the latter wasn’t ideal for the non-religious family. The only way to get her son into her school of choice was to sign him up for French immersion—and quick. “The anxiety level was huge,” Prentice remembers. “When I was driving into Salmon Arm, I should have got a speeding ticket.”

Prentice arrived at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, three days before registration opened, and was the seventh parent in line for the 17 kindergarten openings. By 5:50 the following morning, all the spots were spoken for. That’s if everyone stuck around. Only a family member was allowed to relieve someone from waiting.

This was especially stressful for Hannah Spencer, who covered 13 hours of waiting during the day while her husband was at work. She was nine months pregnant with their third child and hoping the baby could wait until at least Thursday. After all, if she got her first daughter, Alyvia, into the French immersion program, her younger son Pierce and the then-unborn baby could later enroll automatically without the wait. “We camped out for three days,” she says. “That’s only a day per kid.”

French-English bilingualism rates may be on the decline in Canada, but when it comes to getting kids into French immersion programs—which have come to be seen by many as a free private school within the public school system—there is nothing, it seems, that a Canadian parent won’t do.

Alyvia is now in Grade 2 and loving French classes. But for every student who graduates from French immersion, there’s at least one other who has been bumped out of the program and put into an English-only stream that many deem inferior. Well-meaning parents may feel that French immersion is the answer for every child. In reality, it has become an elitist, overly restrictive system, geared to benefit a certain type of student.


Decades worth of French immersion studies can testify to its benefits. Children learn another language without any detrimental effect to their English skills. Working memory, used in activities like math, is improved, especially among those aged five to seven. Even reading scores in English are significantly higher for French immersion students than non-immersion students, according to a 2004 study, which noted the higher socio-economic background of French immersion students alone could not account for the stark difference.

Plus, there are the added work opportunities later in life, not to mention better pay. Outside Quebec, bilingual men earn on average 3.8 per cent more than their unilingual counterparts, according to a 2010 study out of the University of Guelph. Bilingual women, meanwhile, earn 6.6 per cent more on average. Within Quebec, those numbers are even more pronounced. Given those figures, it’s easy to understand the mania surrounding immersion.

In 1977, more than a decade after French immersion’s introduction, the program enrolled 45,000 students across the country. That number steadily increased to more than 342,000 students by 2011. “I’m not even sure that number even accurately reflects what the real demand is, because the constraint on availability is classroom spaces, teachers and resources,” says Lisa Marie Perkins, former national executive director of Canadian Parents for French, a non-profit volunteer advocacy group. “If there weren’t things like lotteries and caps, I think you’d actually see the numbers being greater.”

Pierre Trudeau had a vision of a unified, bilingual country when he pushed for the first Official Languages Act, which passed in 1969, but the school system has not kept up with the challenge. A dearth of French teachers causes school divisions to spend extra resources on the hunt for those who are qualified; community schools get uprooted if they push out the English program to make it French immersion-only; and the program loses a staggering number of students.

“What a program like French immersion does is it siphons off those kids who have engaged families who make sure the kids do all their homework,” says Andrew Campbell, a Grade 5 teacher in Brantford, Ont. “Because of that, the opportunities in the rest of the system are affected because the modelling and interaction those kids would provide for the other kids in the system aren’t there anymore.”

The immersion program creates division along lines of gender, social class and special needs students, wrote a 2008 study from the Canadian Research Institute for Social Policy looking at French immersion in New Brunswick. Girls are more likely to be enrolled than boys and the French stream has fewer kids in need of extra help. All things being equal in New Brunswick, every class—French or English—should have 3.4 students with special needs. But when a school offered French immersion, the average number of special needs students ending up in the English stream was 5.7. This kind of segregation is not unique to that province.

The richer the family, the more likely their kids will be immersed in French, according to figures from a Toronto District School Board study. In 2009-10, 23 per cent of all French immersion students came from families in the top 10 per cent of income. Meanwhile, only four per cent of French immersion students came from the bottom 10 per cent of family income.

