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Vancouver BC has 17 French immersion schools, and one Mandarin. “It’s idiotic,” says writer.

February 1, 2011

Parlez en Mandarin, s’il vous plait

Nineteen Vancouver schools have French immersion, but our taxes might be better spent on more practical languages

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There are 19 elementary and secondary schools with French immersion programs in the City of Vancouver. Two-thirds of them — no surprise this — are on the west side. French used to be the international language of diplomacy: It’s now the language of the upwardly mobile.

There were last year just less than 4,800 French immersion students in the city. The program is wildly popular. Waiting lists exist at every school in which it is offered.

It is, I think, a nice fiction that this demand springs from an appetite to embrace the nation’s official policy of bilingualism, or from the love of language.

But the reality, I think, is more practical and class-conscious. Parents believe their children, ensconced within the sequestered world of French immersion, will receive a better, more refined education than that of the hoi polloi. It’s a private school mentality at work within the public school system. And it’s more about cachet than conjugating verbs.

In a city where only 9,300 people identified themselves as having French as their mother tongue, having 19 schools offering French immersion is an enormous dedication of scarce educational funds.

Yet this is also a city in which 51 per cent of the population identifies itself as “visible minority” hailing mostly from East and South Asia, and in which the rise of China and India as world powers is felt more immediately than almost anywhere else in the world.

So how many immersion courses in any of those Asian languages does the Vancouver school board offer in response to that new reality?


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