This week has been a stunning example for me of the highs and lows parents experience when they have a child in French Immersion.
My son can barely read in two languages, but he has the ability to learn to read in two languages. And when it comes to understanding two languages, he’s head and shoulders above me. When we talk about leaving the world a better place for our children than how we found it, the gift of understanding languages is at the top of my list.
Language is an incredible gift. Being able to speak in multiple languages shrinks the planet by increasing the number of people you can communicate with and understand. With so much turmoil on this planet, being able to reach out in multiple languages is going to be vital to building a global community.
I grew up speaking a bit of French and call myself ‘functionally bilingual.’ In a pinch, I got my bike shipped from Lyon to France and left in a train station to pick up a week later. So I know enough. Knowing that amount of French has also made it easier for me to decode Spanish and Italian on my travels. The world is smaller. I can read signs, I can pick out enough words to figure things out when locals can’t help out in English.
And now it’s starting to blossom and wither. I am really now discovering the pros and cons of having a child in French Immersion.
Zacharie is struggling in literacy. Only now, in Grade 3, is he being exposed to English books in his classroom and some language arts studies, and reading in French has never really kicked in. I really do point to that year in the public system, in Grade 1, when an overwhelmed teacher failed to give him the skills to decode words, learn sounds, and build a foundation for literacy comprehension. The public system failed him terribly.
And now, despite all the extra efforts at home, and from teachers in our independent school, he still struggles. And now he’s mixing in English work. His poor little brain is flipping switches all over the place and the two languages are being conflated constantly.
But my son understands French, he’s able to communicate effectively by speaking it, and oftentimes chooses French as the default language when speaking to me. There have been times when I actually have said to him “stop speaking French. I don’t understand you.” I really need to focus when I’m in French and in a busy store, or at soccer practice, I can’t decode the words he’s so comfortable speaking.
It’s the best of times, and the worst of times.
This week, I really noticed it when I broke my rule about talking to my kids about the events in Paris. I tiptoed around it and discovered they had learned of it from friends at school and had seen clips on the news when I was surfing on the weekend. So they were aware.
So I played them the viral clip of the French father explaining to his young son about the bad guys and how flowers and candles protect us.
I asked Zacharie to explain what he had just seen. He got it all. I needed the subtitles, he understood. His reading may be slow to develop, but his understanding of the language, and his ability to communicate is soaring.
So I’ll take that win with the other losses, roll up my sleeves and get more books for him to crack.
And I’ll also make sure to get some candles and flowers to have at home this week, to protect us from the bad guys and to show my kids the world is a better place when we learn to love and share language with our neighbours.