“The program is open to lots of people, but it gets whittled down,” says Nancy Wise, a French immersion educational consultant and former special education teacher in the York region, just outside Toronto. “If you can’t cut it, you probably fall into one of these categories: [you’re a] new Canadian, this is your third language, you’ve got some learning challenges, or there’s a socio-economic factor. They jump on it in the schools and show them the door—and it’s just not right.”

Photograph by Mikael Kjellstrom

Photograph by Mikael Kjellstrom

Over the past 20 years, on average approximately 235,000 immigrants have come to Canada each year, and more than 80 per cent of them speak neither French nor English as a native tongue, according to Statistics Canada. One-third of allophone students—those whose mother tongue is neither French nor English—reported their school discouraging their enrolment in a French second-language education, according to a 2008 study commissioned by Canadian Parents for French.

“New Canadians, or those who speak languages other than English at home, are told something along the lines of: ‘English is enough of a challenge for you and your family. Why don’t you stick to the English language program?’ ” Wise says. “There’s no research evidence to support that kind of discouragement.” But it happens.

In Vancouver last year, more than 34 per cent of kindergarten to Grade 7 students in the English core program were ESL students, according to data obtained by the Vancouver Sun. For French immersion, ESL students accounted for two per cent of the classes. Vancouver students with special needs, meanwhile, accounted for eight per cent of enrolment in the English-only stream last year; French immersion had lower than half that percentage.

“The special ed people who can handle those with learning challenges are far fewer in French immersion schools—and that’s because of the disproportionate number of children with those needs in English,” Wise says. “It all goes round and round and we keep perpetuating this elitist characterization of French immersion.

“If we’re going to offer this program,” she adds, “how can we justify it if we don’t give kids—from whatever background—the tools they need to succeed?” For all of French immersion’s successes among its pupils, when it comes to embracing all Canadians, the system is far from incroyable.

If registration into French immersion is limited, who gets in? “I do think it’s unfair—and I also think it’s not unfair—to do this lineup thing [in Salmon Arm],” Chantelle Prentice admits. “Who can take three days off work? What are you going to do with your children?”

Fortunately, this year’s crop of parents are in luck in the small B.C. town. Bastion Elementary won’t have parents wait in line for French immersion registration for the first time in its history. With more early immersion spots than parents who showed up to an information night—thanks in part to a smaller group of younger siblings this year who receive automatic enrolment—parents were all allowed to register their kids on the spot. (That’s not to say the lineup won’t return in the future, nor are other districts in the clear.)

Other school divisions register over the phone to avoid the annual sit-and-wait, though parents inevitably find ways to better their odds with tactics like “calling parties,” which involves multiple family members flooding the enrolment centre’s phone lines at the same time once registration opens. A lottery system, while evening the odds, boils down a child’s opportunity at French immersion to the luck of the draw. And it’s not always an unlucky two or three left out. At École Whitehorse Elementary, in the Yukon this year, there were enough kindergarten students on the wait list for French immersion to fill up an entire classroom.The territory’s education minister has promised to find them all room.

doyleIn some districts, however, there is no cap on enrolment, but that’s causing other headaches. In the Halton school district in Burlington, Ont., Margo Shuttleworth’s two boys are very happy studying French at Pineland Public School, but she’s not so thrilled with the school’s recent conversion to a single-track French immersion program to keep up with demand. Neighbours who wanted to see their toddlers one day study in the English-only stream no longer have Pineland as an option. “They’re taking a walk to school away from the communities who live here and busing them to another school, so they can bus other children into school for French immersion,” she says. “I don’t think French immersion should take precedence over a community school.”

Meanwhile, in Winnipeg’s south district, enrolment at the French immersion-only École LaVérendrye is “bursting at the seams,” says Winnipeg School Division board chairman Mark Wasyliw. The school was built for 300 students, but is projected to have more than 360 students come September. “Music rooms, art rooms, all those things you take for granted in a modern school system, they’ve all been converted into classrooms,” Wasyliw adds. “It’s affecting programming. These kids aren’t getting the quality and level of education they need.”

One solution can be found a few blocks away at the century-old Earl Grey School, which has fewer than 250 students enrolled but can accommodate a few hundred more. Some parents at LaVérendrye are lobbying for a school swap. Students at Earl Grey could easily fit within LaVérendrye’s walls, while LaVérendrye’s student population could continue to grow in Earl Grey’s building. Simple switch, right? It’s not.

