From December 2022 to December 2023, I will attempt to summarize and comment on the practical implications of 13 classic books about bi/multilingual education that continue to be relevant in the field. The first is Merrill Swain and Sharon Lapkin’s book about Canadian French immersion, Evaluating Bilingual Education: A Canadian Case Study (1981). This book is important because other types of content-based language learning in the world today, such as Content Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) in Europe, Chinese-English bilingual education in Mainland China (which I call “CEBE” in this post), and English-Medium Instruction (EMI) in postcolonial societies like Hong Kong and South Africa are often described as doing something similar to the French immersion experiment in Canada in the 1970s/1980s (Hu, 2008): the idea that if you teach children school subject content in a language that is not their first language, which they may have limited contact with outside of class, they will benefit in terms of target language proficiency, academic learning, and even intercultural competence/positive attitudes towards the target culture. In this post, I (1) explain what French immersion actually did and did not achieve for early, mid, and late starters, and (2) discuss from a 2022/2023 perspective why we cannot easily generalize even those successful aspects of French immersion to CLIL, CEBE, or EMI.
Swain, M., & Lapkin, S. (1981). Evaluating bilingual education: A Canadian case study. Multilingual Matters.
If you’ve ever visited Canada, you’ve probably noticed that everything is in English and French: the signs on the airport and subway, the packaging on things you buy in the supermarket. See the difference between American and Canadian packaging:
This is the result of the Official Languages Act of 1969, which made Canada officially bilingual even though French is spoken in a relatively small section of the country: mainly in Quebec and to some extent New Brunswick. (Historical note: In the 18th century, the French colonies were defeated by the English colonies; these English colonies were eventually granted independence by England, and expanded further west to the Pacific Ocean. Thus, French Canadians are a culturally and linguistically minoritized/oppressed group today, even though Quebec also imposes some harsh language laws for new immigrants to that province.)
More than 90% of Canadians live near the U.S. border; anything further north tends to be inhabited by First Nations peoples. Moreover, according to the 2021 census, about 61% of Canadians live in Ontario and Quebec. This is why elections are decided in that demographically “central” part of the country. The Official Languages Act of 1969 sent the Canadian white-collar cultural mainstream (that is, the White, English-speaking population of Ontario, which is a province that comprises 38% of the country’s population) into a panic to learn French so they could continue participating in professional class jobs, particularly in the government. Although learning foreign/second languages was not common in Canada in the 1960s/70s and immigrants tended to assimilate to English, this group developed experimental French immersion schools for their children to serve this purpose.
So goes the summary of Swain and Lapkin’s introduction chapter, but I will insert here (and throughout this post) the first observation why French immersion is not like CLIL, Chinese-English bilingual education, or EMI. Even though CLIL is common for socioeconomic elites in European countries (most notably Spain) and in Mainland China, in neither of these settings are (top-ranking) government jobs necessarily denied to people due to lack of English proficiency, because English is not a second official language of Spain or China. As for EMI in former colonies like Hong Kong or South Africa, English as a medium of instruction appears on many different levels of society. In this case, English is a co-official government language, and people are denied government jobs due to lack of proficiency in it, but this is also different from the case of French immersion, because French in Canada is more symbolic than functional. In other words, government officials in Hong Kong must be proficient in both languages for academic purposes in spoken and written discourse with native-like grammar and a not-very-strong accent. In Canada, it suffices to have a receptive knowledge of French (e.g., understand what you read for professional purposes) and in the government you can listen in French and reply back in English. I will return to these points in the summary of outcomes of French immersion.
