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Saturday
Jul052008

We need bilingual schools

Here in Canada, we often hear that English Canadians do not make enough effort to learn French and French Canadians do not make enough effort to learn English. But I think there is more to it than their willingness or effort to learn the other language. I think that the problem begins with our segregated school systems.

I live close to the border between two provinces. Both of these provinces have English school boards and French school boards. Children from English speaking families generally go to the English school board and children from French speaking families generally go to the French school board. There are language immersion programs to help children learn the other language (e.g. French immersion offered in the English school board), but that is far from a perfect environment to learn a language. The children spend the entire day with other children that speak the same language as they do. So even if they are immersed in the other language in the classroom, they do not have any peers to talk to that speak the other language fluently. So their interactions with their peers and their parents continue to be in their mother tongue and interaction in the second language is only in a formal classroom setting.

I went through a French immersion program and had glowing marks all the way through. However, I never had a single friend that I spoke French to. I still do speak French today, but certainly not perfectly and the only reason that I can still speak French is that I continue to make an effort to keep it up. There are others that went to school with me that would struggle to put a full sentence together in French today.

Instead of segregating our kids and then trying to teach them the other language, I think we need to create a bilingual school system. One where French-speaking and English-speaking children sit in the same classroom and hang out together at recess and lunchtime. Half of the instruction could be in English and half of it in French. Children would see the other language being used by people other than their teacher every day. They would see the value of learning the other language. And they would have the opportunity to practice speaking the other language with people whose mother tongue it is. I think this is the only way to ensure a truly bilingual population.
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Reader Comments (6)

I don't see people going for that. To influence the public at large you need to hammer home the benefits and I fear that with your proposal, there would be many claims of, "waste of money", "don't have the resources", or simply, "we don't want it". Segregation is a real problem. But I think that if the major http://www.adviceforyou.org.uk/blog/studying-foreign-languages/10-good-reasons-to-learn-a-foreign-language/" rel="nofollow">benefits of learning a second language - such as improving employability, developing life skills and better understanding of your own culture for example - and efforts made to educate the general public, then there may be better chance.

July 6, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteruk student

A great site for ESL students is AIDtoCHILDREN.com.

AIDtoCHILDREN.com is a dual-purpose site for building an English
vocabulary and raising money for under privileged children in the most
impoverished places around the world.

Check it out at http://www.aidtochildren.com

July 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMike Thorn

UK student - I agree that there are perhaps ignorant people that would say "we don't want it", but I don't see how it would be a waste of money or why there wouldn't be enough resources. In fact, I think it would be less expensive in the long run.

Currently, each community here runs separate English and French schools. In some cases, communities have had to close their schools and ship children to a neighbouring community because there aren't enough children to fill a school. If we merged the English and French school systems, then those issues would go away and children would be able to go to a school in their own neighbourhood and learn to interact in both languages with the people that live on their street.

July 8, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Let me guess... you live in Ottawa don't you? I agree with you 100%! Why? Because I have my own business in FSL Program design and training and my client is The Public Service of Canada... Rings a bell?

If both "official" languages were learned in school (not 45 minutes per week or even per day dedicated to learn either French or English), it would certainly solve the problem of the future generations seeking jobs in the government. Immersion programs do work to certain extent... but they their flaws: as you mentioned, kids have no one to practice with (they speak their mother tongue at recess, right?).

@UK Student: Canada is (like it or not) officially a bilingual country and people would be more than pleased to see their children get the second language skills at an early age... I see too many adults struggling to learn and regretting not having been able to learn earlier...

Et... PhDinParenting... ne déprime pas, continue de pratiquer ton français lorsque l'occasion se présente. If you're indeed in Ottawa, go to my website (by clicking on my name, you should be brought there) and click on the Resources page... it will give you some tips and ideas (movies, DVDs, cultural events, books, software, theater, etc.)... and I update everything at least once a week...

July 11, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterlynedesroberts

I want to start by saying I agree with you. I think that all children should have the opportunity to access bilingual education regardless of the language situation at home. But again it is much easier as a philosophy than it is in practice.

I have my son in french immersion. He is not an A student. He has struggled over the years and improved steadily. But I firmly believe that if I was not fluently french (full french education all my life) I would not have been able to keep him in immersion. At the moment EFI is the domain of "smart" kids and tenacious parents. If your child is struggling there is little to no help for them. Especially since there may be no help at home. And I think parents can often be the biggest help their children get. There are supposedly changes afoot. The OCDSB is putting in place similar help that is offered in the English stream.

And then like you say, there are the preconceptions. Parents who feel that if their children are learning in more than one language that their learning will suffer. I know this is not true (for most children) but many parents (and some teachers) feel this way.

BTW Canada may be an officially Bilingual country but schooling is the domain of the provinces. The only bilingual province is New Brunswick and I have to admit that the few people I have met from NB are bilingual. I wonder what they do?

July 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChantal

Totally agree with you!!! I live in Quebec now and since I'm french my kids have to go to school in french. I went to school partly in bilingual system in Belgium and am fluent in both and also have an easy time learning other languages. I think it would open the minds of a lot of kids and would enrich us as a Nation!!! Go explain that to Harper though.... ugh!

February 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSeverine

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