French immersion, the “great Canadian experiment” acclaimed and desired world-wide, as well as one of the most researched subjects in Canadian education, is coming yet again under unfounded attack, and this despite all the recent evidence supporting the multiple benefits of bilingualism and second language learning, as well as proven results of no negative academic effects to Anglophone students.

Falsely labelling the French immersion program as elitist and divisive does little to draw attention to the real issue of access – a problem which scholars, advocates and parents agree is the biggest obstacle standing in the way of French immersion’s success.

Lack of access to quality French programming is not a problem inherent of French immersion but is rather mitigated by administrative and political decisions made at the regional level. If spaces are limited, this reflects the local school boards choice to limit enrolment. However, this practice can be changed with leadership and the educational administration’s desire to act in accordance with the wishes of the parents in the communities they serve.

Every child is welcomed in French immersion. There is no entry exam. Top second-language researchers like Katy Arnett, Fred Genesee and Renée Bourgoin have provided evidence that when supported by the appropriate resources, French immersion is a free, beneficial and inclusive program open to all youth who call Canada home.

Demand and popularity for French language education is on the rise; registration in French immersion has increased by 17% in recent years in Canada and is on the rise nearly everywhere across the country. We need to focus on the positive attributes of the program as there is high demand for a reason and expanding access to these programs should be made a bigger priority.

We fully understand that immersion schools are faced with the shortage of qualified bilingual teachers. There are many initiatives to improve French second-language teacher recruitment and retention both on the provincial and national level. The Canadian Association of Immersion Professionals is currently looking into solutions to this challenge.

French immersion has proven its worth and will continue to do so by being the most effective way to teach French as a second language to students at all levels of learning.

Let us celebrate the benefits and widespread support for French Immersion, review outdated educational policies and enrolment processes and focus on educating young Canadians by prioritizing access to French immersion programs to help guarantee a bilingual future for our country. A future where recognizing the value of English and French also makes us a more integrated, and cohesive nation. 

Signed,
Marc-Albert Paquette
President, Canadian Association of Immersion Professionals

This text was written in response to an opinion published in The Star on November 9, 2017 “Breaking the spell of French immersion” (https://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2017/11/09/breaking-the-spell-of-french-immersion.html).