or Connect
Mothering › Mothering Forums › Mom › Parenting › Multicultural Families › "watering down" a language
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

"watering down" a language

post #1 of 28
Thread Starter 
DP (anglo) and I (francophone) had a big argument last night as we were listening to the news. They ran a story about how the french immersion program in one county in Nova Scotia was being cancelled, which somehow turned in to us arguing about rights and language of instruction in public schools.

I'm pretty sure there's a law that guarantees access to education in the child's language of origin (well, sort of, french and english being the options) here in Canada. There are three streams of schooling though, pure english, pure french, and then french immersion. DP seems to think that an anglophone should have the right to the pure french school. I grew up in french schools, and really found that the laguage got watered down on the playground/socially when there was even one english import in the group. So, if the child was more comfortable in english, we all switched to english instead of french mot of the time. I really think it hurts french to have english kids in the system. Anyway, big argument.

Thankfully, dp and I don't tend to argue very often, ad when we do, we rarely take things personally. But, the whole thing got me thinking. DP says I have a very elitist view, and that it's completely unfair to keep english kids out of the french system since the immersion programs don't teach the same level of fluency as being in the pure french system does. I'm sure this could be applied to other languages too.

I thought I'd come here and see if any of you had thoughts on this? I'm just trying to work through some logical, valid arguments and don't want to be elitist. I do believe that children should be learning multiple languages, and to the greatest level of fluency possible. I just don;t know how to balance that with the best intrest of native speakers. I know I would have fits if our kiddos end up in a french public school and half their class only speaks english at home (a common situation in french primary schools in NB right now). Ah! Thoughts?
post #2 of 28
Controversial issue, to say the least.

I live on the West Coast of Canada where the francophone population is concentrated in small sectors and overwhelmingly outnumbered (and outspoken) by Cantonese immigrants. Schools here are now pushing for Mandarin immersion (as Cantonese is only a dialect of China, and Mandarin is language of commerce/education there). I hear, time and time again, people complaining that public schools should be focussing on Asian languages, including Japanese and Punjabi, as it's more useful than French out here in the West unless you want to work for the Feds or read all the text on a cereal box...

But I digress. Off track a bit. I guess I disagree with your stance. It does sound elitist - I've never heard of the corollary argument, about English being 'watered down' with a French child on the playground In my mind, watered down = evolution of language. No language is static. Japanese is full of words taken from the English speaking tech and commerce sectors. Kids whose homes reinforce French aren't going to allow (passively) watering down to become extreme - if that's what you're worried about - through conversational reinforcement and household immersion.

Will my child, who is 1 of 2 non-Chinese-as-a-first-language speaking kids in her entire class, suddenly start speaking pidgeon English with an accent? Hardly likley, unless I did. And to be honest, I wouldn't care if she *did* pick up Cantonese or developed an ear for it. Her culture is not being watered down. Her vocabulary is fantastic. This is a fairly good parallel to the situation you're describing - it is a reality and it's happening right now, and I can observe it. And it's not dangerous or alarmist, and I'm not getting ready to build a wall around the school...literally or figuratively.

So what would you do about all the immigrants who don't have French as a first language? Bar them from going to French school in case they watered down the language, and instead send them to water down the English schools? Just askin'.

My 2 cents...you asked.
post #3 of 28
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cascadian View Post
My 2 cents...you asked.
No. that's cool. I guess I had never really thought about the whole thing until this argument with dp, so I'm just curious about both what I think (and why!) and what others think. That's a really good point about the West Coast and Asian languages. I think if we lived in Quebec I might think differently, but I'm from NB where french is really losing ground. Many of my french peers are choosing to speak english to their children, for example. I have no issue with (non french or non english speaking) immigrants in the french system, which, you're right, doesn't fit with my argument.
crying kid....
post #4 of 28
Hi Selkat,

I live in the hotbed of French language issues, la belle province itself.

My francophone in-laws could probably understand where you're coming from, with all that they had to endure before Bill 101 and the French "language police" came into being.

I think it's not so much elitism, as the fact that English is almost considered a "community" language here in officially francophone Quebec. Never mind the schools, even francophone adults conversant in English will politely switch from French to English if there is one anglophone in the group struggling to string french words into coherent sentences.

