I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while, but it always devolves in my head to a bit of a ranty, sad, whine-fest. So then I don’t write it, but my mind keeps coming back to it, so I’m thinking it would be a good mental purge for me just to get it all down, already. So warning: whining follows.

Today’s subject is French Immersion.

When the Captain was in JK, we had to decide if we wanted him to enter the French Immersion program the following year. Our school offers only early French Immersion (EFI), which starts in SK.

It was a really, really hard decision for us. On one hand, we don’t speak French and worried we wouldn’t be able to help him with his schoolwork. It seemed like a lot of stress and work to dump on such a little kid, when we didn’t even know yet how he would feel about school, how he would do in school, and whether or not he liked languages.

On the other hand, everyone and their sister was choosing EFI. That meant that all his friends were going into the EFI class, and so few were choosing English, it was almost unsustainable. At our school, about 90% of kids choose EFI, meaning the handful of kids in the English stream are doomed to split classes, less funding, less attention, and fewer opportunities than the EFI kids.

And worse, there’s a feeling around here that EFI is for “smart kids” while English is for “troubled kids.” It SUCKS, it is NOT TRUE, but that’s what his happening around here. It’s why so many choose EFI – because their kid is smart! And should be in the “advanced” stream! So there’s a ton, a TON, of pressure from all sides to go the EFI route.

And so we did.

The Captain is now in Grade 4, so I’ve been thinking lately about our EFI choice. I guess there’s good things about it. He’s with his friends, he has learned quite a bit of French. His spelling and grammar sucks in both languages, but apparently that’s expected for FI students, and works itself out eventually.

What really bothers me, though, is this: he hates school.

Perhaps hates is too strong of a word. He goes there happily enough and does his work without too much complaint. But the thing is, school to him is work. A terrible amount of work. He struggles to read and write. He often does not understand what the teacher is saying. He gets instructions wrong or misses out on deliverables.

Right now they are reading a Magic Treehouse book, in French, and they have to analyze it chapter by chapter. We happen to have the same book at home in English, and one day he was reading the English version and declared it to be completely, totally, different than the French version. News flash: they are IDENTICAL. But he was missing so much of the French, he literally did not understand what was happening in the book until he read the English version.

That makes me sad.

I try not to get too hung up on marks, but what worries me is how hard both the Captain and Gal Smiley try to get out of schoolwork. How tired they are at the end of the day. How much they equate “learning” with “hard” and “impossible” and “terrible torture.” I love learning. I love reading. I loved school. They most definitely do not.

There are almost no resources in the school system for kids in EFI who are struggling. There’s no reading help, no comprehension help, no math help in French. If a child is really hurting, they just switch him to English (which is really helping with the English stream’s reputation as the lesser of the two, NOT).

The kids’ teachers both say that what our kids need is even more immersion. Make them read in French every day, they say. Watch French TV shows, listen to French radio.

But such things are met with groans, even tears. It’s too much – they already have so much homework, both assigned and from things they have been unable to get through in class. They’re already tired of French and hate French and just want to spend their evenings being kids. I find it hard to deny them that.

Plus, the Captain has finally, FINALLY, discovered reading – he is INTO the Harry Potter books. I’m so happy I could weep with relief – I can’t risk snuffing out this new, tender flame by suggesting he pick up a French book instead. That would turn something fun into work.

So, would I choose it again? That’s a tough, tough question. All the pressures for choosing EFI still exist. The English stream at our school is just too small to make it an attractive option. And, fingers crossed, maybe they’ll be able to get tour guide summer jobs at a museum when they are teens, which would be great.

And maybe a couple of years from now, the Captain and the Gal will have figured it all out and all this fretting and worrying and hand wringing will have been for nothing.

But I can say this: I wish EFI did not exist. I wish middle French Immersion (which starts in grade 4) was the only option. It would give kids time to learn to love school. It would give them time to ease into full-days at school with joy and fun and creativity. It would allow those kids who truly love languages, or those who are really bored with school as-is, to choose French as an informed decision. It would encourage more people to stay in English, creating a better balance in the school and a less marginalized English stream. And it would allow all kids who need extra help to have access to it in the early years when it is most needed.

