Do they really work in teaching children a second language?
Today’s podcast guest, Anna McGuigari shares her daughter’s experience with French immersion kindergarten.
Anna currently resides in Canada with her daughter and husband. She speaks Russian, English and a bit of French.
More than hearing about Anna and her daughter’s experience, this post will hopefully inform everyone on what to expect when they enroll their kids in immersion schools.
BKR: What are Language Immersion Schools? Can you tell us more about how you got into them?
Anna: Language immersion schools are pretty common where we live, in Canada. The two main languages here are English and French and while everyone doesn’t know how to speak French a lot of people do. My husband actually went to a language immersion school from kindergarten all the way up to high school. To this day, he speaks French pretty well.
This is what gave me the idea of enrolling our child in a language immersion school. The school is just down the street from where we live and I’ve heard good things about it which is why I decided that Alice should try it out.
BKR: What was your daughter’s exposure to French before she went to that school? Has your husband spoken French to her before?
Anna: She had very little exposure. My husband didn’t really talk to her in French. She knew about French and would sometimes hear it on the street but she didn’t know any French at all.
BKR: What is the school like? Do they still speak some English or is everything in French?
Anna: The kindergarten program is an immersion program so from Day 1, pretty much everything seemed to be in French. They use as little English as possible. In the first few weeks, the school allows the kids to communicate in English and they answer them in English so as not to intimidate the kids. But very very quickly they switch to full French.
BKR: What were your daughter’s thoughts about the school and the language initially?
Anna: The one thing that I noticed immediately was that she was happy. I was nervous for her in the beginning but I noticed that she was never frustrated. She didn’t come home speaking French but within the first week she came home excited with the new things she’d learned.
BKR: Because French is your daughter’s third language, did she experience any confusion?
Anna: I really didn’t notice any confusion. My daughter goes to Russian school two times a week and I was worried initially that she would get the alphabet confused but I have noticed that she has learned to compartmentalize everything pretty well.
BKR: What happens to your daughter’s English exposure if she is immersed in French in her school?
Anna: The English is entirely up to the parents up until the child is in the sixth grade. English isn’t very supported at all but it’s up to the parents to teach the child to read and write in English which we have been doing at home.
BKR: How is your daughter’s accent? Do you find that kids get rid of their accent by a certain age?
Anna: It really depends on the child. I’ve noticed that some kids reach fourth or fifth grade and still speak French with an English accent while some kids speak with a very minimal one.
BKR: Did you decide to give French support at home, or did you decide to leave that to the school and just continue to speak in English at home?
Anna: I concentrate on helping her with her English reading as my French is very weak but my husband does a bit of French work with her.
BKR: Why do you want Alice to speak several languages?
Anna: I believe that doors really open up when you know more than one language. I too came from Russia at a very young age, forgot it at one point and studied it when I got to University and then later taught it.
What I realize is that knowing another language really broadens your mind. The subtleties of a different language open your mind up to a completely different world. To me that’s very important.
Of course there’s also career opportunities. These schools are public schools so they are free to attend so it is a shame not to take advantage of them. Job markets do fluctuate and sometimes it is easy to get a job and sometimes it’s not but I know from personal experience that when you look for a job in Canada and you speak French then you immediately have double the opportunity.
BKR: Do you feel like there is a big difference between French and English speakers there?
Anna: French speakers in Canada seem to be different from each other culturally. In Quebec they seem to be very proud of their culture. In Manitoba, there seems to be less competition between the Anglophones and the Francophones.
BKR: What are your biggest challenges in teaching Alice a second and third language?
Anna: I have more challenges in teaching her Russian more than French because of where we live. Here French is normal so it doesn’t seem strange to be learning it. However that isn’t the case with Russian.
Also since I came over when I was very young English is so much more comfortable to me so my biggest challenge is speak Russian to her and keep it up.
BKR: What would be your advice to parents who are looking to enroll their children to immersion schools?
Anna: Just get a good read on your child. If you think your child would be happy and into it definitely give it a try. Also, go and visit the school as that was very helpful to us and just go for it. It really cannot hurt. I don’t think you lose anything by trying it out.