Early French Immersion: Our Pros & Cons

Parenting is never without its difficult decisions and for the most part I feel like I have handled them with ease and tact and things have always flowed quite well for us in that matter…but there is one decision that is weigh in heavily on me and it is hard for me to wrap my head around what the right thing to do is.  When Jacob first started school I had every intention of putting him into the French Immersion program in the September of the year he turned 5 years old….well guess what snuck up on me – the boy is turning 5 in June.  We went to the various orientation sessions and have learned everything possible about the early immersion program and quite frankly we are faced with an inability to make a decision.  We have gone back and forth on this decision for the past nearly 6 months and now we are hit head on with a deadline to decide…Tuesday. I sent out a public cry for help on my Facebook page a few days ago seeking out the opinions of other people and I guess this is my second cry for help including the much anticipated list of pros and cons that we have thought about as we decide. I ask my readers to thoughtful consider these lists and chime in by leaving a comment on this blog post to tell me your gut instinct.

In keeping with a spirit of optimism let me start by the list of PRO-IMMERSION ideas:

If he was successful and completed all of the required hours of learning through primary, middle, and secondary schooling he would be considered bilingual and a second language may come in handy for a future career choice….in addition French is the joint national language of Canada along side its familiar English counter part.

This is the year he would need to enter – you can always enter and withdraw from the program but once you are out you can not get back in if you “change your mind”…you can not enter the early immersion program without starting in SK.  Teachers can decide at any time that your child is “not right” for french immersion and your child would slip back into the English language learning program (this cold also be a con – see below) so it is great that they are not stringing struggling children along.

Bilingualism has been show to have a positive effect on cognitive skills.

Bilingualism helps makes 3rd or 4th language acquisitions easier (as long as the alphabets are the same).

Jacob has advanced skills in English and Mathematics and is currently reading at a grade 2-3 level and completing math at a grade 1-2 level when he is just 4 years old….I worry about boredom causing behaviour problems at some point and wonder if the french immersion program would keep him interested as it is all new to him.

And finally the CONS of FRENCH IMMERSION  (from our point of view)

The move into the french immersion program would mean a move to a new school – at this new school he would have to be bused and the bus does not pick up directly at our home – it is at a centralized location about four blocks from our house…his current school is pretty much directly across the street from our home.

If he remained at his current school he would have the same teacher again next year who he loves and whom we also appreciate and respect greatly. His new school would only have  half day of classes where as his old school would start being full day as of next year.

It is very common for Early Immersion students to show a lag in their English literacy and writing abilities during the primary years. (although some research suggests that they do eventually catch up).

There is a large criticism that students do not in fact become completely fluent and that their structure of the language suffers in the area of grammar and problems in their speech pronunciation.

The french immersion program is often referred to as an “elite” program due to the fact that most students registered in it are from a higher social class – due in large part to the over-achieving parent syndrome I think.

The instruction is entirely in french from kindergarten straight through until the start of grade 4.  My work hours will not always permit me to be home to assist with homework and my husband has zero ability to assist with french learning.

Where he is quite ahead academically I feel he makes up for this with a slight lag in social skills – although his teacher says he is “on par” in regards to his peer group – it is painfully obvious to me that Jacob is not interested in typical childhood activities with the other kids in the school yard… due in large part to his obsession with phonics, letters, and math.  I recall my own experience with french immersion and at that time the immersion kiddies were considered “social outcasts” – I’m not sure what the idea is at this time.

I wonder if I am over-obsessing about him being bored in class – would it be a mistake to take him out of a place where he is confident and successful academically and press him to be challenged – am I being one of those over-achieving parents that I never wanted to be?  Kids have so much pressure and stress these days – it’s a known fact that childhood anxiety disorders are on the rise because parents are placing too many expectations on their children.

If he got pulled out of the program at any point he would have to restart back into a new school with new classmates that he didn’t know and this could happen at any point along the way.

I’m sure more things will come to mind after I am done posting this but I would at this time be curious to think what you would do if this was your decision?!  Would you take the leap?  Would you leave well enough alone?  Don’t fix what is not broken?  Would you go for the challenge?  What would you do if it was your child?



9 thoughts on “Early French Immersion: Our Pros & Cons

  1. Hmmm…..Your con list is quite a bit longer than your pro list. Maybe if it’s such a hard decision it’s best to leave it for now. He could always enter middle immersion right? What does your gut say?

    I thought that at one point when you were talking about not having that one on one time with him helping with his homework….that would be a biggy for me I think. I will be faced with the same decision in a while.

  2. I certainly can’t tell you what to do, but here are the thoughts that came to me from your pros and cons. I’m just going to kind of stream of consciousness this and let you pick through to see if there’s anything of use for you, LOL.

    Looking at your list of pros, I think the main one that stood out to me is the one about learning 3rd and 4th languages. Again, maybe this is from my perspective as a special needs mom (I can’t get Danny to learn a FIRST language still, never mind a fourth), but I’m not sure how much weight that one needs. English and French are really the main functional languages Jacob will probably run into in his life – unless he decides to move, or chooses a very specific set of career paths. Of course, that’s not to say to discount it entirely, but I’m not sure how much it should weigh, if that makes sense?? Especially since Jacob has shown an incredible aptitude for language as it is.

    Now, the flip side of that point is that I also wouldn’t worry about your con of having reduced English literacy and such. Jacob is already far ahead on that one; I can’t see him regressing, especially with you and Mike as his parents. I honestly don’t think that will be a problem for him!

