As an individual who works with a literacy program, I would guesstimate that half of my clients are English-only parents who have enrolled their children in French immersion and are panicking about how to give their child the support they need.
I’m often a part of the “do we pull our child out of French” conversation. Frankly, I’ve even worked with entirely French-speaking folks who are concerned about their child’s success in immersion.
Although there is no one-size-fits-all answer for whether or not French immersion is right for your child, there is some good news! Even if you yourself don’t speak French, this does not mean that your child won’t be successful in immersion! Children have a natural capacity to acquire new languages, and there are multiple things that you can do as a parent to support and encourage your child as they learn French. You may even get a little bilingual yourself before the summer hits! Here are some great ways that you can help your child on their journey to bilingualism.
Be as enthusiastic and positive as possible about your child learning French. This may seem obvious, but your encouragement will be immensely helpful for your child. If you approach French immersion with trepidation and stress, your child will pick up on this. Show interest in what they’re doing in school and reinforce that it’s amazing that they’re learning a whole new language.
Work on your child’s first language as much as possible. Parents often feel that focusing on English will further confuse their child’s work in French, but research shows that the opposite is true. Having strong foundations in English is key to grasping additional languages. This means that any work that you do in English will pay off in French. The sooner a child can feel confident in their native tongue, the sooner their brain can make space for a second language. To reiterate, working on English will not confuse your child, but will actually help them! Give them a solid English toolkit to work with. Read together, write together, and encourage any English educational activities.
Take the time to contrast English and French words. Make your household a place for language acquisition. Put “le” and “la” sticky notes on objects to learn feminine and masculine. Compare commonly used English and French words (banana versus banane), positioning your child as the expert. If you have no experience in French, learn along with your child and try and pick up a few functional words to use around the house.
Make reading enjoyable! If you can’t read in French, simply do English reading at home. Remember that your child spends hours in the classroom focusing on reading and writing, so when they read at home it isn’t the time to overcorrect them. Instead of focusing on decoding unfamiliar words, focus on getting through the story so comprehension isn’t interrupted. Once a child understands that reading is the tool needed to unlock a world of fantastic plotlines and tales, reading becomes less of a chore and more of an enjoyable pass time. Be sure to choose books that are at your child’s level, and consider reading more challenging books aloud so that interesting stories are still accessible to your child.
Get comfortable with French pronunciation lists. This may be a tad painful initially, but it will serve you well in the long run. Even if you don’t understand the words, getting a few basic phonetic rules under your belt will help you immensely, especially when your child has a dictée (dictation) for homework. There are all kinds of useful charts to be found online, and entire websites that do online text-to-speech translations from French to English. Gather some resources and your ability to help will soar!
Remember that your child’s teacher is a resource. They will know the ins and outs of how your child is doing, and can offer you a wealth of ideas to keep things on track.
Prepare for some challenges, and relax when you hit a roadblock. There will likely be times when the second language is a little tricky for your child, but as long as they have a strong support network around them, they will get through the bumps and speak fluently before you know it! Of course, there is always the chance that French immersion isn’t what your child needs. But if you can give your child the gift of a second language, it will be a worthwhile venture!
I’m wishing you a smooth year as your child navigates French immersion, and hope that these tips are of use to you and your family. Merci!
Written by Shila LeBlanc from Halifax Learning. With various locations in the city, Halifax Learning Centre offers many different programs to suit everybody’s needs – it’s more than just tutoring! For more information on programs like SpellRead, Momentum Math, French and more visit their website