Bringing up bébé bilingue

bilingual baby

As multicultural families become the new norm in Canada, and immersion programs increase in popularity, bringing up bilingual children is more common than ever. And that’s a great thing.

When my daughter was born, I wanted two things: I wanted what every parent wants for their child – happiness, good health, a full life – and I wanted her to grow up bilingual. This, I felt, would open doors for her, the way it had for me. She would become fluent in French. It would form part of her Canadian identity and pave the way for her to learn other languages.

Benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism

Research now shows a host of benefits to speaking more than one language. Among them, superior concentration and problem solving skills, a better ability to multitask, and, most interestingly, protection against dementia.

Speaking different languages widens your social circle, protects cultural traditions, and fosters a more inclusive and harmonious society.

But the benefits aren’t limited to cognitive function. Speaking different languages widens your social circle, protects cultural traditions, and fosters a more inclusive and harmonious society. It also gives young Canadians an advantage if they want to travel and live abroad.

French immersion – the next generation

My parents’ wise decision to place me in a francophone daycare, then in French immersion, determined much of my future. It set the course for my post-secondary education, and sent me out into the world armed with a cosmopolitan sense of confidence.

Those of us who entered French immersion in the 80s now have children of our own, and many of us want them to benefit from the program as we did. Canada is now educating its second generation of French immersion students, and the program is more popular than ever.

This has led to a shortage of French teachers in some provinces, notably in British Columbia, limiting the program’s growth, and prompting talks with Immigration Canada on loosening restrictions to allow teachers from other French speaking countries to more easily immigrate.

Not for everyone

Of course, not all parents choose French immersion for their children, and that’s okay. Some parents choose their children’s schools based on factors like proximity to home – others simply aren’t interested.

The program has also been criticized of late, considered by some to be the “private-public” or elitist option. Parents, they argue, are choosing French immersion, not for the language benefits, but as the sort of enrichment program they might otherwise only find in private school. This argument falls flat, however, when you consider that it’s a widely available public program, no matter the reason for enrollment.

Other languages becoming popular

French immersion programs are incredibly popular and now other options for immersion education are beginning to emerge.

Calgary is introducing a Spanish bilingual program to several of its schools, and Vancouver has a Mandarin bilingual program available.

This is a sign, both of Canada’s changing population and of Canadians’ more global outlook. Parents know that their children will see success in the competitive job market if they learn a widely-spoken language or the language of an upcoming economic powerhouse.

Immigrants and language retention

While 2016 saw the highest ever proportion of English-French bilingualism rate at 18%, all mother tongue groups contributed to the growth of Canada’s bilingual population. This means immigrants are retaining their language, rather than rejecting it in favour of exclusively speaking English or French.

Languages there are often lost in a single generation, and identity is compromised for the sake of integration.

This is part of what makes modern Canada different to the US, where the melting pot ideology puts pressure on non-anglo families to only speak English at home. Languages there are often lost in a single generation, and identity is compromised for the sake of integration.

Still, Canada should keep striving to foster inclusivity without sacrificing individuality. Bilingual citizens will hopefully continue passing on the gift of their language to future generations, giving voice to the mosaic of Canada and ensuring our success and respect on the world stage.

Author: Cait Espinoza

Cait Espinoza is a writer, editor and co-founder of Mosaic Times.