The fact that French Immersion (FI) is a linguistic failure may be the best-kept secret in Canadian education. But why shouldn’t it be a failure? How can a single teacher, who may not even be a native speaker of French, “immerse” 30 students?
As I have been saying for 13 years, FI students graduate speaking and writing rapidly in “Frenglish”, not French. Frenglish uses French words but mostly English structures. Frenglish might be “cute” at age six, but it is an embarrassment at age 20, as well as an impediment to holding any significant bilingual job (it would be senseless for an em-ployer to put someone who speaks or writes so poorly in charge of the telephone or correspondence). The FI/education establishment, however, has kept these facts from the public. They have acknowledged that there are serious problems with FI, but only in obscure research reports and other such publications. In public, they continue to defend and promote immersion nationally and internationally. A major scandal would have exploded a long time ago if the establishment weren’t so successful in holding a tight lid over the situation.
FI fails for many reasons, most of them related to “progressive” (really regressive) educational views. Among the progressive trends that have affected FI are the beliefs that everything should be as easy as pos-sible for the students (not much effort, no drills or systematic practice); that the correction of errors shouldn’t be stressed because it hurts self-esteem; that creativity (even with what one doesn’t control) is central to learning; and that communication, however defective, is more important than accuracy and mastery. Under such conditions, excellence is impossible, dysfunctionality inevitable.
Thus, the learning of a second language in the classroom is done in FI in the relaxed, unsystematic way in which very young children ac-quire their mother tongue at home. But the learners and the learning conditions are very different. Native language acquisition conditions cannot be recreated years later, within four classroom walls, with older children who already know a language, are more cognitively mature, and are not surrounded by native speakers of the target language. The result of this lack of fit is Frenglish.
FI is hopeless. It cannot be patched up because it is fundamentally flawed, as it is based on incorrect assumptions. FI puts the communica-tive cart before the linguistic control horse. Adding several hours a week of grammar to FI —however that may be done — won’t help, for what-ever good it might do will be destroyed by the constant encouragement of premature free communication the rest of the week.
A quote from Why French Immersion is a Failure, by Hector Hammerly, 1995: