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Choosing French School

| September 2, 2014 | 9 Comments
First day of maternelle last August. And yes, this is the best photo. Sigh.

First day of maternelle last August. The adventure begins! And yes, this is the best photo. Sigh.

My daughter started Senior Kindergarten this Fall.

Or, more specifically, because she goes to a French school: jardin.

I remember the nerves when she started in French school.

My nerves – as the English-speaking parent.

My husband is French, and we’d made the decision from birth to raise bilingual children and send both our girls to French school because, as they say:

«Le français s’apprend, l’anglais s’attrape. »

Translation?

You learn French. You catch English.

Even in Ottawa, with a large French population, that’s true. And it’s particularly true in a family like ours that is half English and half French, with the extended French half living out-of-town.

As for me?

I’m bilingual.

I even have a high school certificate (go Hillcrest Hawks!) and Public Service Second Language Test scores to prove it.

But despite that, until I married into a French family, I was rarely called on to use it.

So when I was, I was nervous.

Generally, I did fine.

But there are the moments that stick out:

  • While dating my future husband, my (now) nephew at age five who, after a couple of hours of serious effort on my part, informed me that it was okay if I wanted to just speak to him in English.
  • The francophone Chair of a Committee I once clerked who would circle my French grammatical errors. Both actual errors and the ones that “sounded English”. In glass half-full land? I came out of that experience with much refreshed and improved written French.
  • Getting screened out of a part-time job as a Parliamentary Tour Guide during my undergrad years because I flunked the French test. Bilingual certificate aside, if you don’t use it, you really do lose it.

While I’m now at ease speaking with my in-laws and reading to my kids in French, despite French Immersion since I was four-years-old and a concerted and consistent effort to maintain my French language skills, the nerves never completely went away.

And that’s why, in addition to my husband’s strong feelings about sending our children to French school, I was completely on board. I watch my husband, and other bilingual Francophones I know, switch seamlessly and seemingly effortlessly between English and French. That is a gift I want to give my children. So like last year, I put my nerves aside and embrace another year communicating, mostly in writing via the agenda, with my daughter’s school in my second language. I suspect they are at times forgiving of, or humoured by, some of my rushed morning message errors. But they don’t circle them, which helps. And they are very welcoming and encouraging and, I believe, genuinely appreciative of the effort to support the French only environment at the school.

Because, like so many things once you become a parent, it really isn’t about you anymore. My role? It’s to support my daughter and her school’s learning environment as best I can. So that’s what I’ll do. And if my French benefits from the practice? All the better.


This is my first post here about (trying to) raise our kids to be fluently bilingual in English and French. I hope to write some more posts as to our specific experiences to date: early efforts, play groups, preschool and encouraging family to help. My children are only four and two, so we are at early stages yet and I’d love to hear from others further along in this experience.

Louise

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Category: Back to School, Education, Family, Themes

About the Author ()

Louise lives in Alta Vista with her husband and their two daughters: ages four and two. She works full-time for the Federal Government. She's a former competitive swimmer, enjoys running for fitness, is trying to enjoy cooking and is actively involved in the Carleton University Alumni Association. She likes to write, so: blog hobby. You can visit her blog at http://babygatesdown.wordpress.com. Author's website.

Comments (9)

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  1. Judy Cowan says:

    Hope your daughter has a wonderful school year. I have to admit I never used French after leaving school so I would have to start all over from scratch now if I needed to use it.

    • Louise says:

      Thanks so much! She certainly was excited to get back to school and see her friends again after the summer. As for second languages, I suspect what you’re saying is true for many people. If you don’t have the opportunity to use it, you forget quite a lot of it. I have to admit, I like knowing my daughter’s schooling will be another place I will be “forced to practice.”

  2. Tara Gauthier says:

    My son is in French Immersion and he loves it! My daughter goes to a different program as we weren’t able to make it work with the school for her and her hearing loss/speech delay.

    • Louise says:

      I can imagine how hearing loss and speech delay could make putting learning a second language into the mix too much. My daughter’s first year of school was challenging enough without that (her teachers were also concerned about hearing and delays early on so we got her tested – turns out she’s fine on that front, but fine motor and attention are an ongoing issue). All that to say, I can see how it doesn’t work in all cases.

      So glad to hear French Immersion is going well for your son!

  3. Lian says:

    I agree with you. I want my children to be able to speak fluently without getting the nerves I get whenever I speak French. I’m glad your eldest is enjoying SK!

    • Louise says:

      Thanks Lian! The first week back was a bit bumpy: a few tears as she got use to the school routine again, but hopefully we’re through that.

      As for French: obviously agreed! Thanks so much for the comment.

  4. Anne Taylor says:

    If I had it to do over again, I would definitely put my girls in a French Immersion school! My neice and nephew are both in them and are pretty much bilingual by now!

    • Louise says:

      While I think it’s certainly easier when younger, it’s never too late to learn. That’s great to hear about your niece and nephew. I’m hoping I look back ten years from now with two comfortably bilingual kids. Until then the amount of learning about … everything … feels pretty huge.

  5. kathy downey says:

    My grandkids are in French Immersion and they love it!

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