Why do people do this? Out of courtesy. Perhaps for the younger generation because it gives them access to all that *wonderful* American pop culture

You can read more on this subject in l'Actualite (go to your library, it was some time last fall), as they had an article on the 30th anniversary of Bill 101 (the one where all immigrants MUST send their children to French language public school unless they can afford private school).

What it has basically done is left francophones who want to be bilingual without the option of going to English language public school--unless, again, they opt for private eduation. The result is that almost all anglophones educated in Quebec tend to be functionally if not fluently bilingual, and the francophones remain ghetto-ized with their monolingual French abilities. RDI (CBC's French side) did a report on the shoddy quality of english language education in the French public school systems here, and you can see the political minds at work, DELIBERATELY keeping the francophone population weak in English Talk about a people's insecurity... but that's another thread...

Truly, in Montreal, you need both in order to succeed career-wise.
post #5 of 28
:

Please forgive a lurker fascinated by the acceptance of two languages....

Here, society is just as bilingual... but it is very cultural, with only English in schools obviously. I'm always fascinated by the Canadian system. I'm embarrassingly ignorant.

-Angela
post #6 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by FelixMom View Post
I think it's not so much elitism, as the fact that English is almost considered a "community" language here in officially francophone Quebec. Never mind the schools, even francophone adults conversant in English will politely switch from French to English if there is one anglophone in the group struggling to string french words into coherent sentences.
:

We've got a similar language set-up. I speak French with DS, DH speaks English. (FWIW, I am not a native French speaker, but I fake it reasonably well. I learned as a child via French Immersion.)

We're in Toronto and this question is interesting in the context of such a multicultural city. City bulletins automatically come in 10 languages! You can fill pretty much any language need you want, and we have multiple options for school -- public English, public French, Catholic English, Catholic French, a bunch of alternative schools, and then a ton of private schools if you can afford them and want to pay, including the Toronto French school which (I believe?) requires native French with at least one parent fluent.

We have tapped into the local French community and we send DS to a French daycare. I do note that although almost the whole daycare is French (i.e. aside from one immersion room, kids must be native speakers), kids who also speak English tend to form their own little groups.

So that's my circuitous way at arriving at my point: I think you are correct that having even one English speaker risks everyone defaulting to English, and this is a problem if your goal is to maintain the strength of French in that group. On the other hand, IMHO, that is not the only important goal in publicly-funded schools, or, for that matter, in our two solitudes.
post #7 of 28
I don't live in Canada but I think that if English-speakers have the right to an education in their native language, so do French-speakers. Period. French-immersion is not the same thing. If an anglophone wants to go to a French-language school, then the child should start in immersion and work up to that level, or near-native. It is not the same as a group of immigrants in a multicultural urban environment in an English-majority county, as most counties are in the U.S., even where Spanish is big. Because in Canada, like in Ireland, speakers of a more or less native language (for purposes of this discussion, although obviously French is not the real native language of Canada...) are losing their language because of lack of educational opportunities.

That said, this is all with infinite funds for education in mind. In reality, some compromise is required because people may not be able to fund that many schools. They will end up closing some immersion or French schools because of funding and that's too bad. And I do not think that you need native-level English to attend uni in the U.S. because the unis are so accustomed to non-native speakers. Whereas it is HARD to do even moderately well if you want to study in France and do not speak French almost perfectly. Part of that is the culture and part of it is how the whole system is set up, with so much emphasis on writing.
post #8 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by selkat View Post
I grew up in french schools, and really found that the laguage got watered down on the playground/socially when there was even one english import in the group. So, if the child was more comfortable in english, we all switched to english instead of french mot of the time.
Why the switch to english? It seems that people always switch to english.

People in non-english speakin countrys always complain about how english speaker (they complain most about the americans, but also other anglophones) never learn to speak other languages well. But, how can anglophones learn to speak another language if no one ever is patient when we try to practice it.

IME, With french speakers insist on switching to english the moment you struggle over a single word, but resent it. Japanese speakers insist that it is more polite for them to speak english to make the english speaker comfortable. German speakers just find switching to english more convient. The only group that has ever been patient with speaking with me in their own language is spanish speakers (which is probably why there are plenty of non-native spanish speakers in America.)

