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Articulate trilingual student expresses the value of French immersion programs

CALLER PROFILE: Bruce Yu, an 11-year-old from Markham, Ont., shared his experiences with French immersion schooling on Cross Country Checkup. While many criticize French immersion, he's had a positive experience. And it's helped him become trilingual.

"I speak Mandarin at home; English with my friends; and French in class."

On Checkup this week, we asked: Has French immersion for school children failed to live up to its promise? (Getty Images)

French immersion programs provided by English school boards in Canada have been drawing some ire recently, and historically. Some say it fails to meet their expectations for learning outcomes, while others criticize it for being exclusionary. It's a debate that's being waged by parents, educators, and former students.

On Cross Country Checkup we heard from Bruce Yu, an 11-year-old in a French immersion program. Hear his thoughts on the French immersion debate, by playing the media below, or scroll down to read a transcript.

Eleven-year-old Bruce Yu shares his experience as a French immersion student and the benefits of learning in a second language for him. 3:23

Bruce Yu: I like it a lot because, so far, my teachers have been completely excellent. They've been able to teach me a lot of French. I've heard a lot of other people, not just teachers, say that I've developed a really good French accent that apparently sounds like it's actually from France. One of the teachers that told me that actually lived in France and she immigrated to Canada.

Asha Tomlinson: How much English do you speak at school?

BY: That's a really interesting subject to talk about. I speak about half English because we are in a 50/50 program. Math, English, Drama and a few other classes are taught in English and the rest are taught in French by our French teacher. And my homeroom teacher is English.

AT: What do you speak what language do you speak with your friends? When you're out on break?

BY: I speak English, but the funny thing I notice is that in Grade 3 the teachers are motivating everyone to speak French even out at recess. So in Grades 2 and Grade 3 I see every kid outside speaking French. They'll say, "[Il] faut pas faire ça, tu dois pas faire ça. Oh, tu vas faire ça." So, completely in French.

AT: Do you think that helps?

BY: I think it does help because if our young are able to develop a good sense of language, when they grow older, it's going to grow with them, and they'll become better. And then most people in Canada will be bilingual, which is awesome.

AT: So at this point you speak two languages, correct?  

BY: Actually three.

AT: What's the third one?  

BY: That would be Mandarin. My parents emigrated from China so I speak Mandarin at home. I speak English with my friends, and I speak French in class most of the time.  

AT: That is amazing. Do you find because you've learned, and are continuing to learn so many languages that it helps all around?

BY: Yeah, it does, because we always go to Quebec and it's really fun being able to talk in an area where they speak a different language, without using a language that they don't understand as well. It just feels really good to talk in the language they talk. It's kind of like being able to live three different lives.

AT: There's a sense of pride.

BY: Yes, exactly.

AT: What do you want to be when you grow up?

BY: I am interested in being a lawyer and being a politician.

AT: How do you think your language abilities will assist you in getting that job?

BY: Well, for example, most Canadian federal politicians have to be bilingual. Even in the Conservative [Party] leadership race, one candidate wasn't bilingual and she or he was somewhat crossed out because the leader has to be bilingual. So I think that it helps a lot.

AT: You have a bright future ahead of you. Thanks, Bruce, for calling in.

Bruce Yu's and Asha Tomlinson's comments have been edited for clarity. This online segment was prepared by Ayesha Barmania.

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