For now, though, EFI still exists, and peer pressure means we chose it once again for the Little Miss. We’re immersed now, I guess.

40 thoughts on “Immersion

  1. so you know that I used to teach French Immersion at the high school level for many years. The students that I taught mostly started FI at the kindergarten level, and there was definitely attrition – and that’s ok. My kids are in FI as well, and they started in JK. They really enjoy it. Some of their classmates have also left FI and that’s ok too. FI isn’t for everyone, and if it’s taking the joy of education out of your children, then it may be time for your children to leave FI. The difficulty will, of course, be struggling with a) the loss of friends and b) the social stigma. But if it makes learning more enjoyable, then it is worth serious consideration. It isn’t about failing or not having perseverance – it’s about choosing what’s right for your family. (Then again, hubby and I both speak French so that makes it a little easier – we don’t do a lot of help with homework, but we do occasionally speak French at home and that makes it a little more fun…)

    1. I have thought about taking them out – I even gave the Captain the hard sell at the start of the year. But he doesn’t want to leave his friends, and moving to English at our school would mean going into a split class where there are only 10 kids in his grade level. It just doesn’t feel like a valid option, GAH.

      Our school goes up to grade 8, and at the grade 7 level there’s an influx of kids from other schools. I am thinking I will move them to English at that time.

  2. We are so brainwashed here to think that learning French (and learning it early) is the be-all and the end-all. It’s NOT. I grew up in Anglo-Ontario, with a half-hour of French a week from Grade 4 to Grade 8. I was not immersed. I was barely dipped in. All of the French I learned was of my own volition, through high school, university and later. I am now fluently bilingual.

    Kids may pick up second languages easier in theory, but not if they’re not exposed to them outside of the classroom and practising them regularly. And not at the expense of their education NOW.

    I feel bad for you that you don’t feel you have a choice about immersion at this point. There should be nothing shameful about a unilingual education if it instills a love of learning in our kids.

    1. I find it’s tougher here in Ottawa where everyone really does think that French is essential. When you look around at summer jobs for kids, it does make it seem that way. We will just have to see what the future holds!

      1. Jacqueline

        I agree with Jen – thank you for that positive post. I just pulled my son from EFI mid grade 1 because of the troubles and struggles. He is a very smart boy who loves to laugh, joke, play sports and learn. EFI was not for him. Children need to feel milestones of success when learning – if they don’t they will hate it, have poor confidence and not push to excel. I have heard all the “stigma stories” associated with french vs english…..that is really sad. French is 1 language. I came to the realization that if my child wants to learn a second language they should learn spanish, hindu or mandarin. These are widly spoken around the work – not french. I would hope my child has wings and will to see the world and experience different cultures. If he comes back to Ottawa to raise a family – wow I will be a lucky gramma but until then lets be proud to be english, learn, embrace and have fun!

  3. karen

    I hate FI. When we lived in Nepean my daughters school started FI in grade 4. She loved it. But then we moved to a much smaller community where she started grade 5. If she were to take FI she would have had to be bused for an hour to a school in which the other kids started in FI in Sk. I choose to keep her at the English school.

    I could have started my son in the FI school. I choose not to because he did not like school and thought of learning as work. He is 10 now and still hates having to pick up a pencil. I think I made the right decision for him.

    I wonder about my daughter though.

    The one thing I do know is that I hate how everyone thinks their kids are so much brighter because they are in the FI program. It feels like being in highschool all over again when I have to listen to these parents talk. Maybe some of them are but most are just average kids who happen to be in FI. I think everyone she just get over themselves.

    1. Since almost everyone in our school is in FI, we have been spared the “our kid is so smart” kind of talk in general, although the pressure was there to choose it in the first place for those reasons. Your story about your son is interesting, though. Although I’m sure you made the right choice for him, it does make me wonder if my kids would hate school just as much in English. Hm. Parenting is sooooo haaaard :).

      1. karen

        Your comment sure has me thinking. I do think that my son is wired to dislike school work of any kind. But I am certain he would hate FI because it would be that much more work. Having said that at grade 5 in his current school they offer Intensive French which focuses more on the spoken word. He loves it.

