The pandemic erects a huge language barrier


Setbacks in French language acquisition throughout the COVID-19 pandemic have prompted school leaders to focus their efforts on catching up – or catching up – for the province’s youngest immersion students.

From math lessons taught in French to French posters stapled to classroom walls, immersion teachers aim to quickly familiarize students with the language, however and wherever possible, in order to acquire oral and written skills. basic.

When students were sent home to learn in March 2020, the elements that create a rich learning environment for French as a second language were gone. The masking also made it difficult to learn, as the face covers make comprehension and pronunciation lessons more difficult.

“With distance learning, the teachers really did their best in a very difficult situation, but despite their best efforts, there is no way to reproduce this… classroom climate,” said Joël Ruest, instructor at the Faculty of Education of Saint-Boniface. University, which researches immersion programs.

“The reality is that for children in French immersion, most homes have very limited access to French – if there is access to French. ”

Louis Riel School Division’s first trimester data from 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 show that the results of early childhood immersion students in French are lagging behind data from pre-pandemic years.

A combination of teacher observations and an analysis of June 2021 report card scores yielded similar results, which suggest that K-4 learners suffered more from COVID-19 disruptions than their students. older peers from the Pembina Trails School Division. (The initial pandemic review of Pembina Trails grades found that boys in Grades 7 and 8 struggled the most with 2020’s sudden shift to distance learning.)

Concerned about the gaps in immersion during key literacy years, the former division works with researchers specializing in immersion and multilingual education and provides staff with professional development on teaching literacy. literacy.

Last week, the Pembina Trails Board of Directors voted to allocate up to $ 100,000 in funding the division’s Safe Schools to hire up to 15 French-language animators to work in its elementary schools to resolve the issue. problem.

“Our students depend on conversational French happening at school – less at home, and therefore bringing in French facilitators will increase the number of minutes students spend speaking French individually or in small groups,” said Ted Fransen, Superintendent. of Pembina Trails, where a quarter of the students are immersed.

Fransen said the pandemic has brought to light an existing problem: Many parents don’t think they can support their children’s language learning at home because they are not fluent in French, as well as importance of schools in building multilingual societies.

Concerns about internet reliability, access to devices, and mental health issues have been universal in English-language, immersion, and French-language schools for the past 20 months. For early childhood immersion teachers, public health restrictions on singing and mask requirements are a particularly difficult barrier as they interfere with key teaching of oral French.

“Children are resilient. They are amazing. They’re problem solvers, but the oral language part certainly doesn’t come as easily as we’ve seen in the past and I think a lot of this is due to (wearing) a mask, ”he said. added Tytanya Fillion, Literacy Coach and Teacher Librarian at Bonnycastle School.

While noting that masks are important for student safety, Fillion said they create a barrier that discourages students from taking risks, such as speaking aloud in a new language. As a result, she said the teachers at Bonnycastle are focused on encouraging conversation in French this year, whether through one-on-one discussions or the recitation of group poems in the language. .

Dieppe school dad André Martel said he was trying to speak more French at home with his daughter to make up for any COVID-19 learning disruptions that marked his introductory immersion years. .

“I’m probably not doing it as much as I should, but she seems to pick up on it pretty quickly,” said Martel, who applauded Pembina Trails plans to hire more language support staff. “I feel sorry for the parents who don’t speak French.

One way for families to improve the language skills of their students at home is to consume as much French media – with English subtitles – as possible, said Michael Hudon, president of the Manitoba chapter of Canadian Parents for French.

“Parents have always had to make tough decisions about whether to continue enrolling their children in French as a second language programs and (the pandemic learning loss) will only heighten the questions they are asking.” , did he declare.

But Hudon, father of two immersion students, said it’s important to “keep an eye on the finish line” because the benefits of being multilingual are well worth it.


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