Parenting & Family

Chinese immersion vs French immersion for Chinese family

[OP]
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Jul 28, 2020
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Chinese immersion vs French immersion for Chinese family

Hi guys, I hope I can get some opinions here.

Right now we are at the point of deciding whether to send our preschool son to a French Immersion or a Mandarin Immersion school in the near future.

My wife and I are both native mandarin speakers. Our kid speaks English almost 90% of the time. We've been living in Canada/US for decades and both of us are capable of professional/academic level of English


For Mandarin Immersion we only have one option in Toronto: Dalton School


For French Immersion, we can either go for some private FI schools such as TFS or just go for public FI school nearby.

Mandarin Immersion :
Pro:
1. judging by the information of their website they do focus a lot on the writing and reading ability of Chinese
2. the kid can self-expanse his Chinese vocabulary once he manager basic reading and writing
3. Ability to home-tutor for almost every subject (Elementary Maths/Science/Human&Arts)
4. Possibility of stay connected to families and my family friends back home, which also might help with the future career if he chooses to go to the far-east.
5. Summer immersion cost is relatively low because we can go back to my hometown and attend local camps without any extra living expense.

Con:
1. I don't know much about this school since I haven't met anyone whose kids actually go there.
2. The school is relatively young for a private school (Est since 2012)
3. 15-20 min drive for morning dropping off since we live on king west and the school is in Yorkville.
4. Uncertainty for his mandarin study after Gr 8. If he goes to an English High school after Gr 8 he might his Chinese ability might get rusty quickly.
5. The fundamental difference between languages might result in longer study time for English speaking kids.

French Immersion:
Pro:
1. location is much more convenient, so dropping off/picking up is easier. (10min drive)
2. More accessible resource in Toronto
3. Easier to learn for English Speaker kids due to the similarity of languages
4. Easier to self-expanse voclubary due to the nature of alphabet language
4. Open doors for other Latin languages such as Spanish

Con:
1. Unable to home tutor or engage in kids' french study (neither of us can speak French)
2. Higher maintenance cost since we will need to put the kid in French camps and hire a French tutor.
3. Uncertainty due to the drop out rate of Public FI stream
4. Possibility of going to France for a career is low


A bit more explanation:
We've set on letting the boy learn a foreign language at an early age. The main reason is that my personal experience reminds me of how important it is for kids to start early. I started to learn English when I was 13-14, which made my study process extremely painful since the language window was closed at that time. I hope my kid can enjoy the benefit of living in an international metropolitan
Any advice is welcome, thanks!
19 replies
Deal Guru
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Jul 12, 2003
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Toronto
Do you speak Mandarin to your son at home?
Does your other family, relatives, Chinese Friends speak to your son in English only?

I would send him to French Immersion if I really have to pick between the 2.
Your background is already a Chinese Mandarin, so your son "should" already pick up some from you or your family, I would keep talking to him in Mandarin and get him to watch more Chinese TV, they will learn quick.
Depending your expectation, they probably can't ready or write Chinese very well without going to a "School".

Either language you chose, they have to use it frequently to keep up. You live in Toronto which majority of people speak English. I'm not so sure how well they keep up their French after highschool if they mainly use English after. A lot of people I know from work said they learn French from school, but they can barely hold a business conversation, means they will fail for a job that require French speaking.

I speak Cantonese Chinese, English and French fluently (I was raised in Montreal), I speak and write French daily due to work requires, but I would mostly lose a lot of French if I don't use it frequently, especially it is not my mothertone.
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[OP]
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Jul 28, 2020
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MP3_SKY wrote: Do you speak Mandarin to your son at home?
Does your other family, relatives, Chinese Friends speak to your son in English only?
My wife and I speak Mandarin to each other, but to the kid, we speak around 50% English and Mandarin.
Even when I speak Mandarin, if I don't remind him he would simply reply to me in English. Too often we find ourselves just forget to speak Mandarin to him because our natural response to an English speaker is to reply in English.

