On Saturday, The Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente posted an article entitled “There’s just one problem with French immersion … well, several, actually”.

Ms. Wente in your column you describe, a number of problems with the French immersion program and how it is “too good to be true”. By doing this you are simply perpetuating myths and selectively choosing and sharing outdated facts.

Articles like this one, that appear to surface annually just to stoke the fires and incite language debates, continue to perpetuate a number of myths around the French immersion program. We, at Canadian Parents for French, felt that it would be important to dispel a few of these myths and shed light on what the research shows us regarding French immersion in Canada – because it is 2016.

Canadian Parents for French works with school board administrative and political decision makers to address and fix the problems, and educate critics.  Ms. Wente, in the last ten years much has changed to alleviate the concerns that you have brought forward.  Time to fact check.

Your article chose to share that the percentage of Canadians who can speak both official languages has dropped. Perhaps seeing the actual numbers may enlighten you: in 1961, 2.2 million Canadians self identified as being able to speak French and English; by 2011, that number had ballooned to 5.8 million – a 160% increase. This despite the large number of immigrants coming into Canada in the last twenty years who do not speak either French or English.

Your notion of French immersion being an elitist program may have been true historically, but Canada has evolved and so has the program. The reality is quite the opposite, Professor Fred Genesee stated that “students from low SES [socio-economic] backgrounds in immersion perform just as well in English-language development and academic achievement as do students from the same SES backgrounds in English-language programs.”  In addition, data from the Toronto District School Board shows growth in French immersion enrollment in the city’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods just as it is elsewhere in the city.

The argument that French immersion filters out a variety of students was primarily due to old school board administrative policies that discouraged – or in some cases even denied – students with learning disabilities from entering French immersion programs. As research has been reviewed, provincial ministry of education policy and resource documents are continuing to be updated to address equity and inclusive education strategies, stating that FSL is for all students. The column notes how children who struggle with English will also struggle in French, and thus French immersion programs should be shut down.  However, by that logic it should be both the French immersion and English programs which should be shut down not just one of the two programs.

Immigrant kids (as you call them) are enrolling, in droves, into French immersion programs across Canada. Ironically, studies show immigrant students who learn French as a third language adapt very easily to French immersion. The Canadian Parents for French Concours d’art oratoire winners’ names and heritages are as diverse as our Canadian population. Not a single student shares regret at becoming bilingual or multilingual, and most will offer stories of the benefits second official language acquisition has had in opening doors for them both personally and professionally.

In 2016,  Canadian parents want the very best learning opportunities for their children. And what is wrong with that?

  • Bilinguals earn more than the unilingual Canadian when they live outside Quebec. Canadians who speak both languages earn on average more and have a lower unemployment rate than unilinguals. Men who speak both official languages earn an average of 3.8% more, and bilingual women earn an average of 6.6% more than those who speak only English. (Workopolis, 2015)
  • Bilingual job candidates face much lower competition for jobs. This is especially pronounced in Ontario, providing a strong competitive advantage in markets such as Toronto or Guelph where fewer bilingual candidates are available.

As stated by Mario Lefebvre, director of the Centre for Municipal Studies at the Conference Board of Canada, “In communities with a limited number of French speakers, you are a scarce resource. If you are a limited resource, you will be welcome wherever you go.” (Workopolis, 2015)

There are some definite problems with the lack of access to French immersion in Canada , both in terms of program availability and administrative barriers to entry. However, at Canadian Parents for French, we believe every student in Canada should have the opportunity to learn and use French. It is for this reason we remain committed to improving the system  as well as educating those who perpetuate myths and outdated information.

French immersion has proven its worth with its widespread support over fifty years. Let us celebrate the benefits and address outdated enrollment policies and processes to help provide students with the best tools possible to learn French, and live up to the ideal of being fully French-English bilingual Canadian citizens.

Jane Keith

President, Canadian Parents for French, National