Last updated: October 19, 2012 5:03 pm
Alberta sees growing interest in French immersion
EDMONTON (CUP) — Albertans are making a noticeable shift towards a bilingual culture, according to research done by Canadian Parents for French, Alberta Branch (CPF Alberta).
Around 37,000 students in kindergarten to grade 12 were enrolled in French immersion in the 2011/12 school year, an increase of almost four per cent over the previous year. French immersion is offered in 47 communities throughout the province.
CPF Alberta’s executive director, Michael Tryon, explains that Alberta’s French immersion program is integrated into school districts and schools in gradual steps. The first year will introduce kindergarten and grade one classes, the next year will add grade two, and so on, all the way to grade 12.
After high school, options for further French education are somewhat limited in Alberta, but a new institution opened in Edmonton this September: the Centre Collégial de l’Alberta [the Collegial Centre of Alberta], a community college that’s associated with the University of Alberta's francophone campus at Campus Saint-Jean.
“At the post-secondary level we’re seeing more French learning opportunities arise,” said Tryon.
Suzanne Hayman, assistant professor and French coordinator in the humanities department at Grant MacEwan University, agreed.
“We’re optimistic; our numbers have been strong and steady,” she said, while also voicing concerns about the number of students interested in French.
“As more students come in that will require advanced placement, either at the intermediate or advanced level, does that mean more students will move into the beginner? Are the beginner classes filling up and there are still more students who want to take French and can’t get in? Or is there a finite number of students who will take French anyway?
“Because we don’t have a minor yet, we only have a certain number of timeslots,” said Hayman.
So if the university wants to offer another section at the advanced level, one of the introductory courses would have to be dropped. MacEwan will offer a minor in French starting either the fall of 2013 or 2014, she noted.
“The attitude in general, here in Alberta, seems to be evolving in regard to French,” Hayman said. “Certainly young people are a lot more open to it, and more parents are encouraging their children to do immersion. It can only mean good things for everyone involved.”
John Soroski, assistant professor of political science at MacEwan is skeptical about the statistics.
“Is [the four per cent] increase a gross number? Does it take into account population change?”
An increasingly bilingual community should theoretically benefit Canadian culture, especially the unshrinking disparity between Quebec and the rest of the country. But from a political science point of view, Soroski doesn’t believe any change in Alberta will make a difference.
“There’s a very strong notion by many Quebec nationalists that the only place that you can viably create and protect a French language community is Quebec itself, so these external approaches and efforts are, you know, nice but not relevant to the question of the French language’s viability in Canada.”
Soroski went on to say the conceptual arrows presented are absolutely correct, but at this level, the importance of the increase in bilingual rate is almost negligible.
“It’s significant conceptually, but the numbers are so small it’s largely irrelevant,” he explained.
Even a small increase is a step in the right direction for Albertans, according to Tyron.
“What we’re seeing is parents are wanting their kids to be better prepared for the future. We’re in a global economy,” he explains.
“We’re seeing more and more people coming to our country who speak multiple languages, and Canadian citizens are starting to look outward, and go ‘Oh my gosh. These guys are arriving and they speak three languages, and this guy speaks five, and I [only] speak English.’ They want to be globally competitive.”