“Earl Grey, demographically, is poor,” Wasyliw says, adding it has a lot of students from single-parent families and a high Aboriginal population. It houses a nursery, and there is a community centre next door for at-risk youth. “We move, we lose that proximity to the [community] centre,” says Darryl Balasko, the parent advisory council chair at Earl Grey.

Some Earl Grey parents, meanwhile, have suggested it become a dual-track French immersion school—hosting both French immersion and English-core students—to take some pressure off LaVérendrye’s capacity, but therein lies another problem. “You don’t want the English kids mixing with the French kids because that dilutes the whole purpose of being in an immersion setting,” Wasyliw says.

Yet the dogma of speaking French exclusively in the classroom may hinder some learning opportunites, says Jim Cummins, a University of Toronto professor and expert in second-language acquisition. For example, if a word like accélération comes up in French class, teachers could highlight its similarities to the English word, such as the “-tion” suffix. “It’s not a mortal sin to say: ‘Does this word remind you of anything in English?’ ” Cummins says. “Pointing those things out to students increases their sensitivity to language and increases their competence in both languages.”


In Oakville, Ont., Amanda Lee’s son, Conan, was struggling in early French immersion. The school had little support for him in French, she says, and paying for a tutor at home didn’t help him keep up. By Grade 2, “one of his teachers recommended we pull him out,” Lee says. A year later, they did. “It got to the point where we thought that we were burdening him too much,” she adds. “If he was struggling in two languages then we felt we need to take some of that load off him.”

While Conan’s story may resonate with many parents, research suggests pulling a child from French immersion is not always the solution. “These kids who struggle in school, they do just as well in an immersion program as similar children in a non-immersion program,” says Fred Genesee, a leading researcher on dual-language education at McGill University. “The additional challenge of doing all this in a second language doesn’t seem to be harder for them than doing it in a first language. At the same time, they become bilingual.” In effect, if a child is struggling with math in French, the problem might simply be with math, regardless of the language.

“If French immersion is really that good, let’s offer it to everyone. Let’s put it in every school,” says Campbell, the teacher. “The fact that we don’t do that says something about what the cachet of the program really is.”

The perception of weaker students being filtered into the English-only program then becomes more of an incentive for parents who consider their children among the best and brightest to enroll in French immersion. But at what cost to the English-track schools?

“Kids that are in low-income areas use French immersion as a way to get out of those schools,” Campbell says. “When I taught in Toronto, there were kids who lived in Lawrence Heights who would take a 35-minute [transit] ride to a French immersion school because the parents didn’t want their kids going to a school in that neighbourhood.”

Denise Davy, a mother from Burlington, says she pulled her daughter out of Pineland, where French immersion was prioritized, because the English program was so bad. “There were no supports, nothing available for my daughter who was struggling,” she says. “I’m not against bilingualism,” but she does take issue with “the ripple effect the [French immersion] demand is having on other programs.”

Parents who first enroll their kids in French immersion are quick to boast about their little ones speaking both of Canada’s official languages one day, but odds are they don’t think about their child being one of the many that drop out. “You start out with a school that has five classes in Grade 1, and by the time you hit Grade 8 there are two classes,” says Nancy Wise, the French immersion educational consultant.

For the 2007-08 school year in B.C. public schools, 4,281 Grade 6 students were part of the French immersion program, thanks to an influx of late immersion students. By the time that age group reached Grade 12 last year, approximately 2,230 remained. Meanwhile in New Brunswick, Canada’s only officially bilingual province, of the 1,469 anglophone students that entered early French immersion back in 1995, less than half (only 612) stayed with the program into Grade 12, according to a 2008 report.

From those Grade 12 students who then took an oral proficiency test, 99 per cent achieved at least an “intermediate” score, but only 42 per cent reached the mark of “advanced or higher.” So, what about dreams of fluently bilingual kids with the perfect accents? “I think we were naive,” says Genesee. “It can’t happen if you’re only using a language five hours a day, five days a week for 10 months of the year.”