        And I have to agree with Nicole on the split classes. If you had asked me 4 years ago I would have agreed with you. My son is in a straight grade 5 class this year. Grades 1-4 were all splits. At firsts I was upset knowing this was the only option. I now believe it really helped my son. When he was the oldest it helped him feel ‘smarter” and when he was younger grade it made him want to keep up with the older kid. He also has a tendancy to to not want to talk to anyone who isn’t the same age as him. He thinks anyone older than him is scary. Split classes sort of forced him to interact with kids he wouldn’t have.

        My daughter did one split in Nepean and while it wasn’t ideal it wasn’t all bad.

        I am glad to hear that there are still schools in Ottawa that go to grade 8.

  4. I struggle with this every single day. Sonja in SK would have loved to enter french now, but my grade 2 boy isn’t into it. I feel that we don’t know what our options are until crunch time, and it’s only with my own research and asking people that I find out about other options. If I go to the tpsb website I find the amount of information too cumbersome to go through in order to find the snippet of info I’m looking for and google is overwhelming. What to do?

    I agree that there is a ‘smart kids’ vs ‘not smart kids’ with this whole french thing. Don’t get me wrong, I come from a multi lingual family but due to my own laziness (not really but I don’t know what else to call it) my kids are growing up uni lingual. But practicality kept us here at this school….cold shoulder and attitude at the FI school to which he would have had to be bused (or driven) to played a factor. Practicality to keep both siblings in the same school at the same time has won over the ‘french is good’ argument. Now I find out about enrichment programs, gifted programs, and a variety of other programs that may suit my kids better than a simple FI in a normal public school….

    School is on my mind too! It’s such a journey. And the longer my kids stay in school the longer I wonder whether school is doing the opposite of what they’re supposed to – teach the kids. If a kid hates school or learning, they have failed.


    1. I guess one good thing (??) is that all the schools in Ottawa have FI, so it’s never an issue of busing or splitting kids between schools. it’s weird, I just realized now that I also felt pressure to put all the kids in FI just because the first one went that way. I never thought to assess each kid on their own merits – DOH. Now I’ll be pondering that one all day!

  5. Oh, Lynn. I have so much to say on this topic. Here in Calgary the CBE likes to “compete” with private schools so the options are endless: FI, Spanish Immersion, Tradional Learning, Science School, Girls’ School, Boys’ School. Our own school is 1/2 Montessori and 1/2 regular. There is somewhat of an optical bias against “regular” and guess what my kids are in? REGULAR.

    My kids are bright and smart and good at school, but it’s funny how the perception is that the regular stream – which, I might add, we were all brought up on – is for “lesser” students. Bah, whatever.

    I have to say though, our school has always had split classes and I’m a huge fan of that. I love the split grades. The younger grades learn from the older ones in terms of classroom behaviour and expectations, and the older grades learn to be leaders and mentors. So, if that is what is holding you back from switching, then it might not be that bad, you know?

    1. Wow, you have a half Montessori school? I have never heard of such a thing – does it make for an uncomfortable split, between the kids and the students?

      As for split classes, the Captain is in one this year, a 4/5 class, and I agree with you, it’s actually a good thing. He’s able to see some more advanced work and meet some new people, plus the best part, for me, is that the few grade 4 boys in his class (six of them) have bonded into a pretty tight bunch.

      The bad thing about the English split classes at our school – I didn’t bring this up in the original post – is that they are 95% male. So weird…but for the past few years at least, either none, or just one, girl has chosen the English stream. Makes it an even more unattractive choice if you’re the parent of a daughter, GAH.

      1. Oh yeah, that would be weird. I don’t know if I would want to put my (theoretical) daughter in a class with no other girls. Hell, I wouldn’t want to put my sons in a class with no girls.

        And yeah, the half and half thing is a bit strange. It’s pretty good now, they do a lot of integrated gym and field trip activities. But there is a definite line drawn. They know who is Montessori and who isn’t, you know?

  6. CapnPlanet

    What would _he_ choose? To me I think everything else pales in comparison with making sure that he has a positive view of school. Have you asked him?