Two other differences from CLIL, Chinese-English bilingual education, and EMI are worth noting. First, in French immersion, “For members of the majority group, learning a second language is [i] not likely to pose a threat to a sense of personal or cultural identity, nor to [ii] the maintenance of the first language (Lambert, 1975, as cited in Swain, 1981, p. 2). We can rule this situation out for EMI in postcolonial societies. For socioeconomically elite white-collar people in the E.U. and Mainland China, English immersion is not likely to pose a threat to a sense of personal or cultural identity, but L1 acquisition in academic domains can be compromised (Hu, 2008). This is because, once you start on the English-medium path, you have to keep on that path, e.g., EMI university education in China or abroad. However, eventually, French immersion students in Canada (regardless of whether they started French immersion in early or late elementary school, or even middle school) come to do most upper secondary subjects and university in their L1, English. In fact, their French “plateaus” (stops developing) at the (upper-)intermediate or B1/B2 level, rather than reaching C1/C2 levels in the Common European Framework. This was, in fact, never the goal, because these Anglophones do not plan to move to rural Quebec where only French is spoken; they live in bilingual cities in Ontario and Quebec where they can function productively in English with some receptive knowledge of French.
Swain and Lapkin sampled three populations of students in Ontario: (1) early total immersion students in Carleton, Ottawa, and Toronto; (2) early partial immersion students in Elgin; and (3) late partial immersion students in Peel. (Peel is a suburb of Toronto. Elgin and Carleton are small cities/towns outside Toronto, and Ottawa is another big city.) Early total immersion students started kindergarten in total French immersion. Early partial immersion students started kindergarten with a mix of French- and English-medium instruction across academic subjects, depending on the period, and late partial immersion students did the same, but started later in late elementary school or middle school.
It is important to note that these programs were optional. In fact, they enrolled only 2.5% of the Ontario K-12 student population around 1980. This was still tens of thousands of students, so enough to conduct large-scale research.
How did Swain and Lapkin present their findings?
Swain and Lapkin measured (1) French language proficiency, (2) academic subject knowledge, and (3) intercultural competence/positive attitudes towards French speakers separately. You might ask, “How could they measure French language proficiency and academic subject knowledge separately in a CLIL-like program?” Recall that the point was not to learn academic subjects in the target language to an age-appropriate level all the way up to adulthood. What parents who sent their kids to French immersion wanted to know was: (1) whether their children would have better French language proficiency than those students taught in “traditional” French as a second language classrooms that focused on grammar (and the answer was yes), (2) whether their children would fail to learn subject matter well, when it was taught in the early years in French… but the kids were EVENTUALLY TESTED IN SUCH SUBJECTS THROUGH STANDARDIZED TESTS IN ENGLISH AT KEY POINTS IN THEIR SCHOOLING (which I cannot emphasize enough) and the answer was that early total immersion students did best on these tests, but keep in mind that even these students only needed to show receptive understanding of the material taught in French, not productive spoken/written proficiency in academic registers, because ultimately the examination was in English. Also the parents wanted to know (3) whether immersion would increase the students’ intercultural competence and favorable attitudes towards French speakers, which it in fact did, but these people were from families that had a favorable bias towards language learning and French Canadian culture, and besides, it was near impossible for them to be negatively positioned by French speakers in any social interactions in their daily lives, because of their status in society, a point I will get into more later.
Now, I will go into the three categories of outcomes, to which Swain and Lapkin devote a findings chapter each: (1) Findings about Target Language Proficiency, (2) Findings about Academic Outcomes, and (3) Sociocultural Findings.
1. Findings about Target Language Proficiency
Swain and Lapkin found immersion students’ proficiency in French to be domain-specific. It depended on the four skills:
- Listening (receptive oral)
- Reading (receptive textual)
- Speaking (productive oral)
- Writing (productive textual)
It also depended on what second language acquisition researchers refer to as CAF (Bui & Skehan, 2018): Complexity, Accuracy, Fluency.
- Fluency: How fluently you express yourself
- Accuracy: How accurate your grammar is
- Complexity: The attempt at difficult word forms/grammar structures, even if only partially accurate—i.e., you are aware of them
It’s generally understood that until you have a high proficiency in a language, there will be a tradeoff: focus on one of these things and it will decrease performance on the other two. If you attempt complex forms, there is a bigger chance of accuracy loss, and you won’t fluently express yourself. If you try to speak fast, you will likely have to choose less complex forms to keep up the pace, and can make mistakes of accuracy. If you try hard to get things perfectly accurate, you will speak slower and you may not attempt harder forms.
