Should I Enrol my Child in Early French Immersion?

Parents, are you considering enrolling your kindergarten child in an Early French Immersion Program? Schools don’t like to be heavy-handed with advice regarding a child’s lack of readiness for an Early French Immersion Program. There are very few tools available to help parents with this important decision. I have developed an objective checklist to help you. 

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Why did I create an Early French Immersion Readiness Checklist?

I created this Early French Immersion Readiness Checklist when I was working in British Columbia’s public schools as a speech language pathologist.

Why did I create it? Because some children suffer tremendously in Early French Immersion Programs. Whose responsibility is it to warn parents? I’m willing to advocate for children at this stage in my career. I no longer work for a school district. I can be honest without worrying about my job security.

Students who were struggling in French were being referred to me in late grade three. These were students who had not learned to read and write in the Early French Immersion Program, despite four years of instruction. After my assessment, a few people from the school team would meet with the parents.

In each case, the school would urge the parents to transfer the child into an English language program for grade 4. The educators knew that the student would not have success with a French curriculum that would become more demanding in the intermediate grades.

Unfortunately, the educators were hoping that the student would thrive after the transfer to an English language setting. The majority of these meetings were about students who were completely illiterate in English too. In all the years that I worked in the public schools, not once did the school offer intensive intervention as part of the transition to grade 4. 

The parents were worried that their child would lose their friends. Parents were resistant to the advice from the educators. They blamed the teachers. Parents were frustrated that the school was giving up on their child. They wanted the school to try harder.

As the speech language pathologist in the room, I felt that the adults were spending way too much energy on emotional reactions. My testing showed that these students had deficits in memory, language and auditory processing. They did not have the necessary prerequisites for success in an Early French Immersion Program. These were students with a medical history of ear infections and allergies. They had been language delayed as preschoolers. Their pronunciation was unclear. They were poor listeners.

Had the parents made a mistake by enrolling their child in an Early French Immersion Program?

Yes, I think so. This trauma to the child could have been prevented. By interviewing the family for background information, I was able to identify the risk factors that were present at kindergarten entry.

The truth is harsh. Some children have deficits in memory, language and auditory processing.  Why? These deficits can be caused by a complicated birth, by genetics and by environmental factors. 

Risk Factors

What are the risk factors that reveal poor readiness for an Early French Immersion Program?

How many of the following risk factors are part of your child’s profile? How many of my probes can your child do successfully? Download the checklist and then mark the items that apply to your child. The free download is available at the bottom of this post. Here is a quick image.

Early French Immersion Checklist Image

Risk Factors in the Medical History

Complicated pregnancy or birth

Family history of learning difficulties

Ear infections, allergies, asthma

Surgery to remove tonsils or adenoids

Risk Factors 1200w

History of Language Delay

First words after 18 months

At school entry, is producing short utterance with grammatical errors in the first language spoken at home

History of Speech Delay

Needed speech-language therapy as a preschooler

Strangers still cannot understand the child

Weak Auditory Attention and Analysis

Unable to delete syllables

This is a syllable deletion probe. Can your child produce the right answer on the first try without help?

ADULT CHILD
Say… baseball. baseball
Say it again but don’t say base. ball
Say…teacup. teacup
Say it again but don’t say cup. tea
Say…highchair. highchair
Say it again but don’t way chair. high

 

Weak Auditory Memory and Sequencing, Task 1

Unable to repeat a string of numbers in the correct sequence

This is an auditory memory and sequencing probe. Can your child produce the right answer, in the right order, on the first try without help?

ADULT CHILD
Say… 8-7-3 8-7-3
Say…3-5-2-6 3-5-2-6
Say…9-4-1-10-8 9-4-1-10-8

 

Weak Auditory Memory and Sequencing, Task 2

Unable to say the days of the week from memory

Can your child say the days of the week correctly without help?

ADULT: What are the days of the week? Sunday… ?

CHILD: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday

No Signs of Interest in a New Language Yet

Child does not say any words from a new language

Why is it important to take these risk factors seriously?

Learning to read and write is a very demanding task, especially if the language of instruction is unfamiliar. There is pressure on young children to memorize auditory messages. This creates enormous frustration for children who can’t do it. If a student stays quiet, it may not be obvious to the French immersion teacher that the child is in serious trouble.

In public schools, support services like learning assistance and speech language therapy are aimed at Kindergarten to grade three. By the time students are in grade four, the services are less available.  

Why is English language instruction a better fit for some kids?

In contrast, these same difficulties are dealt with quickly when the child is in an English language classroom. Everyone can hear the speech and language problems in the child’s oral language. Any trouble with listening, attention and memory is addressed rather than ignored. The red flags are obvious in an English language class.

In my opinion, children at risk should be taught to read and write in English. Why English? Because English literacy is necessary for employment opportunities in most of Canada. 

Get a free download of my Early French Immersion Readiness Checklist. Check off the items that apply to your child. Is there a worrisome pattern? Please heed my advice. Start with English language instruction if your child is showing risk factors and is not exhibiting readiness for an Early French Immersion Program.

About the Author Neuroplan

Online speech language therapy and literacy apps. Available across Canada. Dyslexia, Learning Disabilities, ADD/ADHD, Autism, Auditory Processing, Acquired Brain Injury, Stuttering, English Comprehension and Grammar.

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