Is it really fair to complain that the one and only english speaking student has ruined it for the rest of you, when you aren't letting her have the practice she needs to become a fluent french speaker.

Written from the perspective of an American english speaker who has studied spanish, french, german, and japanese, but has only ever been given the oportunity to use the spanish. (Actually I've been given the oportunity to speak cantonese, but it's a lost cause. I can't hear the differences between words.)
post #9 of 28
Thread Starter 
eepster - I don't think, at age 4 or even age 13, that kids are consciously trying to keep anglos (who in this case were attending a french school, so, functional in french) from attaining fluency or learning the language. The switch just happens. English is the "cool" language. We're taught, from a really early age that it's polite to switch to english if someone might not understand the french. I can't explain it, but it was hardly malicious. I do understand what you're saying though, as someone who learned spanish as a teen in Central America. You're right, people were very tolerant of my bumbling, but if they spoke even a tiny bit of english, they would always try to switch the conversation, initially at least.

Language is a cotentious issue in this country, hey? I guess maybe if immersion programs were stronger, that might be a solution? My little sister wanted to go to the school down the street from us for middle school, and my parents allowed her to make that decision. It was an immersion school. Her class was learning the alphabet in grade 6. My parents had fits, and then decided that she was getting enough french via church, swimming lessons, home, etc that it wasn't going to kill her. But, seriously?! Maybe if anglos desiring french language instruction could get quality education, they mightn't want/need to be in the french system?
Part of my feels that I'm on a slippery slope of discrimination here, the other part of me feels perfectly entitled to protect my language/heritage by limiting access. Kind of scary.
post #10 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by selkat View Post
eepster - I don't think, at age 4 or even age 13, that kids are consciously trying to keep anglos (who in this case were attending a french school, so, functional in french) from attaining fluency or learning the language. The switch just happens. English is the "cool" language. We're taught, from a really early age that it's polite to switch to english if someone might not understand the french. I can't explain it, but it was hardly malicious. I do understand what you're saying though, as someone who learned spanish as a teen in Central America. You're right, people were very tolerant of my bumbling, but if they spoke even a tiny bit of english, they would always try to switch the conversation, initially at least.
Of course it's niether deliberate nor malicious, but that doesn't change the fact that it is a choice. If frankophones in Canada consistenly choose to switch to english every time they are in the presence of an anglophone, then french will become less and less relevant.

Why is it "polite" to switch to english when you have 5 francophones and a single anglophone who has choosen to attend a frankophone school? If the child didn't want to speak french then she could go to an anglophone school. Therefore, obviously she wants to speak french, so switching to english isn't for her benefit.

If french is to remain a living language in Canada, and not simply an affectation that a small % of the population cling to, then frankophones need to be comfortable sticking to speaking french till someone say "I'm sorry I don't quite understand could you repeat it in english."

One can't expect anglophone Canadians to continue to support french immersion schools if francophones aren't seen as putting in the effort to consitently speak french and not constantly switch to english. When a room full of frankophones switches to english do to the presences of single anglophone who is a decent french speaker, what kind of message is that sending to the anglophones?

It's a very mixed message. OTOH frankophones say they want french to be a real spoken language in Canada, but OTOH they switch to the more dominant english at the first chance they get.
post #11 of 28
Yeah, I agree with eepster.
I also find it to be a unique situation when all of the children are bilingual and they're *taught* to switch to English in order to accommodate the one non-native French speaker. That seems to be the crux of the problem for the dying of the French language.

Here in the states, the children would continue to speak English (most times because they're monolingual), while the non-English speaker has to manage- sink or swim- in the schoolyard until they learn sufficient productive English (which is usually pretty quickly).
Not that this situation I describe is ideal (there are support systems that could be placed to assist the child and help them maintain their native tongue).... I'm simply addressing the question of whether one non native speaker could threaten the dominant language.

