New Brunswick Liberal Leader Brian Gallant's promise to bring back an early start for French immersion is a good idea, but with one big caveat, says the head of a Fredericton-based second-language research group.

Gallant raised the debate about French immersion again Thursday in the legislature when he said he would have the program start in kindergarten if he's elected.

Currently the program begins in Grade 3 or Grade 6. All students in the English system are required to do intensive French in Grade 5.

The program used to begin in Grade 1, until the Liberals changed it back in 2008 to Grade 3.


Second-language research expert Joseph Dicks says an early start to French immersion is a good idea, but support for struggling students is essential.

The traditional kindergarten or Grade 1 start is more effective for children wanting to learn a second language, says Joseph Dicks, director of the Second Language Research Institute of Canada based at the University of New Brunswick.

"I'd be happy to see the province go back to a kindergarten, Grade 1 entry point with one big caveat. And that is that the structures are in place so that that program can be inclusive, so that students who are in there who are struggling learners can get the supports they need to stay in there," said Dicks.

"Because if we go back to a Grade 1 entry point and go back to the same kind of system we had where once students are struggling they move out into the English program, we're going to be back where we were six years ago and before."

"The current system encourages academic streaming more than an earlier start because by the time students reach Grade 3 or 6, strong students are more likely to enter French immersion, and those who are struggling are less likely to do so," Dicks says.

"So the chance that a program is going to stream more later is much greater than one that starts in kindergarten where all students are starting more or less from the same place."