Do French immersion schools still offer Australian students a brighter future?


Noting Bastille Day taking place today (14 July), EducationDaily is considering Australia’s French immersion schools. Does this longtime staple high school second language option still have a valid place in a 2023 curriculum?

The Department of Education WA lists the following as benefits for children learning a second language:

  • enhanced literacy skills
  • improved memory and brain function
  • development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • better overall performance at school
  • increased employment and career opportunities
  • more in-depth travel experiences
  • respect and understanding of other cultures

According to their resources, children who learn new languages can simultaneously expand their vocabulary in both languages, plus develop better oral skills and an ear and aptitude for picking up new languages. They can also develop more naturally authentic accents, ingrained confidence for language learning, and the added benefit of additional years of study.

The beauty of French is that it’s one of the most popular languages on the international business circuit. Fluency paves the way for opportunities at French heavy-hitters in the cosmetics, automotive and fashion industries. For Australians, it’s also still spoken by many in nearby Vietnam, as well as in New Caledonia. Study Destination Australia cites France as the second largest source of European immigration to Australia, with around 90,000 French citizens living here.

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Compared with other options, like learning Mandarin or German, French has enough similarities to English to be relatively easy for English speakers to learn.

In general terms, immersion learning is an education technique that puts a student into the environment of what they’re learning. It’s perhaps most commonly used for teaching languages, where it essentially means being in a place where only that language will be used – and this doesn’t necessarily mean going overseas.

French Immersion schools in Australia

In Australia, there are a handful of French immersion schools offering intensive French language learning.

Canberra’s French-Australian Preschool has been immersing children as young as three in French culture and language for more than 50 years. It meets the French Ministry of Education’s curriculum requirements for the “école maternelle” preschool system; the French version of ‘nursery’ school and the pathway into formal education.

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Proud parent Amanda Whitley, founder and editor-in-chief of Her Canberra, writes that they chose the preschool “because of the opportunities it will open up to them as adults”. She credits the school for her girls being “fluent French speakers” and says “their written language skills are also pretty formidable”.

Interestingly, the preschoolers in this community tend to continue their international studies by segueing into Telopea Park School, a ‘lycée Franco-Australien’ where students undertake a bilingual education delivered in both French and English.

Audrey French Immersion provides students all over Australia with regular online only classes via Zoom, with an intensive French-only immersive structure focused on writing, speaking and listening, for up to two hours per week.

At the Lycée Condorcet International French School in Maroubra, Sydney (Australia’s unofficial French capital) 1100 students of more than 50 nationalities from kindergarten to high school graduation age receive “a world-class education in an international environment that allows them to graduate as French-English bilingual citizens of the world”.

They get to choose between three different secondary school leaving certificates: The classic French Baccalauréat, the international OIB (Option Internationale Britannique), and the International Baccalaureate diploma, all of which are globally recognised by universities, recruiters and employers.

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An amazing benefit for these students is that three certificates means three different curriculums and teaching styles, accommodating a much wider range of student profiles and learning styles, “allowing us to offer pathways which cater to different strengths, ambitions and learning preferences,” says Principal Nicolas L’Hotellier.

Why families are choosing French education for Australian students

Sebastien Barnard, director of marketing, communications and admissions at International French School Singapore believes that the French education system’s focus on critical thinking, creativity, and cultural immersion – as well as linguistics – are the major draw cards.

Collaborative learning takes a front seat in French curricula, through group projects and discussions set against a backdrop of iconic galleries, museums, and cultural excursions.

The educational framework is centred on independent thinking and nurtures dynamic problem-solving skills from an early age, with students actively encouraged to develop their own ideas. It’s an approach that aims to set them up with transferable and entrepreneurial skills for their future careers.

Career prospects for French immersion students

We know that fluency in French can lead to superior written, aural and oral communication skills and the added intensity of language immersion can really help students to master better self-expression. The ability to communicate concepts and ideas more succinctly than individuals who speak just one language is another bonus.

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The cultural aspect can teach empathy too, with a lived experience of cultural differences and opportunities to interact with people from a wider spectrum of demographics and backgrounds.

We may question if the language as a skill is still relevant for today’s workforce, but in response, the French government’s advocacy toolkit for learning French for professional purposes points to a 134.73 per cent rise in the number of US jobs requiring French proficiency from 2010 to 2015:

“It’s the third most requested language on the American labour market, particularly in sectors such as insurance, healthcare, finance, and humanitarian aid.”

In addition to that, the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie estimates that there are more than 321 million French speakers inhabiting five of the world’s seven continents. By 2050, the projections are that the figure could increase to 700 million, thanks to the growth of French-speaking African nations.
This would make French the world’s number two language after Mandarin, with major implications for international trade and the skills required to support it.

“To be able to differentiate themselves in a growing globalised market, companies are constantly striving to reinforce their workforce with more diverse intellectual backgrounds, cultural awareness, and communication skills,” the report reads.

It’s compelling proof that there is a real and pressing need for culturally aware, empathetic communicators. And that for those seeking to achieve high levels of multilingual skills and French language proficiency, immersive learning from school age builds a solid foundation.

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By Charlie
Charlie Writes is a Sydney based, London born, Caribbean writer, interviewer and poet. A colourful 27 year career has taken Charlie from typing poems on the spot on her 1970’s typerwiter named June, to donning a hard hat as a roving reporter in the construction industry. All while living out her favourite quote that the greatest adventures begin with a simple conversation.