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Language schools

Find the top private language schools in Canada

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We imagine that the experience of living within a global village—a context where disparate cultures, people, ideas, and languages come into regular contact—is a unique and distinguishing feature of modern life. In some ways it is, though our forebears weren’t always as isolated or as insular as we might think. This especially when it came to language. The experience of life in a multilingual environment is, historically, as common as breathing and disagreements. Read more


List of Language schools

 
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Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia — Gordonstoun’s broad curriculum dedicates itself to deliver each student a world class education and personal experiences in a caring and safe environment to instil "Plus est en vous" - There is more in you than you think View School Profile.


  • Sailing training in class in grades 9 and 11 with sailing excursions in the Bay of Fundy
  • Sailing excursions in the Atlantic in grades 10 and 12
  • Dingy sailing in the Annapolis River above the causeway
  • Rock climbing
  • Three day excursions for Fundy floor biology, hiking and overnight camping
Grades:
9 to 12 (Coed)
Type:
Liberal Arts, International Baccalaureate
Tuition:
$68,900
Living:
Boarding
Enrollment:
888
Avg. Class:
15 to 20
Gordonstoun Nova Scotia 68900 HighSchools Boarding Boarding Coed
  • Mississauga, Ontario
    Clarkson Rd North/S Sheridan Way
  • NS to SK Coed
  • $10,500 to $21,600

We know that the early years are crucial for building a strong foundation for lifelong learning and well-being. At Kinder Kids children explore a variety of subjects through fun, hands-on activities in small class sizes.

  • Day
Kinder Kids International Preschool 10500 Preschool Kindergarten Day Coed
  • Aurora, Ontario
  • 1 to 8 Coed
  • $2,500 to $18,000

First school of its kind in the world. We are unique in everything we do. It is time for thinking outside of the box and raising a new generation of leaders, innovaters, inventors and entrepreneurs.

  • Day
  • Progressive
  • Waldorf
Agora Prep 2500 Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed
  • Toronto, Ontario
    Bayview/Lawrence
  • NS to 12 Coed
  • $20,170 to $36,620

TFS - Canada's International School offers an exceptional bilingual education from age 2 to Grade 12. Average class size is 12 to 22 students. Entrance Scholarship to Grade 7 is available.

  • Day
  • Liberal Arts
  • International Baccalaureate
TFS - Canada's International School 20170 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Toronto, Ontario
    Yonge St/Sheppard Ave
  • 7 to 12 Coed
  • $399 to $549 /course

Ontario Virtual School is an Ontario Ministry-inspected credit-granting institution offering high school courses for Grades 9-12 in an interactive online format. Students can start anytime with 24/7 access.

  • eSchool
  • Traditional
Ontario Virtual School 399 MiddleSchools HighSchools eSchool Coed
  • Montreal, Quebec
    Rue Sherbrooke/Ave Connaught
  • 5 to 12 Coed
  • $12,500 to $15,000

College Prep International, a traditional private school in Montreal, offers English instruction with partial French immersion, for grades five to twelve. Its average class size range from 12 to 18 Students.

  • Day
  • Traditional
College Prep International 12500 MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Ottawa, Ontario
    St. Laurent Blvd./Montreal Rd.
  • NS to 12 Coed
  • $12,500 to $18,500

Our mission is personalized student academic success in a friendly and caring school community, in which all students are emotionally supported and socially welcome.

  • Day
  • Progressive
Académie St-Laurent Academy 12500 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Toronto, Ontario
  • NS to 6 Coed
  • $8,750 to $19,900

CMS' aim is to offer a quality Montessori education preparing all children to reach their full potential and to play a responsible role in protecting the global environment and fostering peace and harmony.

  • Day
  • Montessori
Central Montessori Schools 8750 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary Day Coed
  • Kirkland, Quebec
    Boul Elkas/Rue Houde
  • PS to 11 Coed
  • $14,094 to $16,910

This academically re-known French & English bilingual school serves students from Pre-Kg to High School. Class size averages 20 students; tuition ranges from $14,000 to $18,000.

  • Day
  • Liberal Arts
Académie Marie-Claire 14094 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Toronto, Ontario
  • NS to 6 Coed
  • $20,200 to $22,500

An authentic, CCMA accredited Montessori School located in downtown Toronto, offering programs for Toddlers, Casa and Elementary children in beautiful settings with large and expansive natural playgrounds.

