French Immersion is a form of bilingual education in which a child who does not speak French as his or her first language receives instruction in school in French. In most French-immersion schools, children will learn to speak French and learn most subjects such as history, music, geography, math, art, physical education and science in French.
French immersion programming spread rapidly from its original start in Canada in 1965. French Immersion education is optional and not compulsory. Parents have the choice in sending their children to schools that offer such programming. Students are encouraged to begin communicating in French as consistently as possible. Teachers in French Immersion schools are competent in speaking French. Classroom communication of French in French Immersion programs is meaningful and authentic for students. Learning French becomes subconscious and there is a strong focus on understanding before speaking. Most students that enroll in French Immersion programs are not experts in French and lack experience in it. Students in French Immersion programs complete the same curriculum as students in the Core program.
French Immersion: French as the language of instruction
Extended French: available only in Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia; French as the language of instruction for one or two core subjects in addition to French Language Arts
Intensive French: a more recent program which started in 1998 in Newfoundland and Labrador and branched out to six other provinces and the Northwest Territories; intensive period of French instruction for one-half of the school year (70% of school day in French)
Age: The age an individual begins the French Immersion program varies:
Early Immersion: Kindergarten (infant age)
Middle Immersion: Nine to ten years old
Late Immersion: Secondary level
Time: The amount of time French Immersion students spend in immersion varies:
Total: commences with 100% immersion in the second language and continually decreases to 50%
Partial: commences with close to 50% immersion and remains at this level
Data shows that students enrolled in French Immersion programs often show superior academic achievement than their regular-programmed peers.
Students participate in French Immersion programs to gain employability-related skills and to increase job opportunities.
Students in French Immersion demonstrate a superior level of mental flexibility, which is an ability to think more independently of words and to have a higher awareness of concept formation as well as a more diversified intelligence than students in the regular program.
Data illustrates that students in French Immersion programs also have a linguistic advantage as they are able to adopt two different perspectives, offering alternative ways to look at the same information.
French Immersion students also have a deeper appreciation and respect for various cultures. In addition, they also gain more fulfillment in learning a new language.
Students in French immersion programs also have greater opportunity to understand their own culture or their own nation. For example, Canada's identity is based on the fact that it holds two official languages, English and French. French Immersion students have the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of what it means to be Canadian through the French Immersion program.
Many challenges in participating in French Immersion programs subsist. For example, many French Immersion students do not reach native-like language proficiency in French.
In addition, there is a lack of willingness on the part of French Immersion students to communicate in French outside of the classroom. This could be because they do not feel prepared or equipped to practice the language.
Also, there are students who face additional challenges in learning French as they may have various language or learning difficulties as well.
Use of French immersion programs
The Agence pour l'enseignement français à l'étranger (AEFE) runs or funds 470 schools worldwide, with French as the primary language of instruction in most schools.
The program is also offered at The Glennie School in Toowoomba Queensland
French immersion programs were introduced into Canadian schools in the 1970s to encourage bilingualism across the country. Now immersion programs provide an alternative education stream for many students. 
Several Canadian universities offer opportunities for students to continue to study subjects in either French or English, such as Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, the University of Alberta Faculté Saint-Jean in Edmonton, the Université de Moncton in New Brunswick, the Université Sainte-Anne in Nova Scotia, the Université de Saint-Boniface of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, University of Ottawa, Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, York University's Glendon College in Toronto and HEC Montréal in Montreal. HEC Montréal's situation is unique, as it is located in francophone Montréal, the majority of the students are francophone (both from Quebec and from France), and it offers a prestigious bilingual bachelor's degree in commerce: in that sense, it is not a typical French immersion program, but rather a complete francophone experience in a francophone environment.
French-immersion programs are offered in all ten Canadian provinces. French popularity differs by province and region. Currently, enrollment in French immersion is highest in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, and lowest in Saskatchewan. Western Canada, which is predominantly Anglophone, is experiencing high population growth, but this has not caused a substantial increase in the number or proportion of French immersion students.
|Newfoundland and Labrador||7%|
|Prince Edward Island||20%|
Walker Road Primary School, Aberdeen, Scotland started an early partial immersion programme in 2000. Also, Judgemeadow Community College, Evington, in Leicester, has been using a French Immersion course in one form group a year for the last four years. Pupils answer the register in French, and their French, IT and PHSE lessons are all in French. The Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle (originally Lycée Français de Londres) is a French school transported to England and as such the vast majority of the teaching is in French and caters to French curricula and indeed, as far as quatrième (at the age of 13-14), all pupils are taught entirely in French.
