The English Literacy Skills of Children from Minority-Language Homes Who Are Enrolled in Early French Immersion Programs

Thematic Section: Literacy development in Canada: A bilingual focus

literacy, reading & writing, children, education, language immersion

Tamara Sorenson Duncan, Carleton University
Ann Sutton, University of Ottawa
Elizabeth Kay-Raining Bird, Dalhousie University
Fred Genesee, McGill University
Becky Chen, University of Toronto
Joan Oracheski, Ottawa Carleton District School Board
Stephanie Pagan, Ottawa Carleton District School Board

In many regions of Canada, English is the majority language. In these regions, all children, even those educated through French immersion programs, must develop English literacy skills. Evidence suggests that children who speak a minority language at home can succeed in immersion programs. Yet, concerns persist that immersion may be too challenging for these children. Thus, research addressing the appropriateness of immersion education for children who speak a minority language at home is still needed. Further, previous research has not examined individual difference factors associated with the literacy outcomes of these students. This study asks: (a) do children who speak a minority language at home develop comparable English literacy skills when they attend Early French Immersion (EFI) to those children who receive English language of instruction (ELoI)? (b) What factors contribute to English literacy outcomes?

We compared the English literacy skills of third grade children who speak a minority language at home and who were enrolled in EFI programs (n = 202) with those who were enrolled in ELoI programs (n = 177). English assessments of Reading and Writing, mandated by the Ministry of Education, were used to identify the number of students who met the provincial standard in each domain.

Children were more likely to meet the provincial standard in EFI than in ELoI programs for Reading (84% and 72% respectively) and Writing (75% and 68% respectively). Logistic regression revealed that children were more likely to meet the provincial standard for English reading if they: were not from a low SES neighborhood, had a higher reading self concept, and were enrolled in EFI.

This study adds to growing evidence that academic instruction via immersion programs is appropriate for children from diverse linguistic backgrounds, at least in terms of English literacy skills.