  • Day
  • Montessori
Westside Montessori School 20200 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary Day Coed
  • Oakville, Ontario
    Trafalgar Road/Dundas
  • PS to 3 Coed
  • $8,580 to $14,195

TRMS uniquely provides enriched French as a second language (FSL) instruction for all levels from Preschool to Elementary. We give students a head start in their educational journey by insuring they "Love to Learn"!

  • Day
  • Montessori
Trafalgar Ridge Montessori School 8580 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary Day Coed
  • Sherbrooke, Quebec
  • 7 to 12 Coed
  • $28,100 to $72,450

Bishop's College School is an English boarding and day school for students in grades 7 through 12. Small in size and culturally diverse, BCS is an IB World School offering the IB DP and course certificates.

  • Day/Boarding
  • Traditional
  • International Baccalaureate
Bishop's College School 28100 MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boarding Coed
  • Richmond Hill, Ontario
    Yonge Street/Weldrick Road East
  • 9 to 12 Coed
  • $475 to $19,000

Inspected, accredited High School with campuses in Toronto and Chatham-Kent, offer high school credit courses in small classes and online, leading to High School Diploma. Our 5 acres Chatham Campus is a boarding school.

  • Boarding/eSchool/Day
  • Traditional
Toronto High School 475 HighSchools Boarding eSchool eSchool Day Coed
  • Mississauga, Ontario
    Cawthra/Lakeshore
  • PS to 7 Coed
  • $11,770 to $29,300

TFS - Canada's International School (West Campus) offers the Ontario, France and IB programs from Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 7 in Mississauga.

  • Day
  • Progressive
  • International Baccalaureate
TFS - Canada's International School (West Campus) 11770 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed
  • Ottawa, Ontario
    Highway 417/Greenbank
  • JK to 12 Coed
  • $18,633 to $20,225

Acadecap International School (Académie de la Capitale), an IB World School, offers bilingual and/or English programmes from JK to Grade 12. Students thrive in a growth mindset environment and a culture of excellence.

  • Day
  • Progressive
  • International Baccalaureate
Académie de la Capitale 18633 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Ottawa, Ontario
    Chrichton St/Electric St
  • 7 to 8 Coed
  • $17,950

Macdonald-Cartier Academy teaches Grade 7 & 8 students how to learn and offers a full French immersion program combining rigorous and accelerated academics with athletics and fun experiential learning.

  • Day
  • Traditional
Macdonald-Cartier Academy 17950 MiddleSchools Day Coed
  • Calgary, Alberta
    Blackfoot Trail S.E/Glenmore Trail
  • 7 to 12 Coed
  • $18,930

West Island College offers English and French Immersion with a focus on academics, leadership, athletics and global awareness. Students are curious, creative and innovative - able to impact the world.

  • Day
  • Traditional
West Island College 18930 MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Westmount, Quebec
  • K to 11 Boys
  • $20,850 to $26,990

Selwyn House School provides a well-rounded education of exceptional depth and scope for boys from Kindergarten to Grade 11. It is located in Westmount, Quebec.

  • Day
  • Liberal Arts
Selwyn House School 20850 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boys
  • Ottawa, Ontario
    Iris St/Woodroffe Ave
  • JK to 8 Girls
  • $16,500

In our all-girls environment, academic achievement in both official languages is the norm. A Joan of Arc Academy bilingual education prepares the women leaders for the challenges of tomorrow. Come and see the difference.

  • Day
  • Progressive
Academie Jeanne d'Arc 16500 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Girls
  • Brantford, Ontario
    Charlotte St/Chatham St
  • NS to SK Coed
  • $10,000 to $12,000

Located in Brantford, Ontario, Montessori House of Children (MHC) provides excellent programs for grades Nursery to 3 and helps young children reach their learning potential with both independent and self-directed learning. MHC also offers support for students with learning differences.

  • Day
  • Montessori
Montessori House of Children 10000 Preschool Kindergarten Day Coed
  • Milton, Ontario
  • JK to 8 Coed
  • $12,000 to $12,895

Oxford Learning Academy – where your child will experience a homeschooling approach with the benefits of socialization in a small classroom environment. This Milton private school runs from K to grade 8.

