In the summer, I took my kids to a French bakery for their favourite croissant and pain au chocolate. My son ordered in French, and the girl at cash was charmed. This is his fifth year in French Immersion at a Toronto public school, and his language skills are increasingly strong. I am pleased about that, but I also have other concerns.
I was a French Immersion student years ago in New Brunswick. Our program of study, however, started in Grade 7. As a result, we already had a good foundation in the English language. Our English writing, spelling and grammar had been established and the French education did not disrupt that base. The challenges for us, however, were learning all our high school subjects in French. To this day, I only know some Chemistry and Biology terms in French. When I went into a science program at university, where everything was being taught in English, this proved to be challenging,.
In our neighbourhood in East Toronto, the French Immersion program begins in senior kindergarten. In some ways, I see the advantages to starting at this time. At these young ages, the kids are like sponges, and appear to absorb new concepts with ease. Learning a new language when you’re a child is much easier than the alternative.
But, lately I have been having some serious concerns. For his “English” class, my son had to write a four to five page essay featuring his autobiography. I left him to do it on his own, and asked to look at it when he was finished. I was shocked and dismayed! Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors glared profusely at me from every angle of his essay. With his French training, he frequently placed the adjectives after the noun (e.g. milk chocolate, a tournament of hockey fun – you get the picture).
I expressed my concern to other parents and his teacher. The general response and reassurance was that he will “catch up”. I hope so: his future educational and career goals will be contingent on his ability to express himself well.
I decided to start some rituals at home to strengthen my son’s English skills. He’s now only reading English books at home, and my two older kids have started to keep journals. Every day after school I ask them to write two pages about anything. I don’t correct it or comment on it. It’s just there. My mom did the same with me, and the daily writing taught me to express myself more clearly through language.
I’m hoping this helps. If not, we will re-examine the situation again in a few months. Has anyone had similar experiences with French Immersion? If so, what did you do to support your kids’ English language skills?