    Of course this may not make it easier; it may be a hard decision for him, particularly if leaving EFI means leaving his friends behind. And of course kids are often poor judges of what will actually make them happy. But you should probably take his input into consideration if possible.

    1. Agreed, and actually, that’s why he’s still in EFI. It’s because he wants to stay with his friends, and he doesn’t really care about how he is doing in school. Lately we’ve been talking about the importance of learning, and the idea of needing a certain level of education for certain jobs, but it’s pretty hard to get your 10-year-old to take the long view.

      In any case, much as he fears and hates the work, he does like his buddies, so I’m trying to just live with it for now and trust in the system. But if I had to do it over again…not sure I’d make the same choice.

      1. Jacqueline

        My son requested to leave EFI – I said “okay but that means you will leave all your friends”….he said, I don’t care I don’t like french. So…I picked up the phone, called the principle and he is now in an english class. My little guy tends to be a little lazy so I think he thought he was getting an easier ride….hahaha not likely:)

  7. MrsCarlSagan

    Perhaps now that the Captain has discovered the joy of reading in English, it may help him with the french reading as well. For my kids, I think that being able to read well (and enjoy it) in English definitely contributed to improvement in reading and writing in french for them.

    1. I have heard that “the skills are transferable” so I’ve got my fingers crossed. I think I’m pretty committed to the French stream now until the end of grade 6, at least, and we’ll see how it goes. (Hopefully my hands can sustain all the wringing involved between now and then :)).

  8. Anon.

    Lynn, you have summed up everything I feel about EFI in Ottawa. I feel we were forced into it for all the same reasons you mentioned and I’m not sure its leading to a positive school experience for our child. I find it very hard to voice these concerns publicly, because of all the snark from people who think its great, that its my kid that has the problem; it feels good to know that another person has the courage to say in a very public forum what I’ve been saying privately for a long time. And I’m sure you’re going to get a big portion of ‘indignant freak-out’ comments just for saying what you did. Hooray for Lynn!

    1. There’s certainly kids in the program that are doing great, and loving it, which only makes me feel more and more like we didn’t make the right choice for our own kid. It’s just so impossible to know what is the best course of action when they’re just four or five years old. I suppose parents who are fluent French speakers would want their kid in French from day one, but those of us on the fence shouldn’t be faced with such a difficult choice – if you can even call it that, given the alternatives.

      A friend of mine goes to a school that is all French Immersion, while the one down the street is all English. Maybe that’s a better solution – it doesn’t create the splits and the problems. In any case, I think the board needs to look at and rethink this issue, so I hope they do so.

      1. Anon.

        Yes, I agree that the dominance of EFI means that there isn’t a choice for parents. You shouldn’t feel like you made the wrong choice for your child – you didn’t have one.

  9. I really sympathize with how difficult this must be for you and your family. Being French-Canadian, I am truly impressed with the huge efforts undertaken by many English Canadians to have their children learn French. Whenever someone makes an effort to speak to me in my mother tongue, I am always grateful. I don’t, however, begrudge someone who doesn’t speak French.

    The reality is that most of Canada speaks English. If a child has difficulty learning a language, to the point where they begin to dislike school, I certainly don’t see an issue in pulling him or her from FI. In fact, keeping them there may make them dislike French altogether, which is kind of counter-intuitive. As long as a child grows up with a basic understanding of the French language, and more importantly, the history of French Canada, that is enough to create a respect for the all things French in Canada (the reverse should also apply – although in Québec, English is almost demonized, sadly).

    1. I love French and the French language. But I knew Swiss German, German, and Italian before I ever uttered a word of either French or English. So…this is a lovely response to this particular blog post. Thank you, Luc.

  10. I have thought a lot about this. I assumed the kids would go to EFI. But then I started reflecting back on my own experience. I went to EFI. I didn’t read in English until grade 4 and struggled for years to read and write in French. I failed pretty much every spelling test. There were tears and fights almost every day. But even 30 years ago EFI was for “smart kids” so my parents didn’t pull me out. I may have been smart but I sure didn’t feel it.