We don't have any other families in North America so there is few Mandarin exposure to our kid other than us. Most of our neighbours and friends nearby are just regular Native English Speakers
MP3_SKY wrote: I would send him to French Immersion if I really have to pick between the 2.
Your background is already a Chinese Mandarin, so your son "should" already pick up some from you or your family, I would keep talking to him in Mandarin and get him to watch more Chinese TV, they will learn quick.
Depending your expectation, they probably can't ready or write Chinese very well without going to a "School".


Either language you chose, they have to use it frequently to keep up. You live in Toronto which majority of people speak English. I'm not so sure how well they keep up their French after highschool if they mainly use English after. A lot of people I know from work said they learn French from school, but they can barely hold a business conversation, means they will fail for a job that require French speaking.



This is exactly my concern.
My original expectation is that if I were to put the kid through a long term immersion program, at least his second language (Either French or Chinese) should be as good as my English. (I.e. being able to communicate/write/read academically or professionally). But I've been living, studying/working in NA for a long time, so maybe it's not fair to make such comparison.
Deal Addict
Mar 24, 2015
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Ottawa, ON
You will have to think further ahead with this one...it's tough. What's the plan for high school? French immersion still? If he goes to French Immersion Elementary and doesn't keep doing it then he will lose the French. Also which language will be more beneficial to him after school. It was easy choice for us in Ottawa as we need the French and speak it fluently at home. So we sent our kids to an all French elementary school. They picked up the English by themselves. They go to Chinese school on Saturdays but it's really not a big deal if they don't speak it fluently or they have no interest to keep learning it. For us, French and English are more important than Mandarin.

In your case, I would have one parent speak exclusively Mandarin, and the other English. If none of you speak French you will have trouble helping with homework. Not sure how French homework work for French Immersion, but for my kids school, it wouldn't be easy for non-French speaking parents.
Deal Addict
Jun 20, 2010
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You should be using primarily Mandarin with your kid. He'll learn it much better than any school environment.

We speak Cantonese to ours and he tries to reply using English. We tell him we don't understand English and make him repeat whatever in Chinese. When he does get television or we put on toddler music, we mix in Chinese stuff. He's fully bilingual at 3.5yo. We'll likely be sending him to chinese after school programs to expand it and learn to write (we can only speak).

For his Montessori, they have a french program and my wife (French immersion PS teacher) practices it at home. He knows his basics and we just want him be familiarized with the language as we plan to put him in french immersion where he will pick it up.
[OP]
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Jul 28, 2020
8 posts
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ckay1980 wrote: You will have to think further ahead with this one...it's tough. What's the plan for high school? French immersion still? If he goes to French Immersion Elementary and doesn't keep doing it then he will lose the French. Also which language will be more beneficial to him after school. It was easy choice for us in Ottawa as we need the French and speak it fluently at home. So we sent our kids to an all French elementary school. They picked up the English by themselves. They go to Chinese school on Saturdays but it's really not a big deal if they don't speak it fluently or they have no interest to keep learning it. For us, French and English are more important than Mandarin.
If we choose FI, we expect him to go to an English high school with extra after school French classes and French summer camps. And hopefully, once he goes to university he will still take some French language courses or go for some exchange program to retain the Language ability.
ckay1980 wrote: In your case, I would have one parent speak exclusively Mandarin, and the other English. If none of you speak French you will have trouble helping with homework. Not sure how French homework work for French Immersion, but for my kids school, it wouldn't be easy for non-French speaking parents.
My current plan for FI is to put the kid in Alliance Francais' aftercare during school day and also hire tutor. In summer we can bring him to France to attend some camps. Basically it will be $$ $$ and more inconvenient for us since we cannot engage in the kid's study.
Deal Addict
Nov 13, 2013
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Ottawa
calbearrr wrote: If we choose FI, we expect him to go to an English high school with extra after school French classes and French summer camps. And hopefully, once he goes to university he will still take some French language courses or go for some exchange program to retain the Language ability.



