Ask an Expert!

//Ask an Expert!
Ask an Expert!2018-06-21T08:45:32-06:00

Linking CPF Alberta members with experts in French-second-language learning.

How it works: Submit a question to [email protected] The query must be of general interest, not about a very specific or personal situation. One question is chosen each month for response by a researcher, experienced educator, or other expert in the field. The answer is posted on this page at the end of the month, and previous entries are archived for ongoing access.

Q: Where can adults find beginners French classes?

A: There are many possibilities:

Many local CPF chapters in Alberta offer a course called “French for Immersion Parents.” This gives an introduction to the language, using vocabulary relating to the early school years, and insights into how non-French-speaking parents can support their children’s education in immersion. It’s also a chance to meet other immersion parents in an informal atmosphere — and with no exams! Contact your local CPF chapter.

The Alliance Française is a non-profit organization headquartered in France which is dedicated to promoting French language and culture. In Edmonton and in Calgary, the Alliance Française offers French courses at various levels as well interesting activities and cultural events. The Alliance Française also offers language proficiency certification.

The School of Languages at Alberta’s new Francophone college (École de langues du Centre collégial de l’Alberta of the University of Alberta) is located in the Cité francophone at the heart of the Edmonton’s francophone community. It offers a wide selection of French courses to the general public, to government employees, to health-care professionals and to adolescents. It also offers language proficiency certification.

The French Centre at the University of Calgary offers a series of courses designed in sequence to allow students to acquire all the basic structures and vocabulary of fundamental French in six terms. An advanced level is also offered. Emphasis is placed on oral communication. Students can apply their new-found knowledge in a conversation class, or sign up for a grammar review class and/or two grammar courses online.

Contact your local school board, community college, or university continuing education or extension department.

The October 26, 2012 episode of the CBC program C’est la vie featured an interview with a woman who started conversational French classes in her home. Click on “Bridging the language divide” to listen.

Can’t get out to classes? Check out distance learning / online courses through Athabasca University. Many public libraries throughout Alberta offer free access to the Mango language learning software.

Judy Gibson is the former Branch Development Officer for Canadian Parents for French, Alberta Branch.

Q: What are my rights as a parent to have my children access a French immersion program located a long distance from our home?

A: First, it is important for parents to understand that there are no rights under the laws of Canada and of Alberta for children to learn their second official language. Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (and, subsequently, the Alberta School Act) only protects language education rights for the linguistic minority population. French immersion is not minority language education, but second language instruction.

Within Alberta, there is no requirement that school districts offer French immersion. Where it is offered, the districts establish their own policies and procedures for the program. Usually any families who wish to enrol their children in a French immersion program are welcomed, but there are exceptions (for example, where there is a capacity issue at a school, or even at a particular grade level).

If a family chooses to cross school district borders to access French immersion, all the provincial grants do follow the student. This means that the non-residential school district does not charge out-of-district fees. However, a school district does not have to accept an out-of-district student.

Transportation is more problematic. Alberta Education does provide transportation funding for French immersion students at the same grant rates as for regular English program students.* However, the school district must “designate” the student to the immersion school, which usually means that a specific geographic boundary for bussing to the immersion school is established. For students living beyond that boundary who do not have access to another immersion school, a district might be able to apply to Alberta Education for a mileage allowance for the family. In the case of a student crossing school district borders to access French immersion, that application for a mileage allowance would have to be submitted by the residential (home) school district — but that district might be reluctant to assist families to go outside its jurisdiction, thereby losing all those student grants.

* The transportation grant procedure is different for the four “metro” Calgary and Edmonton school districts.

For additional information we encourage you to review the relevant policies of the school district(s) in question. First see the governance policies established by the Board of Trustees, which can usually be found on a district’s website. Often critical details are articulated in what are called administrative regulations/policies/procedures, which might or might not be on the website. All of these documents can be accessed through a district’s head office and possibly through a school.

To see the Alberta Education transportation grant procedures, go to the Transportation section of the 2016/17 Funding Manual: 1.20 Rural Transportation 1.21 Urban Transportation 1.22 Metro Transportation

Judy Gibson is the former Branch Development Officer for Canadian Parents for French, Alberta Branch.

Q: What does research say about the choice between enrolling a child in early French immersion (where the students begin in Kindergarten or Grade 1) versus middle immersion (usually beginning in Grade 4) or late immersion (usually beginning in Grade 6 or 7)?

