Why learn French?

Kids in Paris

Many people have asked us why we chose French as a second language for our children instead of Spanish or Mandarin. As Canadian citizens, French was a natural choice. Canada’s official languages are English and French. Everything from food labels, medication information, ads, and road signs are written bilingually. In our home province of Alberta, core (basic) French is taught in school beginning in grade four. In addition, Alberta has a wealth of French immersion (schools which provide French as the language of instruction for students with English-speaking parents), and Francophone schools (education for French-speaking families) scattered throughout the province.

We chose French-Immersion education for our children because:

  • receiving instruction in French would challenge them to become excellent listeners, as they’d have to pay close attention to understand what is happening in the classroom.
  • more opportunities are open to students who are proficient in more than one language – Higher education scholarships and job opportunities in the national and international levels.
  • we believed learning a second language at a young age would benefit them intellectually. Becoming fluent in another language could become a springboard to learning a third or fourth language, and influence the way their brain approaches a problem or idea.
  • we really love the way it sounds! It’s a beautiful language.

According to the Canadian Council of Learning on French-Immersion education in Canada, the importance of bilingualism carries a number of benefits (pg 2):

  1. Economic benefits: Canadians who speak both official languages earn more, on average, than those who speak only English or only French.
  2. Cognitive benefits: A number of studies have documented the cognitive advantages that speaking a second language confers. For example, many bilingual people have enhanced problem-solving skills because of their ability to attend to relevant information and disregard misleading information.
  3. Cultural benefits: French–English bilingualism enhances Canadians’ ability to participate fully in Canadian society.

Susan's Homeschool Project on France.

French as an Influential World Language

I knew that French literacy and oral fluency was a practical advantage to have in Canada in terms of jobs and educational scholarship opportunities.  Although, it wasn’t until we moved to France for our immersion year that I realized just how influential the language was on the world platform.  According to the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University’s site on French: The most Practical Foreign Language:

  • French is the only language other than English spoken on five continents.
  • French and English are the only two global languages.
  • French as a foreign language is the second most frequently taught language in the world after English.
  • 28 countries have French as an official language.
  • French, along with English, is the official working language of the United Nations, UNESCO, NATO, the International Red Cross, and many others.
  • Before English, French was the lingua franca (working language) in the Western World, and was the language of nobility and diplomacy across Europe.

Our goals with French

Currently, we’re very taken with the idea of having our kids become fluent with their second language, which means to us fluency in reading, writing, and speaking French. A second language requires a good amount of practice to keep up, and we don’t want this year of progress in France to go to waste, so we’ve decided to continue our children’s French education in Canada by placing them in a French Immersion school in Edmonton.

That being said, we’ve also experienced such great benefits of homeschooling. We love that the kids have all the time to contemplate and also work in their own pace, as well as do extra cool projects that they wouldn’t otherwise do (however, French school this year was pretty rockin’, with the amazing field trips, spectacles,  and sailing lessons the kids have taken). So we’re open to homeschooling in the future. Right now, the kids are really enjoying school, and unanimously want to go to school in the fall. We plan to discern every year to see what is best with our kids and their needs. If homeschooling is the path for us, we’ll look into trying to find French tutors or classes for weekly lessons. However, nothing beats speaking the language everyday. Brian took French Immersion until the end of grade 9 (age 14). At the time, he didn’t really appreciate it, wanting (as he saw it) to be part of the “cool” English group instead of with the boring French kids. He’s since thanked his parents for choosing French Immersion for him, because he’s been able to use it quite well during our travels, especially through Morocco and France. That is why we’re strongly leaning towards French Immersion school back in Edmonton for our first year back.

Right now, we can definitely see the usefulness of French in our kids’ educations. Susan, our ten-year-old (who’s really loving her year here), is already talking about coming back for a year exchange as a highschool student, with the possibility of getting a summer job here in Southern France. As well, Susan and Lucy are both very interested in returning to France to study for their post-secondary education. Lucy thinks that maybe she’d like to go to Paris to study art or fashion design. As for the boys, they haven’t really said too much about what their thoughts are on how they’d like to use their second language in the future. Peter says that when he grows up, he wants to be just like his dad. Edmund wants to be an astronaut or ninja-spy. 😉

As for Brian and me, we definitely can see ourselves growing old here in Southern France. This country has really enchanted us. So in the handful of years to come, we hope to work towards this goal in mind.

Here are some good reads regarding bilingualism on the brain:

Why Bilinguals are Smarter

Bilingualism may buffer against Alzheimer’s

Written by Jenn

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8 Responses to Why learn French?

  1. Pingback: Struggles in French School | At Home in the World

  2. bruleeblog says:

    I agree 100% that ninja-spy is the route to take.

    It’s interesting… my cousins in Malaysia learned Mandarin at school for possible use in their future career. Many people in different parts of Asia are moving towards Mandarin as a 2nd or 3rd language because of China’s influence.

    On the other hand, learning Mandarin is HARD. French is so much easier (even though my grammar sucks).

    • Hi Sher,
      Yes, I agree that Mandarin will be useful to take, as China is growing in influence, and Chinese are everywhere! 😉

      I think that would be a VERY useful language for my kids to take (if they want to) in the future. I think for us, French just make sense, and is where (Canada & France) we’d want to be in our future…..but who knows, things may change….as long as we’re open to the change and adaptable.

      You must have an ear for the language, yes? I’d imagine you growing up with it. I still understand Tagalog (my kids gawk at me), but need to practice fluency in speaking it.

      When are you buying your tix to come see me? 😀

  3. Nancy from Mass says:

    It’s funny, when I was growing up in New Hampshire, we were told that if we were going to take a language, we should take french because it was a language that everyone seemed to be moving towards. I took french in eighth grade (my family is french, but canadian french) and I received a C because I was speaking french slang, not the french the teacher was teaching. Fast forward over 25 years (25 years, Wow!) and the only french I hear is from my mom or if i listen to an online french station. everywhere around me is spanish. spanish stations, spanish television, even spanish in the charter school my son currently attends (until 2 weeks from now when I switch him to regular public school). OH, how I WISH i could hear french more often!
    I think it is incredibly important for any child to learn another language. i think it not only helps them process information better, but i think it helps them to feel more confident. And, as you may already know, once you learn french, it’s easier to branch off into other languages. as I have been helping my son with spanish, i find most words are spelled and pronounced almost exactly the same as french. Italian is fairly similar also.
    sorry this is such a long comment! I love reading your blog and being an ‘armchair traveler’ with you!

    • Hi Nancy,
      I love your comments! That is so neat how you grew up hearing French! Do you still understand it when you hear it?
      Yes, the US should definitely make Spanish their second official language, and I can see how beneficial speaking Spanish is in the States. I think Spanish is a beautiful language too.
      I think the most important thing about being Bilingual is the ability to incorporate one’s second language into one’s life – make it a living language. I believe that if we were Americans, then we’d definitely be learning Spanish instead of French. Right now, I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to show the kids how real (and wonderful) having a second language is, and the possible opportunities that it would open up.
      Jenn 🙂

      • nancy from mass says:

        Je comprends en peu. my parents spoke it quite often but never made us kids respond in french so we do understand, but have a difficult time speaking french. If i read something in french, i typically understand, but most people speak so quickly that i have a harder time. Also, where and something-else-i-can’t-remember is pronounced the same (ou) and spelled the same but has two different meanings so that messes me up a little! my son is planning on taking french next year in regular public school….I am so happy to hear that!

      • Hi Nancy,
        I am the same way with Filipino. I can understand it, but can’t speak it fluently. I’m so glad your son will be taking French next year!
        Jenn

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