My current plan for FI is to put the kid in Alliance Francais' aftercare during school day and also hire tutor. In summer we can bring him to France to attend some camps. Basically it will be $$ $$ and more inconvenient for us since we cannot engage in the kid's study.
I would bet the Mandarin school is very good. It takes a special effort to send your kid there so the parental involvement will reflect that. Kids lose languages fast. It is underappreciated and the younger they are the faster it happens. If you stop at grade 8 by University it is likely to be very weak. As you know written Mandarin is also very difficult so takes a great effort to actually be fluent in reading let alone writing. Studies generally show the opposite but I tend to think learning this has to be at the expense of something else. I think those studies are biased as of course they are not random samples. For example, French Immersion kids do better on English exams but how well would those kids have done if they weren't in French is the real question which is unknowable. Writing at a high level in English is absolutely more important than any foreign language.

The extra French is probably unnecessary. While it won`t hurt and it helps to be one of the stronger French speakers I don`t think it`s essential.

There is little doubt that French opens up more job and educational opportunities in Canada than Mandarin. In the world it`s debatable, but in Canada it`s pretty clear. I still think education is more important than language though so that should be the first factor.
Jr. Member
Sep 21, 2015
144 posts
36 upvotes
Mississauga, ON
Have you even asked what the kid would like to learn? As early as grade 7 I was interested in different cultures and considering learning another language but given how we are taught french in English schools I decided against it (stuck with a horrible teacher throughout elementary that soured my experience) and regret it. Now I'm looking at taking french classes on the side later in life as I'm interested in knowing French after many visits to Quebec or even moving once proficient. I find that most people I know that took french immersion ended up speaking really good french by the end of it but getting rusty/loosing it as the chance to use it every disappears. I don't feel as there is ever an hard age limit where you stop being able to learn a new language. Weekend schools are also an option. I've learned to speak my mother tongue from my parents daily use and everything else from weekend school. Weekend school will provide a pace and support but you would have to help out in school work just as you would with english and home usage.
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Nov 24, 2004
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Kiraly wrote: I don't know what the TDSB rules are, but the Vancouver SB district Mandarin program is only for kids who do not speak and have never spoken Mandarin at home. It's a Mandarin as a second language immersion program.
The Mandarin school that the OP is referring to, is a private school. TDSB doesn't offer immersion in any other language but French.
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Jul 12, 2003
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fogetmylogin wrote: The extra French is probably unnecessary. While it won`t hurt and it helps to be one of the stronger French speakers I don`t think it`s essential.

There is little doubt that French opens up more job and educational opportunities in Canada than Mandarin. In the world it`s debatable, but in Canada it`s pretty clear. I still think education is more important than language though so that should be the first factor.
I agree,
Good Education is more important that learning an extra language.

In my case, I switched my language around during my childhood school years.

Primary School, Mainly Chinese
Highschool, Mainly French
Post Secondary, English only.

From Chinese, to French school, it takes me extra 1,5 yr to adopt the French only classes in Montreal and I barely pass French class which is require to graduate. Plus, I can never speak the same French as a local Quebecers, it is not my mothertone.
Then from French Highschool moving to the class in Cegep and University, which are all English classes.

There is no Google Translate in my brain, every time I go from a language to another, I need more time to adopt the whole thing again (education material). The words, grammar of one language doesn't automatically transferred to another, it takes times to get similar to another language again, this can be a barrier while learning in school.

I graduated late in Cegep and late in University, the language thing delayed my education progress.

Yes, I'm now fluent in 3 language, but there is a pay off.

You are spending extra money and effort to put your kid in French immersion and probably he will not use his French at all after school and wasted specially he plan to stay and work in Toronto area.

It also create a language transition after he finish his French highschool, he will probably move to English University in Ontario.
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The dirty little secret of French immersion is that there's a high drop-out rate by the time the children get to high school. Lots start but few can go through. This is all the more common when both parents don't know any French, and being in an otherwise mainly English environment doesn't help. I'd say it is up to/depends on the individual child: Some flow into a second or third (or fourth/fifth) language quite nicely while others don't. Other than references one can find on the internet, I get this from a friend who tutors French in the Vancouver area and also former neighbours - one of the couple had a French (as in from France) father while the other has a B.A. majoring in French - who thinks the quality of French immersion education isn't that great as far as actual proficiency in French goes. Addendum: Also my wife's friend who had her twins in FI school. Neither of the parents knew sufficient French (though one had a common French Canadian last name) to be of any help. Kids didn't make it through.
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[OP]
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Jul 28, 2020
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fogetmylogin wrote: I would bet the Mandarin school is very good. It takes a special effort to send your kid there so the parental involvement will reflect that. Kids lose languages fast. It is underappreciated and the younger they are the faster it happens. If you stop at grade 8 by University it is likely to be very weak. As you know written Mandarin is also very difficult so takes a great effort to actually be fluent in reading let alone writing. Studies generally show the opposite but I tend to think learning this has to be at the expense of something else. I think those studies are biased as of course they are not random samples. For example, French Immersion kids do better on English exams but how well would those kids have done if they weren't in French is the real question which is unknowable. Writing at a high level in English is absolutely more important than any foreign language.

