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Bilingualism on the rise among children in Canada

Bilingualism on the rise among children in Canada
WATCH: More Canadian families are saying "bonjour" to bilingualism. A growing number of children aged five to 17 are speaking English and French. Laurel Gregory takes a look at what's behind the trend.

It isn’t often that five year olds get to step into the role of educator, but that’s exactly what happens when five-year-old Orley heads home after kindergarten.

“Do mom and dad speak French?” the little boy is asked.

A smile extends across his face as he replies.

“I’m teaching them.”

He goes on to count to 20 in French and sing the entirety of Bonjour Mes Amis.

READ MORE: Demand for French immersion grows as spots shrink. Here’s what’s happening

His French immersion teacher Jenny Wondga says this kind of pride is just one of the many benefits of learning a second language.

“It opens their minds. It makes them great communicators.

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“They can say things in different ways. It makes them open to different cultures and different backgrounds.”

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READ MORE: Focus more, earn more, remember more: Research reveals perks of second-language learning

Wondga taught 18 French immersion kindergartners at Edmonton’s Oliver School last year. This year, 24 are enrolled and interest continues to climb.

“Parents want their children to learn languages. They want them to have what they didn’t have and they want them to experience new things at school.”

WATCH (June 17, 2019):A group of community volunteers wants to install bilingual stop signs in parts of Calgary’s Mission district. Joel Senick explains why they believe it’s an important step in recognizing the area’s French history.

Community volunteers want bilingual signs in Calgary neighbourhood with French roots
Community volunteers want bilingual signs in Calgary neighbourhood with French roots

It’s a sentiment echoed across Canada.

READ MORE: Bilingualism on the rise among young Quebecers and New Brunswickers: Statistics Canada

Statistics Canada tracked the rate of English-French bilingualism in a cohort of children, aged five to 17 years old. In the 10 years between 2006 and 2016, the rate of bilingualism increased from 17 per cent to 27 per cent.

That is no surprise to Pierre-Yves Mocquais, the dean of the University of Alberta’s Campus Saint-Jean. It’s a premier training centre for French teachers in Canada.

“There is a greater and greater interest for French immersion.

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“A lot of parents, who themselves have gone through French immersion during the first generation, now want their kids to do the same,” Mocquais explained. “The increase is therefore exponential.”

READ MORE: Bilingual toddlers have edge over unilingual kids: study

Mocquais says demand is so high that in spite of doubling the number of French education graduates over the last four years, there still aren’t enough educators to teach French. He believes the issue represents a shift in Canadian culture.

“The generation of the 30-somethings right now are sensitive to that.

“They see it not only as added value for the future but as part of what it is to be Canadian.”

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For Wondga, learning French as a child opened education and career opportunities, including a Quebec exchange program in high school and a practicum in France. It also awakened her passion for languages: she is now fluent in five.

“Learning as many languages is beneficial to anybody. It’s a great tool to have.”

WATCH (Feb. 4, 2016): After a declining interest in bilingualism Saskatoon schools are seeing a rebound. Joel Senick takes a look at what’s changed in the teaching community to make students take another look at French immersion. 

Numbers jump for French immersion
Numbers jump for French immersion