    The school near us has EFI and English. We chose the Alternative school near our house, which is English, instead. I feel like it was the right choice for our kids. If they excel at languages they will pick up French as they get older. If they don’t, then they can work on mastering English.

    I often think about how we don’t stream for math or science at such an early age, but we do for language.

    1. We were just talking about that the other day – streaming kids for emphasis on science or math or art. I can’t imagine even thinking about doing that at the JK level. I wish I had looked into alternative schooling when the kids were young – now I feel committed to staying with the same community (both parents and kids) that we know and love. GAH.

  11. French Immersion has been great for my kids. Eve is bright in a way that plays well to school curriculum and I think she would be bored without the French angle. Angus is bright enough and on the lazy side and I think he would slack off even more without the French angle. I loved the hundred-percent immersion in SK and how it seemed totally normal to them to speak French at school all day. French immersion was great – FOR MY KIDS. I would never assume that it’s right for everyone or that kids in the English stream are less bright. As it happens, most of our closest friends, some at the same school, have kids with speech delays or language issues so they are in English, so maybe that helps. Our school also has a healthy English-stream contingent, and being in FI hasn’t prevented Angus from being in a split from grades three through six (which wasn’t a problem at all). I’m so sorry this is such a source of anxiety – Angus has had friends go from FI to English and they’ve stayed friends, but I can see why your son wouldn’t want to make the switch in your case. It’s so hard not to be constantly worried when your kids don’t thrive in school, and what are you supposed to do when it’s largely the fault of the school?

    1. How did you know that your kids were right for EFI – or did you just get lucky? One thing that was very hard for us was that we just really had no idea how to evaluate whether or not they were interested in language, or quick learners in general, when they were in JK. I wanted a list of criteria to look at – like say, “if your child enjoys learning new words and is an early reader, or finds school in general unchallenging, then think about FI!” but there was no such list. On the contrary, the board I find has oodles of propaganda (oooh…that’s a judgey word, sorry!) on their site promoting the program as good for everyone, and all we really had to rely on was the opinion of our JK teacher, who is lovely and I love her but she does recommend EFI for everyone unless there is some sort of speech delay, so there doesn’t seem to be much filtering there.

      Plus parents often get deeply offended if the JK teacher does NOT recommend EFI.

      Did you feel like your kids would love it? Or did you choose it for family reasons (i.e. you speak French and wanted them to learn too)? Or did you just think it would be fun, so you’d give it a try? Just curious!

  12. Your summary paragraph at the end there on what *should* be happening is just perfect, and it is sad that it isn’t reality.

    I can totally see your dilemma! What a tough decision!

    Some people are great with languages, and some are not. Sounds like the Captain is a “not” and that certainly does *not* make him dumb, just not a language dude. (I know I certainly can relate. I’ve given learning Mr. Chatty’s mother tongue. Give me numbers, baby!)

  13. WOW LYNN!! this is a post i have written in my head many times. I read this last night before bed. big mistake. lay awake thinking for a long time. I have VERY strong opinions on this topic, perhaps too strong to leave as a comment here, so i won’t. I know my opinions would rub someone the wrong way, and i never want to do that. We all make choices for our children with the best intentions. But, I will tell you my own experience.

    We chose the Catholic Board because we LOVE their French Immersion Program. 50/50 in Kindergarten, 70 minutes a day of French from grades 1-3 and then in Grade 4 if they choose the Immersion stream, they go back to 50/50. The goal of this program is to have the kids establish a good foundation in their own language before starting into more intesive French learning. Math is always taught in English, which is helpful for those kids already struggling in this area. I have 2 very gifted learners and they have been stimulated by this program, but more importantly, have never once not wanted to go to school. they love it.

    I have had so many arguments about full french immersion with so many of my friends over the years. I think learning should be joyful. I love French – the language & the culture. I love the French teachers at our school who have instilled a love for this wonderful language in our boys. But, if they were only learning in French , I feel that would have lost out in a lot of the joy found in learning in their own language as well.

    Like I said, I could say so much more on this topic. after reading this, I just wanted to phone you up and arrange a coffee date to discuss this further. It is an issue I care very much about.