  • Day
  • Traditional
Oxford Learning Academy (Private School) 12000 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed
  • Montreal (DDO), Quebec
  • 7 to 11 Coed
  • $12,930

West Island College offers French and French Immersion programs from grades 7 to 11 in Montreal. It is a leader in innovative teaching methods. Average class size 24 students.

  • Day
  • Traditional
West Island College (Montreal) 12930 MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Markham, Ontario
    Denison/Warden
  • NS to 8 Coed
  • $10,500 to $16,500

Our curriculum are designed to build essential skills and concepts that help with the cognitive, social, creative, emotional, and physical development of your child with the aim to be a successful learner for life!

  • Day
  • Montessori
Sunrise Montessori School 10500 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed
  • Laval, Quebec
  • 7 to 12 Coed
  • $13,150 to $20,900

North Star Academy Laval is the only private English high school in Laval. We offer small classroom sizes for individualized attention. We teach not only for school but for life! Certificate of eligibility not required.

  • Boarding/Day
  • Traditional
North Star Academy 13150 MiddleSchools HighSchools Boarding Day Coed
  • Whitchurch-stouffville, Ontario
    Ninth Line/Main Street
  • PS to 8 Coed
  • $7,620 to $16,350

Toronto French Montessori offers French and English programs from pre-school to grade 8 in York Region. Its average class size is 15 students.

  • Day
  • Montessori
Toronto French Montessori 7620 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Day Coed
  • Calgary, Alberta
  • PS to 12 Coed
  • $7,490 to $14,310

As western Canada's leader in French immersion education, Calgary French & International School students are active leaders and global citizens, graduating with a foundation for life long success.

  • Day
  • Progressive
  • International Baccalaureate
Calgary French & International School 7490 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Toronto, Ontario
    Shuter Street/Bond Street
  • 3 to 12 Boys
  • $7,500

St. Michael’s Choir School was founded in 1937 and provides sacred music for services at St. Michael's Cathedral Basilica. Located in downtown Toronto, SMCS is an all boys school from grades 3 through 12.

  • Day
  • Traditional
St. Michael's Choir School 7500 MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boys
  • Toronto, Ontario
  • PS to 8 Coed
  • $9,325 to $18,150

The German International School Toronto offers a unique blended German and Ontarian curriculum. GIST also offers a ChARAKTER education in small class sizes and with individual learning support.

  • Day
  • Traditional
German International School Toronto 9325 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed
  • Kirkland, Quebec
    Rue Edmond/Ch Ste-Marie
  • PS to 11 Coed
  • $5,121 to $16,222

Kuper Academy offers programs from pre-school to grade eleven in Kirkland. Its average class size is 22 students.

  • Day
  • Traditional
Kuper Academy 5121 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Shawnigan Lake, British Columbia
  • 8 to 12 Coed
  • $31,625 to $79,630

Beginning in Grade 8, our unique Shawnigan journey purposefully guides students through a distinct, unparalleled and bold educational experience on our stunning waterfront campus on Canada’s beautiful West Coast.

  • Day/Boarding
  • Traditional
Shawnigan Lake School 31625 HighSchools Day Boarding Coed
  • Toronto, Ontario
    Dufferin/Eglinton
  • PS to 12 Coed
  • $18,300 to $20,900

By proposing the learning excellence of the French Ministry of Education strongly anchored in Toronto life and Canadian culture, our school offers students the best of both cultures.

  • Day
  • Traditional
Lycée Français de Toronto 18300 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Montreal, Quebec
  • K to 11 Coed
  • $19,125 to $23,575

St. George's School of Montreal is a bilingual independent school where students acquire a life-long love of learning as we challenge each student to excel and become confident problem solvers and engaged citizens.

  • Day
  • Progressive
St. George's School of Montreal 19125 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Toronto, Ontario
    Bayview Ave/Broadway Ave
  • PS to 2 Coed
  • $17,000 to $20,000

Our focus is to provide every child with the opportunity to recover from another year of COVID disruptions. Max of 8 to 10 students per class enables us to get children back on track with their learning.

