On March 22, 2015 Maclean’s magazine published an article entitled “Just say ‘non’: The problem with French immersion” calling into question the effectiveness of the program in schools across the country. While some of what was addressed in the article incorporated several pockets of truth – like lack of access – we do not feel that what was published represented a fair or balanced understanding of the real issues affecting French Immersion or the positive influence it has had for the large number of satisfied learners, parents and graduates of the program.

Falsely labelling French Immersion programming 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 FI’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.

Despite the need for more to be done to ensure equal access in schools across Canada, demand and popularity for French language education is on the rise – a truth not explicitly highlighted in this article. The fact is French Immersion in Canada is growing: immersion registration has increased by 17% in recent years 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.

Antiquated policies and procedures alongside misconceptions, like the false belief that students are required to take entry exams before enrolling in French Immersion, prevent improvements or solutions to many of the issues facing FI today. Yet if there is anything for parents to take away it is that: French immersion, when supported by the appropriate resources, is a free, beneficial and inclusive program open to all youth who call Canada home.

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 FI, 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. 

Lesley Doell, President
Canadian Association of Immersion Teachers

Philip Fenez, National President
Canadian Parents for French