Saturday, February 17, 2007

French immersion

Recently, there was a successful lobby to establish French immersion programs in both Dundas and Waterdown. Classes are scheduled to begin this fall.

The decision by the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board attracted modest media attention. Cathy, Liam and I got on Board after hearing about the efforts indirectly at the Dundas Cactus Festival this past summer. We signed up, attended some meetings and intend on enrolling Liam for September 2011 (he's only six months old at this point).

Discussion around French immersion has brought out the usual types who oppose anything French and believe it cripples kids' ability to function in English (please!). Have a look at this gem of a letter to the Hamilton Spectator from someone in Burlington (go figure) who feels that its good enough for people to "get by" with English, and who needs any other language:

Letter from Burlington man opposed to French immersion

Naturally, I was compelled to respond. I kept my comments brief, as I know they prefer it that way in the editorial room at the Spec. Its times like this I wish I was still writing for the Spec's Community Editorial Board:


I beg to differ with the letter writer who decried the "abysmal lack of proper English usage" in his objection to the revival of interest in French immersion in Hamilton.

I would hope that we, as parents and teachers, aspire to more for our children than having them simply "get by quite well with just English". Granted, the international language of business and technology may becoming more and more anglicized, but the imminent linguistic genocide of other languages, like French, is a little further away than the letter-writer seems to have suggested.

Employment in the public service, even employment prospects themselves, need not be the primary motivator for enrolling one's son or daughter in French immersion. Becoming conversant in French is of unquantifiable advantage in a country like Canada, or in a world where it is the second most influential language. Promoting French is not only a matter of national unity, but a shot in the arm for global citizenship. Or am I in the wrong country? Or on the wrong planet?

Furthermore, the fact is literacy skills in a second or third language complement, and in even enhance those in the first language. The letter writer needn't worry about French sucking the life out of English language skills. It isn't a zero-sum proposition. So, call me a snob but my son starts immersion in September 2011. I'm sorry the letter writer's children (or grandchildren) may miss out.

I hope they print my letter, too.

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