  • Day
  • Traditional
  • Reggio Emilia
Children's Garden Nursery School 17000 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary Day Coed
  • Toronto, Ontario
    Yonge/Bloor
  • JK to 8 Coed
  • $23,450

The Dalton School offers a dual-language English-Mandarin program where children from JK to Grade 8 can thrive in a warm, enriched, multicultural environment.

  • Day
  • Progressive
The Dalton School 23450 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed
  • Mississauga, Ontario
    Glen Erin/Dundas
  • NS to 6 Coed
  • $15,250 to $15,750

Kaban Montessori School in west Mississauga/Erin Mills is a CCMA accredited school for children aged 6 months to 12 years. Come for a tour, you'll love it!

  • Day
  • Montessori
Kaban Montessori School 15250 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary Day Coed
  • Westmount, Quebec
    Mount Pleasant Avenue/Cedar Avenue
  • K to 11 Girls
  • $19,525 to $23,000

Miss Edgar's & Miss Cramp's School offers a Tier 1 education for girls from K-11, located in Westmount, Qc. We develop bold leaders and creative thinkers — equipping each girl to be the entrepreneur of her own future.

  • Day
  • Progressive
Miss Edgar's & Miss Cramp's School 19525 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Girls
  • Toronto, Ontario
    Leslie Street/York Mills Road
  • PS to 8 Coed
  • $13,300 to $23,705

The Giles School has small class sizes, leadership programs and intensive STEM learning that support both immersion and introductory language programming in each of the six official languages of the United Nations.

  • Day
  • Progressive
The Giles School 13300 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed
  • Whitby, Ontario
    Brock Street South/Dundas Streer West
  • NS to 8 Coed
  • $10,500 to $14,000

The Hatch House Montessori School is a very child centered school where each student is respected for his/her uniqueness and is taught accordingly. Ask about our unique, fully bilingual elementary program.

  • Day
  • Montessori
Hatch House Montessori School 10500 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed
  • Ottawa, Ontario
    Place Lycée Pl./Ruelle Hinks Lane
  • PS to 12 Coed
  • $11,008 to $15,121

Our goal is to nurture curious spirits, which is why we value a multilingual pedagogy that encourages both French immersion and a wide selection of langage courses, while promoting cultural exchange.

  • Day
  • Traditional
Lycée Claudel 11008 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Mississauga, Ontario
    Erin Mills Pkwy/Millcreek Drive
  • NS to SK Coed
  • $6,000 to $16,000

Western Heights offers an enriched Montessori program that fosters a love of learning. The school actively engages its close-knit parent community to offer an enriched curriculum that adapts to each student's needs.

  • Day
Western Heights Montessori Academy 6000 Preschool Kindergarten Day Coed
  • Calgary, Alberta
    Garrison Blvd SW/33 Ave SW
  • PS to 12 Coed
  • $14,660 to $16,630

Lycée international de Calgary is the only school in Calgary to teach the French Ministry of Education and Alberta Education curricula. 3-years-old to Grade 12. All linguistic backgrounds are welcome. Small class sizes.

  • Homestay/Day
  • Traditional
Lycée Louis Pasteur 14660 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Homestay Day Coed
  • Dollard des Ormeaux, Quebec
    Boul Saint-Jean/Jolicoeur
  • K to 11 Coed
  • $8,032 to $15,000

Emmanuel Christian School offers an Elementary and High School bilingual program. Our caring Christ-centered environment enables students to thrive and excel academically and spiritually through a variety of programs.

  • Day
  • Liberal Arts
Emmanuel Christian School 8032 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Mississauga, Ontario
  • JK to 8 Coed
  • $10,000

Guiding Light Academy is a Catholic private elementary school in Streetsville, Mississauga. We offer an enriched curriculum for JK, SK and Grades 1 to 8. We are located just minutes away from the Streetsville Go Station.

  • Day
  • Traditional
  • Montessori
Guiding Light Academy 10000 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed
  • North York, Ontario
  • NS to 6 Coed
  • $8,750 to $17,950

CMS' aim is to prepare all children to reach their full potential (academically, artistically, & physically) and to play a responsible role in protecting the global environment and fostering peace and harmony.

