Immersed in self-referential mythology

Konrad Yakabuski has a great essay on French immersion in Saturday’s Globe and Mail.

Yakabuski doesn’t bother detailing the many studies showing that the literacy levels of French immersion graduates are poor in both languages, but takes as an accepted (and easily proven) premise that their grammar is substandard. And as he observes, French immersion doesn’t lead English Canadians to have even a passing ability to grasp Francophone Canada:

…most current French-immersion graduates — the minority who stick with the program until the end — have an astonishingly approximate grasp of the language. It’s bad enough that they make basic grammatical and syntactical errors when speaking. (Don’t ask about their written French). But plop most of them down in front of Tout le Monde en Parle or Ici Louis-José Houde, and they’d be lost.

Since most grads will never use the second language they’ve kind of acquired, why do parents move across large cities to enrol their children in French immersion?

“Immersion is like having an elitist private school within the public system,” one Ontario teacher explained. “It’s the highest-achieving kids who get chosen. Class sizes are generally smaller. One couple told me they were so happy their son was being filtered from the dregs, which was actually how they put it.”

Yakabuski spends a good portion of the essay ridiculing the oft-repeated truism about children “losing their chance” to learn a second language if it’s not done early on:

Around the world, everywhere, when people need and want to learn a language, they do. There is no early English immersion in Finnish public schools. Kids don’t start basic English classes until they’re nine. Yet it is almost impossible to find a Finn under 40 who does not speak crisp, elegant, near-perfect English. And it’s not as if there’s a ton of opportunities to practise on the streets of Oulu or Jyväskylä.