The best kept secret in education? More than 8 out of 10 English-speaking students on the island of Montreal are immersed in French at the basic level, and the youngest spend up to 85% of their school time in their second language. These are students who have the right to study in English in Quebec.
Posted at 5:00am
“People are often surprised to learn that all of our schools are immersion schools! said Mathieu Canavan, director of educational services at the Lester-B.-Pearson school board in Montreal.
At the other English-language school board in Montreal, Anglo-Montreal, 75% of elementary students are either immersed or in a bilingual core program, said Michael Cohen, communications manager.
The linguistic debates follow one another and the French law 96 is the most recent trigger. But the parents’ priorities remain: both French-speaking parents1 English speakers want their children to be bilingual.
“It was important to me that my son learned French very early on,” explains Dawn Eisman, whose son Harrison attends Merton School in Montreal’s Côte-Saint-Luc.
On the Riverside School Board, in Montreal’s southern crown, 14 elementary schools also offer immersion programs for English-speaking students.
The need to speak French to live in Quebec is the first reason mentioned by the parents interviewed. But why don’t they send their child straight to the French-speaking school in the area?
If English schools have implemented so many immersion programs, it is right to stop the bleeding. “In 1977, says Russell Copeman, executive director of the English School Boards Association, there were 250,000 students on English school boards. Today there are only 100,000 left.
Bill 101 is responsible for the greatest loss of students, he notes. Added to this are the successive waves of departures of Anglophones from Quebec, but also the fact that Anglophone parents choose to send their children to French-language schools, although “numbers have been stabilizing for five years”.
As important as bilingualism is to her, Amanda Lamb, who herself attended an immersion program in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce in her youth, would not have thought of enrolling her child in a French-language school.
I wanted to keep the link [avec l’école anglophone]to ensure that our family, my grandchildren, retain their right to go to school in English.
Amanda Lamb, who has followed an immersion program herself
And in addition to the language, an English-language school also has its specific characteristics, emphasizes Mr. Copeman. “Culturally speaking, the involvement of English-speaking parents is slightly stronger than that of French-speaking parents. […]And how many French-speaking schools does a Canadian flag represent? To my knowledge there isn’t. Yes, it is symbolic, but still…”
Tino Bordonaro, chair of the English Language Education Commission, echoes the sentiment of many of the parents interviewed. “We want our children to be bilingual, we recognize that Quebec is a French province, but our communities want to keep their institutions. †
The Anglophones were able to keep their blackboards – unlike the French-speaking system – precisely because they strongly requested them. Anglophones also want to ensure the survival of their CEGEPs and universities.
Immersion is less popular in high school
In high school, the appetite for immersion programs diminishes. At Lester-B.-Pearson, up to 3e secondary, they are only 60% of the students in immersion and 25% in 4e and 5e subordinate. In English-Montreal, 41% immersion is in high school.
Matt Wilson, president of the Lester-B.-Pearson Teachers Union, points out that when the Department of 3e4e and 5e Secondary, parents and students feel more comfortable being made in the native language.
Parents want their children to learn French, but not at the risk of study. It is more difficult to learn a trade in your second language.
Tino Bordonaro, Chair of the English Language Education Committee
Moreover, young people at this age have a voice. “When my child started school it was a parental decision to enroll him in immersion, but now he is no longer tempted. With adolescence, the battle would be too hard to fight,” Dawn Eisman explains with a laugh.
This fairly typical education pathway for Anglophones in Montreal—in immersion or bilingual programs in elementary school, but much less so in high school—shines light on the outcry surrounding Bill 96 and the obligations imposed on Anglophone CEGEP students to pay for three courses to pass. in French. Bernard Tremblay, president of the Fédération des cégeps, himself argued this spring that 35% of the 29,000 students enrolled in the five Anglophone institutions do not speak French.
It’s not surprising to Russell Copeman that many young people continue to struggle despite early immersion. When he entered politics in 1994, he had dropped out of high school 18 years ago. “After school, I mainly worked in English, and if you don’t immerse yourself in a French-speaking world, you lose a lot of your French,” remarks this ex-MP who admits he drooled a little when he arrived at the ‘National Assembly’ .
Immersion seemed essential to her three children. “Anyone who wants to stay in Quebec knows that French is the official language. †
What is the perfect age for immersion?
Under strong pressure to do so, in 2006 the Quebec government introduced an English as a second language course from Grade 1d year for young French speakers. Likewise, the immersion in Anglophone school boards in Montreal starts very early and then wanes.
However, according to Philippa Bell, professor of second language education at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM), it is wrong to believe that we should rush to teach a child a second language because their brains would be like a sponge especially when they are small.
In a school context, she says, “it’s more toward the end of elementary school and the beginning of high school” that the learner is especially cognitively ready to learn another language.
Early exposure has the advantage that it comes at a time when the child is more emotionally open to another language and has no negative biases.
More and more French-speaking public schools are taking or studying the formula of early exposure to small doses in 1d years accompanied by an English immersion blitz at the end of primary school.
1. In a survey conducted by the Center for Evaluation Research and Expertise in 2015, 99.1% of parents surveyed considered teaching English as a second language to children “very” or “somewhat” important.
What do we mean by immersion?
The definition varies slightly from one English school board to another, but in general an immersion student will do much of their subjects (e.g. history, physical education or science) in their second language. In total, he will spend at least a good half of his week in French. Kindergarten and first grade studentsd Lester-B.-Pearson schools taking the early immersion program (the most popular) spend no less than 85% of their time in French.