  • Day
  • Montessori
Central Montessori School – Maplehurst Campus 8750 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary Day Coed
  • Kanata, Ontario
    Eagleson Road/Stonehaven Drive
  • NS to 12 Coed
  • $16,750 to $18,500

For more than 40 years, Kanata Montessori has been graduating students with self-confidence, critical thinking skills, respect, high academic achievement, and an international perspective.

  • Day
  • Montessori
  • Montessori
Kanata Montessori 16750 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Pickering, Ontario
    Kingston/Altona
  • NS to 6 Coed
  • $8,400 to $17,000

École Montessori is Durham Region's premier French private school dedicated to transforming your child into a BILINGUAL critical thinker with our enriched curriculum that fosters the genius within each student.

  • Day
  • Montessori
École Montessori 8400 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary Day Coed
  • Rigaud, Quebec
    Rue Saint-Pierre/Rue Bourget
  • PS to 12 Coed
  • $4,700 to $35,000

Collège Bourget is a day & boarding school situated between Montreal & Ottawa. The school offers Quebec's french program from Grade 7 till Grade 11 and english program from Grade 10 till Grade 12.

  • Day/Boarding
  • Traditional
College Bourget 4700 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boarding Coed
  • Markham, Ontario
    Woodbine Ave/Major Mackenzie Dr E
  • NS to 3 Coed
  • $7,600 to $12,900

Royal Cachet has authentic Montessori programs from infants to grade 3 in our healthy & safe environments. We focus on the Language & Math areas of the Montessori Curriculum & encourage our students to grow and succeed.

  • Day
  • Montessori
Royal Cachet Montessori School 7600 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary Day Coed

Fred Genesee, a professor within the psychology department at McGill, has made a career of studying language acquisition and bilingualism. He writes that “historical documents indicate that individuals and whole communities around the world have been compelled to learn other languages for centuries and they have done so for a variety of reasons—language contact, colonization, trade, education through a colonial language, and intermarriage.”

The Rosetta Stone offers a hint of that. Created more than 2000 years ago, it presents a decree outlining the intentions of the new ruler, Ptolemy, in the languages of the people over which ruled: ancient Egyptian, demotic, and Greek. It’s an example of something that many people live with today. The sign outside the mayor’s office of Novi Sad, Siberia (shown at right) is its own kind of Rosetta Stone, presenting the same information in the four official languages of the city: Serbian, Hungarian, Slovak and Pannonian Rusyn. Certainly, many countries reflect that level of linguistic diversity, if not more. Switzerland has four official languages. South Africa has 11, including Xhosa. It’s a tonal language, and it's a job just to say its name, as the “x” is a click. While English is one of South Africa’s official languages, considerably more people speak Xhosa as their mother tongue.

How many languages do we need? 

Still, there is a common belief that bilingualism isn’t as important as it once was, and that the benefits of bilingualism are increasingly limited. English feels like a global language, and in any case, technology, many believe, can otherwise help smooth any communication gaps. Max Ventilla, the founder of AltSchool and a rising star in the world of 21st-century literacies, commented recently that “if the reason you are having your child learn a foreign language is so that they can communicate with someone in a different language twenty years from now—well, the relative value of that is changed, surely, by the fact that everyone is going to be walking around with live-translation apps.”[1]

However, there are indications that those kinds of assumptions may not be entirely true. Based on his research, Fred Genesee believes that the internet, increased international travel and migration, and the growth of global markets creates more incentives for students to learn languages, not less.

“The Internet makes global communication available and easy, whether it be for personal, professional, commercial, or other reasons. On the one hand, this has created a particular need for proficiency in English as a lingua franca on the internet. On the other hand, as with economic globalization, global communication via the internet has also created the possibility of much greater communication in regional languages. Indeed, domination of the internet by English is giving way to a much stronger presence of regional and local languages as e-commerce takes hold and begins to commit resources to communicating with local and regional markets. In fact, there are presently more internet sites in languages other than English.”[2]

Content-based language instruction

The term “immersion” is the one we typically use when we talk about intensive language instruction. As it suggests, students are immersed within a language, such as FrenchGerman, or Mandarin, and they learn the language through the need to use it on a day-to-day basis.