What happens after high school graduation? Turns out native English speakers living outside Canada’s sole francophone province are rather poor at keeping up their French skills as they get older. In 1996, 15 per cent of 15- to 19-year-old anglophones outside Quebec could conduct a conversation in both of Canada’s official languages. Fast forward 15 years and the bilingualism rate for 30- to 35-year-olds in 2011 was eight per cent.

Many of today’s youngsters are part of Canada’s second generation of French immersion students, the children of those who themselves took French immersion. The first wave, however, didn’t produce a giant pool of French teachers. In Winnipeg, Wasyliw says his division is running out of qualified teachers to keep up with demand. “We’re in the middle of budget discussions now and we’re going to spend money on recruitment teams that will be going to Quebec and eastern Ontario to basically start convincing native francophone teachers to immigrate to Manitoba.”

If only things were perfect in La Belle Province. Last November, when the alternative French class of an English-language high school in Châteauguay, Que., saw three teachers go on parental leaves and a fourth teacher didn’t work out, students were left with the computer program Rosetta Stone as the substitute teacher, with a non-French teacher supervising.

Canada’s French immersion system was once a model for the world, but it now lags behind countries in Europe where the European Union’s “mother tongue plus two” benchmark—hatched during a 2002 summit—set an ambitious goal for students to learn their native tongue plus two foreign languages. In a 2012 survey of 14 European countries, 42 per cent of 15-year-olds could keep up a conversation in at least one foreign language. The European Commission’s goal is to boost that to at least 50 per cent by 2020. The commission also set out to have at least 75 per cent of students in lower secondary education studying at least two foreign tongues by 2020, compared to the 61 per cent at the time of the report.

Credit Europe’s geography, which offers a multitude of cultures and languages in close proximity. Or the Internet and Hollywood for pushing English to the forefront globally. Regardless, Europeans will have plenty more than just one language on their CV in a global economy. According to EU data, more than half of all Europeans are already able to hold a conversation in a second language, while a quarter are able to do so in a third language. Even 10 per cent can keep up a conversation in a fourth language.

“The world is going global and wanting to learn other languages,” says Genesee. “In Canada, we’ve been doing this for 50 years, but rather than expanding these programs, we’re putting a lid on them.”


Just say ‘non’: The problem with French immersion

  1. Why send recruitment teams to Quebec and Ontario to find qualified French teachers when there is a plethora of them right here in Manitoba? The truth is that many of the amazing French teachers in Manitoba do not want to give up their tenured positions in their current school divisions for a job at an immersion school if it means being first on the chopping block when the next round of budget cuts come around in the Winnipeg School Division. Who can blame these teachers for not wanting to sacrifice a permanent position? Most school divisions keep new hires on temporary contracts for the first few years, regardless of previous experience in other parts of Manitoba. If schools and divisions truly want to recruit the very best teachers, then they will put pressure on the Manitoba government to allow teachers to keep their seniority when moving from one school division to another.

  2. If we defend the immersion programme on grounds that children do ‘better’ due to taking French, sorry, they would do as ‘well’ if they took Bulgarian, Hungarian or Latvian(for example). And, as with having taken French in school, but then not using it later, they would soon forget it. I learned to speak Portuguese in Brasil when I was younger, but then soon forgot it due to lack of use. Are we truly interested in teaching meaningful ‘subjects’ in our schools? How about Chinese, or ‘How to be loving and responsible parents’ and tolerance to all peoples? Hmmmm?

    • Good point.
      Fact is that immersion in ANY second language, especially at primary/elementary levels, helps to develop the language area of the developing brain not only assists in the aquisition of a third language but assists with intellectual development, focus, multitasking and other areas.
      Does NOT have to be French.
      In fact I’d be delighted to have my daughter immersed in Haida (the indigenous language here) or Mandarin (programmes for which they have in Vancouver) and would suggest taking French or Spanish on the side.
      I have a Haida friend with two daughters. The older one is finding Haida a struggle to stay engaged in. The other, who is in French Immersion is excited and learning Haida as well. This is predicted by the research.

  3. What a line of French fascism. Why not let kids learn Chinese, Spanish, even Arabic?

    Hey, not all of us want our kids raised to be snivel, sorry, civil servants as the first preference is French-English.

