Bilingualism & French immersion
Bilingualism in Canada is a complex phenomenon, directly impacting French immersion students. The intent of this website is to identify the pertinent issues and challenges surrounding bilingual education as it pertains to the French immersion program. This site includes strategies, ideas and pedagogical supports designed to support French immersion teachers as they endeavour to educate students in the French language. It also offers a variety of information pertaining to second language teaching and learning.
Identity, engagement, and motivation are important factors to consider for second language learners. Positive relationships are also integral to learning (Cummins, 2000) and contribute to the development of our identities as bilinguals. Language is highly related to identity (Swain, 2012) hence the role this website can play in the facilitation of a bilingual identity in your students.
Opportunities to practice L2 skills in authentic environments have a direct impact one’s bilingual identity. There is a direct correlation to one’s self-confidence (MacIntyre, Burns & Jessome, 2011). A barrier to one’s bilingual identity is the fact that oral expression skills are not native-like, particularly with late immersion students (Hamers & Blanc, 2000). If you do not sound proficient, it can undermine your confidence and sense of proficiency.
Bilingualism needs to consider the following variables: cultural, social, political, community, teacher expectations and home factors (Baker, 2011). These variables will be explored further throughout this site.
Before we delve into the current issues and challenges facing our teachers and students we felt it necessary to present some background information regarding the French immersion program.
A Little History...
The French immersion pedagogy present in today’s classrooms has remained practically unchanged since the program was founded in St. Lambert, Quebec in 1965. The original program was conceived by a small group of Anglophone parents who wanted their children to learn French in order to take advantage of the economic opportunities accessible to bilingual individuals in Canada. These parents were concerned that their children would be unable to share in the culture of their home city if they did not speak French and believed that learning a second language would not be detrimental to their children’s English competencies. This experimental program grew into the optional educational program currently offered in many schools throughout Canada. Children enrolled in this program are typically non-French speakers who learn the French language in a content-based learning environment. Teachers of this program generally present themselves as monolinguals, at least in the early grades, where the expectation is that all instruction is carried out in the target language. Johnson and Swain (as cited in Cummins, 1998, 2014) present eight core features of the French immersion program:
1. The L2 is a medium of instruction
2. The immersion curriculum parallels the local L1 curriculum
3. Overt support exists for the L1
4. The program aims for additive bilingualism
5. Exposure to the L2 is largely confined to the classroom
6. Students enter with similar (and limited) levels of L2 proficiency
7. The teachers are bilingual
8. The classroom culture is that of the local L1 community
While these features remain relevant today, one main difference as described by Cummins (2014) is that children whose L1 is not English make up a significant portion of students enrolled in French immersion programs as opposed to the relatively homogenous Anglophone student population of the past..
There have been many studies conducted since the creation of the first immersion program over 45 years ago on the benefits and the limitations of French immersion in Canada. Cummins (2014) states, “while French immersion by itself does not result in the language proficiency or literacy skills attained by native-speaker, it does provide a foundation for students to later immerse themselves in a genuine French context, if they so desire, and develop their L2 skills to a level that is closer to native speaker norms” (p.7). The 2010 Handbook for French Immersion Administrators published by Alberta Education describes the research findings as follows (p.7-8):
1. Students will achieve a high level of functional fluency by the end of Grade twelve.
2. After an initial lag of one to two years after English language arts is introduced, early French immersion students perform as well in English as their English-program counterparts.
3. There is either no effect or an enhanced effect on students’ English language skills.
4. Immersion students do as well as English-program students in subject areas.
5. Positive association between second language learning and cognitive academic development.
6. There is no loss of cultural identity.
7. Students develop a positive attitude and understanding for other cultures.
8. The more time learners spend in French immersion, the more competent they become.
Fo further information please visit the Alberta Education website: