Yes, Our French-Immersion System Is Overburdened, But It's Far From Broken

A Globe and Mail article questioned the quality of FI teachers, but Leslie Kennedy believes learning French is still vitally important for our kids

My husband is a graduate of French Immersion (FI). His bilingualism has waned over the years. He wouldn’t call himself bilingual now. My close friend, however, is also a graduate of FI. She is in line for a job right now primarily because she has retained her bilingualism, which is on the wish list for this rather niche position. Another friend got her job, with total certainty, because she had French as a second language and the candidate with whom she was in competition did not.

In Canada, knowing French can and does give you an edge.

It’s why we put my daughter in French Immersion. With the blessing of her kindergarten teacher, with whom we consulted before we made the call to enrol her (we wanted to make sure they considered her a good candidate), we decided that it was worth trying my daughter in the program to see if she enjoyed it and succeeded. If she struggled we would pull her. We want her to enjoy school.

Thankfully at our school board, admission to the program is automatic if you want it. No lottery, no wait list. Just a check of the box. And, also thankfully, today, halfway through her second year, she loves it and is doing wonderfully in both French and English.

French Immersion is becoming increasingly popular. I have written before about the fact that the system is getting overburdened. I’ve spoken about how school boards like mine, where there is such a high percentage of kids in FI, are depleting the system of all of the quality French teachers available. It is a real problem and one which my board is trying to manage by revisiting year of entry and percentage of FI in the school day.

The Globe and Mail recently published a story discussing the issues facing FI in this province and the comments on the story were eye opening. Many people question the validity of the program and its relevance in today’s ever-growing multi-cultural society.  

Let’s side aside the fact that French is our official second language, so there is value there. There is plenty of other value in French Immersion. Government jobs require bilingualism and they are among the best jobs out there (if you enjoy job security and severance, that is).

Lots of jobs ask for French. Any that have it on the "nice-to-have" list will give precedence to the bilingual candidate over the equally qualified candidate who doesn’t. That’s just the plain truth. Undeniably, knowing French and being able to put it on a resume is a leg up you give your child when you decide to put them in French Immersion.

That’s not to say it’s for every child. It’s not. Lots of families choose not to put their children in French Immersion for a plethora reasons that are nobody’s business, including mine. But that doesn’t mean it’s a waste of a program, a useless thing to offer let alone partake in.

Who knows if, by the time my children join the workforce, having Mandarin or Urdu as a second language on a resume may be just as valuable, if not more so, than French. I can’t predict the future. But there aren’t such immersion programs which exist in the public school system. So say what you want about the value of French Immersion and its usefulness in today’s society, I stand firm that will never, ever be a bad thing to have as a bonus on a resume.

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