Whether at the grade school or high school level approximately 320,000 young Canadians attend French immersion schools. These students are guided in their learning on a daily basis by two thousand professionals of the Canadian Association of Immersion Teachers (CAIT). In constant growth, immersion is the key to francization and encourages bilingualism across the country.
To understand the importance of French immersion, one has only to speak with those who have studied in this context. The last Olympics in Vancouver where you could hear several Canadian athletes conversing in French after their athletic performance is a great example. According to Chantal Bourbonnais, director general of CAIT, this is a perfect example of the influence of French immersion.
“We believe in the importance of verbal communication because spoken language is the first thing we learn,” says Ms. Bourbonnais. “Once French is mastered verbally, the rest falls into place. It is the first skill to acquire.” In an immersion school, at least half of the day takes place in French, which means that more than just the French course is taught in French. Students enrolled in such schools speak English or a language other than French as their first language.
In addition to offering training and professional development to its members, the CAIT organizes an annual conference which reunites hundreds of immersion teachers, conducts research and promotes bilingualism throughout the country. Since most teaching tools presently available are written in or translated from English, the organisation also develops French educational tools in order to meet the needs of immersion teachers.
“Immersion provides us with a different perspective of the Canadian Francophonie,” believes Ms. Bourbonnais. “We too often forget the contribution and influence that Francophiles make and have on the French language.” When one considers that nearly half the members of CAIT’s board of directors are Anglophones who fell in love with the French language and who attended immersion schools as children and young adults, one can understand the full meaning of the organisation’s mission.
Finally, according to CAIT’s director, the demand for immersion schools far exceeds the current supply. If the financial and professional resources were available, the number of immersion students would certainly increase. Until then, CAIT will continue to offer services and quality tools to its members in order to allow the French language to woo, day after day, hundreds of thousands of young Canadian Francophiles.