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Learning another language: an essential part of being a global citizen

Manitoba's strategy for revitalizing French second language education

Florence Girouard and Sandra Drzystek
Bureau de l'éducation française Division
Manitoba Education


In Manitoba, total preliminary enrolment statistics showed that, as of September 30, 2011, 5,249 students (2.66% of the student population) were enrolled in the Français program, and that 20,482 students (10.37% of the student population) were enrolled in the French Immersion program—an all-time high. Moreover, 70,013 students (35.44% of the student population) were taking Basic French courses (61,616 in public schools and 8,397 in independent schools).

From a total preliminary student population of 197,533 students, 101,789 students (51.53%) are taking neither Français (French-as-a-first-language program) nor French as a second language (French Immersion program and Basic French courses) in the 2011-2012 school year.

Language is integral to the human experience. It contributes to the cultural richness of society, to personal fulfillment and to mutual understanding. In an increasingly multicultural society, language skills and intercultural understanding are no longer a luxury—they are an essential part of being a global citizen. More than ever, as we welcome people from diverse cultures, educators and parents need to have clear expectations regarding language acquisition. An increase in immigration and interprovincial migration has brought globalization to our communities, along with a dramatic growth in the number of learners entering school each year with a mother tongue other than English or French. Twenty-first century education needs to take into account that multilingualism is becoming the norm rather than the exception.

The Bureau de l'éducation française (BEF), the Manitoba Education division responsible for French education in Manitoba, is rethinking its theoretical foundation for teaching and learning French as a second language in both Basic French and French Immersion. This work is guided by the vision that all Manitoba students need to learn more than one language, in a context where 50% of them are not exposed to the French language. To bring about a paradigm shift, the BEF is rethinking its methodology for increased student success and collaborating with educational partners to promote this new approach. In doing so, the BEF hopes to engage students who are not currently enrolled in a French course or program. By providing them with the opportunity to learn another language and develop intercultural understanding, Manitoba is making an investment in its children.

Over the past two years, the BEF has been revitalizing Basic French courses by organizing forums involving a group of educators and educational partners. This group is examining four priority areas: curriculum renewal; pre-service and in-service teacher education; policies and practice; and promotion of French as a second language. A new guide has been developed; it uses a literacy-based approach with oral communication proficiency as the main focus. The guide aims to provide all Manitoba students with another venue—besides the Français and French immersion school programs—to develop proficiency in oral communication and to learn to read and write in French. Some students are already attaining this goal through their Basic French courses; the BEF has videotaped these students to illustrate and clarify the expectations of educators, students and parents. The reaction to these video clips has been overwhelming; educators are amazed to see that the proposed methodology can achieve tremendous results for students. This is the goal for all Manitoba students, and we know that well-trained and qualified teachers are the key to achieving this goal.

The BEF is also rethinking its theoretical foundation for the French immersion program. As the program evolves, it is becoming clear that students need more support in their language-learning experience. They believe their French language skills are not good enough and therefore don't feel confident speaking French. Learning another language, though rewarding, is not easy; and the work presently conducted in this area will guide the educators and students participating in the program.

For young people to become engaged in language learning, it is important that they have a personal connection to the language and see the language as relevant to their lives. For this to happen, students need to become conscious of their decision to speak two or more languages. The language-learning experience needs to be validated and nurtured by family, peers and the community. The students' personal growth as bilingual learners and speakers needs to be recognized and celebrated by those around them so they can feel supported in their decision to learn another language. Students should be encouraged to talk about their language-learning experience. They need to be commended for their decision and encouraged to keep taking responsibility for learning a second language and living in both languages. To further inspire them, we need to expose them to role models—for example, people who have followed a similar path and succeeded in learning two or more languages. Their family, peers and community can support them in learning another language by participating in cultural or community activities. This new thinking represents the desired evolution of French immersion education in Manitoba.

By revitalizing and rethinking French second language education in both Basic French courses and French Immersion programs, the BEF hopes that students will become more proficient in French, more aware of their cultural identity and more open to other languages and cultures. This added value is complex but life-changing for learners. It is a skill that all Manitoba students can acquire—a skill that will strengthen their identity and self-esteem as they become proud and engaged global citizens.