My daughter is currently in French Immersion and my son is scheduled to start in September, so I thought I'd share some of what I've learned.
1) There are many benefits to French Immersion: children learn a second language; they develop a great ability to learn other languages as well; they have better career options for their futures; research has show they develop better problem solving skills and creativity; they become more flexible thinkers with superior listening skills, to name a few.
2) It is designed for kids who don't speak French at home, although frankly, knowing a bit of French does help. Even if you don't know any, if you are willing to learn the language along with your child, it'll make things much easier.
3) When the children first start Kindergarten, the French is introduced gradually. By the time they are in Grade 1, no English is spoken in the classroom (unless there is a comprehension issue - then English will be used briefly to clarify).
4) No English reading or grammar is taught until Grade 3, so it is recommended that your child be read to in English at home. When English is introduced, there is a "catch up" period, but by the time elementary school is finished, FE kids have the same, if not better, English skills as the English kids.
5) It's not for every child. It is the school's objective to provide your child with an education, so if he/she is not happy in French, you may be advised to switch back to English. This is in no way a negative reflection on the intelligence of any child - some kids just have other talents. Take a friend of mine, for example - her daughter is a gifted athlete, competing provincially at the age of six. She struggled in French Kindergarten, but once she switched to English for grade 1, she flourished academically.
6) Many kids will excel at both languages simultaneously. My 6 year old daughter, for example, is comfortable in the phonetics of both languages. She can tell you the pronunciation of individual letters and letter combinations for French and English. She can also look at the spelling of a word and tell you how it would sound in English as well as how it would sound in French.
7) It's FUN, and a self esteem boost. My daughter is constantly singing songs in French that she's learned in school, as well as voluntarily choosing the French versions of websites or DVDs. She also likes to correct my pronunciation (hers is already better - I have some core French learned back in high school, but because she's learning French with younger ears, her phonics are better than mine).
8) When determining if a child is a good candidate for French Immersion, two factors are considered. Are they comfortable with English (i.e. "how the first language goes, so goes the second"), and are they socially confident (if they can't understand something that is said, are they secure enough to try and figure it out and communicate somehow?).
9) While late immersion (near the end of the primary years) will still give kids an excellent grasp of the language, the earlier they start (i.e. Kindergarten), the better their fluency and pronunciation will be.
10) French Immersion follows the same curriculum as the English program. The same subject matter is taught, but in French as opposed to English.
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