It’s been a year now since we had to decide whether or not to put the Captain in early French Immersion. It was a very tough decision for us, and in the end, when we decided to go for it, we still weren’t sure what we were in for, or how it was going to work out.
Last week we had to make the same decision about Gal Smiley, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what has been good and bad about the program, and what has been harder than we expected.
First let me say that there were three things that swayed our decision towards choosing FI, even though neither of us has anything more than crappy high school Franglais and we knew that we were dooming ourselves, one day, to having a teenager who was able to have private conversations on the phone RIGHT IN FRONT OF US, OH GOODY.
Sway reason number one: Several of our friends who had been through FI gave us personal testimonials about how much they valued the program, how learning French had made it easier to learn other languages, which in turn had given them more confidence to travel and experience different cultures.
Sway reason number two: This one is kind of dicey, but we heard that schools with early FI, like ours, kind of become like a two-tier school. Any kid with behavioural problems is removed from the FI stream, which means that the FI kids are almost uniformly calm, obedient, and studious. That means that the FI classes get more opportunities for field trips and other enrichment-type programs. I’m not sure this is true AT ALL, mind you, but fear that our kid would be missing out on some educational opportunities made us choose FI.
Sway reason number three: The Captain loved French class in JK and was excited to learn new French words; he was also doing just fine in the reading and counting departments, so we felt a bit better about setting him back in those areas a few years to indulge his interest in learning a new language.
So we did the FI thing.
Now that we’re six months into the program, I will say up front that I’m happy with our choice. The Captain really likes learning the French words and has not had any stress or tension (that we can see) associated with having his classes in a language that we do not speak at home. He’s picking up the vocabulary easily and having no trouble adapting. In the meantime, I’m working with him at home a few times a week on his English reading skills and math skills, so they don’t fall by the wayside, which makes us feel better about keeping up with the Joneses and that sort of thing.
On the down side, however, many many people assured us that as parents of an FI kid, there was NO requirement that we speak French at all. I would have to say that that really isn’t true. Sure, I don’t have to be fluent or even know the vocab words that he is learning at school, but I would say that a basic understanding of how the language works, how certain letter combinations are pronounced, and some simple phrases is really important.
All communication sent home from the school is in English, so you’ll definitely be able to follow along with what your kid is doing — that’s not a problem at all. The tough part, really, is helping him with his homework.
First of all, once a week he brings home a French-language book from the library. He wants me to read him this book, and also to be able to explain to him what it means. Even though these are basic SK/Grade 1 storybooks, I find I have to spend a good hour with my English-French dictionary in order to be able to read him the book, and translate it for him. Plus, if I had no knowledge of the language at all, I would never be able to read it to him — as it is, at least a third of the time I’m not sure if I am pronouncing things correctly or not.
Secondly, he gets a new vocab list at the start of each unit and I’m supposed to go over these with him, and help drill him on them. It really helps if I know how to pronounce the words, so I can correct him if he gets them wrong.
Thirdly, he’s started to bring home an early reader for reading practice once a week, and I have to teach him to read this book. Again, if I did not know things like “eau” in French says “O”, and that “er” at the end of the word says “A”, then I’d be kind of screwed.
And lastly, on a couple of occasions he’s brought home a workbook in which he needs to write a sentence or two, in French, describing what he did that day, and WHOO BOY, let me tell you, it takes me hours of sweat over that poor dictionary just to be able to say, “I played Star Wars Lego.”
I want to be able to help my kid succeed in school. I imagine things will get much easier once he can read easily on his own, and I’ve heard that he’ll be pretty much self-sufficient by grade 4. Which is good, and we are absolutely committed to staying with the program all the way through.
But I would say that it is a little disingenuous to suggest that parents with absolutely no French can handle the program. I think that most parents who grew up in Canada and got the government mandated French classes can probably help their kid through SK. But someone who did not grow up here, who really has had no French learning at all, might feel overwhelmed.
In any case, we did decide to put Gal Smiley in immersion as well. We’re sold and we’re committed. But I’m learning that teaching does not happen only at school, it happens at home too…so if you choose FI, you need to be prepared to do a little French teaching yourself, too.