Welcome to French Immersion Kindergarten!
Will your little scholar be entering French immersion Kindergarten this September? If so, from one French Immersion parent to another, I welcome you to the exciting world of French Immersion! It is exciting because your child will experience some unique benefits from learning in French. It's also exciting because we have a role as parents in supporting our child’s learning that takes on a new level of importance as French Immersion parents.
Advantages of French Immersion
Let’s start with some of the advantages that your child will experience as a French Immersion student.
Learning a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) language is good for your child’s brain: “French Immersion students demonstrate superior creativity and problem-solving ability, indicates research, as well as enhanced mathematical computation skills and brain development. That’s because French Immersion students are encouraged to think and communicate in French… [which] requires applying multiple strategies like critical thinking, analysis, and computation, for students to comprehend the language and express themselves.” Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board.
Starting off in Kindergarten, our French Immersion students are challenged at a new level to communicate and express themselves both socially and academically with a language that may be new to them. What an incredible opportunity to learn, grow, and adapt to the challenge of learning a new language.
Once children are fluent in French (speaking, reading, and writing) learning another new language becomes easier, and this is another huge advantage of learning French from a young age: “French is a good base for learning other languages, especially Romance languages (Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian) as well as English since a significant percentage of English vocabulary is derived from French.” TESSA International School
Speaking multiple languages makes travel more accessible and enjoyable, and provides opportunities to meet new friends and immerse ones’ self in different cultures. By giving our children the opportunity to learn French, we are opening the doors to other languages as well.
The opportunity to challenge the brain in new and different ways, and to speak multiple languages is wonderful and a huge benefit of learning French. If I am to be perfectly honest with you, these are not the number one reasons I chose French Immersion for my child. I chose French Immersion because I know that speaking French will open job opportunities to her in the future, that were not open to me as a unilingual English speaker:
“Thousands of businesses in Canada operate in more than one language and the numbers are growing. In today’s global economy, those who are bilingual can choose from a wider range of national and international jobs that require employees with second language skills. The Government of Canada alone has about 67,000 bilingual jobs.” Canadian Parents for French Nova Scotia
There are huge advantages to learning French and I feel very grateful that we can give our kids this opportunity. The opportunity does come with some additional responsibility, especially for parents who do not speak French. As your child enters the homework grades, you’ll become very familiar with Google Translate as you navigate homework instructions line by line. I feel that the opportunity is well worth the extra effort.
Our Responsibility as French Immersion Parents
There is one other responsibility that French Immersion parents have and it is a really important one. You need to teach your child to read in English. This is our responsibility because, at school, our kids will be learning to read and write in French. Most kids need to be explicitly taught to read in any language. We can’t expect them to just pick it up the way they do oral language: “Human brains are naturally wired to speak; they are not naturally wired to read and write.” Speaking Is Natural; Reading And Writing Are Not by Louisa Moats and Carol Tolman
In Teacher’s College, I was taught how to run a literacy program based on the Balanced Literacy approach. The general idea was that if we just provide a lot of books to kids in our classroom, read stories to them a lot, and surround them with literacy, they will somehow soak it all in and learn how to read. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. When I read to my daughter every day, bought her tons of books, and took her to the library, she still wasn’t reading in English, I started to realize that what I had learned in Teacher’s College was seriously flawed. She could read well in French so it wasn’t a reading problem. What could it be? The answer is very simple: no one had taught her to read in English. “Reading to a child is not the same as teaching them to read.” Hard Words: What Aren’t Our Kids Being Taught To Read by Emily Hanford
How will you teach your child to read in English?
There are many different approaches and you need to do what’s best for your child and your family. You have to find the way that works best for you and your child. Here are a few tips to help you on this path.
However you go about it, make sure your approach is based on the science of reading. There is an entire body of research around how we humans learn to read and if we follow best practices based on this research, our teaching will be effective. Don’t make the same mistake I did of relying completely on read-alouds and trips to the library. Those are an important part of the process but they are certainly not the whole process.
If you outsource the reading instruction to a tutor, make sure the tutor is aligned with your child’s learning style. The tutor should not only teach your child to read, but they should also help your child feel good about reading. Know your child’s learning style and find the tutor who is the best fit.
If you are planning to teach your child how to read in English yourself, make sure you schedule and prioritize lessons. Have you ever sat down to work with your child only to get up two seconds later and start doing dishes, answering the phone, checking your email, or answering your partner or other children? I know I can’t be the only one who has the attention span of a flea when I’m at home!
If you set aside a certain time of the day, like before bed or after dinner, and you commit to sitting down with your child for ten or fifteen minutes to teach them to read, you can make it happen. It takes a firm commitment.
Enjoy the Kindergarten years! They go by so fast. I hope this blog helps you to get on the path of teaching your child to read in English early so that they can become fluent readers in both French and English. While French Immersion is a wonderful opportunity, the French Immersion dropout rate is 40-50% by high school according to a quick Google search of “French Immersion Drop Out Rate Ontario”. In my experience as a reading tutor, students who leave French Immersion in the primary grades do so largely because their English reading skills have fallen behind. As a brand new French Immersion Kindergarten parent, you are in the perfect position not to let that happen! Start now, in Kindergarten, to teach your child to read in English and just enjoy all the benefits your child is getting from learning French and being literate in both languages.
If you would like some more information on how to teach your child to read in English, get my free eBook right here with my top 10 tips for teaching reading.