    On another note, I am thrilled your son is discovering his love of reading through Harry Potter, and I hope JK Rowling knows what a difference her story has made in so many children’s lives…. by introducing them to the magic of reading.

    1. Huh, I had no idea the Catholic program was structured that way – it’s strange, I always assume the two boards are doing everything the same way, and never would have even thought to look into it. It definitely sounds to me like a much better balance. Is this style of French Immersion used for everyone? Or is there an English-only stream as well? Do you find they are chosen in equal balance, or do people tend towards the FI?

      1. yes it is Board wide. if you go to the web site there is a description of the FI program on there.

        there are 2 streams- extended and immersion- beginning in grade 4. the grade 3 teacher will recommend with stream your child would be best suited for. you don’t have to take this recommendation but most people do. I chose the immersion stream because it is only 50/50 French, not 100%. next year, in grade 7 it will be similar, slightly more Friench but still about 40% English.

        The “dual stream” model has it’s negatives as well. Any students having learning difficulties usually are in the Extended class as well as any ESL students or kids with behavioural issues. What class do you want your child in?

        Overall, we have been very happy with the schooling our boys have received in this system. they also have very good restriction on the amount of homework a student should be give, and homework is not an issue here. it is minimal. i often wish they had more, to be honest.. though they are not complaining.

        anyway, i feel this issue for me has kind of like saying you don’t want your kids to play hockey. people flip out when you tell that that full French immersion wasn’t your choice. i am glad you have opened up this dialogue!

        1. Judy

          We also went with the Catholic board and ou JK student loes one day English and then one day French.

          We had always presumed we would do French immersion, but our son has physical disabilities and there is no support for special needs in the all French immersion school in our area (which is the only school over 100 % capacity in the area, the English stream schools are all below 100%. a number of parents warned they were for the bad kids, which i am sure i gave snarky answers to).

          We considered alternative as well, but went with the Catholic board due to the principal’s commitment to integration for our son and the high exposure for French. Our son’s needs are fairly minor, most of the other parents don’t even know that he has a disability. He loves learning French and going to school. We hope it continues.

  14. I think you’ve summarized the dilemma that so many parents have with FI. If you don’t put your child in it, you are disadvantaging them because then they are not “advanced” and not “smart enough” to be in the immersion program. Like it’s a stigma to learn in your own language!! Our school does not offer early immersion, so the only choice we have is whether to enroll into FI at grade 4 or not. This is a somewhat easier choice, for the reasons you have mentioned. But the decision, I think, carries more of a social stigma at that age because all the kids know who has been asked to do FI and who has not. We decided to opt for the FI in grade 4 when my DD was invited to do so, but I still feel ambivalent about it. My French is very rusty and my husband doesn’t know any, so we are really limited in our ability to help her when she’s stuck in her homework or studying for tests. My DD complains about learning her subjects in French because she says they have to spend so much time just understanding the new words that she feels they are learning the actual subject at a really basic level. She would prefer to be taught in English and go deeper into the subject itself. Despite getting excellent grades, she can’t spell at all in either French or English … not sure if this is just her weakness or a result of FI or a combination of both. I feel very torn. Both my husband and I feel strongly that knowing French, especially in Ottawa, is a real advantage. But outside of Ottawa? I’m not really sure it matters so much.

    1. Exactly – I have the same conflicted feelings now that we’re up to the Grade 4 level. On one hand, learning French is so valuable in this city, and knowing a second language in general can’t be a bad thing. But as you say, they spend so much time learning vocab on every unit that they just can’t dig as deep into the subjects at hand, which is disappointing. When he’s studying a specific subject at school, I try to talk more about it at home (in English) to get him excited about learning. But it makes me sad that school itself isn’t enough to spark his interest in any given subject.

