Choosing a school for your child is a difficult decision, and many parents agonize for months over the various choices. Catholic or public? Alternative or mainstream? Walking or driving to get there?
Here in Ottawa we have an added layer to the decision - language. We are lucky to live in a fully bilingual city, with Quebec a stone's throw away. But Ottawa is also a city where many anglophones move to for jobs, and we often assume that French schools are not accessible to us.
It's true that if you are fully anglophone (i.e. you do not speak any French), then French Immersion would be a better choice if you want your child to learn French as a second language. But many of us have been through the French Immersion system ourselves - we speak (passable) French, enjoy the Quebecois culture, and want our children to be fully bilingual.
If that's the case, then choosing a French school is an option! Here are 5 tips for being an anglophone in a francophone system:
1. Assess your own level of French - are you comfortable reading and speaking in French? Remember that accommodations will not be made for you - all materials sent home from schools will be in French, and you will be expected to speak to your child's teachers in French (that said, my husband doesn't speak French, and we've had some very kind teachers who will switch to English for him when necessary)
2. Be brave! I was so nervous when I first called the principal to discuss the possibility of my daughter attending French school. But as soon as I began speaking in French, the principal said I would be completely fine and reassured me that my French was actually better than I thought! If your French is not as advanced, you may be asked to have an interview with both the principal and supervisor. In my case, I was able to meet with the principal alone.
3. Don't expect the school to "make" your child bilingual - you have a responsibility as a parent to also introduce French at home. Although English is my mother tongue, I make an effort to read French books, sing French songs, turn on French TV or DVDs and sign my child up for French playgroups/camps. We are also lucky to have preparatory programs in our schools: Je d'ecole and Petits pas a trois. These programs are suitable for children as young as 3 years old and are FREE!
4. Get involved - the best way to ensure your child has a positive experience in French school is to get involved as a parent. Volunteer on the school council, or attend class outings. If you stay at home with your children, consider volunteering in the classroom once a week.
5. Speak French! Duh. Seems obvious, but we anglophones have a tendency to revert to English because we are worried about how we sound. But tell me this - have you ever judged another person who is speaking in English as their second language? Of course not! And francophones are often happy to let us speak our choppy French so that we can learn. If you're still feeling nervous, consider signing up for a conversational French class.
For more information, contact your French school boards: