French immersion school with Anglophone parents - terrible idea?
August 8, 2014 8:51 PM   Subscribe

We live near an excellent French immersion school. It doesn't cost much money. Should we consider it for our very bright daughter for at least the first couple of years of primary school, even though neither of us speak much French? She starts prep next year.

Have you been an Anglophone parent of a child at a similar school? How did you manage homework? I'm worried that I won't be able to help her with homework. I can read French pretty well but am in no way fluent, for reading or speaking. Are you or have you been an Anglophone parent with a kid in French immersion school for the first few years? How did you manage?
posted by goo to Education (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Hi I was a child with anglophone parents who did k-12 in French. It was great honestly. My mom was OK helpful on French until 5th grade (she took it in college) but otherwise the focus was different. What I'd say is either commit to the French style or don't send her at all. The people I know who only did a few years didn't appreciate it as much and lost their French.
posted by Carillon at 9:09 PM on August 8, 2014

Sure! We have four or five public immersion schools in my small city and it's very typical for parents to not speak the second language (except for the one our daughter attends, where about half the families are native Spanish speakers). I don't speak a luck of Spanish and she's doing great. Do it! Though as someone who took french for years-gotta say I wish I had studied Spanish or Chinese or Japanese instead).
posted by purenitrous at 9:16 PM on August 8, 2014

Best answer: Your daughter likely won't have a problem academically, kids are sponges.

As for support for parents from the school, it really depends on context (where you are, geographically /culturally, as well). French schools that actively recruit students from diverse backgrounds may be set up to offer guidance on how Anglo/allo parents can support their kids' language learning. Ones that assume French parentage, and cultivate a school culture focused on retaining heritage, you may be left to sink or swim. Iirc, long division is slightly different, that might be a hiccup when you get to it. Otherwise, if you've had some exposure yourself, being a few steps ahead should be enough, especially in the beginning.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:16 PM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Talk to the school. Many immersion schools know that parents won't speak French and will be set up for that. See what they say. Also, French immersion is a perfect option for bright kids who enjoy challenges. Do it!
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 9:30 PM on August 8, 2014

Aren't most kids in French immersion kids with anglo parents? If their parents were french they would go to regular old French school cause they'd already speak French. French immersion is for learning French.

For what it's worth, I didn't do French immersion. When I took a first year French lit class in university I felt like I was at a real disadvantage with so many studnets in the class coming from French immersion. They seemed to speak so much more fluidly than I could and I imagined that their essays were much better. When I handed in my final exam, the prof told me I had one of the highest grades in the class and when I told him I was intimidated by the former french immersion ble." Even so, I'm not convinced they couldn't function better in a bilingual job than I could.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:38 PM on August 8, 2014

Just chiming in that I and my sister were kids who did K-12 immersion francaise with pretty much purely Anglo parents. It was great! My sister kept up with it and went to a bilingual university and eventually the federal government, which has a pretty strong bilingual requirement. I dropped it and and slowly regaining it, but even now I can read french without too much hassle.

The first couple of years you'll still be able to help, because they're not analyzing Hugo or anything. And when they are that, your kid will be old enough to not need your direct help.

But yeah, strongly agree that a few years is not necessarily that helpful. Immersion needs to be immersive.
posted by Lemurrhea at 9:56 PM on August 8, 2014

I went to a Spanish immersion school from kindergarten through the second grade. It was an amazing educational foundation for me.

The town we moved to later had a French immersion program and it was extremely successful. I've never heard of the kind of problems you're worried about come up - though this was all 20-30 years ago, when parents weren't expected to be quite so knee-deep in their kids' homework as they apparently are these days!
posted by lunasol at 11:37 PM on August 8, 2014

I was in French immersion (BC, Canada) from K-12 with parents who speak nearly zero French, and I've discussed it with them. Everything was fine, it's all set up so that parents don't need to help that much. I always remember being able to ask a teacher for help when I didn't understand something.

I'm very glad they did it.
posted by ripley_ at 12:36 AM on August 9, 2014

I'm currently travelling in France where, thanks to French Immersion, I can talk to people! What a gift! My English speaking parents were, in my view, visionaries. Amazing opportunities have emerged thanks to my being able to speak more than one language. Do it!
posted by rumbles at 4:36 AM on August 9, 2014

There is basically no point in sending her to a French immersion school for only a couple years. Once she's no longer using French to a significant degree in her daily life, she will start to forget it. There needs to be significant domains of use in daily life for a language to stick--e.g. immersion school, monolingual French-speaking peers.

You need to decide what kind of results you want. If you want her to be skilled in French, then you need to commit to immersion for most of her schooling. If it's not that important that she be skilled in French, then ... why?

(Bilingualism will open up many opportunities for her, and it has cognitive benefits as well. I am all for you sending her to immersion school for K-12. But I recognize that this is not an option for everyone.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:57 AM on August 9, 2014

Best answer: My grandsons are in a Chinese immersion school; their parents don't speak Chinese, and it works out fine.

> There is basically no point in sending her to a French immersion school for only a couple years. Once she's no longer using French to a significant degree in her daily life, she will start to forget it.

