Cognitive Benefits of FSL Education

By Teresa Garcia,2014-05-21 14:29
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The ability to understand and speak French is only one benefit of French-second-language education. Research shows that students who are educated in a

Canadian Parents for French (York Region) ~ Information Bulletin Page 1 of 2

Cognitive Benefits of FSL Education



The ability to understand and speak French is only one benefit of French-second-language education.

    Research shows that students who are educated in a second languageparticularly those in

    immersion programsreap additional benefits from the experience. Their English language skills are

    strengthened and they show increased mental flexibility and creative thinking. In addition, they are able

    to benefit from increased communication and cultural and economic opportunities.

As parents, we want to make the best educational choices for our children and we are lucky enough to

    live in a country that is known around the world as the leading expert in French immersion and core

    French programs. This summary is intended to help answer questions about French-second-language

    education by providing information from the wealth of research studies that have been conducted since

    French immersion programs were introduced in the early 1970s. References and suggestions for further reading can be found at


French as a second language (FSL) is learned in the classroom through a variety of program options.

    The popular options include early, middle, and late French immersion, extended French, intensive

    French, partial immersion1 and core/basic French.


How bilingual your child will become depends on the type of French-second-language program, and

    particularly on its intensity. The intensity, or percentage of time spent in French at the beginning of a

    program, is more important to French-language development than the total accumulated hours of

    instruction over a student’s career. Intensive exposure to French is important because it allows students quickly to reach the level of French-language ability that is required to study other subjects in

    French. This is called the Threshold Level Theory. In all types of FSL programs, students are stronger at listening and reading in their second language than speaking and writing. Early immersion programs

    have generally produced better French-language results than other programs. Levels of language

    proficiency attained in early immersion are higher than those attained in the core French program.

    Proficiency levels are also higher than those for the partial, middle, and late immersion programs.

    Generally speaking, early immersion students perform better on tests of French listening

    comprehension, reading comprehension, general French achievement, and overall French proficiency.

    Parents can expect their early immersion child to approach native-like levels in French listening comprehension and reading skills by the end of elementary school. They are, however, still

    distinguishable from native French speakers in speaking and writing skills. Many students in French

    immersion attained an intermediate or higher level of language proficiency in French, based on Public

    Service Commission of Canada tests.


    No negative effects on English-language skills English skill levels are not compromised by French immersion instruction, and researchers report that

    “the effect of learning a second language on first language skills has been virtually positive in all

    studies.” Students can add French to their repertoire at no cost to their English-language competence.

    This is known as additive bilingualism and it is possible for two reasons:

(1) English is reinforced and promoted in the family and community; and

(2) Language skills are interdependent and can be transferred from one language to another. In other

    words, language skills developed in French are available for learning and using in English and,

    similarly, language skills learned through English are available for learning and using in French.

    Text in this bulletin has been extracted from the Canadian Parents for French publication

    “The State of French Second Language Education in Canada 2006

Canadian Parents for French (York Region) ~ Information Bulletin Page 2 of 2

Enhanced English-language skills in French immersion programs

    Bilingual students are better able to analyze their knowledge of language. They learn that there are at

    least two ways of saying the same thing and understand the relationship between words and their

    meaning. Furthermore, they are able to focus more on meaning and take into account only relevant

    features when there is excess or distractive information. Researchers call this heightened

    metalinguistic awareness.

Immersion (early, middle and late) produces students who demonstrate high proficiency levels in

    English, although early immersion students who receive their first few years of instruction entirely in

    French may experience a temporary lag in English reading, spelling, and punctuation skills. Once

    formal English-language instruction is introduced around Grade 3 or 4, early immersion students

    quickly catch up with their English-program peers and, in many cases, achieve higher results in

    reading, writing, and speaking skills.


Adopting new perspectives

    The Neurolinguistic Theory of Bilingualism suggests that bilingual individuals understand each

    language directly. Much like the idea of “thinking in French,” they organize their mental representations

    according to the meaning of each language and have the ability to adopt two perspectives. This theory

    suggests that there is one common conceptual system in the brain that manages language learning.

    When learning a second language, this system permits bilingual students to understand each

    language and its subsystem separately, allowing them to recognize existing concepts and form new

    ones in their thought process.

Mental flexibility

    Studies show that bilinguals perform better than monolinguals on tasks that require mental

    manipulation and reorganization of visual patterns. Bilinguals are original in verbal expression,

    demonstrate non-verbal intelligence, and are able to provide a variety of answers to a question. Also,

    they more freely answer open-ended questions than their monolingual peers. This flexibility is also a

    function of heightened metalinguistic awareness.

Increased sensitivity to others; heightened awareness, receptivity, and language appreciation

    Students with two well-developed languages have an increased sensitivity to communication. They are

    better able to take the role of others who are experiencing difficulties, to perceive their needs, and to

    respond appropriately to these needs. They are able to monitor the appropriateness of language use

    and correct their errors faster than monolinguals. In addition to communicative sensitivity, bilinguals

    develop cultural sensitivities as well. Through curriculum content and exposure to cultural differences,

    the second language opens the mind to respecting differences between people and their culture and

    allows them to communicate with a large variety of people.


    Employment is another significant advantage to learning a second language. Bilinguals have access to

    a wider range of national and international jobs. Thousands of Canadian businesses operate in both

    French and English. The airlines, import-export companies, and other international businesses require

    employees with French language skills. About 40% of all positions in the Public Service of Canada

    about 67,000 jobsare bilingual. In addition, the Federal Student Work Experience Program recruits

    students for federal departments and agencies to fill approximately 7,000 temporary student jobs each



As parents, we want to prepare our children to take their place in today’s national and

    international communities. Parents can help by creating a language-friendly environment in

    which youth can pursue French-second-language education and reap the cognitive, cultural,

    and economic opportunities that bilingualism brings. Enrol your child in Canada’s world

    renowned FSL programs and contact Canadian Parents for French for support as they learn

    French. References and suggestions for further reading can be found at www. cpf. ca.

    Text in this bulletin has been extracted from the Canadian Parents for French publication

    “The State of French Second Language Education in Canada 2006

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