While that’s true—that’s exactly what language immersion is intended to provide—a more accurate term is content-based language instruction. Just as we think of immersion, says Genesee, “content-based language instruction holds that people do not learn language and then use it, rather, they learn language by using it.”[3]

"Content" in this instance doesn’t refer only to whatever thoughts and ideas a student may be expressing, but to curriculum content specifically. Students don’t learn French in isolation, rather they learn science with French as the language of instruction. That’s how the French immersion programs across Canada are structured. Students spend a portion of their day in a French setting, and a portion in an English setting, with the core curriculum divided between them. Science, for example, will be taught in French throughout a student’s high school career, with literature and art, say, taught in English.

The result, in language schools, is not simply providing a need for students to use a language, but also to use it constructively. In a content-based setting, writes Genessee, “cognitive and social development proceed naturally along with language development [and] language is a tool children use to understand the world around them and to become full-fledged members of their social-cultural communities.”

The benefits of a bilingual education

The main goal of a bilingual language school is, of course, proficiency in two languages. That said, the degree of proficiency isn’t necessarily what some might believe it to be, nor is it ever the only goal.

TFS is a pioneer of language immersion in Canada. The school was founded in 1964, pre-dating the national multicultural movement of the 60s and 70s. As such it had, and retains to this day, a distinct flavour. Students are immersed in the French language, and all graduate fluent in both English and French. Likewise, cultural literacy is very much foregrounded, most obviously in the use of the French National Curriculum, first devised at the time of the French Revolution. Citizenship, unsurprisingly, is a core element, with language seen as a primary element in participation within a cultural community. In keeping, a goal of the program is to provide students not only with a facility with language, but also an awareness of their active participation in the wider world.   

Fluency

A criticism of language immersion schools is often that students, on graduating, may not speak the second language as naturally as a native speaker would. Certainly, it’s true that few, by and large, reach that level of comfort and agility within the second language. The reality is that in many schools no one actually believes they will. To gain that level of ability—a fluid, natural use of grammar, idiom, and creativity—isn’t possible outside of a consistent linguistic culture. The only way to speak like a Parisian is to live in Paris; the only way to achieve true fluency in Japanese is to live and communicate, every day, in Japanese within a Japanese cultural context.

That said, the goals that programs do set for their students are achieved regularly, including opportunities to:

Cultural literacy

In a paper delivered to the fourth International Symposium on Bilingualism, Mary Maguire quoted from an interview she conducted with a Chinese immigrant parent identified as Mrs. Li: “Language is like a door which enables you to learn the world. When you learn one language you get to know one part of the world. When you learn other languages, you will get an opportunity to know other parts of the world.” [4]

Maguire is professor emerita in McGill’s Department of Integrated Studies in Education. She used that quote to underscore the relationship between language and cultural literacy. Learning a language can provide students with a more intensive, and ultimately more meaningful, engagement with other cultural traditions. Likewise, learning a heritage language—one that is spoken by parents or grandparents—can provide a more authentic connection to ancestry and increased access to literature from that culture.

That said, through her research Maguire has found that learning languages isn’t just about information or understanding, but can have an impact on identity and a sense of cultural space. Maguire writes that “places are both physical territories with clearly defined borders and culturally constructed spaces through intricate social networks of social relationships.” Language, she suggests, can contribute to a sense belonging and identity within a cultural space, something that she feels is confirmed within the experience of the multilingual population of Montreal.          

What Maguire goes on to suggest, however, is that within immigrant communities, language can create new identities that derive from an understanding of place that isn’t limited to one cultural community, but extend to the community of people who share a multiple cultural heritage. The term of art is “third space,” coined by Edward Soja. While he wrote primarily about geographical spaces, Maguire applied the concept to language acquisition and a sense of belonging within unique cultural spaces: “a new space between cultural collectives and individuals and historical periods.” She writes that “the expression of the self and the construction of the identity are both enabled and constrained by the appropriation of the linguistic and rhetorical conventions.” For example, children living in Montreal, Quebec, who are conversant in English, French, and Armenian, will inhabit a larger and likely richer cultural space than, say, a resident of Montreal who is conversant in only one of those languages.