But, I'm speaking from my perspective and experience and I don't claim to know/understand the sitch in CA which may be very different from what I know.
post #12 of 28
I think most people tend to switch to English, because of the stereotype that native English speakers don't speak other languages.
As for keeping children of certain linguistic backgrounds out of certain schools because of their mother tongue, I'm on the fence. I'm not one of the privileged few who could send their children to a bilingual public school, even though my mother tongue is English, I was schooled in English in North America (California). The English schools are hurting for numbers, but they also have excellent bilingual programs, and good pre-kindergarten classes (in the French public system in my neighbourhood it's almost impossible to get a space in pre-kindergarten - or in a CPE). I dislike being discluded. I understand the importance of the French language in Quebec, but instead of having an 'us and them' system, wouldn't it be nice to pool resources together and give parents the choice? Have French public schools with excellent bilingual programs as well? But that discussion is for another thread.

Maybe a solution is to have rules at school like they do in the Ottowa region (which is quite bilingual) where in French schools children must always converse with one another in French. Even outside of class and on the playground.

I don't have many logical arguments, sorry.
post #13 of 28

.


Edited by RainCoastMama - 2/26/14 at 10:41pm
post #14 of 28
I'm trying to understand what you mean about the types of schools-- "pure English" and "pure French" are for native speakers of those languages only and no other language besides them are used, right? What is "French immersion"? Is that where anglophone kids go to learn French? In linguistics circles "immersion" implies that the school would be all in French so that anglophones learn to function in French.

Generally, from a strictly linguistic perspective, you are right that if the goal is to maintain or even learn a language, the more immersion the better. For a Francophone goal, the less English the better. If English is the dominant language where you live, then it will be harder to enforce French. The most beneficial times of language learning occur not in the classroom but in real interaction and immersion situations such as the playground as you describe. In the old days, this is how immigrants to the US learned English. The signs in every store, on every packaging, on every customer service line, etc., weren't in Italian/Polish/Arabic/Spanish/Chinese etc., it was total immersion, and total immersion forces you to really use the language. Only when you have to use it do you really acquire it, as opposed to just "learning" the language in a classroom.

I guess I could see a scenario where an native English speaker child could be allowed into a "pure French" school with a contract of behavior that only French is to be spoken even during social times, but I imagine that would be very hard to enforce for little kids. In Middlebury College in Vermont they have summer intensive immersion programs for many languages, and they make the students sign pledges to ONLY speak the language they are learning. But that's college students!

So elitist, no, but pragmatic, yes.
post #15 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by UmmZaynab View Post
I'm trying to understand what you mean about the types of schools-- "pure English" and "pure French" are for native speakers of those languages only and no other language besides them are used, right? What is "French immersion"? Is that where anglophone kids go to learn French? In linguistics circles "immersion" implies that the school would be all in French so that anglophones learn to function in French.
You're mostly right -- the only thing is that there are no "pure English" schools by that definition. There are, however "pure French" schools.

What immersion means varies a little by province. When I was in school (French immersion), everything was in French at the beginning, except for occasional English (language/reading) classes. Slowly, a few classes started to be taught in English, e.g. in grade 7, science class switched from French to English. By the end of high school, it was about 50/50.

We wore "French ears" in early grades -- when you had them on, you had to be speaking French. I was a very obedient child, so I followed the rules, and it did help my French, though perhaps not my social life.
post #16 of 28
I think Eepster makes a very important point. I also agree that my only chances to truly learn other languages were when native speakers continued to speak to me in their native language. Now, living in an English-speaking country, people often will point someone out to me and say so-and-so speaks X-language. Go speak X with him/her. To me I've always found it rude to jump into another language than the one of the context we are in. I will offer help when I see a lost tourist or someone struggling to communicate with an official, but that's about it.

Anyway, I agree that the number of nonfluent speakers should be limited in a regular classroom, but not that they should be banned. I think X-language only rules in the school are reasonable where the language of the school is struggling to survive. And I definitely think we need to be offering ALL students the opportunity to grow up bilingual.
post #17 of 28
Just as a side note, there are private schools in Toronto offering French immersion where they have enough monitors on staff to enforce "French only" during social play time (ie recess) so students are modelling as closely as possible a French immersion experience outside the classroom during school hours, even though the community language in Toronto is obviously english.

