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.

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