The case for French Immersion programming

By Diane Hutchinson, Camrose Canadian Lifestyles Contributor

Ecole Charlie Killam School is having a Late French Immersion information night on Nov. 29.

Ecole Charlie Killam School is having a Late French Immersion information night on Nov. 29.

Why would you want your child to learn a second language? Here in the heart of East Central Alberta, many of us grew up thinking there was little benefit (and a lot of hard work) to learning a second language. 


While it’s true that learning a second language really is hard work, the benefits of becoming bilingual are more and more apparent. 

With our increasingly global economy, the chances that today’s children will do business with someone in a different country are higher than ever before. They may travel for work or they may interact with others using technology, but they are far more likely to be meeting people in other parts of the world than any generation before them. 

At home in Canada, where we have two official languages, anyone who has a good federal government job is also expected to be able to interact with others in either English or French. 

But there’s a lot more benefit to learning a second language than simply expanding your career opportunities. 

Research shows that the best time to learn a new language is when you are young. A younger brain has a greater capacity to expand, grow and retain new language skills than a brain that is, for example, my own advanced age. For children who are high achievers, learning a second language can bring more mental stimulation, interest and challenge to their school days. There is also a correlation between expanding your brain with a new language and increased ability to also expand your brain with other new knowledge, such as mathematics or music. 

In Battle River School Division, we’ve been offering a French Immersion Program for about 14 years now. That’s a program where, starting in kindergarten, children learn to speak, read and write in French.

Over a period of years, they also study English Language Arts and by the end of high school they are educated in two languages. The program operates alongside the English program, so kindergarten to Grade 5 is offered at Ecole Sifton School, Grades 6 to 8 are at Ecole Charlie Killam School and Grades 9 to 12 are at Ecole Camrose Composite High School. The program includes hundreds of local students. 

The school division is also planning to start a late immersion program next fall, in which students can begin their French language experience in Grade 6. They will be in their own classrooms for middle school (Grades 6 to 8, at Ecole Charlie Killam School) and be fully integrated with other French Immersion students starting in Grade 9. 

Our communities are seeing an increase in the number of children whose first language is not English. Some households have two, three and even more languages in their repertoire.  

But for those who come from homes in which English is the only thing they know, there can be anxiety about sending children to school in a language that parents don’t even know. It can be hard for parents to imagine how they will help their children learn to read and write in a language they themselves don’t understand. That’s the beauty of a French Immersion Program. It’s actually designed specifically to serve students and parents who do not have a second-language background.  

If you want to find out more, plan to attend the Late French Immersion information night, taking place at Ecole Charlie Killam School on Nov. 29, at 6 p.m. For information on all French Immersion programs, please feel free to contact Natasha Wilm, BRSD’s Director of Cultural and International Programs, at or 780-672-6131 ext. 5247. 


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