A: For an answer we have turned to an article written for Canadian Parents for French in 2008 by Joseph Dicks, PhD, and Paula Kristmanson, PhD, of the Second Language Research Institute of Canada at the University of New Brunswick.

They say, in part:

Given the option of just one program, the early immersion option presents the most advantages. It is the least likely to be affected by academic ability and therefore the most inclusive of all variants. It will produce the best results for oral fluency and spontaneity as well as very good literacy results in both languages

[English and French]. It is also the most “pedagogically friendly” version because of the naturalistic approach to language learning based on literacy and oracy – the ability to express oneself fluently in speech and to understand a spoken language. These teaching methods correspond to the developmental levels of these young learners, as do the materials and resources.

Given the possibility of a second or a third choice, there are advantages to delayed and late immersion. Delayed options like middle immersion offer the opportunity for eventual French attainment that is closer to EFI with regard to oral ability. Late immersion presents a much clearer alternative to an early start due to the fact that it starts immediately after a natural break in the organizational system of most schools (i.e., at the beginning of middle school). However, the delayed (middle) entry does have the advantage of being less academically demanding in the early stages than late entry programs.

We encourage you to read the entire article, French Immersion: When and Why

Q: Is it right for French immersion students to write math or science assessment exams in English? Shouldn’t they be writing in the language of instruction?

A: Alberta Education’s Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs) for students in Grades 3, 6 and 9 are available in French-language versions for the French immersion program. It is the expectation of Alberta Education that the immersion students taking mathematics, science and social studies in French will write those tests in French — that is, in the language of instruction.

The PATs are written as follows:

Grade 3: English language arts (in English, of course, for all students), French language arts (for immersion students), mathematics

Grade 6: English language arts, French language arts, mathematics, social studies, science

Grade 9: English language arts, French language arts, mathematics, social studies, science

Staff at Alberta Education explain, “Our tests are not only translated [into French] by certified translators, but they are also reviewed by teachers who teach those subjects in our province to ensure the vocabulary used is at the students’ level and appropriate for the subject.”

For additional information about the PATs go to the Alberta Education website.

Judy Gibson is the former Branch Development Officer for Canadian Parents for French, Alberta Branch.

Q: What are the bilingual diploma requirements in Alberta? Are there consistent requirements throughout the province or is each school board responsible for their own administration of a bilingual diploma?

A: A graduating student in Alberta who has achieved specified requirements is awarded one of the following:

Alberta High School Diploma (English)

Alberta High School Diploma (French First Language – Francophone)

Certificate of High School Achievement

Certificate of School Completion in Special Education

High School Equivalency Diploma

You can review the requirements for each beginning on page 87 of the 2015/2016 Guide to Education (enter “99” in the “go to” box at the top of the screen)./

Alberta Education does not issue a “bilingual” diploma. The Alberta High School Diplioma (pictured here) simply states that it “is awarded to ….. who has fulfilled the requirements prescribed by Alberta Education for graduation from high school in the Province of Alberta, Canada.”

Graduating French immersion students in a number of school districts or high schools in our province are given certificates indicating that they have met local criteria. Examples: Certificate of Bilingual Studies, Certificate of Bilingual Competence, Diplôme a satisfait les exigences du programme d’immersion, Certificat de bilinguisme, Certificate of Success in French Immersion, French Immersion Certificate. The criteria for these certificates vary, depending on the number of subjects taught in French within that district or school (in Alberta, senior high school immersion programs range from just one subject—French Language Arts—to more than half of all subjects taught in French). Some also vary according to the average mark achieved by the students in the immersion courses.

Parents and students should be aware that the document which is submitted to postsecondary institutions for admission is not the diploma, but the High School Transcript. This lists the courses taken in grades 10-12 and the marks awarded. The language of instruction is indicated.

CPF Alberta is encouraging Alberta Education and school districts to make available the opportunity for students to take assessments of their French language proficiency in all skill areas—not just reading and writing but also listening and speaking—based on internationally-recognized standards. To read about proficiency benchmarks and international accreditation (for French, the “DELF”) click here.

Judy Gibson is the former Branch Development Officer for Canadian Parents for French, Alberta Branch.

Q: When is a student really “bilingual”?

A: What do we mean when we say “really” bilingual or “truly” bilingual? What ideal are we trying to attain?

