Dropping out of French immersion

Karine's a big believer in bilingual education. But what should she do when one of her four kids is falling behind in French?

By Karine Ewart
Dropping out of French immersion

Photo by powerofforever/

As you may know, I have four great kids. Milla is 10, and loves to try everything. She has to work hard to do well, but she takes everything seriously (to a fault, perhaps, but that is a story for another post!) and is focused/driven enough to succeed. She's the kind of kid who comes home from school and immediately starts her homework, without having to be asked.
Beckett, almost 6, is hesitant to try new things, but naturally excels whenever he does. Being the youngest, he's also the most competitive out of all the kids. I think he just wants to prove he is as good as (or better than) his older brothers.
Wyatt, 7, has the brain power to execute, and will utilize every strategy in order to come out on top. He is a sponge and naturally wants to absorb information, and then use it to his advantage. (Honestly, he scares me a bit. So far, in a good way.)
Theo, also 7, is different. He's street smart like he owns the 'hood, and makes friends wherever he goes. But he couldn't care less if he does well, and has a bit of a "laissez-faire" attitude that usually creates "comme ci, comme ça" results. If it's fun, Theo's good to go, but the minute it feels like work, he's done. And he doesn't mind if you don't agree with him.
When you analyze all of their personalities, it may not surprise you to learn that Theo is struggling in French immersion. And my husband Jay and I have to make a difficult decision. Soon. As in, now: Does he stay or do we pull him out of French?
All of our kids are in French immersion (starting in JK they only speak French at school). My husband was in French immersion and his mother was a French teacher. I admit, I take pride in the fact that my kids speak French.

Me? Not so much. I started French in public school in Grade 4 and, since I could memorize anything, did relatively well since our tests always seemed to be dictée's. I studied it all through high school (an easy way to get high marks back then), and wanted to speak it so badly that I took conversational French at university. I did my best to speak it when I lived in Montreal, and even took a night class when Milla started school seven years ago. I can read French and order a decent meal in a French restaurant (and I can speak and curse at a basic level), but I desperately wish I was more fluent.
Which is why I have fallen trap to the age-old desire: My kids will have more opportunities than I did! They will be bilingual, not just because I think it's a great advantage and perhaps a Canadian birthright, but because I never could and they deserve it!
Fast forward a few years, and Theo is struggling. Make that failing. Straight Ds on his report card. He is lost in class, and falling further and further behind in his English reading, too. His teacher, Monsieur C, who we know well (his eldest daughter has been our babysitter since Beckett was in diapers!), tells us of Theo's insecurity and uncomfortableness in class. He says Theo is shy, confused, and frustrated to the point of tears.
The fact is, Theo is trying hard, and yet, still having a difficult time. And his ego is getting pummeled everyday. So, the answer should be obvious: We'll take him out of French and put him in the English stream.
Here are the reasons why I am hesitant (other than those I alluded to above):

1. We've been getting Theo extra help and it seems to be working. Slowly, but still, he's progressing.

2. Our school is out-of-district, which means technically, Theo isn't eligible to continue to attend the same school as his siblings. He would hopefully be granted permission, but it will be on a year-by-year basis.

3. Theo has a twin brother, who will be bilingual. (My argument to counter this is: Theo may be more susceptible to pick up French in a few years, or when he's in high school. More reasons to have a villa in the south of France or send him to Lycée.)

4. Theo wants to stay in French. He knows if he doesn't, it will make him different from the friends he already knows and from his siblings. (Kids are resilient, and I'd rather a short-term drama than a lifelong insecurity.)
So, obviously, these reasons pale in comparison to salvaging what's left of Theo's self-esteem and getting him set up in an environment where he can succeed. We've decided: We'll pull Theo out of French at the end of this semester and enroll him in Grade 2 English in the fall.
So why do I still feel so guilty?

This article was originally published on Apr 23, 2012

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