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Immersion Education in Canada: Stability and Change. Peter MacIntyre Cape Breton University Presented in Graz, Austria Sept 24, 2008 at the European Centre for Modern Languages. Outline. The language map of Canada Describe French Immersion Approach Support and Criticism of Immersion

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Immersion Education in Canada: Stability and Change

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immersion education in canada stability and change

Immersion Education in Canada: Stability and Change

Peter MacIntyre

Cape Breton University

Presented in Graz, Austria Sept 24, 2008

at the European Centre for Modern Languages

  • The language map of Canada
  • Describe French Immersion Approach
  • Support and Criticism of Immersion
  • State of Immersion in Canada Report (2006)
  • Recent Controversy in New Brunswick
    • Canadian Parents for French
  • Conclusions
languages in canada
Languages in Canada
  • English: 21.8 million speakers
  • French: 7.2 million speakers
    • Approximately 5.5 million English - French bilingual (17% of population)
    • Much more common for L1 French (43%) to be bilingual than L1 English (9%)
other languages in canada
Other languages in Canada
  • Next 4: Chinese, Italian, German & Punjabi
  • There are 50 - 70 Indigenous languages in 11 language families
    • Small, rural communities
    • Most are in critical decline
    • Only 3 likely to survive
      • (Cree, Inuktitut, Ojibway, all have 20,000 to 70,000 speakers)
  • Immigrants, L3 issue
    • Especially prevalent in large cities
      • Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver
  • Language issues remain primarily English – French
    • Official bilingualism is promoted and practiced by Canadian Government.
core features of immersion
Core Features of Immersion

Swain and Johnson (1997) list 8 core features of Immersion

1. L2 is medium of instruction.

2. Immersion curriculum parallels local L1 curriculum.

3. Overt support for L1.

4. The program aims for additive bilingualism.

5. Exposure to L2 largely confined to classroom.

6. Students enter with similar (and limited) levels of L2 proficiency.

7. Teachers are bilingual.

8. Classroom culture is that of the local L1 community.

types of french immersion programs in canada
Types of French Immersion Programs in Canada
  • Early French Immersion
    • begins in Kindergarten or Grade 1 (age 5 or 6) and is characterized by 100% French instruction from beginning through Grade 2.
  • Middle Immersion
    • begins in Grade 3 or 4 and usually starts with a level of French instruction around 80%. 
  • Late Immersion
    • begins in Grade 6 or 7 with about 60-75% French instruction.
  • All three types have been shown to be effective
    • Early Immersion has some advantage.
characteristics of immersion
Characteristics of Immersion
  • Immersion education began in Quebec in 1960’s
    • English-speaking parents
    • Built by parents, educators and psychologists
  • Bilingualism reported among 25% of Canadian young adults aged 18-29
  • 3 of 5 immersion students are girls
  • Immersion students outperform non-immersion students in L1 reading
  • French immersion students tend to have higher socio-economic status backgrounds
additional factors
Additional Factors
  • Immersion programs are more easily available
    • in more affluent communities
    • and in Eastern Canada
  • Self-selection of students
    • less-skilled students may be transferring out of immersion programs
    • enriched learning environments, positive peer effects
support and criticisms of french immersion
Support and Criticisms of French Immersion
  • Immersion supports bilingualism
    • but not native-like fluency
  • Public sometimes complains about use of federal funds

- education is a provincial responsibility in Canada

  • Support - skill in the French language
        • eligibility for future jobs
        • helps to promote French culture
  • Criticism – perceived as having limited access
        • voluntary nature of program
        • Immersion students not completely fluent
state of immersion 2006


Report from the

Canadian Council on Learning

improving immersion education
Improving Immersion Education

Education system must focus on:

1.recruitment of qualified teachers,

2. finding or developing curricula and teaching materials that are up to date and relevant for today’s youth,

3. maintaining secondary immersion programs despite the lack of teaching resources in courses,

4. recruiting immersion students among Aboriginal and new Canadians.

cont d
  • Gaps exist with:
    • access to transportation,
    • provisions for developing written goals for student achievement in FSL,
    • defining qualifications for FSL teachers,
    • developing models regarding the cost of providing FSL programs.
suggestions for immersion in canada
Suggestions for Immersion in Canada
  • Increase the supply of qualified French-immersion teachers
    • Need French + Specialty (e.g., Sciences)
  • Work to reduce attrition rates among students, especially after grade 8
  • Increase participation rates among immigrant students
controversy in new brunswick

Controversy in New Brunswick

Canada’s only officially

bilingual province

controversy in new brunswick21
Controversy in New Brunswick
  • March 2008 NB Education Minister Kelly Lamrock announced that the province would be eliminating its early immersion program.
  • Dr. James Croll and Patricia Lee released their review of the programs, including 18 recommendations.
  • NB branch of Canadian Parents for French called for one-year moratorium on changes to early immersion and early core French.
croll and lee report 2008 7 of their 18 recommendations
Croll and Lee Report (2008) 7 of their 18 Recommendations

1) French programming for Anglophone children begins at Grade 5 with Intensive French.

2) Late Immersion first offered beginning in Gr. 6

6) All academic materials for classroom use be available in French and English at the same time.

7) That comprehensive evaluations be carried out.

14) University training courses be reviewed.

17) Parents be informed of the L2 employment criteria for both the Provincial and Federal governments.

18) Retain target of 70% of high school graduates function effectively in speaking their 2nd official language.

canadian parents for french
Canadian Parents for French
  • Powerful group of parents
  • David Brennick - CPF Vice-President
    • Served on Board of CPF-Nova Scotia initially as a director before completing a two year term as president.
    • Currently Co-ordinator of Student Services with the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board in Eastern Nova Scotia
    • Director of the Network for

Children and Youth,

Eastern Nova Scotia

  • Successful in altering gov’t policy
    • Some changes are likely
a challenge for canada languages other than english and french
A Challenge for Canada:Languages other than English and French

Swain and Johnson (1997) note the rapid growth of highly diverse populations in large Canadian urban centers.

  • Increase in L3 learners
  • programming needs to change to recognize home languages other than English.
  • Immersion is well respected in Canada
    • Especially if goals are realistic ones
  • Enrollments are stable, slightly increasing
    • Some locations are better than others
  • Qualified teaching staff & materials are issues
    • Especially in higher grades
    • Attrition is a concern
  • Some challenges remain
    • Provincial vs Federal roles
immersion education in canada stability and change26

Immersion Education in Canada: Stability and Change

Peter MacIntyre

Cape Breton University

Presented in Graz, Austria Sept 24, 2008

at the European Centre for Modern Languages