    I think as far as socialization concerns and immersion kids being “outcasts,” you might go on a tour of the school and try to have that addressed. Talk to some teachers, see if you can talk to some students and/or parents…try to get a gauge for how it is now. You might also find there are some immersion kids in your neighborhood that could be buddies with Jacob!

    I think, if I were in your shoes, the deal breaker would be the homework one. I wouldn’t put my child into an immersion program if there was a chance no one would be around to help with homework in the core language. That’s not to say you guys can’t make it work – if it is a program that sets homework out for the week and gives you time, Jacob could maybe do what he can on his own and save what he needs help with for an evening you’re off work? – but it wouldn’t be something I’d do.

    As for boredom…that’s another one that is hard. NO, you are NOT wrong to worry about boredom; the complete opposite! Kids who are bored can easily become problem kids, academically if not all around. However, there’s also a delicate balance to be found. For another perspective, I was advanced a grade from first to second; for skill level, they wanted to advance me to third, but for social reasons my parents decided not to. The end result was that I was where you describe Jacob as being – confident and successful without being too challenged or too bored. It worked for me; there was enough challenge to hold my interest, but it wasn’t so hard that I had to really bust my butt for it, if that makes sense? In the early years of school it may have all swayed on the easier side, but once the more advanced subjects came up (probably 3rd to 5th grade?) that my parents weren’t as easily able to work with me on and I wasn’t picking up from TV shows, it was actually the perfect level of work for me to still be successful and challenged. IMO, if Jacob is happy, is not acting out or fighting school or being so ahead/bored he’s a problem in class, he’s fine. That doesn’t mean to NOT do French immersion, but more to just sort of…help you ease your mind on that topic.

    I think I’ve rambled enough, LOL! I hope something in there can help you with your decision! I know, whatever you guys end up choosing, it will work and Jacob will grow into a successful, amazing man. He’s a pretty awesome kid, and he’s got great parents.

  3. I honestly think the benefits of immersion outweigh the risks. I would put him in. School in general is not without cons – no matter which way you do it: public, private, home, or whatever – and several of your cons are on every list. I truly think that in the end (as in end of schooling) being fluent in two languages, particularly since those two languages are both official Canadian languages, will be a huge plus on his side.

  4. Hi Melissa.

    As a smart kid who didn’t go to French Immersion largely because of the distance, I can tell you that I wish I had gone into it. I was certainly smart enough to do French Immersion and it might have kept me more entertained when I pulled in ahead of my classes.

    I think Jacob is certainly smart enough to go to a French Immersion school without regressing his English skills. That kid can read and write much better than I ever could at his age-and I’m a writer. I don’t think that should be one of your concerns when looking into sending him to French Immersion.

    I also think that Jacob’s not all that socially challenged. His issue is that he’s a lot smarter than most kids his age so he’s interested in more intellectual pursuits. French Immersion would add a challenge, and he might meet some more intellectual kids.

    The only thing that I will say against French Immersion is that French teachers in the normal school system usually aren’t very good teachers, and I don’t know how good the quality of teaching in the French Immersion system is.

    But I think the question you have to ask, as someone who spent some time in French Immersion, is how you felt about your own education. And ask a couple people who were also in French Immersion-I think their opinions have more weight than mine.

    I hope you figure it all out soon 🙂

  5. Melissa,

    I can tell you have thought long and hard about this. Seeing I am not in the same boat with a child that is nowhere near school age and living non Canadian.

    Yes, its’ a risk. I am not sure if I would be confident in doing this with Bradley at the age of 4 or 5. I know you will find the best solution to this decision.

    Either way, Jacob will excel in school. Your family is incredible.


  6. One thing I wish I’d done is send my daughter to French Immersion, as I now believe it would provided a good stretching of her language skills.

    I was somewhat worried about the difficulty for her, but I now think she would have found it easy.

    There is no way to know in advance what the best option is, and so you just have to go with what seems best at the time and not beat yourself up if later information proves it not to have been the best option.

  7. You are going to have to make the call.
    It’s a hard choice.

    Your child may find the literacy level in French is below what he is capable and he may become bored. In his native language he will be able to make leaps and bounds with your support and the schools.

    Or your child may thrive in both languages. If you do not have time at home I suggest you help him at first become an independent learner. Do not worry about the lack of French in your household, it is not a big deal…

    In the end you need to make the call. Which school is closer? Is it a bigger or smaller school. That can be as important. Look at the community. Your child can pick up the language later when he has classes in 4th grade.

    If you wish for him to develop an ear for the language take summer holidays in francophone areas!

    Good luck

  8. Help! What did you decide and how is it going? I have the weekend to make a decision as to which class we’d prefer for our daughter. She is in English K, however, there is a lack of structure and academics. Lots of art, baking and stories. Our daughter is reading at a gr. 2 level but still needs to work on her printing. We are thinking about moving her into French as she is so bright and we feel she will become bored in her English class. Her teacher said she is too shy for French and that academics isn’t important – socialization and confidence is…. I still worry that thus will be a long boring year if we don’t switch her. I don’t really want French but a challenge. I have a secret feeling she’d excel and love it. However, we are getting lots of flack from friends and family for even considering moving her. Please let me know what you decided and how your son is doing!

  9. I am facing a problem with my daughter Isra, she started french immersion in kindergarten and now in grade one and I found her struggling with both French and English as she speaks two other languages. Me and wife speak Arabic at home and rarely English so this will not help my daughter to learn any English. Should I leave her in French immersion or switch her to English class ?
    Thank you.

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