Swain and Lapkin report on many different sources of data:
- French test results
- Descriptive studies of French language abilities of the immersion students
- The students’ own perceptions of their French language skills
- French native speakers’ ratings of their language production
- Information about their French language use outside of school (if any)
These different data sources yielded more convergent than divergent results, meaning that they tended to paint the same picture. Now, let’s examine the picture.
When it came to receptive language skills, the students did quite well. Compared to a Montreal comparison group, they actually did similarly in listening comprehension: “by grade 1 or 2, the immersion students were scoring as well as about one third of native French-speaking students in Montreal, and by grade 6, as well as one-half of the Montreal comparison group” (pp. 41-42).
In Peel, Toronto, Elgin, Ottawa Board of Education (OBE) and Carleton Board of Education (CBE), the early total immersion students did better than early partial immersion and late immersion students in the areas of listening and receptive vocabulary:
|Peel Late Partial Immersion||Toronto Late Extended French||Elgin Early Partial Immersion||OBE/CBE Early Total Immersion|
|Test de compréhension auditive / Listening Comprehension (max. 22)||8.82||10.54||13.00||14.95|
|Test de mots à trouver / Receptive vocabulary (max. 41)||13.60||13.96||17.86||19.90|
Swain and Lapkin state:
early immersion students outperform late immersion students at grade 8 in French listening comprehension, reading comprehension, general French achievement (as measured by the Test de rendement en français) and a French cloze test [where you’re presented with a passage with missing words you have to guess]. (p. 45; my bold)
Note that researchers did not compare immersion students’ French performance to native French speakers’, but rather to each other (early versus late immersion), and to English L1 kids not in immersion. All the immersion groups’ performances in French were found to be at least equal to, if not better than, the performance of students educated in English with a French as a second language class… in those areas where immersion works best: listening, reading, and receptive vocabulary. Yet the parents were not really interested in whether their kids were native-like. The parents were simply interested in whether their kids had an “edge” over other English L1 kids.
We have to be cautious when generalizing these programs to CLIL/CEBE/EMI, as both comparisons to native speakers and to members of the same L1 group are made. In French immersion, only the latter comparison is relevant. And the answer for parents was: “Yes, immersion does give your kid an edge in the target language for everyday purposes, in receptive skills, and in fluency but not accuracy or complexity, over other L1 speakers of your language.” Now let’s look at why the limitations arose.
- For everyday purposes (plateau at B1/B2): By later grades, students were eventually assessed on subject content in English that they had some previous experience learning in French, but also had learned in English through their family literacy experiences in life outside of class. Thus, there was no need to learn French for C1/C2 academic purposes. Students tended to plateau at the high intermediate level, as in upper secondary their education tends towards English to prepare them for university in English.
- In receptive skills: Swain (1975) analyzed grade 3 French immersion students’ compositions relative to a French L1 control group and recommended more writing instruction in French, as students’ English writing skills were developing normally at age-appropriate levels due to their everyday life and rich print literacy environments in English. The point was that the students didn’t really have anyone to communicate with in French outside of class; they were hardly “forced” to use it in speaking and writing, and they could use English among themselves.
- In fluency but not accuracy or complexity (this was also found by Housen, Schoonjans, Janssens, Welcome, Schoonheere, & Pierrard, 2011, in immersion classes in Germany and Belgium where the target language was English): Due to lack of “native” speaker interlocutors and judges, students were not socially pushed to have grammatically accurate language. They always got by communicating what they needed using simpler sentence structures due both to lack of models and the fact that these less complex and less accurate forms worked well enough with each other. This same finding in Canada in the 1970s/80s led Swain to develop her famous (Pushed) Output Hypothesis (see Swain, 1993: “The output hypothesis: Just speaking and writing aren’t enough,” i.e., if there is no social need to be accurate or complex, these things aren’t going to develop). You either need native speaker interlocutors or a formally assessed product with explicitly taught complex/accurate/formal language. It also helps to allow students to translanguage (between L1 and the target language) to talk about the target forms in the product which are more accurate, complex, formal, or pragmatically appropriate, and discuss through translanguaging WHY they’re correct, more formal or pragmatically appropriate (because students don’t have the linguistic resources to have this discussion in the target language only). Swain called this important learning process “languaging” (Swain & Watanabe, 2012).