    But Chinese opens up Asia, now the largest economic block in the world. Spanish gets you Caribbean and everything south of USA….

    And what about damages it does to kids who are language slow, math/science smart? I was screwed around by this as a child. Lucky I recovered to with no assistance from the system.

    Just keep such nonsense as immersion schools and forced learning to the minimum. Its far more dangerous letting kids graduate that can’t even understand 101 personal economics, money, debt and mortgages than to not know french.

  4. All three of our kids started out in French immersion, with one going all the way through high school in FI. We pulled our other two at the fifth grade due to a number of factors, not least of which was the complete and utter inability of a couple of the teachers to communicate with us. Bilingualism is a two-way street, I would think. In the end, French Immersion is a rather expensive and pointless exercise. Proponents cite increased opportunities for bilingual young adults. Yes, if you wish for them to work in government. Because it’s my fervent hope that none of my children are ever employed in the vast wasteland of government, that’s a non-starter. It consumes very finite resources within the system, creating more cost with little measurable benefit. It’s also built upon the myth of Canadian bilingualism.
    75% of Canadians are unilingually English, 10-12% are bilingual Francophones, and another 8% are unilingual Francophones, yet we regurgitate the myth of bilingualism rather mindlessly.
    Let’s put that little French-centric conceit to rest and move on, shall we?

  5. While this article claims immersion students come out academically ahead, I suspect it’s because they would have been excellent students no matter what. A neighbour’s daughter was placed in immersion because the mother was francophone. She had a rather mediocre academic outcome which I suspect was due in part to learning subjects in French when learning them in English would have been more straightforward for her. But the mother was adament that she learn French. I went to one of her school events when she was in Gr 8 or so. When I asked her to translate something in the program from French to English for me, guess what, she couldn’t. So in addition to handicapping her in math, history, and science, immersion didn’t do much for her French either.

  6. Getting ready for our child to start kindergarten in the fall, we recently visited our local community school that has a French Immersion program (in Southern Ontario). The teachers are not francophones, they were hesitant to engage in conversation in French, and there were very obvious grammatical errors in their posted materials throughout the classrooms. This leads me to wonder whether the whole thing is a farce…

  7. I started out in french immersion and switched to full french when the school near my house was switched to an english one. I am really happy that my parents chose to do that because now I’m still bilingual, although I speak french with a strong english accent, and it has given me opportunities to socialize and get jobs that I would not have had otherwise. I firmly believe that all canadians should be bilingual and the way forward is full other language schools, whether it be english in qc or french in other provinces. Obviously it isn’t possible right now since there is a serious lack of french teachers, but it would be amazing to have everyone speaking two or more languages. Also, to get government jobs and become a politician you pretty much have to be bilingual, and that shouldn’t be restricted to a small segment of the population.

  8. The real questions are:
    1. Do the kids speak French at recess, lunch and after school?
    2. Is there anyone at home who speaks and listens to them?
    3. Would a real French speaker cover their mouth while they laugh at the “French”?
    4. The only way for MOST people to learn a new language is at their mother;’/s knee. Admittedly, there are some for whom it is second nature.
    5.These are supposed to be English-speaking kids. What kind of an education are they getting in matters of their own language, literature and culture?
    5. The day that Quebec passed its Bill 101 Trudeau the First’s dream of a bilingual country went down the tubes. So why the effort?

    • An add-on: How much English immersion is there in the Province of Quebec? I know the streets of Montreal are a form, of English/French immersion, but how many real bucks does the Quebec Education Ministry spend on making sure that back-woods communities have a chance to learn proper English? What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, as they say.

      • There is an excellent English immersion program in Quebec! It is a choice that parents do if they want to. English teachers here speak fluently English.
        I find it very ad that English people are putting all faults to Quebec province. This not us that have decided for other provinces to put French immersion n their school. Bye the way, most French people in Quebec also speak English! Québec is the only province where you find the most percentage of bilingual people! Take your information carefully. Why do you hate that much Frencch people! We are not telling you what to do! But here we have no choice to be able to at least make ourselves understood in English!!! See? I am a French native person!!!

