Why should I put my child in Intensive French?

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

For the first semester (5 months) of 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, using a balanced second-language literacy approach: speaking, reading and writing (in that order). 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 language and the use and re-use of the language by the students in authentic communication situations. Intensive French teachers also apply other very specific teaching strategies for which they receive formal training. The Intensive semester is usually the first semester, with the regular school schedule resuming in the second semester. 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 (in a school setting) represents one of the applications of the Neurolinguistic Approach (NLA), which is based on how the brain learns and processes languages. It takes into account the different kinds of memories that are activated in the brain while learning a language. 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 experience, such as family, pets, pastimes, favourite foods, activities, etc. The pace and activities are varied. Students work alone, in pairs or small groups, or as a whole class. “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 for genuine 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? 

Except for the first day, Intensive French teachers always speak 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. Students are likely to pass through four emotional stages, 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 participation: 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; and 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 the graph of results below shows, 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.

Learning to read and write in French also improves these abilities in English for all students, especially those with learning challenges. Literacy skills are transferable between languages, and the fact that students spend more time developing these literacy skills reinforces their learning. 

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 who participate in Intensive French 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 needed for subjects taught in English. Once learned in French, they can also be used for subjects taught in English. There is no reduction in the time dedicated to mathematics during the intensive year, and this subject is taught in English.

For the other subjects, like science, the curriculum is maintained, but the number of activities is streamlined. 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'. All 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.  Regardless of the language in which cognitive skills 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 their cognitive skills. The projects develop the same types of cognitive skills that would be developed in the English curriculum for the grade level. Therefore, students are afterwards able to use these cognitive skills in their English curriculum learning.  

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.