When I moved here two years ago I was excited to be moving to Canada’s only bilingual province. My son would hear French and English being spoken in his daily life, and would be immersed in French at school. He would grow up with a second language, an option that was not available to me during my elementary school years, where core French classes did not begin until grade five or later.
began looking into the opportunities for this French immersion I imagined, I
discovered that at the Elementary school across the street French education
would not begin until grade three. That was a shock, because research suggests
a child’s ability to absorb the sounds and nuances other languages begins
immediately and peaks by age seven, which is the time Canada’s only bilingual
province begins its French education.
So I turned to the French school. Perhaps my son
could learn French there. However, I was
told my four year old son would need to pass a French comprehension test in
order to attend the French school. I could send my son to a French preschool, I
was told, to help him pass this test. Unfortunately, all the French preschools
I called didn’t have room for him. So in Canada’s only bilingual province, my
son was not able to start his French education in kindergarten, and in fact
would have to wait until grade three.
It is interesting to note that in Alberta, the province I left, early
immersion programming begins in Kindergarten. In fact, Yukon Territory, where I
was born, now offers early French immersion, as does British Columbia and
Saskatchewan among others.
A friend of mine recently moved to Toronto.
At first she was worried about finding childcare for her baby. However, down
the street she found a woman who speaks three languages who takes care of
children during the day. On her door this woman has the work “welcome” in
French, English, and Spanish. When she speaks to the children, she uses words
from these three languages. The children she is nurturing are exposed to these
sounds and tones. There is no official languages
act posted in her home; no English, French, and Spanish administrators haggling
over which words, and how many she must use; no overhead costs to duplicate the
names of the cookies and muffins she bakes into all three languages; and yet
she is able to provide a better education in languages than Canada’s only official
bilingual province. The model only demands a person who speaks multiple
languages willing to share her knowledge with a sense of fun and good humour.
At my son’s school across the street, he can
choose various enrichment activities. He can join the choir, make science experiments,
read or write, join recycling, guidance, or technology, but he cannot learn
French in Canada’s only bilingual province.
As an English-only
speaker and writer, why do I care about French education for my son? Well, it
is not the reason most New Brunswickers put their children in French immersion,
which as I understand it is so they can qualify for a government job. Depressing
is it not? The result of the current languages act is to create a system
whereby students are motivated to learn French not because French language and
culture has a rich history in New Brunswick, or because it can enrich English
lives with music and food and dance as I believe, but because it might land a job in
government. Wouldn’t you rather have policies that foster cooperation,
sharing, joy, and culture between languages, not just a certification for a
What is currently in place here in New Brunswick is systemic
segregation, much like Apartheid. English school, French school, English
hospital, French hospital. Why not go the distance and have French seating and
English seating on city buses? Or French only washrooms, and English only
washrooms? What you have created is not that much different.
The system you need to build needs to foster an
atmosphere of learning and sharing, of collaboration and cooperation. What
L’ecole St. Anne is doing in their cafeteria is amazing, and I am jealous that
the French school has access to a chef creating healthy fresh meals, while my
son, if he were to eat at the cafeteria, only has access to processed crap that
is not the least bit healthy. The French school has an idea worth emulating, so
copy it. We need sharing, not segregation. We need cooperation, not separation.
It really is as simple as creating a system that lets the good ideas flourish