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French and English literacy and intensity of exposure to French in a French immersion programme Buntain, Jennifer

Abstract

This study addresses the effects of increased intensity of second language immersion instruction upon literate proficiency in the first and second languages of intermediate students. This four year longitudinal study assessed the effects upon French and English literacy of maintaining French language as the medium of instruction for 80% of the core academic subjects and English at 20% from grade four through seven of a French immersion programme. The school is situated in a predominantly English-speaking area of Vancouver, Canada. For pedagogical reasons, school personnel wanted to know whether French literate proficiency would be enhanced in the 80% programme attempting to overcome a perceived plateau effect, and whether English literate proficiency would compare favorably for students in that programme's 20% English provision. From a theoretical perspective, this study provided an opportunity to broaden our understanding not only about time (intensity) as an important factor in second language learning but also about some of the theoretical perspectives of bilingualism (notably transfer of learning). All 81 pupils who entered the fourth and fifth grades respectively of the single-track French immersion school participated in the study. The younger group followed the newly introduced 80% French, 20% English language programme, while the older group followed the 50% French, 50% English programme used throughout the school district for intermediate grades. Results indicate that while a positive outcome from the French descriptive writing task may have some important implications in support of the 80% enhanced programme in light of its relatedness to academic writing, students' French literate proficiency was generally not enhanced by the innovation. As predicted, students' English literate proficiency generally compared favourably to students in the more traditional 50% programme. Pedagogical issues and explanations as well as theoretical perspectives are discussed in light of these results.

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