I recently had the pleasure of speaking to a local Mommy Connections group on the benefits of French Immersion. As you can imagine, this is one of my favorite topics and I had a lot to say! There is a great deal of research showing the many benefits of French Immersion – benefits that begin as soon as French is introduced: even at the preschool level (or earlier).
Bilingualism is the Norm in Most of the World
In Canada, we are lucky to have access to world-class French Immersion programs. Our Canadian immersion model has been studied and emulated by countries across the globe (http://bit.ly/2S3E6y9). Our determination to provide access to bilingualism is reflective of the fact that bilingualism is simply the norm in much of the world. Rather than being something to be regarded as overachieving, difficult, or anxiety-producing, learning a second language is actually much more common across the globe than monolingualism. Two-thirds of the world’s children grow up bilingual. In Europe, over half of the population speaks more than one language. In providing supportive, well-structured, and time-tested French Immersion programs, we open the doors of bilingualism to our children in a fun, accessible and proven way.
French Immersion And Academic Benefits
French Immersion has incredible academic benefits for children. Interestingly, children who learn French also dramatically improve their English language development. In fact, children in French Immersion programs not only meet, but often surpass their monolingual peers in English skills by the fourth grade (https://ns.cpf.ca/resources/for-parents/the-benefits-of-the-french-immersion-program/).
The academic benefits of French Immersion are not limited to language skills alone, but extend to all areas of academia, including math, reasoning, and executive functioning skills (including attention and focus). In learning a new grammar, syntax and sound system, the brain becomes more flexible and ultimately better at multi-tasking, problem-solving, assessment, focusing, and adapting (https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/hide-and-seek/201807/beyond-words-the-benefits-being-bilingual). Children with a second language have also been shown to have higher attention spans than their monolingual peers. These cognitive benefits continue throughout one’s life: older adults who are bilingual are less prone to dementia and more resistant to the cognitive decline precipitated by a stroke (https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/hide-and-seek/201807/beyond-words-the-benefits-being-bilingual).
French Immersion and Social Benefits
French Immersion can also give children an advantage socially. Recent studies have shown that bilingual children have stronger interpersonal skills and awareness. They are shown to be more adept at adapting their communication to the needs and understanding of others (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/13/opinion/sunday/the-superior-social-skills-of-bilinguals.html). From these studies, it could be hypothesized that bilingual children may also be more empathetic.
French Immersion and Career Benefits
The career advantages available to children who have gone through French Immersion are numerous. Those who speak a second language have access to the many, many jobs around the world that require fluency in another language. In Canada alone, the government has 67,000 jobs specifically designated as bilingual (https://ns.cpf.ca/resources/for-parents/the-benefits-of-the-french-immersion-program/). Studies have shown that, on average, bilingual employees make $3,000 more per year than their monolingual counterparts, a sum that adds up significantly over the course of a career (https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/hide-and-seek/201807/beyond-words-the-benefits-being-bilingual).
French Immersion and Travel/Cultural Benefits
Those who have a second language are set up for success in travelling, working in a global setting, and relating to those from other cultures. Bilingual individuals’ exposure to another language and culture render them more sensitive to other cultures, more respectful of differences, and more effective communicators in a wide variety of settings (https://ns.cpf.ca/resources/for-parents/the-benefits-of-the-french-immersion-program/). Additionally, the linguistic skills they have achieved as a result of learning a second language are transferable, making it much easier for them to acquire a third, fourth, or fifth language.
Are there any downsides to French Immersion?
Some parents wonder if there are downsides to French Immersion. The answer, reassuringly, is no! Learning another language in a supportive, structured setting is incredibly beneficial for most children, including those with mild to profound learning disabilities (https://ab.cpf.ca/resources/for-parents/learning-difficulties-in-french-immersion/).
A common question we hear from parents is: “Will placing my child in a French Immersion program cause him/her to lag in first-language vocabulary acquisition and reading skills?” While this concern is understandable, multiple studies have shown that in the long run, children in French Immersion programs not only meet but often surpass their peers in first-language reading and vocabulary skills. In the short-term, learning a second language can temporarily delay first-language vocabulary acquisition and first-language reading progress. This is due to the brain directing its focus toward processing and internalizing the new grammar, vocabulary and sound system of the second language. You may notice your child sorting out her languages by mixing up the words, sounds and syntax of English and French. This is a process called “code switching” and it is a remarkable linguistic tool that reflects the brain’s immense skill in language acquisition and organization. Code-switching and slightly delayed vocabulary acquisition/reading skills are very minor bumps on the road to bilingualism. Watch your children catch up to (and often excel) their monolingual peers in a few short years – usually by the end of Grade 3 (https://education.alberta.ca/media/563591/yesyoucanhelp.pdf). They will do so with a wealth of incredible second-language benefits that will enrich their lives, open career and travel opportunities, and advance them both individually and socially.
How Do We Teach French in Preschool?
Okay, back to our preschoolers! How exactly do we begin introducing French in a supportive way that sets them up for second-language success at such a young age? The answer is quite simple: we teach them French in the same way that we teach English to our children. At Ecole Des Petits Amis, we sing, we read, we count, and we repeat our routines over and over. In the comfort afforded by rhythm, repetition, and fun, children quickly begin to pick up French vocabulary, grammar and syntax. As their teachers, it is our greatest pleasure and joy to not only watch your children acquiring a new language, but to have fun and feel safe while doing so!
To conclude, the benefits of French Immersion are many. The academic, social, career and travel benefits are numerous and our children will continue to reap these benefits all their lives. Rather than being something scary or difficult, bilingualism is the global norm and learning a second language is fun and usually quite effortless for children. The road to bilingualism is surprisingly short when begun at such a young age. It is our honour to offer French Immersion at the preschool level and to watch your children enthusiastically and effortlessly gain proficiency in French!