What is Intensive French?

Until recently, there have been only two options for learning French as a second language in the school system in Canada, the regular French program, usually called 'Core French', and Immersion. Now there is a third way, Intensive French.

It is a program offering students of all abilities, who are not enrolled in immersion programs, an effective way to learn to communicate spontaneously in French. It is a literacy-based approach, which means that students learn to speak, read and write in French. Grammar is acquired through use rather than learning rules. Students talk, read and write about themselves and their experiences, and are active in the classroom. Intensive French is different from immersion, however, because students do not learn any subject matter in French. It is different from Core French because French is the language of communication in the classroom. It is based on the Neurolinguistic Approach to second language learning.


What are the results?

At the end of the five-month intensive period of the program, students can communicate in French spontaneously on subjects related to their experiences. Listen to two students interviewed after five months of Intensive French.

In New Brunswick, Intensive French for all students not in Immersion has replaced the Core French program; participation in the program is compulsory from Grade 5 to the end of Grade 10.

By the end of secondary school, students are able to communicate independently on a wide variety of subjects. Fiona Stewart, Second Language Learning Specialist, Intensive French, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in New Brunswick, where the program is now implemented to the end of high school, points out that, according to their evaluation data, in the school year 2011-2012, 76% of the students in Core French could NOT carry on a conversation in French in complete sentences, whereas only 24% actually COULD. This result can be compared with that of 2013-2014 where, with the implementation of Post-Intensive French, there is an increase from 24% to 45.7% in the percentage of students who are now able to communicate in complete sentences.

Here is an example of two students at the end of Grade 10.

How does Intensive French work?

It generally begins at Grade 5 or 6. For five months, approximately half of the school day is devoted to activities in French. In the other five months, students follow their regular timetable, but French continues to be taught through a literacy-based approach to language learning. The program is followed by Post-Intensive French in the intermediate grades and high school in order to ensure that students maintain and increase their communication skills. Pre-Intensive French in Grade 4 or 5 is an optional year that introduces students to the program; it is not an intensive period of studying French. The chart below illustrates how the program works for Grades 4 or 5 to the end of secondary school.

The first year of the program is illustrated in the following chart. In one semester, for five months, most of the day is spent learning French, using a literacy-based approach to language learning. Mathematics and certain other subjects usually taught by specialists, such as music for example, are taught in English. In the other five months, students follow their regular timetable.

Time allocations for programs may vary somewhat from school district to school district. 

Where can Intensive French be found?

It is implemented in certain school districts in all provinces and territories, except Quebec and Prince Edward Island. 

In 2014-2015 there were 22,000 students in the program across Canada: 3,200 in Pre-Intensive French, 7,000 in Grade 5 or 6, the Intensive French year, and 12,000 in Post-Intensive French. Since its inception in Newfoundland and Labrador in 1998, there have been approximately 70,000 students enrolled in the intensive year of the program. The program has grown rapidly, as may be seen in the graphs below.


In October 2008, the 10th anniversary of the implementation of Intensive French in Newfoundland and Labrador was celebrated. Click here to see the first teachers and students who helped to develop the program. 

For More Information in Your Area

Consult the French programs division of your local Ministry or Department of Education or school district.

Yukon: 867 332 0485 

Northwest Territories: 867 920 8992

Yellowknife School District #1: 867 776 5065

British Columbia: 250 886 2630

Alberta, Calgary Board of Education: 403 817 7626

Christ the Redeemer Catholic Schools: 403 995 4825 

Saskatchewan: 306 787 2595 

Manitoba, Louis Riel School Division: 204 257 7827

Nunavut: 867 975 7917 

Ontario, Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario: 613 932 1720

Waterloo Catholic District School Board: 519 578 3660

Niagara Catholic District School Board: 905 735 1687

New Brunswick: 506 444 4916

Nova Scotia: 902 424 5353

Newfoundland and Labrador: 709 729 5127