On a larger scale, there is a greater cultural diversity within many languages than there is in English. Parisian French is distinct from Quebecois, for example, in more fundamental ways that English spoken in New York is distinct from that spoken in London. Likewise, French dialects spoken in Polynesia or Africa are more distinct still. Learning French, then, can provide a window onto a range of cultural spaces, and a greater breadth of cultural and historical understanding. It's something that critics of language programs, as Max Ventilla, often fail to recognize: languages are expressions of culture and, for some, can afford a sense of belonging and identity. Likewise, learning languages can enhance an understanding of local, national, and global historic and cultural diversity.

Types of immersion

Developmental bilingual education refers to immersion programs intended for students who share a first language and are all gaining proficiency in the same second language. French immersion in Ontario, for example, is intended for English speakers learning French as a second language.

Two-way immersion is less common in Canada, while more common on other parts of the world. These programs admit students for whom either instructional language is their first language. For example, schools that offer French and English and that admit enrollment of both Anglophone and Francophone students.   

The German International School Toronto (GIST)  is an example of two-way immersion, or dual immersion, with some students for whom German is their first language, and others for whom English is their first language. Students need to use both languages not just to interact with the coursework, but also to make themselves understood to their peers.

It’s also an example of how the value of language learning can go well beyond communication. Many immersion schools, such as GIST and the Alexander von Humboldt German International School in Montreal, use the immersion experience to develop social competencies, including empathy, personal engagement, and cooperation.

Those schools, and those like them, have developed in very different ways, and for very different purposes than the French immersion model that Canadians are most familiar with. “These schools were originally intended to be for expats, parents on foreign assignment,” says Manfred von Volte, vice principal of GIST. The school has taught English since it began in 2000, though language instruction wasn’t the only organizing principle. Equally important, if not more so, was instruction that reflected the core program of study used in schools in Germany. It is the system that some students were coming from, and also the one that some, presumably, would enter should their parents repatriate prior to the end of their elementary or secondary school careers.

While the international German schools—there is a network of 140 of them dotted around the globe—soon attracted the attention of the local community, recognizing the rich and unique educational opportunity the schools offered. The school in Egypt, and others in South America, today have student populations in excess of 1000 students.

Says von Volte, “When you have this situation—where you have two languages, children from around the world, students that are the new students—they are all facing some hurdle of one sort or another.” They may be from different places, speak different languages, have different abilities or strengths, though they share the experience difference, and live each day with the challenges of making themselves understood across languages and cultures. Increasingly those social benefits attract families and students to language schools, in addition to the benefits of bilingualism.

Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR)

If there is a manifesto of immersion, the CEFR is undoubtedly it. Francis Goullier, one of the chief architects of the CEFR, describes it as an “action-oriented approach to modern languages” and that “the usefulness of the CEFR is that it reminds us that competences vary in nature and all contribute to pupil success. … it lays stress on the combination between task execution and one or more language activities; it emphasizes the importance of the authenticity of situations in relation to pupils’ communication needs.”

The framework was created by the Council of Europe and launched in 2001 in order to provide A) concrete guidelines around optimal language instruction, and B) an objective tool for employers to use when evaluating language qualifications. To that end, CEFR describes five key linguistic competencies:

The framework also recognizes that true fluency requires an ability to adjust usage appropriately between four main settings—educational, occupational, public, and personal—and to be able to engage with others appropriately.

The most compelling piece of the framework, however, is how it expresses the goals of language instruction, in turn also providing an objective means of assessing linguistic competence. Grammar is important, of course, but the proof of the pudding is in the abilities that the learner gains. The levels of competence that CEFR outlines are keyed, famously, to “can do” statements, shown in the right-hand column in Table 1 below.

   Table 1: CEFR Levelling

 

The SIOP instructional model

The Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) was developed in the US for the purposes of English language instruction, specifically for students entering English-language schools and for whom English is a second language. It was developed as a framework for delivering language instruction through the presentation of the core academic curriculum. While the protocol wasn’t developed with language immersion programs specifically in mind (it was developed for non-English speakers entering English-only schools) some schools have adopted the model. For the most part, SIOP is a formalized presentation of the concepts that inform content-based language instruction akin, at least in intention, to the CEFR.

Is younger better?

There is an abundance of anecdotal evidence—if not clinical evidence—to support the idea that children learn second languages more quickly than adults or even older students. And, as a generalization, they do. Sharon Lapkin is professor emeritus at OISE in Toronto. She says, “It’s easier. It’s play based. They’re doing things that young children do and [language] is acquired quite easily, painlessly.” 