Meanwhile, the French immersion students themselves knew their strengths and weaknesses:
The self-reports of all the immersion students corresponded to trends already noticeable in their test results, with both groups rating their listening comprehension skills as their strongest second language ability and their oral production skills their weakest. (p. 52)
When it came to native speaker ratings, here is where the situation really differs from EFL, and from L2 French for immigrant students in a French-speaking country. When presented with immersion students’ speech samples, native French speakers in Canada had a very glass-half-full, not-half-empty attitude (Lepicq, 1980). That is,
The judges tended to apply different criteria in evaluating the immersion and francophone comparison students, demonstrating that their expectations were different for the two groups. (p. 52)
This is in fact related to issues of power. For example, an English speaker in Hong Kong who is perfectly fluent in English may be judged negatively for their accent, whereas an English L1 speaker who speaks broken Cantonese can be applauded for getting a simple message across because they aren’t even expected to know any Cantonese to begin with. Unlike the vast majority of immigrants to the francophone world, who are forced to assimilate and seen from deficit perspectives (Hélot & Young, 2002; Mary & Young, 2021), these Canadian French immersion students’ education was optional: they comprised the 2.5% of Anglophone Ontarians who bothered having their education in the minoritized group’s language, and hence their French was evaluated from an asset-based perspective by native French speaker raters in Lepicq’s (1980) dissertation at the University of Toronto. When the white Danish singer Anita Lerche sings or speaks her beloved L2, Punjabi, she is praised to the point that heritage speakers of Punjabi become jealous given the extent of criticism they receive on their Punjabi (Karrebæk, Stæhr, & Varis, 2015).
This privilege could, in fact, work against the French immersion students, as seen by their degree of use of French outside of school: they were actually quite inhibited to try French out in situations where they did not have this upper hand. From a survey study, Genesee (1978, p. 38) reported:
it does not seem that they [immersion students] are more active in initiating conversations in French or in actively seeking out situations where French could be used… there was no evidence that they use French more outside school than do their peers in the regular program. (p. 53)
Swain and Lapkin also state:
As one illustration of this tendency not to seek out opportunities for using French, immersion and non-immersion students alike indicated minimal use of French media (including television, radio, cinema, books, magazines, and newspapers). At both grades 6 and 11, however, immersion students indicated that they were more likely than comparison students in the regular program to respond in French if spoken to in French. This pattern of questionnaire responses suggests a distinction between “active” and “reactive” language use, with active referring to self-initiated use of French (e.g. choosing French television programs to watch), and reactive referring to French language use initiated by others (e.g. in interpersonal communication). Genesee (1980b:20 concludes “that the favorable attitudes of the immersion children and their parents along with their superior second language competence were sufficient to engage them in reactive language use but not in active language use” (p. 53).
Reactive language use was of course all they needed to use French in “official” domains like government jobs—i.e., mainly receptive oral and written proficiency and some degree of spoken proficiency IF the French interlocutor wasn’t up to using English. In the Canadian government, one could be addressed in French and speak back in English. Thus, French immersion was a program that catered perfectly to the needs of its socioeconomically elite, English L1 demographic: demanding of them not a whit more than what they practically wanted/needed in the target language while minimizing their productive (spoken/written) language use and its negative evaluation on both examinations and social interactions, AND not socially or morally pressuring them to use French extensively outside of the classroom. This is another reason why you cannot compare it to CLIL, CEBE, or EMI.