To be bilingual (or multilingual) is to be able to use two (or more) languages. This is the basic definition. However, people’s perceptions and experiences with languages make them define bilingualism differently, and their expectations of themselves or others will also have an influence.

To be bilingual is not to master both languages from a monolingual point of view. Bilinguals don’t have two separate language systems, two competencies that exist in isolation from each other. Bilinguals are not two monolinguals in one person. Thus, we cannot measure their skills against monolingual standards, even though language studies did just that for many years.

From a psycholinguistic view, Grosjean (2008) argues that bilinguals have unique and specific linguistic configurations. A bilingual’s language system is complete, even though it is not the same as a monolingual’s. According to Grosjean,

… the bilingual is a fully competent hearer-speaker; he or she developed competencies (in the two languages and possibly in a third system that is a combination of the first two) to the extent required by his or her needs and those of the environment. The bilingual uses the two languages—separately or together—for different purposes, in different domains of life, with different people. Because the needs and uses of the two languages are usually quite different, the bilingual is rarely equally or completely fluent in both languages. (p. 14)

In a monolingual world, you have people who are very articulate, and some who have difficulty with reading and writing. It’s the same thing in the bilingual world: language skills vary from person to person. So the goal is not to compare a native speaker (traditionally regarded as the “ideal” speaker of a specific language) to a bilingual person—not from a cognitive point of view and not from a social point of view. If we do that, we are building social inequality.

From an educational perspective, to become bilingual depends on the goal one sets for oneself. For a person who wishes to use two or more languages often and for specific purposes, it is a lifelong commitment that doesn’t stop at the school level. French immersion is the best place to learn French in Alberta. However, it is not the only place. Students need to continue to improve all of their language skills (listening, reading, talking, writing) after they finish school, either by practicing in contexts where the language is used or by continuing to study the language. As with anything else, when you stop doing it, you get rusty. Reading in the second language is important for developing vocabulary to use while writing and talking … but this is a story for another time!

Our students should be proud to be bilingual (or multilingual), whether they speak with an accent or not. Encourage your children to practice their skills every day, and the world will open its doors to them! They may sometimes get comments that they are not good enough, but at least now you know what a bilingual person is and should be.

Dr. Sylvie Roy

For more information, please refer to:


Grosjean, F. (2008). Studying bilinguals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Heller, M. (Ed.). (2007). Bilingualism: A social approach. New York, London: Palgrave Macmillan.


Dr Sylvie Roy is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Education, University of Calgary. Her research in French Immersion over the past ten years has examined sociolinguistics issues related to learning French in Alberta and in Canada. Her work also addresses teaching and learning a second language, bilingualism, Francophonie, and discourse analysis. She is the Languages and Diversity EDSA Chair in her faculty, and Past President of the Canadian Association of Applied Linguistics.

Q: What is the potential impact of passing the B2 level of the DELF in terms of postsecondary placement, employment opportunities and life skills in general?

A: As access to the DELF second-language proficiency assessments (Diplôme d’études en langue française) continues to grow in Alberta and in Canada, more and more people (students, adults and parents) want to know how they can be used, in particular the B2 level.

The DELF B2, which is generally the level that Alberta’s Grade 12 French immersion students pass, is necessary to satisfy the language requirement for admission to a university in France. Since education is decentralized in Canada, under provincial and territorial responsibility, each educational institution, such as school boards and universities make its own decisions. Currently, many of our postsecondary institutions are looking at how the DELF will be accepted, with discussions around advanced placement to advanced credit to a complete realignment of the second language programs with the Common European Framework of Reference, which is the case with the University of Montreal. As this continues to progress, it appears that Canadian universities are looking for ways to recognize the DELF within their institutional guidelines.

Employment opportunities always increase with a second language, especially in a bilingual country such as Canada. Parallel to the universities, many companies and chambers of commerce are now taking note of the DELF and its importance. Human resources departments, including those of school boards, are now lending more and more credence to the DELF, with talk of eventually requiring it.

Many have seen the DELF as an opportunity not only to confirm their current level of French proficiency, but also to see how and where they could improve. An important attitude toward life-long learning is characterized by this student’s comment: “I chose to write this exam to see how fluent I am now and how much more I need to be I wanted to see what the standards were.” While the DELF is a lifelong diploma, the linguistic and cultural experience does not end there. It serves as a springboard for ongoing opportunities and improvement.