The extra French is probably unnecessary. While it won`t hurt and it helps to be one of the stronger French speakers I don`t think it`s essential.

There is little doubt that French opens up more job and educational opportunities in Canada than Mandarin. In the world it`s debatable, but in Canada it`s pretty clear. I still think education is more important than language though so that should be the first factor.
I agree the study is not that accurate. It may be the result of a higher level of parental engagement (may be indicated by the mere fact that non-french parents send kids to FI and expect kids to learn new language at an early age, or maybe there are social-economic factors as parents who can afford better tutor or immersion camps tend also invest more on kids' English ability as well)
[OP]
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Jul 28, 2020
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thriftshopper wrote: The dirty little secret of French immersion is that there's a high drop-out rate by the time the children get to high school. Lots start but few can go through. This is all the more common when both parents don't know any French, and being in an otherwise mainly English environment doesn't help. I'd say it is up to/depends on the individual child: Some flow into a second or third (or fourth/fifth) language quite nicely while others don't. Other than references one can find on the internet, I get this from a friend who tutors French in the Vancouver area and also former neighbours - one of the couple had a French (as in from France) father while the other has a B.A. majoring in French - who thinks the quality of French immersion education isn't that great as far as actual proficiency in French goes. Addendum: Also my wife's friend who had her twins in FI school. Neither of the parents knew sufficient French (though one had a common French Canadian last name) to be of any help. Kids didn't make it through.
I've seen mixed examples around parents I know. There are kids with non-french speaking parents doing well at school (relying on Tutor and French camps), and there are French-speaking parents' kids got pulled out.

Sometimes I wonder is this because of the lack of support by public FI school or the program design itself? Maybe private FI schools (such as TFS) would be better for a non-French-speaking family since the school usually provide better support? This is part of the reason I am hesitant to enroll our kid in a public FI school.

On the other side, at least French resource is much more accessible compared to Mandarin in Toronto. I have met very few qualified mandarin teachers here because its hard to find someone who is a native speaker, a good tutor/teacher for kids and also good at teaching Chinese as a foreign language. So there are very few afterschool resources in Toronto for our son if he chooses Mandarin as his second language. Right now I have to design my own program from scratch to tutor our 8 yr old girl to learn reading and writing Chinese because most weekend class/tutor I looked around is not very good by my standard. At least for French, there is Alliance Francaise, which is a reputational international institution, and there are also enough French camps in Quebec.
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calbearrr wrote: Right now I have to design my own program from scratch to tutor our 8 yr old girl to learn reading and writing Chinese because most weekend class/tutor I looked around is not very good by my standard.
I always maintained that my brain is too little to remember thousands of characters, especially if learning and reinforcement memorization isn't constant. On top of this, I don't think the basics of how characters are constructed is taught too well. The context could have helped in memorization.
At least for French, there is Alliance Francaise, which is a reputational international institution, and there are also enough French camps in Quebec.
The other factor is French is at least very close to English (or rather, the other way around), with lots of words in common (whole or derived) not to mention a common script. The grammatical structure of French may be an impedance to people who speak English as the tenses in English are less distinct, not to mention pretty much non-existent except by inference in Chinese. The child may do better learning Latin than French as it is the basic grammatical structure of romance a.k.a. neo-latin languages. It is said to be relatively easy for people who know latin to learn a neo-latin language (French, Italian, Spanish, Portugese, Romansch, even Romanian) later in life.
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