        • I hate to burst your bubble, and I’m really not trying to be rude, however, your English is pretty bad. If this is what the Quebec education system is passing off as good English, we are in bigger trouble than we thought.

          • @Buckdsystem:
            How does Mme Corriveau’s English compare to your French? She has at least made the effort and I suspect that most anglophones could understand her message quite clearly.

    • 1. in immersion no, full french yes
      2. in some cases yes but usually no
      3. probably in Quebec, not in France or any other country where they are just happy a foreigner can speak their language
      4. absolutely not true
      5. english culture isn’t “better” than french culture, the rest of the lessons are pretty similar
      5(b). bill 101 is terrible but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make the effort to have a more bilingual country

    • I disagree with so many of these comments. I am an Anglophone who attended public French school in Ontario from K-8 in the 1970s. My mother was a Francophone who NEVER spoke French to me. In school, I never spoke a word of French unless I “had to” but I do not remember a time in school – other than K – when I was unsure of what was being said to me. I was an excellent student in elementary school, but I struggled in high school with spelling which really made my marks suffer. (Thank goodness for spellcheck now!) BUT the truth is, I could read French and understand spoken French very well. That is a life long gift. I chose to take advantage of this gift when I was 25. I returned to university where I became a teacher. I didn’t take French classes b/c I could barely speak it at the time. When I graduated, b/c I had of this knowledge of French, I was thrown into FI classes as a sub. Obviously, I was not confident so I would only sub in the early years (K-3). It was hard – very hard. But I knew if I wanted a job I would need to bring my French up to snuff. Having not taken any uni classes in French I had to be able to pass a FSL class with high marks if I wanted a permanent position. An avid reader, I read only in French for one year (the first book took me 3 months) and I was soon reading as quickly in French as I did could in English. I took some on-line grammar courses through second language institutions. Had I not been exposed to French I would not have been able to re-acquire the French language. My French is not pHd level, but it is considered quite good. I travel to France where it is recognized that I have an “Canadian accent” – other than that I do not get a second look. I still read in French and, b/c I now teach Kindergarten, I do not have the in-depth conversations I used to be able to have with my older students. On my commute to school and after school when I am preparing my classroom, I listen to the CBC in French.

      There are many studies that show the advantages of an additional language. In Canada, we are a bilingual country yet only a small fraction speak both of our official languages. On a University of Saskatchewan study trip to Finland in August of 2014, where we learned about their schooling system, I was impressed by the fact that all children are bilingual in Finnish and at one other official language (Swedish, Russian and Sami-equivalent to a FN language in Canada). Most of the children I encountered knew English as well. I taught two FRENCH classes to Grade 6 students as well. So maybe you do not want your child to learn French as their alternative language. That’s ok. BUT if you cannot find a school where your child can be immersed in Russian, Ukrainian, Cree, or whatever – PICK FRENCH IMMERSION. Why wouldn’t you when the benefits are amazing. You might not use your French…or you might just turn out like me. Give your kids the opportunity I had.

  9. French Immersion is simply politically correct streaming.

    Middle-class parents can’t afford private school, and understand that the public school system will disappoint if they don’t exploit every opportunity for the enrichment of their child’s education.

    • The public education system is basically broken. Does French immersion make it worst? Must be Qc fault. ;-)

  10. Political correct nonsense is all the french language is.

    Try getting a job with the feds if you do not speak french.

    If anything teach your kids to speak one of the Chinese languages.

    The french language is dying and forcing people to learn it for the sake of political correctness simply increases the animosity in Canada. When french is done this country will be far better off.

    I can take the slings and arrows – but in fact french is costing us billions – and not providing anything in return.

  11. There are more people in North America that speak Spanish than speak English. So put your kids in Spanish Immersion. The only reason you would want French is so you can get a job in the Federal Government.

    And as for kids doing better in French immersion, there are other variables that have obviously not been taken into account. 1.) How about other language-immersion programs? Would the same not apply?, and 2.) Parents interest in their kids education is always a big factor in how well they do in school. So it is obvious that these parents take an interest in their kids education. So that factor should be removed before that statement about immersion can be made.

