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My Daughter is Leaving French Immersion After 9 Years — Was It Worth It?

Jan 1, 2020

After years of conjugating verbs, a deluge of dictées and a plethora of présentations orale, my kid is bidding au revoir to French immersion as she heads off to an arts-focused high school next year. So, was it all worth it? Do I have any regrets?

Well, yes and no.

A few years ago, I wrote an article about what you should know before enrolling your child in French immersion. At the time, my daughter was in Grade 6 and still in the midst of her French-speaking school experience. I felt I hadn’t fully understood what I was getting into when my husband and I signed her up years ago, and wanted to share info with parents about to make this critical decision.

Do you have kids in French immersion, but you don't speak French? You don't have to be an expert on passé composé to help your kids develop effective learning strategies that will take them well beyond Grade 2. 

Now that French immersion is almost behind us, I’m looking back at the full experience and passing on our pros and cons.

I want to emphasize that everyone has different feelings on the subject of French immersion, and I certainly don't speak for all students or families.


The reading suffered

Though I’ll never know for sure, I have my suspicions that reading in French might have diminished some of the joy for my kid. While my daughter hasn’t had any academic issues with reading or writing, she unfortunately doesn’t love to read. This breaks my heart a little.

When my daughter was younger, we used to pore over books together before bed. She begged me to read her favourite stories to her again and again. But once she started to read on her own and was being assigned French texts, the thrill was gone. Was it reading in another language? Was it the quality of books? I’ll never know.

Lack of diversity in the classroom

French immersion has often been criticized for creating a two-tier education system in which privileged kids learn French while newcomers and students with learning challenges wind up in English-only programs. This has been painfully evident in my daughter’s classrooms to the point that she acutely feels this absence of inclusiveness. More work needs to be done to make this learning opportunity accessible to all students.

Shortage of French Teachers

French immersion has grown so dramatically in Canada that it has created a shortage of qualified teachers to meet the demand. While my daughter has had some great instructors, she has had her fair share of teacher turnover resulting in multiple years with substitute teachers leading to some significant gaps in learning. I can’t help but feel that might not have happened in the English stream.

And because boards are scrambling to fill teaching positions, sometimes they have had to keep the language requirements for teachers low. As a result, every year would be different and I couldn't help but notice how little actual French speaking went on in class sometimes.


An (almost) bilingual child

My daughter isn’t exactly bilingual like I had hoped, but she could be in the future if she decides to pursue it. She has a strong foundation in French that will benefit her if she chooses to return to it one day.

Made my kid work a little harder

Like most kids in French, my daughter has had to work a little harder in school to succeed in studying in a second language. More than 50 per cent of students leave French immersion before Grade 8, so I’m grateful she was able to stick it out this long. I’d like to think that this will make high school learning a cakewalk. A mom can dream.

Invisible Benefits

Here’s the ephemeral part, the unknown benefits, the things that I can’t say with certainty, but hope to be true. Learning a second language is supposed to improve your brain health, enhance the ability to multitask, keep the mind sharp and increase employment opportunities. I may never know for sure if my daughter will reap these benefits.

What I take away from French immersion is this: I’ve provided my child with the best opportunity to learn another language. Maybe the outcome wasn’t what I envisioned all those years ago. I used to have this idea when my daughter was small that I could somehow curate her life and design it to unfold the way I wanted. At the end of the day, all I can do is provide her with opportunities. The rest is up to her.

Je regrette rien.

Article Author Laura Mullin
Laura Mullin

Read more from Laura here.

Laura Mullin is a published playwright and writer and the co-artistic director of the award-winning company, Expect Theatre. She is also the co-host and producer of PlayME, a podcast that transforms plays into audio dramas now on CBC. She has worked in theatre, film, and television and lives in Toronto with her writer/producer husband and daughter. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @expectlaura.