With each group of successful DELF candidates, the diploma becomes more and more recognized in all areas. In the end, the decision to write the DELF is highly personal and can include reasons from work and postsecondary opportunities to travel to personal achievement and a sense of pride. The following quotation from one student sums it up: “I love learning languages and about other cultures and want to study abroad in university as well as find a career where I can travel around the world. In order for this to be achievable I have to have proof that I have knowledge of the languages required.”

Katrin Lusignan

For much more information see:

Q: What strategies would you suggest I use to encourage my child to read, watch or listen to French?

A: As a parent, you are your child’s first teacher. You are giving the gift of French to your child and may be wondering about strategies to support them in their literacy development.

There are many ways to support children in their development of language, even if you don’t speak French. If your school has book fairs or book clubs, always ask your child’s teachers for book suggestions which would be appropriate for your child’s age. Encourage your child to read their books to you: your interest will spark his or her enthusiasm. Le Carrefour bookstore in Edmonton (at 8927 – 91 St.) and Lacoste Bookstore in Calgary are pleased to help immersion parents. When you go to the public library have your child chose two books in English and one in French. There are also CDs with books in French at some libraries. You can phone the library and put this type of material on hold. If your school has a license for “Tumblebooks” then you may be able to access the French selections at home either for your child to read or as an audio book.

There are many websites on the internet that also facilitate language development. Websites such as as have a collection of activities to learn the French alphabet. The benefit of this website is that it says the word for your child so that he or she can hear the correct pronunciation.

Matt Maxwell, Étienne, Greg Lerock, Charlotte Diamond and others have a variety of catchy tunes that may encourage your child to sing along. Most music comes with the words.

There are many French television programs that may interest your child. Saturday morning cartoons are usually a good bet. Oniva is an excellent program for students from grades 4-6 in French immersion. The program is produced in Western Canada in French for young people.

The key is to provide your child with frequent yet varied opportunities to use the French language in interesting ways.

Marie Commance-Shulko

For much more information see:




Marie Commance-Shulko is a French Language consultant who has long held a passion for the teaching and learning of second languages. She embraces the philosophy that all students can learn a second language. In her current position, she offers support in French to early, late and continuing immersion teachers from K-12. Her areas of expertise include second language literacy for 21st century learners, planning, short and long-range pedagogy, differentiation, assessment and language proficiency. She also provides consultation to principals and parents. Marie has extensive teaching experience from K-6 in French Immersion and FSL as well as having been an assistant principal in an immersion, bilingual and FSL setting.

Q: How do I know if my child will succeed in French? Many parents say taking French will mean a lot more work, not just for my child in class for me at home also.

A: In any school program, whether in the maternal language or second language, the involvement of the parents in their child’s education is crucial to support successful learning.

Most parents who make the choice to enroll their child in French immersion have little or no knowledge of French, and so their assistance with homework cannot be done in the language of instruction. However, just as you would do if your child were enrolled in the regular English stream, you would be encouraged to read to your child every night in your home language and to engage in educational activities and games to support your child’s learning process. For example, play games to promote your child’s knowledge about the alphabet and the concept of numbers. Engage in conversations with your child about what he is learning at school. When your child is finished with his homework, ask him to explain it to you in English.

Parents’ involvement in their child’s education is necessary no matter which program they have chosen. You would not be required to do more because your child is enrolled in a second language program. French immersion follows the mandatory curriculum established by Alberta Education. Therefore, your child would not be asked to do more work because he is learning a second language and learning through that language.

Since it’s inception in 1965, French immersion has been extensively researched throughout Canada. Those studies clearly show that immersion students do just as well academically as they would have done in the regular English stream (with the exception that they tend to do somewhat better than their peers in English language arts). Further, French immersion has been shown to be appropriate for students with special needs provided they have access to relevant learning assistance. Immersion is a program for all.

Finally, it is very important for the parents to have open communication with their child’s teacher to get the necessary guidance on how they can best assist their child’s learning process at home as well as at school.

Learning French can be a beautiful adventure for both parents and children learning together!

M.Pellerin, PhD

For much more information see:


  • the “For parents” section of this website.


Martine Pellerin holds a PhD from the University of Calgary. She has taught French Immersion from Kindergarten to Grade 12 as well as French and Spanish as a second language in regular and International Baccalaureate programs. Her several research interests include oral language in the development of early literacy in French immersion and using digital technologies to support and promote differentiated instruction in French immersion She is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta’s Campus Saint-Jean.

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