A second language

Can your child to succeed with French when you don’t speak the language? It’s possible, experts say

Canadian parents know the value of having their kids master French – the professional job scene demands it, particularly in the National Capital Region. A second language is a value add anywhere these days, and the likelihood of using French (or another language) has grown thanks to the interconnectivity of today’s global economy.


Another reason for having your kids learn French now, is the ease with which they’ll pick it up now rather than later. But perhaps most important, research suggests that learning a second language affects the following areas: cognition, academics, personal life, society at large, economics and intercultural understanding. Most often, learning a second language has a positive impact on the language learner, as stated in The University of Calgary’s March 2017 Literature Review on the Impact of Second-Language Learning.


But what if neither you nor your partner speak the language at home? This can be seen as a stumbling block, especially when you are looking for support for your child. Research indicates that children achieve more at school when their parents are committed to their academic life regardless of what language they speak. Being enthusiastic and supportive of them is the best reason your kids will learn better and want to learn more.


In terms of the type of French language learning available, there are three options.

With more than 24,500 Ontario students attending 44 elementary schools, 13 high schools and a school for adults, Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est (CECCE) is the largest French language school board outside of Québec.

French-language schools communicate with parents and others in French. They are staffed with francophones, and the extracurricular activities they provide take place in French. A francophone vitality is developed in these schools, allowing the school community to live and thrive linguistically and culturally. Students who attend a French-language school benefit from English education from elementary school to Grade 12. The English course at the secondary level is just as strict as in the English-language schools.


“The Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est (CECCE) is a French-language school board that focuses on the development of skills for the 21st century. This vision of education makes the Conseil a true leader in transforming the learning experience,” explains CECCE director of education Réjean Sirois.


“Its schools offer related learning (multiple-language opportunity for instance) and innovative experiences in settings other than in the classroom to place students at the heart of their learning, to stimulate their commitment and to develop their skills and interest in the subject material they are learning.”


Spearheaded by Canada’s first-ever Commissioner of Official Languages, Keith Spicer, Canadian Parents for French (CPF) was officially founded in 1977 as a collective of parents who wanted to ensure that children would have the opportunity to become bilingual in the Canadian school system.


“Learning French or any second language takes time,” says CFP’s national executive director, Nicole Thibault. “We cannot underestimate that it requires motivation and sustained efforts whether for a child or older language learner. Schools can only do so much. Opportunities to use the language beyond the classroom makes it more authentic such as making friends with native French speakers, participating in experiences of personal interest like sports or video games with like-minded people while using your second language,” she concludes.


French immersion programs feature a bilingual learning environment where English is the language of communication with the parents. In the majority of cases, students enrolled in these programs study in the same school as students enrolled in an English-language program though enrollment trends indicate that more parents are enrolling their children in French immersion than in English-only programs in the Ottawa area. This demonstrates the awareness of the importance of knowing French in Canada’s capital.


Private schools are a third option. Turnbull School is a private Ottawa elementary school for children to Grade 8. Indicative of such an educational setting, class sizes are small with a 10-to-one student-teacher ratio. A core French program is offered in the early grades with streaming initiated by Grade 4. Academic levels from core to advanced core and beyond are offered to tailor the needs of incoming students whether they’re English, Francophone or non-English/French speaking with the objective to prepare them for high school immersion. The school has the academic flexibility augmented by ever-present resources that makes this private option very appealing to parents.  


“At Turnbull School, our small class sizes, comprehensive programming and streamed French groupings have given all of our students the opportunities needed to enjoy a well-rounded and meaningful education,” says director of Turnbull School Gareth Reid. “Being able to offer different levels of French instruction has been very helpful to both our experienced French students and international students who may be new to French. We have been streaming French instruction in our junior and senior grades for over 15 years, and our students have definitely benefitted from this setup.”