On a positive note, one universal benefit among all the immersion students was that they had much better language awareness than the average English L1 speaking kid in Ontario—which Lambert and Tucker (1972) described as “the early development of a linguistic ‘detective’ capacity: that is, an attentive, patient, inductive concern with words, meanings and linguistic realities” (p. 208) and ability to make cross-linguistic comparisons in terms of both grammar and the way different languages phrase the same concepts. This comes naturally to children in a multilingual society, for example a country like India, but was an unusual skill for English monolingual Anglo-Canadian students in the 1970s and 1980s.
2. Findings about Academic Attainment
Parents were interested in how children were able to keep up with their English-educated peers in subjects taught to them in French, when eventually tested through standardized tests in the same subjects in English. Thirty-eight mathematics exam administrations showed that the immersion groups, in comparison to their English-medium peers, were able to grasp the mathematics knowledge taught to them in French and apply it in English, at different grade levels. They even scored higher on average than English-medium peers, when they took the math tests in English.
|Grade equivalent (e.g., 3.8 = 80% through grade 3 curriculum)||Allenby, Toronto immersion students||Ottawa and Carleton immersion students|
Swain states that
these findings are similar to other studies which have examined science achievement (e.g., Bruck, Lambert, & Tucker, 1976a; Edwards, Colletta, Fu & McCarrey, 1979a), indicating that science achievement is neither positively nor negatively affected by instruction in the second language [if the eventual test is in L1]. (p. 60)
You can speculate on why these immersion students did better: for example, if students eventually needed to learn the material in L1, their eventual language of secondary education, the transfer from L2 to L1 must have strengthened their understanding, on top of which they were socioeconomic elites with out-of-class academic support. Moreover, since early math and science knowledge rather than advanced math and science knowledge was taught in L2, it was less technical to grasp if taught through immersion, more related to daily life, and more comprehensible by contextual guessing and application of prior knowledge schema.
Thus, the purpose of French immersion was not to eventually study academic subjects in French, with French oral and written output at the university level (in which the academic outcomes would likely have been very different), but to have more intellectual stimulation during the early years of schooling. Research by Bruck, Lambert and Tucker (1974) found that French immersion students outperformed English-educated students on work-study skills (reading of maps, graphs, and tables, and knowledge and use of reference material), which is not surprising, because this is exactly what you have to do when you are trying to make sense of something in a foreign language, but rather importantly, this is receptive language development rather than productive language development, similar to how a brainy archeologist can read but not speak Latin, Ancient Greek, or Egyptian hieroglyphics (not necessarily using the language for oral communicative purposes). That is different from how EMI, CEBE, or CLIL gets “heavier” in content demands and productive language demands with each passing year as people need to function in academic and professional communication in English.
Related to that point, when late immersion students were compared to early immersion students, the outcomes were not so rosy. In the Peel County late immersion program, math, science, history and geography were taught in French in grade 8, and achievement in those subjects was assessed in English in grades 8, 9, and 10. Swain and Lapkin write:
The initial grade 8 late immersion group was given a standardized science test at the beginning and end of grade 8. They did as well as their comparison group at the beginning of the grade 8 year but not at the end of the year. This finding was interpreted as revealing a slight negative effect of the late immersion program on general science concepts attainment. … Mathematics achievement has also been assessed with inconsistent results. Of the three cohorts of late immersion students followed by the Bilingual Education Project in Peel County… one grade 8 group’s performance was equivalent to that of its English-instructed group, a second group scored better than its comparison group, and a third group did not perform as well as its comparison group. (p. 67)
Fortunately, when instruction changed back to L1, the students caught up: “In the following years, however, when the late immersion students were taught science in English, their performance was equivalent to that of students who had not taken science in French in the grade 8 year” (p. 67).
In sum, findings for late immersion students are inconsistent even if they are eventually tested in English. As for early French immersion students, they do very well (better than their English-educated peers) on the condition that they are eventually tested in English. What this academic challenge seems to do is to develop general cognitive and problem-solving skills, which are brought out when trying to make meaning of a subject in L2.
