By Lindsay Cotton
By learning another language, children are able to expand their vocabulary and develop superior reading and writing skills. "There's been research that shows if people know more than one language, it helps their first language," says Suzanne Majhanovich, a professor of education at the University of Western Ontario. She says that the long-term benefits of an education in a second language far outweigh the initial setbacks. According to her, when students first begin an immersion program there is a lag in their English education, but by the fifth grade they surpass students who are not in immersion programs.
The younger a child learns a new language the easier it is for them to correctly mimic the accent, allowing for a seamless transition and more confidence in using this second language later on. Learning another language can also help children focus and improve academically. "You would anticipate kids enrolled in French immersion may not do as well on the English tests," says Majhanovich. "But they tend to do better because they're learning to use their minds. They can't assume that they know things."
Language schools' long term benefits
Colleges and universities constantly look for well-rounded individuals and advanced language skills become an advantage during the application process and in their post-secondary studies. More importantly, however, bilingualism becomes a major advantage when searching for a job, especially in the areas of science, technology, medicine and commerce. Mastering a second language becomes a major asset career-wise. "In Europe, people are typically expected to know at least two languages," said Majhanovich. Second language education puts Canadian students on an equal playing field at the international level.
Fluency in a second language allows for greater travel opportunities and a better understanding of the world. It also provides occasions to build connections on a much more global scale. "It's an opening on different cultures and a whole new set of knowledge," said headmaster Martin Bailly at West Island College in Montreal, Quebec. Students at West Island College have the option of either learning everything in French or of enrolling in the French immersion program where all courses except mathematics, science and English are taught in French.
Kelly, a Grade 9 student at West Island College has never regretted studying in a second language. "I would like to leave this school as perfectly bilingual as I can," she said. She feels that she is prepared to continue her studies in either English or French. "It opens so many doors and opportunities."
A Language Schools Q & A with Susan Markle
Learning a second or third language will open up doors and allow your children to experience the world.
UNIQUE FEATURES: Each school does it differently. At schools like ours that are bilingual, the aim is to have students fully functional and at a high degree of competence in their non-native language in the four language domains: reading, writing, speaking and listening. Students are immersed in an environment dominated by the second language so that it is reinforced and solidified. At our school, math, science, history and geography are taught in French, and French- language courses are mandatory up until the final year. Usually, the expectation at language schools is that the non-native language will be near or at native fluency level by graduation.
BENEFITS: Learning another language tends to enrich and enhance intellectual development, produce greater flexibility in thinking and even strengthen abilities in the native language. It has a positive effect on executive brain functions—staying focused, planning ahead and dealing with ambiguity. It opens doors to other cultures and viewpoints and, in our globalized world, increases job opportunities.
HOW DO I KNOW IT'S A GOOD FIT? It depends on your child and what their strengths and areas of difficulty are. Some kids have a good ear and a greater propensity for picking up languages. Others can pick it up and do fine, but may have to work a little harder. If a child has difficulty making some sounds or is developmentally delayed in language acquisition, then a bilingual program might not be right for them.
-Susan Markle is Director of admissions at Toronto French School