Why should I put my child in Intensive French?

Intensive French is an engaging, fun and effective way to achieve spontaneous communication in French. It is student-centred, project-based, and works as follows:

In Grade 5 or 6 (it can vary from one province/territory to another) students are immersed in the French language for the better part of the school day, for one semester, through a balanced literacy approach: speaking, reading and writing. Mathematics and possibly one other subject usually taught by a specialist (such as music or physical education, for example) remain taught in English throughout the entire school year. Apart from those, no teaching of actual subjects takes place during the Intensive semester, where students learn to communicate in French from the very beginning. This is made possible through teacher modelling and other very specific teaching strategies for which each Intensive French teacher receives formal training. The Intensive semester is usually the first semester, and the second semester returns to the regular school schedule. During the “non-Intensive” semester, students continue to receive French instruction for the regular number of hours prescribed by the provincial curriculum, but preferably in larger blocks of time 2 or 3 times per week, in order to continue using the neurolinguistic approach strategies. Intensive French is also called the Neurolinguistic Approach (NLA) because it is based on how the brain learns and processes languages, and the different kinds of memories activated in the brain. Learn more by exploring other sections of our website, such as the Home, Teachers  and Approach pages.

Students learn the language in a fun and stimulating environment, by exploring a number of themes related to their own interests, such as family, pets, pastimes, favourite foods, activities, etc. The pace and activities are varied. They work alone, in pairs or small groups, or in the whole classroom context. “Brain breaks”, songs and games are integrated in the course of the day.

Why an Intensive semester?

Oral communication skills are language habits, not facts to learn. They can only be developed by using French in real communication. At the beginning the messages are relatively simple, but over time they become more complex.  Students need to use French a lot to develop the internal (non-conscious) grammar necessary to speak French fluently. Without an intensive period, spontaneous communication cannot be achieved. This is the reason for the five months when French is taught for at least half the school day. At the end of five months, students can begin to speak independently, and so the skills will not be lost.

If students do not develop sufficient internal grammar to be able to speak spontaneously, they have to begin all over again the next year. Reaching the goal of independent communication as quickly as possible is important. 

Language habits, like all habits, are not like facts; they must be used continuously in spontaneous communication, or they will be lost. That is why Intensive French is followed by Post-Intensive French; there is still intensity, but not as much intensity is required to maintain and continue development of the students' skills.

How do students react to speaking French in class all the time? 

In Intensive French, after the first day, the teacher always speaks French, and so do the students.  During the first four to five weeks, the students find speaking in French somewhat difficult, but they are encouraged to persevere. These are the four stages that the students will likely pass through emotionally, as described by one of the first teachers in Newfoundland and Labrador, Sid Woolfrey.   Most teachers talk to the students about these stages, and students enjoy evaluating their progress.

After several weeks, they begin to be proud of their ability to speak French. 

What about students with learning challenges? 

Students who have learning challenges can participate successfully in all the activities. There are several reasons for their positive performance: teaching strategies, like group work, are means of giving students personal support; there is more interaction with the other students in the class; their ability to express themselves in French gives them some confidence; the re-teaching of how to read and write gives them a second chance to acquire these abilities. All students are on the same level. 

Parent's Comment: "The year put all of the kids on the same 'playing field' with French. You did not have to be a straight 'A' student to succeed - just willing to try."

As is shown by this graph of results, after five months of instruction, nearly one third (30.8%) of students on special education plans and slightly more than two thirds (66.1%) of the regular students reached the goal of the first year of the program: speaking in French spontaneously to express their own point of view on subjects of interest to them. This result is considerably more than students in the regular Core French program can achieve.

Learning to read and write in French also improves these abilities in English as well for all students, especially those with learning challenges, as students spend more time developing literacy skills. 

To learn more about the effects of the Intensive French program on students with learning challenges, read the article by Rhonda Joy and Elizabeth Murphy. 

What are the effects of the intensive semester on the other subjects?

Research has shown that the reduction in time spent on other subject areas in the first year of the program does not have any negative long-term consequences. The following graphs illustrate the result for the standardized tests generally administered at the end of Grade 6 in most schools.

One year after participation in the intensive year of the Intensive French program, the average performance of Intensive French students in English is at a level above that of the students who have not participated in Intensive French.  This is similar to what happens with students who participate in an immersion program. Children with learning challenges also show higher scores. 


Where the students were tested in the same year as the intensive semester, results show that neither English nor Mathematics results showed any negative effects for the students in Intensive French. Since a literacy-based approach is used, many of the skills developed by the students in French are the same as those that they will for subjects taught in English. Once learned in French, they can also be used for subjects taught in English. For Mathematics, there is no reduction of time and Mathematics is taught in English.

For the other subjects, like science, the curriculum is maintained, but fewer resources are used. Students do not have extra work to do at home. Intellectual development is encouraged by the type of activities they undertake. 

These results are explained by what has been called the 'Iceberg Hypothesis'. The activities that students undertake in school contribute to their intellectual, or cognitive, development. Whether tasks are accomplished in French or English is not crucial. Cognitive skills (such as problem solving, noticing similarities and/or differences) that are developed in one language, for example French, can be used in any other language, such as English. The part of the iceberg that is under water represents the cognitive skills that are the foundation of learning; the languages used are represented by the various peaks of the iceberg seen above the water.  Once cognitive skills are developed, regardless of the language in which they have been developed, they can be accessed in any language, provided the appropriate vocabulary and language structures have been acquired.

In Intensive French, time is not spent on memorizing vocabulary and grammatical rules. Instead, students are involved in project and activities that develop cognitive skills and allow them to construct an implicit grammar, known as internal grammar. The projects develop the same types of cognitive skills that would be developed in the English curriculum for the grade level. Therefore, students are able to use these cognitive skills in their English curriculum learning afterwards.  

In addition, learning to communicate in a second language has a positive influence on intellectual development. Students increase their problem-solving skills, and they learn to think in new and different ways, called divergent thinking, through learning to use French. This is why mathematics scores tend to increase, even though mathematics is taught in English 

Having intellectual goals, as well as language goals, means that the learning atmosphere in the classroom favours intellectual development. In addition, the use of interactive teaching strategies encourages the development of thinking skills. 

Want to read more? Consult Parents' FAQs about Intensive French.

“It is a win-win situation. It is an experience they shouldn’t miss.“
“It is a wonderful opportunity. I want all of my children to have this experience. “
“It was very exciting for him to learn a new language, therefore, I believe it was a confidence builder.”
"My son never wants to miss a day of school. He is having so much fun while learning so much."
"This experience has had a positive impact on the whole family. My daughter in Grade 3 wants to know everything her brother learns every day in IF so she can teach her classmates and my daughter in Grade 9 Core French comes to her brother to get help! You can imagine the effect this has had on his self-esteem."
- Parents’ comments


“Intensive French is a way we can become bilingual faster.”
“It is a new way to learn French that is fun and has lots of things to do.”
“At first I was scared to start Intensive French. After just two weeks, I saw that it was okay to make mistakes and that people could still understand me. Now I like speaking French in front of people.” 
- Students’ comments