Private French language immersion schools in the United States have existed since at least the 1950s. Most of these schools receive help from the AEFE. There are currently almost 40 of these schools in the United States.
Public school districts have run French immersion programs since 1974.
- Montgomery County, Maryland (since 1974)
- Milwaukee French Immersion School (since 1978)
- Holliston, Massachusetts (since 1979)
- Louisiana (since 1984) - 26 immersion programs in 9 parishes
- Prince George's County, Maryland (since 1984)
- Eugene, Oregon (since 1984)
- Portland, Oregon (since 1979)
- Lake Charles, Louisiana (since 1985)
- Miami (since 1986)
- Kansas City, Missouri
- Milton, Massachusetts (since 1987)
- Columbus, Ohio (since 1987)
- Edina, Minnesota (since 1991)
- San Diego, California (since 1994)
- Madawaska, Maine (since 1995)
- St. Paul, Minnesota (since 1996)
- New York (since 2007)
- Fairfax County, Virginia
- Henrico County, Virginia - High school French immersion program
- Santa Rosa, California (since 2012)
The southern part of Louisiana has a strong French heritage extending back to colonial times. During the mid-twentieth century, however, the number of native French speakers plunged as French was banned in public schools and children punished for speaking it. The social stigma associated with speaking French was sufficiently strong that many parents did not speak the language to their children, so generations born in the second half of the century rarely spoke French in the home. As a result, French immersion is today viewed by parents and educators as a way to save the French language in Louisiana.
In 2008, an editorial in the Vancouver Sun criticized French immersion programs for having become a way for higher socioeconomic groups to obtain a publicly funded elite track education. Since lower socioeconomic groups and children with learning and behavioral problems have lower rates of participation in French immersion, a situation has developed in which ambitious families might prefer French immersion for its effective streaming than for the bilingual skills it gives to students.
Notes and references
- Baker, C. (2011). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism. 5th ed. North York, Ontario: Multilingual Matters, p. 240.
- Lazaruk, W. (2007). Linguistic, academic, and cognitive benefits of French immersion. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 63(5), p. 607.
- Baker, C. (2011). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism. 5th ed. North York, Ontario: Multilingual Matters, p. 239.
- Barik, H.C., and M. Swain (1978). Evaluation of a French immersion program: The Ottawa study through grade five. Canadian Journal of Behaviour Science, 10(3), p. 201.
- Makropoulos, J. (2009). Gaining access to late French-immersion programs: Class-based perspectives of Canadian students in an Ottawa high school. Bilingual Research Journal, 32, p. 327.
- Lazaruk, W. (2007). Linguistic, academic, and cognitive benefits of French immersion. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 63(5), p. 617.
- Lazaruk, W. (2007). Linguistic, academic, and cognitive benefits of French immersion. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 63(5), p. 621.
- Lazaruk, W. (2007). Linguistic, academic, and cognitive benefits of French immersion. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 63(5), p. 622.
- Nagy, P., & Klaiman, R. (1988). Attitudes to and impact of French immersion. Canadian Journal of Education, 13(2), p. 275.
- Roy, S. (2010). Not truly, not entirely...'Pas comme les Francophones'. Canadian Journal of Education, 33(3), p. 550
- Macintyre, P., Burns, C., & Jessome, A. (2011). Ambivalence of communicating in a second language: A qualitative study of French immersion students' willingness to communicate. The Modern Language Journal, 95(1), p. 94.
- Baker, C. (2011). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism. 5th ed. North York, Ontario: Multilingual Matters, p. 241.
- 2001 Early Partial Immersion in French at Walker Road Primary School, Aberdeen by Professor Richard Johnstone, University of Stirling, Scottish Centre for Information on Language Teaching & Research
- Gardner, D. The Vancouver Sun, July 26, 2008