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We think it would be great if our daughter could speak both English and French, so when she started school we signed her up for a French immersion program. We're not alone: 30 per cent of Canadian children are enrolled in some sort of second-language program. But are we doing our children any favours?
My wife's spelling is terrible as she often mixes up French and English. French immersion programs are obviously harder, too: only one in four children who enrol in kindergarten French immersion graduate in French immersion.
At the same time, I often hear how beneficial learning a second language is for brain development, not to mention the fact that knowing a second language opens doors and career opportunities -- and not just in our bilingual country. It all leaves me wondering: What are the pros and cons of French immersion schools?
Many large-scale studies, including the 2001 Canadian Modern Language Review, have proven that French immersion students perform just as well -- or better -- in math, science and even English.
The benefits of French immersion
Other benefits of French immersion programs include being able to speak a second language, being eligible for job opportunities that require bilingualism and being more comfortable with foreign languages when travelling overseas.
Still, even avid proponents of French immersion programs -- including Genesee -- admit that they are not perfect: "Students graduate with quite high levels of French competency, but they make lots of errors with verb tense and their spelling is often not good," he explains.