Published: January 9, 2020
Because Canada is a bilingual country, acquiring a high level of French fluency while in high school can be an essential stepping stone toward careers in politics, public service, academia, law, and medicine — not to mention unlocking incredible opportunities for travel and personal development outside of work.
But for parents raising kids in heavily Anglophone parts of the country, like Western Ontario, it can be hard to know how to make dreams of bilingualism a reality.
After all, the nature of Canada’s education system is such that the resources available in some areas — French immersion programs and robust community support for language learning — simply aren’t available in others.
If you want to help your high schooler get the most out of their French curriculum and achieve the kind of fluency that will prepare them for success in university and the workplace, here are four ways you can help them tap into their full language-learning potential.
1. Get Extra Support
Probably the first thing you need to understand about your child’s high school French curriculum is that it is not really designed to produce students who are able to communicate like native French speakers. Instead, it is meant to provide a strong foundation in the kind of skills students can learn most easily outside a French-speaking context — grammar and writing being the most significant.
This means that helping students really master French is generally going to require doing additional language-learning outside of school.
This isn’t always easy: in Toronto’s downtown core, there is significant access to French language cultural institutions that can help you enhance your child’s education prospects, but in other parts of the GTA they are not so readily available.
For this reason, you may need to consider engaging private help to provide the educational boost that one-on-one conversation and grammar work with a French expert can provide.
A private tutor can provide many benefits for people learning French as a second language, including but not limited to:
- Targeted support that deals with individual learning obstacles
- One-on-one help that lets students move at their own pace
- A safe environment where students can make mistakes and build their confidence without fear of judgement
- Expert education help that understands the pedagogy of linguistics and can incorporate modern methods for language acquisition into private lessons.
Fortunately, if you are looking for a French tutor in Mississauga we can put you in touch with highly qualified instructors who can help your child get the extra support they need.
2. Understand the Difference Between Academic Success and Fluency
In Ontario, most students who are not from Francophone families will first encounter French when they start school. While access to primary and secondary education in the French language is one of the key benefits of living in a bilingual country, the downside is that young students quickly come to think of French as a subject of study rather than a mode of communication.
While it is certainly true that academic success in French is extremely important — and language acquisition unquestionably relies on intensive, rigorous study — a language is a living thing, and simply memorizing vocabulary and conjugation patterns will never get you to full fluency.
This is why it is important to find opportunities for more creative language use outside of school. This could mean getting involved in an extra-curricular language club, or it could mean finding a pen-pall to communicate with via social media.
One of the major advantages of learning French in the twenty-first century is that it is easier than it has ever been to find authentic French language resources on the internet, and to gain exposure to French film, television, and news outlets online, no matter where you live.
If you want to augment your school’s language curriculum and go beyond academic mastery of the language, here are a few helpful tips for engaging with French on your own time:
- Public screenings of French films (or watching French movies online)
- Following French language accounts on social media
- Reading national news stories in both languages
- Reading French translations of your favourite books
A good education plan will involve both tips to improve your SSAT scores and maximize your chances for getting into a good post-secondary program and providing you with the tools you need to communicate effectively with native speakers.
3. Make it Social
Unless you’re studying a dead language like Latin or Ancient Greek, you will never be able to attain fluency on your own. Languages are inherently social, and language acquisition relies on a number of social factors — not least of which being a student’s opportunities to engage with other people who speak the language they are trying to learn.
Students now have an unprecedented number of options for learning not just French, but any major language they have an interest in. Education apps like Duolingo and Busuu make it possible to study your language of choice in engaging and stimulating ways whenever you want, wherever you want.
But while these apps can play an important role in increasing exposure and helping you master new vocabulary, without regular interactions with other language students or native speakers, there is a hard ceiling limiting how far you can go if these are your only language-learning tools.
This can pose a problem, especially for students who don’t have the option of spending summers in a French-speaking environment or attending French-language summer camps. As many experts have noted, because of the social interactions that come with it, immersion plays an outsized role in helping students become confident and practiced in a new language.
Without opportunities for immersion, it can be extremely difficult to truly attain fluency. So what should people with limited options to use French in their daily lives do to overcome this obstacle?
There are no easy answers to this question, but it is important to remember that fluency and academic success is a team game — and if you’re going to succeed, you need to find a team. Tutoring is helpful not just because it gives kids an opportunity to correct their mistakes and practice their speaking, but also because it can help them plug into a wider network of language learners who can help them find out about French language speaking opportunities that exist in their own communities.
Languages are social tools, so building a community of language learners who will help you use that tool in social ways is essential if meaningful language acquisition is actually to take place.
4. Do a Little Every Day
Probably the best piece of practical advice for language learners is also the simplest: do a little bit of work every day. Time and time again, research has shown that there is simply no substitute for steady, incremental progress in language learning, which is why it is so important that students practice their French every day — even if it is only for fifteen minutes to half an hour.
When you learn a second language, you are essentially reprogramming your brain, and this takes time. Apps and services that promise to help you become fluent in a matter of weeks are making an impossible pitch, for the simple reason that it takes most of us years to be able to meaningfully communicate in our own language, let alone a second one.
This shouldn’t be discouraging: like physical fitness, the key is to make language learning part of your routine, so it becomes as familiar and comfortable as the drive to school. Just like exercise, problems tend to come when the routine is disrupted.
One of the reasons why tutoring has proven to be such an effective method for helping people learn new languages is that tutoring builds language learning into the schedule of every week, increasingly the likelihood that students will keep up with their homework and continue to learn a little bit every day.
If you want to learn more about us and how our approach can help your kids improve their French, and even achieve fluency by the time they graduate, get in touch with us today to find out how our unique, hand’s-on approach helps students build confidence and master the studying techniques that will help them become independent learners.
More than simply increasing earning potential or giving students a shot at getting into better schools, learning a second language is one of the great intellectual pleasures of a fulfilled life — a good that is worth pursuing for its own sake.
If you want to give the gift of bilingualism to your children but are worried that you don’t have the necessary skills or tools, call Prep Academy Tutors today!