I recall a few years back some lawyer wanting to put his kid into a French-only school in the suburbs of Toronto (Oakville?) because a grandparent was unilingual francophone. Daily family activities would probably be in english for this child, but for some reason this dad felt strongly that his kid had the right to attend French public school, even though NONE of the parents was fluent in French : Don't know what became of his plans, though.
post #18 of 28
Very interesting discussion.

We live in Israel, all schooling is in Hebrew or Arabic. There are some immersian schools, but they are Hebrew / Arabic as far as I know. Of course the private American School is in English...

My kids went into preschool at 3 speaking pretty much no Hebrew, but hearing it. They are now dominate in Hebrew. Even when they are playing with English speaking friends, they usually speak in Hebrew. Because they were in a Hebrew enviornment, they are now fully bilingual. I doubt they would have achieved that fluency so fast and so easily if they were in a Hebrew Emersion school.

What age does school start in Canada? If their is no imersian program and the child speaks (for example) Japaneese in the house, are they allowed to choose the French school (since English isn't a native language either). If there is a requirement children are fluent in teh language before starting school it should apply to all languages, no? Or would the Japaneese child be defaulted into English to sink or swim.

Very interesting thread. I like the system here. My kids went in with language issues, not speaking any Hebrew, and they were all pretty fluent by December, so in 5 months. By the end of the year, they were not only fluent but prefering Hebrew to English. Their social language of choice is Hebrew, but they will speak English to me or dh. They speak Hebrew with each other, to hte baby, to their freinds (even their English speaking ones), etc.
post #19 of 28
Quote:
I'm pretty sure there's a law that guarantees access to education in the child's language of origin (well, sort of, french and english being the options) here in Canada. There are three streams of schooling though, pure english, pure french, and then french immersion. DP seems to think that an anglophone should have the right to the pure french school. I grew up in french schools, and really found that the laguage got watered down on the playground/socially when there was even one english import in the group. So, if the child was more comfortable in english, we all switched to english instead of french mot of the time. I really think it hurts french to have english kids in the system. Anyway, big argument.
If the majority of the kids spoke fluent french and were native fench speakers, do you really think that a few english speakers in each class is going to switch the playground language to english? I doubt that would happen, I think it more likely that the english kids would learn french really well, and quickly. After all that is what happens when you have non english non french kids who immigrate and end up in a school in canada, they learn very quickly, especially if they are only 5 or 6. If you really beleive that the few english kids who would goto a francophone school would "diluent" the language, then you need to incorpate a french langage only atmosphere in the school, and on the playground. I agree with your husband. I don't think that francophone schools should only be for kids that are francophone. WE have the same thing in Edmonton, English schools, french immersion, francophone, as well as mandarin, cree, spanish, ukranian, german, the list goes on and on. None of those schools excude people based on their native langage, except the francophone schools. If you really want french to be more widely used then have really good french programs. We all know immersion is not as good as total french, so why discourage people who are interested in doing total French, like the frandophone schools?
post #20 of 28
Quote:
Member


Join Date: Jan 2004
Location: USA
Posts: 125 I'm trying to understand what you mean about the types of schools-- "pure English" and "pure French" are for native speakers of those languages only and no other language besides them are used, right? What is "French immersion"? Is that where anglophone kids go to learn French?
To clarify, how it works in alberta (it varies province to province as education is provincially funded) which has a majority english speaking population:

you are required to take a second language, so the majority of schools are english and you take "core " french meaning it is a class that you take, some schools start in K, some in grade 4, some in junior high, you never learn enough to become fluent. You can also take french immersion in which you take only french the early years, and english grammar is added in later. A certain % of the studies are in french. French immersion is for english speaking families who want french. Francophone schools are only for people who can prove french langage ancestry. There are also other immersion language schools or billingual schools (less language than immersion, billigual schools I think are 50/50), such as arabic, cree, german, mandarin, german, etc, This is all publicly funded education. Of course private schools can be different, but there are not nearly the private schools in AB as in Ontario and Quebec, so I don't know a lot about them. The smaller the community, the less options you have. This is my understanding of how it works, please correct me if I am wrong.
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Multicultural Families
Mothering › Mothering Forums › Mom › Parenting › Multicultural Families › "watering down" a language