  15. This is a tough issue. What’s more, it’s personal and different for every family involved, isn’t it? I took late immersion as a kid (started in grade seven) and took it until grade 10. I deeply regret dropping it because I was good at languages (it would have been my third) and I think, living in Ottawa, having French in your pocket does give you certain advantages in terms of employment. DD13 chose to leave her school and bus to a different one for MFI. We were totally surprised and pleased. I’ve been very happy with the program so far, and I think the timing of MFI is right on the money. I think MFI gives parents the opportunity to assess their kids learning abilities and issues, and it gives the kids a decent start in their mother tongue. At first I worried about whether or not I’d be able to help her with her homework, but I got over it quickly enough. (Heck, my own parents never helped me with my homework either.) DD12 decided not to take MFI when the time came. I wish she had made the jump, but I also don’t think parents should force their kids into it so I left it. Maybe later I’ll send her to France on an exchange and see how she fares. 🙂

    I hear what you’re saying about the stigma of the English program at some schools. I wish the board would work harder to do something about that. It really isn’t fair.

    1. We were also nervous about the homework thing, but it has turned out okay. I have enough French (high school) to help them through the primary grades. Now that the Captain is in grade 4, the French is way beyond me, but we’ve taught him how to use Google Translate and usually together, with a dictionary, we can muddle through. In general I like them to do their own homework, so this kind of imposes a boundary on how much I’m able to help, which is fine by me.

      We have a few friends who went through FI here in Ottawa who talk very highly of the program and say that now that they have (at least) conversational French, it has made a huge difference to their ability to find work and to enjoy travel. So we’re (fingers crossed) clinging to that, and hope, like you, they come to see it as a positive thing.

      I love the story of your girls making their own decision, and choosing what was right for them, at the grade 4 level. All the more reason to introduce FI at this level, instead of in kindergarten when we’re making all the choices for them.

  16. I’m going to comment on my own post here to add that I’ve been thinking about how someone *would* make the EFI decision in JK – i.e. what criteria would you use?

    As someone who has made this call, here is what I would recommend: EFI is well suited to families where the parents speak at least high school French, to help with homework through the early grades, and it’s really best for parents where at least one parent can talk to the kids in French at least part of the time to cement the learning. As well, it helps if your child is a precocious reader and seems to love the French JK component.

    Any other ideas? For those of you whose children really do enjoy FI, what do you think the success factors were?

  17. Cath in Ottawa

    A great post and such thoughtful comments!

    My DD6 is in a Montessori school at the moment, not because we were looking for a private school experience (we were not!) but because it’s what we realized she needs right now given her learning style and personality.

    But we angsted hugely about the impact of her not doing EFI, and whether it will disadvantage her later on (especially given the rise of Anglophones enrollng their kids directly into the French system, which seems to have become the next “smarter-brighter-best” thing).

    We have thought about putting her into EFI next year (assuming she passes the board test) but also like the idea of the Catholic system and grade 4 FI program.

    I totally agree with your recommendation around the ‘conditions for success’ in EFI, especially the one about it working well for children who are already readers or close to it. I also think it suits children who are fairly extroverted, since so much of the language acquisition at that stage is through speaking it in class.

    For what it’s worth, my own experience is that FI gave me a great grounding and an ‘ear’ for French, but I don’t think I got even close to bilingualism until I got a job in an office where I just had to speak it all the time. So Andrea’s idea of an exchange program or extensive travel sounds great to me!

    Good luck with it – I know it’s tough.

  18. I wish I knew more about education abroad. In so many countries, it’s more or less “expected” that you know two or more languages. It seems like it’s a part of the culture that has no real concerns around it because it’s simply what’s done. It seems like only English-speaking parts of the world (I’m thinking mainly of English-speaking parts of Canada, the U.S., England, and Australia) end up with unilingual people, while everywhere else it would actually be surprising for you to know only one language by the end of high school.

    In other words, I would be curious to know how much of a “decision” it is for parents in countries like Holland, or if their kids just “go to school”. Do they stress the same way we do? Do their kids even have an awareness that there’s the option to only learn one language?

    I became trilingual very late in life (learned Spanish abroad, which somehow awoke my linguistic sensibilities and I THEN learned a passable amount of French) so I don’t necessarily buy that you “have” to do it early. But with our eldest entering school this coming September, we’ve had to make the choice, and we’ve been trained to think that we’re doing him a disservice if we don’t put him into EFI or even a “regular French school”.

    He’s been doing relatively well with French lately and we’re trying to make it fun… but I think he’s a lot like your guy and I worry that he will face some of the same obstacles. 😦

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