English parents, French education? Mais, oui!

English-speaking parents will be surprised by the amount of French they already know, experts say

As Nicole Thibault, national executive director for Canadian Parents for French points out, “Canada is a bilingual country and the benefits for children to know both official languages are enormous.” Canadian Parents for French, which started over 40 years ago in Ottawa, began as a grassroots organization by parents who believed in the benefits of bilingualism. It’s now a national network with branch offices and chapters right across the country. But what about parents who speak only English, or even another language in the home? How can their children learn French?  

“Core and immersion programs were designed with the idea that the parents might not be French speaking,” says Thibault. She also says that most schools do provide support for children to learn French. Parents can provide added support by getting their child a tutor. The key for Thibault is exposure. “A good start can be a bilingual daycare,” she says. “And you can make it fun. Watch children’s TV shows in French, listen to French radio or attend events geared to children that are in French. You’ll be surprised by the amount of French you probably already know.” But according to Thibault, the best way for those who meet the requirements to become fluently bilingual is to go to a French school.

Commitment and attitude towards learning a new language are two attributes that Guy Dubois, superintendent of education of the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est (CECCE) looks for when students apply to attend a CECCE school. “Anyone can apply,” says Dubois, “but there are certain criteria that students and parents have to meet.” One of those criteria is language. There has to be some understanding of French by at least one parent. “This will put them in a better position to support their children,” says Dubois. “All our schools offer an environment that is 100 percent French. Therefore, students who are French-language learners have the benefit of being exposed to French all the time, whether it is in the classroom, playing sports in the gym, or at lunchtime and at recess.” Dubois has had parents who are so keen on getting their child into a French school that they’ve taken French classes as well. He also suggests that as an English-speaking parent, you might consider a full French daycare to ensure a good start in learning French.  “Our primary concern is the success of the child,” says Dubois, “and parents can help their child succeed by showing an interest and setting an example. Do activities in French, experience cultural performances in French—it all helps.” Dubois also says that English doesn’t get left behind. “English is taught starting in Grade 4, and by the time students reach Grade 12, they have obtained the same level of proficiency in English as their anglophone counterparts, with the added bonus of a sustainable, high-level of bilingualism—a clear advantage when applying to university.”  

Small classes and a focus on everyday life situations for using French make Turnbull School’s French-enriched programs successful. “My best advice for parents who want their child to be fluent in French is to start as early as possible,” says Jody Rantala, teacher, Francophone, and French department coordinator at Turnbull School. “Our programs at Turnbull emphasize functional French and we look at each child and consider how they learn and what will work best for them.” Rantala encourages her French students to find opportunities to do things in French, like watching YouTube videos and TV shows. She also says there are several fun learning apps and great on-line games in French that can provide even more exposure to French. “Parents can help build their child’s confidence as well,” says Rantala. “Be interested in what your child is learning and emphasize the value. Or maybe watch something with them on TV and show your support.” Rantala says she would encourage older students to go out to a restaurant with their family and order in French to get them comfortable and confident with using French. “I do some general tutoring for English-speaking families,” says Rantala, “and often those parents know more French than they think they do.” Her best advice is to know what your child can do and to have a positive attitude. It all helps.




Learn more

For more information on Canadian Parents for French (Ontario), visit https://on.cpf.ca/en/ 

For enrolment information at CECCE – Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est, visit https://www.ecolecatholique.ca/inscription

For more about Turnbull School programs, visit https://turnbull.ca/