I strongly disagree. Even if she starts to forget it, it will come back fairly easily later on, and it's vitally important to switch on the foreign-language-learning capacity while it's still fully there. I've forgotten all the Japanese I learned before I was four (my father was a foreign-service officer, and we were living in Tokyo), but ever since I've found it quite easy to learn languages. To say "if you don't keep it up forever, it's not worth doing" is a counsel of both perfection and despair.
posted by languagehat at 8:21 AM on August 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This is a very, very common thing in Canada, given our two official languages. French Immersion programs in the English-speaking provinces really took off in the 80s, and most of our parents, who were born before official bilingualism was introduced, spoke and speak no French at all, but the kids got along just fine in school because it was assumed that the parents couldn't help with the homework. And all those kids were perfectly fluent in both English and French, even if they didn't really have opportunities to speak it at home, since they were spending several hours each day immersed in a French-speaking environment, which is enough to gain perfect fluency - and plus their friends tended to be their classmates and their language of conversation would remain French even playing away from school.

Even if your daughter doesn't stay in French immersion her whole schooling, it will still give her an excellent base in French that she will probably remember, even if she's not continuing to speak it regularly. It will help her with grammar, too, since French language instruction has a much greater emphasis on the parts of speech than English tends to (of course, comparing this to English language instruction in Canada). In my own life, I found that even my high school French classes (though not immersion, much to my sadness!) helped me when I needed to learn Latin and Greek in university, and then again when I went through language training to work for the Government of Canada.
posted by urbanlenny at 8:52 AM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Whether or not your child continues learning French throughout her schooling, all signs point to the fact that learning a second language does wonders for brain development, problem-solving skills, etc. DO IT!!!

Also, I know it's been in vogue to poopoo French as a second language for being irrelevant compared to Spanish or Chinese, but Forbes seems to think it might be the language of the future... for whatever that's worth!
posted by microcarpetus at 10:05 AM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We live in Victoria, BC. Our older son has attended French Immersion since kindergarten (he goes into Grade 7 this fall); our younger son enters French Immersion kindergarten this fall.

Our older son is doing really well. The reason we put him in French Immersion was because, over time, the kids that stick with it are more motivated to study, so there is more of a focus on learning in the classroom. It has been great.

I can read my older son's French homework assignments; my wife cannot (she's from Japan). This is a real challenge, because my wife is responsible for making sure he is keeping up with math (we demand 100%, that is, complete mastery of math concepts).

So this has been stressful.

I get the easy stuff to manage, like ensuring he is keeping on top of his assignments and making a reasonable effort (for a 10yo kid!)

So math has been the biggest challenge, because often we don't know until after the fact that he has been struggling with basic concepts.

But our son is successful, and I think the secret is accountability. We take a reasonable amount of interest in what he is learning at school. We may not be able to speak French, but we can sure make sure he does his spelling homework. If that makes sense.

At home, we also foster a learning-centric environment.

I am a Japanese translator, so I have a ton of Japanese books and we have posters on the wall of Chinese character tables for the kids to learn.

We also spend three months of every year in Japan. Our sons attend school there. They are treated, generally speaking, like everyone else, and therefore have to do the same assignments.

We make sure our sons, besides French, are staying up-to-date (for their age level) in Japanese.

So we're very much a family that focuses on language (I am learning Korean myself).

I think that if you want your child to be successful in French Immersion, all you need to do is show interest and enforce accountability. Have high standards for your child's learning. Have fun. Show that you are interested in learning French yourself.

Don't leave it up to the school to do. Teachers are very busy, they can't possibly do it all for your child. It takes a village, etc, and in the context of French Immersion you are part of that village.
posted by Nevin at 10:49 AM on August 9, 2014

I was also going to say that your child will (if they are like the kids in my older son's class) experience absolutely no delays in English in terms of writing and speaking and reading if s/he goes into French Immersion.

The human brain is an amazing thing.
posted by Nevin at 10:51 AM on August 9, 2014

This is indeed a very common scenario in Canada. Ideally, she should be enrolled in immersion for as long as possible (not just the first couple of years) if you want her to retain the language. I would definitely do it if I were you.
posted by ghost dance beat at 10:51 AM on August 9, 2014

There were local kids at my international school when I was growing up. Obviously, as a kid, I have no idea if they were struggling with either language, but as adults they are completely fluent in both. I would not worry about this.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 1:03 AM on August 10, 2014

My sisters and I all went to French Immersion from K to 8, with Zero-French parents. I remember translating my homework assignments for my parents when I needed their help, usually in math or science or something. And I helped my siblings when they needed it. Honestly, I can't remember needing their help all that often. I seem to recall it was a PITA to get my parents' help, so I'd try hard to figure it out on my own first. Life skills, man.

As a point to how fast kids pick up a new language at that age, as we were slated to graduate from high school in the year 2000, our kindergarten class had a reunion & time capsule opening. Complete with video of our five year-old selves, speaking entirely in french. I was surprised how fluent we all were, in less than a year.
posted by lizbunny at 1:43 PM on August 10, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for all the perspectives and your stories! Fluency in, and retention of, French is not the objective I had in mind when I first started considering this - benefits for language learning in general, and the brain stimulation that stems from this sort of challenge at a young age, are more important. K-12 at this school is not really an option for a variety of reasons, but K-3, or perhaps K-6 if she loves it and is doing really well, are.

I will make an appointment with the school to discuss. Thanks!
posted by goo at 3:19 AM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

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