What They Didn’t Tell You About French Immersion
BY CRYSTAL-ROSE MADORE
PHOTO COURTESY OF PIXABAY
Sep 5, 2017
When we enrolled our child in French Immersion, we had visions of him flawlessly expressing himself in a romantic language, looking effortlessly cool. Four years later, that hasn’t happened yet, but French Immersion has enriched our anglophone lives in a number of unexpected ways. For parents following this path, here are five things to expect.
1. This isn’t your English-stream French class.
Pop quiz! What was the name of the talking pineapple from Téléfrançais? It was Ananas. Don’t worry, you probably didn’t remember his name, because the only thing anyone remembers about Ananas is his terrifying face. Also, don’t worry, because Ananas is completely irrelevant to French Immersion, as are your fond memories of singing Roch Voisine’s “Hélène”, and whoever Mrs. Vandertramp was. All the past touchstones of English-stream French classes have nothing to do with what your child will be learning in French Immersion. It is like Star Trek and Star Wars: both have "Star" in their names, but that’s where the similarity ends.
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2. Your incompetence will be revealed far earlier than you expect.
In Grade 10, my French class had a substitute teacher assess our oral exams. After I performed mine, she made sure to commend my effort and asked how long I had been taking French, assuming I had just started. "I’ve taken French since Grade 4, like everyone else." She was visibly horrified. My son came to the same conclusion around November of Grade 1 when he begged me to stop trying to help by reading out his weekly dictée. While French Immersion has stripped bare the artifice of my presumed superiority to my six-year-old, I do feel it has improved our relationship as individuals.
3. Your home will become increasingly bilingual.
This happens slowly. First, it is artwork with French subtitles written in your child’s unsteady hand that make you gasp and think of Magritte as you affix it to your fridge. Then it is the double-thick packet of book club pamphlets offering both English and French titles sitting on your dining room table, followed shortly by books from the same series alternating in each language. After a while, the sounds of French-Canadian game shows float from the living room, and subtitles are automatically set to French. If your home was comparable to a province, it would not be Quebec, but every day growing more and more similar to New Brunswick.
4. You will discover a new dimension of parenting decisions.
If your child, frustrated with his math homework, mutters a French swear under his breath, what do you do? Is the offence more important than the demonstrated application of knowledge? Do you forbid such language in any language, or do you ask him what other French cusses he knows? Do you mention it to his teacher, or are you just happy that he’s clearly conversing informally in French with his classmates? As you ponder these questions, the moment is lost, and you’re no closer to any concrete answer for future reference, rendering the exercise futile. Merde, you mutter under your breath.
5. You will find yourself clapping for many things you do not understand.
At first, you will be concerned about this, even embarrassed — let that go. Embrace who you are: your strengths, your weaknesses, your role not as a lead, but as a support. You may not understand a single word of the spring concert, but you’ll make sure to show your appreciation at the end. You are Captain Picard, applauding a Jedi.