by Barbara Black
Quebecs francophone schools introduce English as a second language
at the Grade 3 level, and students get only one hour a week. Teachers
are prohibited from using English to teach the curriculum, so it is entirely
second-language instruction, with the emphasis on understanding rather
than the accuracy of grammar and spelling.
Intensive programs are launched at the request of the parents in that
school. Its a popular option: between 10 and 15 per cent of Quebec
schoolchildren are in an intensive program at a given time.
Most Quebec schools that now offer intensive ESL have a single intensive
classroom, but École Jacques-Labrie is different, because the
whole school is given over to intensive English. Instead of only hearing
the second language in their classroom, the Jacques-Labrie children also
hear English from the principal, other teachers and the custodian in the
school corridors. Before long, previously unilingual children are using
English in the schoolyard.
White says her studies show that this approach is much more effective
than the one-hour-a-week method of teaching English, and the childrens
first language doesnt suffer, either.
Regardless of the outcome, their need for constant vigilance is an indication
of how English as a second language has to fight for space in a crowded
menu of pedagogical imperatives.
White pointed out that a minimum of 60 minutes a week of English is required,
but it is by no means a priority subject. If parents want enriched English
instruction, they have to weigh it against enriched physical education
or the arts, and make a choice.
Many of Quebecs ESL teachers graduated from Concordias TESL
program, including an increasing number of francophones who are highly
proficient in English. Qualified ESL teachers are so much in demand they
are often hired before they have graduated, White said.
The Barcelona researchers are looking at learning English as a third language, after Spanish and Catalan.