    • French immersion would also be an immense help in learning Spanish, Portuguese or any other Romance language. I am trilingual (French, English, Italian) and it was much easier for me to pick up Spanish than it would have been for a unilingual anglophone, or even francophone. I’m not boasting – I believe Montréal has the highest percentage of trilinguals in North America. It is very normal here.

  12. 1. Do the kids speak French at recess or lunch?
    2.Do real French speakers laugh behind their hands when a so-called immersion graduate says something?
    3.The only way for most of us to learn a foreign language is at our mother’s knee.
    4. What about the quality of non-language subjects?
    5. I believe these students should better understand their own language, literature and culture which french immersion students don’t seem to.

  13. I grew up in Ottawa in the 80s and 90s and followed the French Immersion programme all the way through to the end of high school. Some of the issues raised in this article ring true to me: certainly we had kids who were having difficulties moving to the English-only stream. But as far as I know, French Immersion is (or was) available to pretty much anyone who wanted it in the Ottawa school system and this must also be true in Montreal and other places with a sizeable francophone population. I wonder if the elitism of the programme is as noticeable in these places? It would be interesting to hear the statistics from school districts with larger French Immersion programmes.

  14. My daughter was in French immersion at a Scarborough public school for 7 years. One of her teachers through the years was a fluent native French speaker from Vietnam. My daughter can now speak basic conversational French, and reads well in French. (She’s opted to go to English high school.) Yes, it’s challenging, because the kids are taught EVERY subject in French, and occasionally scientific language/new terms get mangled and lead to frustration. I find for the child to be successful, there should be plenty of support at home, with at least one parent helping with homework, translation, understanding. If not, it’s tough. Quite a few kids did not last until Grade 6, and transferred to the English program. P.S. There are heritage language public schools in Toronto where Mandarin, Tagalog, and other languages are taught daily.

  15. My kid is in kindergarten in the Catholic school system in Toronto. Our neighbourhood is mostly Italian and the second language taught at his school is Italian, which I find odd.
    I was kind of disappointed that there wasn’t a French immersion program nearby, but now that I read that the income difference is only 3.8%, that’s nothing, that’s a rounding error. The last thing I would want for him is to get some soul crushing government job, where one puts in their time counting down the years to retirement like some sort of prison sentence. Admittedly, it will hamper his odds of being Premier of Ontario, but looking at the last 4 or 5 premiers, maybe that’s not so bad.

    • Well, if he’s learning Italian, that will also help him with French should he study it later on.

  16. Nobody should be surprised by the information in this article. As a non-french speaking parent of two french immersion honour roll graduates, and a former public school teaher, I agree with almost all of the opinions expressed in this article. Concerned parents will always try to maximize the opportunities for their children. This may be in the form of private schools, with many families sacrificing economically to pay tuition, or those of us taking advantage of the “poor-man’s private school”. The fact that french immersion enrollment has increased seven fold between 1977 and 2011 says more about dissatisfaction with the school system, than the goal of creating a bilingual nation. Why have we lost confidence in our “public” schools?

  17. While living and travelling in Europe earlier in my life, I was impressed by the teaching of languages. When meeting Dutch, Danish, German, Italian, and Swiss, the striking note was how flawless their English was. The Swiss especially seem to teach languages well–even in very tiny schools. Most whom I met spoke several languages, some very well and additional ones passably. Of course if one is learning Italian, Italy is just a bus ride away. Perhaps that accounts for the success. Also, in Switzerland, the emphasis is on the community school, small villages have small schools and are proud of the fact. They did not like the idea of long bus drives for young children–and yet they taught 2 or 3 languages in such schools. It was a fascinating experience.

  18. It is all a lie: they switch to English at every available opportunity. French is an outmoded joke living out a pipe dream like religion. Also it cost too much money.

  19. I can tell you this. You don’t want to get mixed up in the mess we have here on NB. It is extremely costly and in the end the kids do not graduate fluently bilingual. The reason it will not work in this country is because everything is done in English. The French schools are having a problem getting their students to speak French in the hallways. Our kids need to learn Chinese and other languages.

