Language Choice in the Province of Quebec
One of the most important decisions parents face is deciding their children’s education. Making the right choice will likely put the child on a path towards lifelong learning and a promising future. However, making the wrong choice is a decision that parents and children must live with.
In the province of Quebec, school choice is further complicated by language. Not only do parents have to consider their child’s needs, the curriculum, the school’s approach to learning and academic ranking, extracurricular activities, behavior policy, class size and yes, location, but for a select group of “Anglophone” parents whose children have access to English language instruction, that decision involves the language of education. For the most part, Francophone public schools do not provide as much (English) second language instruction especially in the lower grade levels, while the opposite holds true in most Anglophone public institutions. In the majority of English language school boards, (French) second language education is introduced as early as kindergarten and taught alongside with English language instruction.
So how do parents decide? Will it be a French language education or a (English) Bilingual education? Talk about stress!
Statistics over the last several years indicate that more and more parents whose children are eligible by law for English language instruction in Quebec are opting for schooling in the French language. Parents are of the belief that only a French language education will give their children the French language proficiency needed to succeed in the province. Not only will they learn to speak French like a native speaker, they will also have access to better work opportunities and therefore, a better future in the province. After all, in Quebec, French is the language of government, work, instruction, communication, commerce and business.
Benefits of Dual Language Learning
Surprisingly, the research on second language learning and acquisition proves differently. A growing body of evidence based research in the fields of psychology, cognitive psychology, linguistics and neurolinguistics argue in favor of a dual language education over a predominantly monolingual education.
A dual language or a bilingual education provides a number of benefits. For one, academic outcomes on standardized tests are higher in dual language academic settings compared to mono linguistic academic environments. Just look at the recent Quebec Education Ministry exam results. Grades in the same French language education subjects are higher among students from English language school boards than from the French language school boards.
International Research on Bilingual Education
This is not an anomaly. A number of studies, including international studies conducted with students in the USA, Canada, Philippines, Italy, Haiti and Guatemala, to name a few, confirm that second language learners in bilingual or immersion settings typically outperform their monolingual peers in literacy skills (phonological and phonemic awareness, thinking/processing skills, comprehension)., 
One such study was conducted in Quebec as early as 1965 by Wallace Lambert and his team. Lambert and his colleagues compared the language skills of immersion students to their monolingual peers. Initially, they found that immersion students achieved literacy skills below their monolingual counterparts; however, by grade 3 they caught up, and eventually outperformed their uni-lingual peers. The initial lag in vocabulary development is typical of second language learners. It takes about 6-7 years for second language learners to achieve native language vocabulary levels. 
The results of these independent studies and others confirm that exposure to second language learning environments to the exclusion of first/dominant language or mother tongue language is not beneficial. The development of first language skills are essential for second language development and is more important than the amount of time spent in second language settings. That is, proficiency in first or dominant language skills is critical for the development of proficiency in second language skills. This phenomenon is known as the “cross linguistic transfer of skills”. 
Bilingualism, Neuroplasticity, and Alzheimer’s Disease
Brain based research also found that the ability to speak two or more languages increases the neuroplasticity of the brain and stimulates cognitive development in various areas of the brain. The resulting structural changes and altered pattern of neural functioning found in bilingual individuals improves brain functioning. That is, bilingual individuals tend to have superior memory and attention spans and better developed problem solving and creative thinking skills, as compared to uni-lingual peers.
These advantages continue well into adulthood in bilingual and multilingual adults. It is believed that the rewiring of the brain due to bilingualism compensates, in the long term, for any neural damage caused by mental decline. As a result, any mental decline due to age is typically reduced and the rate of onset of Alzheimer’s disease is delayed by at least 7 years.
It is hoped that this information can help dispel myths and beliefs regarding the language of schooling so that parents can make a more informed decision. To all those who question the benefits of bilingualism, bilingualism does not harm a typical student’s academic development and progress. At its very base, fluency in two or more languages provides added social, cultural, economic and financial advantages. So what will your decision be?
 The use of first and second languages in Education: A review of International Experience. Dutcher N, with the collaboration of R. Tucker. Pacific Islands Discussion Paper Series Number 1-East Asia and Pacific Region-Country Department III.
 Lapkin, S., Hart, D. and Swain, M. (1991) Early and middle French Immersion programs: French language outcomes. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 48, pp. 11-40
 Lambert, W.E. and Tucker, R.G. (1972) Bilingual Education: the St. Lambert Experiment. Newbury House Publishers
 Farnia, F. and Geva, E. (2011). Cognitive correlates of vocabulary growth in English language learners. Applied Psycholinguistics, 32(4), pp 711-738.
 Cummins, J. (1979). Linguistic Interdependence and educational development of bilingual children. Review of Educational Research, 49, pp 222-251
 Klein, B., Mok, K., Chen, J.K., and Watkins, K. E. (2014) Age of language learning shapes brain structure: a cortical thickness study of bilingual and monolingual individuals. Brain and Language 131, pp. 20-24
 Rising the Tide: The impact of dementia on Canadian Society. A study commissioned by the Alzheimer’s society.
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