Younger children are better able to replicate intonation, the sounds of language, and therefore are less likely to speak with an accent. The relation between age and accent is fairly predictable: age 13. “I have a friend that came here when she was about 12 and her brother was 13,” says Lapkin. “He has an accent and she doesn’t.” It’s sometimes referred to as the Kissinger Effect, given that Henry Kissinger has a very pronounced accent while his younger brother doesn’t. There, too, 13 appears to be the deciding age. Of course, reality doesn’t always conform, though at least in terms of the sounds within language, and the ability to replicate them, age can at times be a significant factor.

Still, language acquisition is complex, and not simply a function of age or brain development. Personality and disposition are factors as well. When his brother Walter was asked about the different accents, he quipped “unlike Henry, I listen to other people.” And, in fact, there may be a bit of truth in that. Lapkin notes that desire, and a drive to learn, can be equally important as exposure and opportunity. “The higher the staring grade, the more the student is opting in or out, rather than the parents. So, if it’s a grade seven student, for example, there’s probably going to be some self-selection into the program. … But there are all kinds of other things going on [as well]. The older student may have had an exchange opportunity, contact with real experiences in the other languages. There may have been an online contact, maybe an online pen pal or that kind of thing,” that can create a unique impetus to excel.

What remains true throughout is that there is a positive correlation between exposure to a second language and proficiency, and students of any age can gain proficiency. It’s also clear that the most successful programs provide continuous instruction in the second language; teach language through core curricula, not in isolation from it; include a social imperative to use the second language.

The ideal immersion program

When considering immersion, these are the things you should be looking for:

The ideal immersion student

“There is no evidence that immersion is just for the smart kids,” says Lapkin. “The more educated parent is more aware of options, they go to parent meetings, and are more likely to opt in.” However, notes Lapkin, that’s changing. “Immersion is more firmly established, and parents are more aware of it as an option. There is a greater awareness that bilingual education has not been shown to confuse struggling learners, or to limit academic achievement.”

Likewise, the benefits of a bilingual education have been demonstrated for students with a wide range of learner characteristics, including those who may be at risk for poor academic performance. “We know that immigrants thrive in immersion programs,” says Lapkin. “There is even research to the effect that children with a learning disability will do as well as they would do” in a unilingual academic setting.

Part of the concern around academic performance arises from findings showing that immersion students score lower than their English-only peers during the primary grades. Specifically, they score lower on tests of reading and writing in English. “These lags disappear within one year of receiving English language arts instruction,” writes Genesee. “The rapid catch-up in reading and writing in English that early total [immersion] students experience is often attributed to the transfer of reading and writing skills in French to English and the fact that they have extensive exposure to English outside school.”
 

Child-specific advice on choosing a language school 
Read our child-specific insights on choosing the right school, including language schools. We explore how choosing the right type of school crucially depends on kids' unique traits, such as their mental and academic focussocial tendencies,  and activity level.

To get school-choice advice customized to your child's unique traitscreate a child profile through an Our Kids user account.

 

[1]  Rebecca Mead, "Learn Different: Silicon Valley disrupts edcuation," New Yorker, March 7, 2016.  


[2] Fred Genesee, "What do we know about bilingual education for majority language students?" in T.K. Bhatia and W. Ritchie (eds) (2004) Handbook of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism. Malden, MA: Blackwell. 547-576. 


[3] Fred Genesee and Kathryn Lindholm-Leary. “Two case studies of content-based language education,” Journal of Immersion and Content-Based Language Education 1:1 (2013), 3–33. doi 10.1075/jicb.1.1.02gen issn 2212–8433 / e-issn 2212–8441 © John Benjamins Publishing Company 


[4] Maguire, Mary H. (McGill University). "Identity and Agency in Primary Trilingual Children’s Multiple Cultural Worlds: Third Space and Heritage Languages" (Archive). In: Cohen, James, Kara T. McAlister, Kellie Rolstad, and Jeff MacSwan (editors). ISB4: Proceedings of the 4th International Symposium on Bilingualism. Conference held from April 30 to May 3, 2003. y 

Series: Language Immersion Schools

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