The path to immersing in immersion
Kids who learn another language tend to be more focused, creative in the future, statistics show
Deciding whether or not to enrol your child in an immersion school isn’t always a clear-cut choice.
In addition to the long-term advantages — think significant cognitive benefits, future transatlantic travel made easier and better employment opportunities all around — statistics say that children who take on a second (or third or fourth) language experience myriad positive side effects. Among them: They tend to be more focused and better able to ignore distractions; are more creative and better at planning and solving complex problems; and they’re less likely to suffer from the effects of aging on the brain as they mature. And, say experts, the advantages don’t end there.
“There are so many reasons to expose your child to a second or third language,” says Claudette Landry, principal of the west campus of TFS (Toronto French School) — Canada’s International School, which pioneered the immersion movement in Canada and teaches the French National Curriculum, wherein kids ages 3 and up learn French full-time.
“The benefits on the brain are certainly notable, as are the advantages it has for a student’s future and their understanding and appreciation of the world and its varied cultures. And being taught in a private, dedicated school environment, which goes above and beyond the standard curriculum requirements set out by the province, only works to make it a much more comprehensive, cultural and enjoyable experience.”
So how do you determine if an immersion school is right for your child?
First, don’t be swayed by the masses. Though French immersion enrolment in Canada has never been higher, each child is unique and learning a new language may not rank on priority lists for all students. That said, if your child does show genuine interest, Landry says, the next best step is to begin the process of interviewing reputable schools.
“At TFS, our teachers introduce and develop each student’s French-language learning through an engaging academic curriculum with supports and resources provided for individual attention. When students begin French later on up to Grade 7, a small group introduction program immerses them into the language at their own pace and then integrates them when they are ready,” Landry says.
“The bottom line is if a child starts with TFS and has an interest in learning French, he or she will do well.”
Other factors to consider are your child’s age, the curriculum, class size, and the level of parental involvement — or lack thereof — when it comes to at-home learning, says Marcel Pereira, director of Century Private School in Richmond Hill, Ont.
“The immersion program has the potential to overwhelm many students as they’re learning all school subjects simultaneously, which is why our goal at Century Private School is to keep class sizes small, while also providing French as a second language without forfeiting the development of English-language skills, or denying the importance of fundamentals such as math, science and social studies,” he says.
What’s more, Pereira says because the school encourages parents to play an active role in a child’s growth in becoming bilingual, kids are more likely to receive the support they need out of class, too.
“A child’s academic success is based on a three-way relationship: between the school, the student and their family. We strongly believe parental involvement is integral to every child’s success, and we encourage parents to be actively involved in their child’s linguistic learning process.”
One final consideration, says Landry, is the academic track record of the school you’re pondering.
“I always tell parents if they can afford to choose this academic route, that they do it,” says Landry, “because it’s an investment in their child’s education and ultimately, in their future.”
Louise Soucy, teacher-librarian at the West Campus of Toronto French School, engages with a group of Grade 5 students.