3. Sociocultural Findings
The researchers investigated two points here: (1) whether the French immersion students had a good time at school even though they were not taught in L1, and (2) whether these Anglophone children and youth developed more positive attitudes towards francophones in Canada, at a time when the Quebec sovereignty movement, or push to make Quebec its own country, was at its historical peak.
For the first question, it seemed that the program did no harm. Most students liked it—especially those in early immersion:
early immersion students… were more likely to respond that they would prefer a bilingual high school program and that the amount of time spent in French during the school day was “about right” or “a bit too short.” In contrast, the late immersion and extended-core [regular French] students were more likely to respond that they would prefer a program with less French in it and that the amount of time spent in French was “a bit too long.” These results indicate a greater satisfaction with their program among early immersion students than among late immersion or extended core students at the grade 8 level. (p. 72)
It must be noted that the students, who were white-collar kids from the Canadian cultural mainstream, were not linguistically culturally oppressed in early immersion classrooms, which is different from EMI in postcolonial societies. In early immersion, students could use English until they were comfortable using French. Also, teachers were bilingual in French and English, so they could understand students’ words in English and comfort them or clear up their confusion in English, French, or a mix of both. It is also apparent that teachers were relatively lax with accuracy or complexity, as students did not seem to care that much in this area, as shown by Swain’s work on the Output Hypothesis. They were treated quite kindly by francophone assessors of their French… which is another difference from EMI.
The findings regarding identity development were interesting. Lambert and Tucker (1972) asked grade 4 and 5 immersion students and English-educated students (who took French class) whether, after studying French for several years, they had become less English-Canadian, more English-Canadian, or both English and French-Canadian. Sixty-five percent of the grade 4 and 66% of the grade 5 French immersion children responded “both,” while only 27% of the grade 4 and 13% of the grade 5 English-educated students did. There was thus no loss of identity, but a perceived decrease in social distance, for two thirds of French immersion children.
These findings are interesting because, as already mentioned above, most of these children and their families had little contact with actual French Canadians in their daily lives, who could not negate (argue against) their view of themselves as becoming “more” French Canadian; moreover, these Anglophones did not really consume francophone media for pleasure. Thus, their sense of cultural expansion and incorporation into francophone culture was, in all likelihood, just their opinion, or indicative of the welcome they received in their own self-prescribed social circles, rather than being due to any large degree of mixing or interaction with francophone society. Genesee (1980) found that, as language proficiency plateaued at B1/B2 level, so did positive attitudes towards francophones. His survey and interview research found that in the first year or two of immersion, students had more positive attitudes towards francophone culture than English-instructed comparison groups, but in later years, the attitudes were not statistically different. However, in no cases were immersion students’ attitudes less favorable than the English-medium students’. Swain and Lapkin explain:
The lack of sustained contact with members of the target language group… is a problem which… faces most immersion students in many Canadian cities. In these cities, the francophone population is small, and contact with francophones is difficult to establish in French because they are so fluently bilingual (Swain, 1981b). This lack of contact may affect not only the failure to generate more positive attitudes, but also the failure to make significant progress beyond a certain plateau in speaking French (p. 76).
Because the learners were never tested in a French-speaking out-of-class environment (i.e., French immersion outside of class), they always met the French language on their own terms. If they ever met francophones, they could use English or withdraw to the extent that they felt comfortable. Their French would rarely be negatively evaluated in an English-speaking or bilingual environment in which their L1, English, was the more dominant societal language.
On a positive note, when compared to English-medium and francophone students on an essay writing assignment, Blake at al (.n.d.) found that these French immersion students identified the country’s problem as one of segregation, stubbornness and resistance to getting along, whereas English-medium peers blamed francophone separatists. On their essays, francophone students mentioned the difference between the two cultures as an argument for Quebec’s independence. Thus, the three sets of essays were thematically different, with the French-immersion students being open to more bridges between the two cultures. In my opinion, this does not make the other two groups wrong; on the contrary, it is possible that the French-immersion students were not adequately aware of real conflicts because their cross-cultural experiences were always positive. However, Swain and her colleagues at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto, saw French immersion as a potential way to forge more positive intergroup relations.