  20. I had trouble with English and I am English, do you really think that I would be able to do french? for me alot of french speaking people are snobby and rude

  21. Please correct: ‘allophone’ should be ‘Anglophone’. Th words are not even close in meaning.

  22. French immersion programs have never been about teaching kids French, but, as the article states, mostly have been a status symbol for parents who want to be able to tell their friends that Josh and Ella are in something better than the other neighborhood kids are able to get at school. It is a colossal waste of public money that could be far better spent on improving the conditions and programs in the main school system and dealing with the problems that mainstreaming special-needs kids cause. Time to put this charade to an end.

  23. Cummins???? You’re quoting Cummins? an old-school educator who was vieux jeux when I was a student teacher. And Genese, too? There are so many researchers who have done work since them that you could have quoted. You have dragged up the same-old stuff that we see every year at this time. Isn’t it time for a new approach? Maybe a 2016 attitude to the greatest gift you can give to a child, a second (third, fourth…) language? We are a bilingual country and as a bilingual citizen of that country, I put my kids in French Immersion gladly and proudly and by golly, they learned to speak French and English, Spanish and German and even ASL. I don’t claim that learning French makes anybody “better” at anything but communicating and thinking and looking at problems from at least two different angles, but it sure beats being handicapped by being restricted to only English and to the outdated idea that you don’t “need” to learn any other language. It’s 2016; start thinking like it is.

  24. The article, and as a consequence the comments, fails to consider the ongoing underfunding of public schools which is a significant dimension of this problem.

    Private schools continue to receive increased public spending while public schools see theirs dwindling. Levels of support for students with special needs have diminished over the years as have numerous other supports for both special needs and ESL students.

    In response to these pressures and the preoccupation with school rankings parents have succeeded in carving out a niche within the public system that brings together those students who have the social capital to be successful.

    It’s time to renew our commitment to “public education” which is our primary tool in reducing income inequality.

  25. I am getting very curious about the french culture. French culture produced the feelings of equality, brotherhood, so I always being excited to know about the french culture. When we consider about the french language it is very stylish language. French will help in learning Russian and another europian language. and I must say Nice article you shared thanks for sharing this!

  26. I went to a private school from Grade 7 onward. I suppose that means my parents are even MORE elitist. Oh well, so am I.

  27. In Edmonton schools you can choose from almost any immersion program – French, German, Chinese, Dutch, Ukrainian, Arabic, etc. Many parents choose French immersion because their children will be in classes with bright, well behaved others. If a child is a slow learner or misbehaves a lot, he/she is discouraged from continuing in French immersion. Therefore, it is a type of class selection. My granddaughter went all through school from K to 12 in French. I don’t believe she uses her French at all, but she has some lovely friends.

  28. It seems as though there is an enormous amount of people that have clearly never researched the benefits of the french immersion program and the incredibly terrible public view of such a program.
    Your goal when putting your child in the french immersion program is the gift of a second (or more) language and the culture that comes with it. And as a parent, YOU are also responsable for the success of your child. If you do not believe in the program, you have already failed your child because they will know.
    Also, parents seem to believe that french immersion schools have less children with difficulties. What society seems to ignore is that french immersion schools DO NOT encourage a child to transfer to english. Your child will have difficulties in any language. However, parents tend to believe that their child will fare better in an english only setting, which teachers and schools are desperately trying to change.
    Learning a second language benefits a child in so many ways, including access to an amazing culture and language. Also, studies have shown that people who know two or more languages are less likely to suffer from dementia and more likely to bounce back after loss of memory.
    If your goal for your child is to have a better chance getting a job… please do us a favour and either change your outlook or get your child out of that program because you’ve already ruined it.

  29. A disappointing article, with a number of inaccuracies. We put our son in late French immersion because we believe it’s an advantage to learn another language, whether it be French, Chinese, Spanish, etc. Most of his classmates were Asians, learning their third language. Is it elitist? Only in the sense that the students in the classes had the motivation to work harder than if they’d stuck with English-only instruction. Students who didn’t want to continue in French immersion in high school moved back to the English stream. Their reasons for leaving were as varied as the students. Some didn’t see a future in continuing to study French. Others wanted more elective options, as the number of electives available to immersion students are much fewer. Some didn’t want to continue to make the effort.