In their concluding chapter, Swain and Lapkin summarize the following:
- French immersion had no negative impact on students’ language and literacy skills in L1 English, and in fact they eventually came to be educated in their L1 in their later years.
- As for French language skills, total early immersion groups did better than partial early immersion and late immersion groups, but this tended to apply more to receptive than productive skills, and did not tend to reach age-appropriate academic domains by late secondary school, plateauing at the B1/B2 level.
- The academic content knowledge of the immersion students did not tend to suffer because they were tested in English and instructed in English eventually as their schooling progressed. What they gained by initially learning these subjects in French was metalinguistic/problem-solving/linguistic comparison skills working in a foreign language, for example in reading comprehension, that made them work harder and cultivated their logical and divergent thinking.
- Their French language production—from its strengths to its weaknesses—tended to be positively received by the wider society from a “glass half full” perspective. Thus, they had a good view of themselves as French speakers even though their French was not C1/C2 level or native-like, and more fluent than accurate or complex (i.e., they could get their message across, however imperfectly or using simpler vocabulary or circumlocuations).
- However, they did not pursue French media/books/movies/music/pop culture/etc. out of class, and only spoke to people in French if the interlocutor(s) pressed for it, rarely initiating a French conversation themselves. They had a better understanding of francophones by recognizing that both anglophones and francophones self-segregated, and did not blame the discord entirely on the francophones, but they had never been tested in a situation where francophones would lash out at them in anger regarding the oppression of French Canadians. It is unclear whether they eventually became aware of their role as anglophones learning “prestige” varieties of French, and taking away jobs from people who spoke non-prestige Quebec dialects of French in Canada, as studied by the famous Canadian sociolinguist Monica Heller (see Heller, 2010, “The Commodification of Language”). Thus, Canadian French immersion students always met the target language, culture, and people (mostly their teachers) on their own terms.
- In sum, their French-learning journeys revolved entirely around their needs. This had its benefits (goals were realistic, aligned perfectly with the extent and domains that students needed to learn French and no more, and to hell with the native speaker standard) and also its drawbacks (the plateaus in language acquisition, the domain-specificity of language acquisition, and the plateaus in intercultural competence and critical language awareness).
Swain and Lapkin (p. 85) argue that the French immersion experiment was overall successful due to parental involvement, students’ being in the cultural majority/mainstream, the program being optional, and the students signing up for it having positive attitudes towards the target language and culture already existing in their families. This cannot be transferable to EMI in postcolonial societies: parents may want their kids in EMI but may be less involved, they are not always in the cultural majority/mainstream, the program is often forced on them either by legislature or economic pressures, and hence they have an ambivalent attitude towards it.
Nor can French immersion be wholly generalizable to CLIL/CEBE, because even if the populations are high-SES (socioeconomic status) and in the cultural majority (White in the European Union, or Han in Mainland China), and even if parents are involved in the program, it is elective, teachers treat students well, and such families have a genuine interest in Anglophone cultures, there is the need to MAINTAIN EMI unto the secondary grades and into university/graduate school, which means that students have to acquire PRODUCTIVE oral/written proficiency at grade/age level (which French immersion students were not put to the test on). We can assume that where the French immersion students plateaued in terms of proficiency level, domains of acquisition, and affiliation with the target/language culture is also where EMI/CLIL/CEBE students are likely to plateau due to the difficulties of what is demanded of them in a foreign language. Thus, while French immersion is not generalizable to EMI/CLIL/CEBE in terms of program design, it may be generalizable in terms of program implications. On the other hand, the eventual contact of EMI/CLIL/CEBE students with people in Inner-Circle English speaking countries from many language backgrounds may push them further, leading to more mixed positive and negative outcomes than those found with French immersion students.
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Genesee, F. (1980). Social psychological consequences of bilingualism. Paper presented at the Symposium of Standard Language/Vernacular Relations and Bilingual Education, Racine, Wisconsin.
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