Why should i put my child in Intensive French?

I ntensive French is an engaging, fun and effective way to achieve spontaneous communication in French. Student-centred and project-based, it works as follows:

For the first semester (5 months) of Grade 5 or 6, when students are between 10 and 12 years old (it can vary from one province/territory to another), students are immersed in the French language for the better part of the school day, using a balanced second-language literacy approach: speaking, reading and writing (in that order). Mathematics and possibly one other subject usually taught by a specialist (such as music or physical education, for example) continue to be taught in English throughout the entire school year. Apart from those, no teaching of actual subjects takes place during the intensive semester, where students learn to communicate in French from the very beginning. This is made possible by the teacher modelling the language and the students using and re-using the language in authentic communication situations.

The following presentation prepared by the Yukon Department of Education may be of interest. Click to watch video

Intensive French teachers apply very specific teaching strategies, which they learn during in-depth training. The intensive semester is usually the first semester, with the regular school schedule resuming in the second semester.

During the “non-intensive” semester, the students’ schedule continues to include a French class for the regular weekly number of hours prescribed by the provincial or territorial curriculum. Preferably, these classes are offered in larger blocks of time 2 or 3 times per week, thus allowing the continued application of the strategies proposed by the Neurolinguistic Approach.

Intensive French (in a school setting) represents one applications of the Neurolinguistic Approach (NLA), which is based on how the brain learns and processes languages. It takes into account the different kinds of memories that are activated in the brain while learning a language. Learn more by exploring other sections of our website, such as the Home, Teachers and Approach pages.

Students acquire the language in a fun and stimulating environment, by exploring a number of themes related to their own life experiences, such as family, pets, pastimes, favourite foods, activities, etc. The pace and classroom activities are varied. Students work alone, in pairs or small groups, or as a whole class together. “Brain breaks”, songs and games are integrated in the course of the day.

Why have an intensive semester?

O ral communication skills are language habits, not facts to learn. They can only be developed by using a language – in this case, French – for genuine communication. At the beginning the messages are relatively simple, but over time they become more complex. Students need to use French a lot to develop the internal (non-conscious) grammar necessary to speak French fluently. Without an intensive period, spontaneous communication is difficult to achieve. This is the reason for the five months when French is taught for at least half the school day. At the end of five months, students can begin to speak independently, and so the skills will not be lost.

If students do not develop sufficient internal grammar to be able to speak spontaneously, they have to start all over again the next year. It is therefore important to reach the goal of independent communication as quickly as possible.

Language habits, like all habits, are not like facts; they must be used continuously in spontaneous communication, or they will be lost. That is why Intensive French is followed by Post-Intensive French, which takes up a smaller fraction of the school year. Not as much intensity is required to maintain and continue and further the students' skills.

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How do students having to speak French all the time?

E xcept for the first day, Intensive French teachers always speak French, and so do the students. During the first four to five weeks, the students find speaking in French somewhat difficult, but they are encouraged to persevere. Students are likely to pass through four emotional stages, as described by one of the first teachers in Newfoundland and Labrador, Sid Woolfrey. Most teachers talk to the students about these stages, and students enjoy evaluating their progress.

After several weeks, they begin to be proud of their ability to speak French.

The following short video filmed by the Yukon Department of Education provides testimonials by parents and students. Click to watch video

What about students with diverse learning needs?

S tudents with diverse learning needs can participate successfully in all the activities. There are several reasons for their fruitful participation: the IF teaching strategies, like group work, are means of giving students personal support; there is more interaction with the other students in the class; their ability to express themselves in French gives them some confidence; the re-teaching of how to read and write gives them a second chance to acquire these abilities; and all students are on the same level.

Parent's Comment: « The year put all of the kids on the same 'playing field' with French. You did not have to be a straight 'A' student to succeed - just willing to try. »

As the graph of results below shows, after five months of instruction, nearly one third (30.8%) of students on special education plans and slightly more than two thirds (66.1%) of the regular students reached the goal of the first year of the program: speaking in French spontaneously to express their own point of view on subjects of interest to them.

Learning to read and write in French also improves these abilities in English for all students, especially those with diverse learning needs. Literacy skills are transferable between languages, and the fact that students spend more time developing these literacy skills reinforces their learning.

To learn more about the effects of the Intensive French program on students with learning challenges, read this article by Rhonda Joy and Elizabeth Murphy.

What effect does the intensive semester have on the other subjects?

R esearch has shown that the reduction in time spent on other subject areas does not have any negative long-term consequences when it comes to learning them. The following graphs illustrate the results for the standardized tests generally administered at the end of Grade 6.

Graphs Available by Clicking Here

One year after participation in the intensive year of the Intensive French program, the average performance of Intensive French students in English is at a level above that of the students who have not participated in Intensive French. This is similar to what happens with students who participate in an Immersion program. Children with diverse learning needs challenges who participate in Intensive French also show higher scores.

In cases where the students were tested in the same year as the intensive semester, results show that neither in English nor in mathematics did the Intensive French students’ results slip. Since a literacy-based approach is used, many of the skills developed by the students in French are the same as those they need for subjects taught in English. Having acquired the skills in French class, the students can also use them for classes taught in English. There is no reduction in the time dedicated to mathematics, and this subject is taught in English.

For the other subjects, like science, the curriculum is maintained, but the number of activities is streamlined. Students do not have extra work to do at home. Intellectual development is encouraged by the type of activities they undertake.

These results are explained by what has been called the “Iceberg Hypothesis” (formulated by J. Cummins, University of Toronto). All the activities that students undertake in school contribute to their intellectual development. Whether tasks are accomplished in French or English is not the crucial point: cognitive skills (for example, recognizing similarities and/or differences) that are developed in one language, for instance French, can be used in any other language, such as English.

The part of the iceberg that is under water represents the cognitive skills that are the foundation of learning; the languages used are represented by the various peaks of the iceberg seen above the water. They depend on the same cognitive skills, which can be accessed in any language, provided the appropriate vocabulary and language structures have been acquired.

In Intensive French and in other second-language programs that apply the Neurolinguistic Approach (NLA), time is not spent on memorizing vocabulary and grammatical rules. It is by orally using and re-using French that students acquire their internal grammar (their linguistic instincts). When the class moves on to the reading phase, the teacher points out language phenomena that are particular to the written form of the language, and when the writing phase is reached, the students apply these observations in writing an authentic message. They therefore have more time to involve themselves in project and activities that develop their cognitive skills. The projects develop the same types of cognitive skills that would be developed in the English curriculum for the same grade level. Therefore, students are afterwards able to use these cognitive skills in their English curriculum learning.

Learning to communicate in a second language also has a positive influence on intellectual development. Students increase their problem-solving skills, and they learn to think in new and different ways (known as “divergent thinking”) through their acquisition of skills in French. This is why math scores tend to increase, even though mathematics is taught in English.

Because Intensive French includes intellectual goals along with language goals, the learning atmosphere favours intellectual development. In addition, the use of interactive teaching strategies encourages the development of thinking skills.


“It is a win-win situation. It is an experience they shouldn’t miss.”

“It is a wonderful opportunity. I want all of my children to have this experience.”

“It was very exciting for him to learn a new language, therefore, I believe it was a confidence builder.”

“My son never wants to miss a day of school. He is having so much fun while learning so much.”

“This experience has had a positive impact on the whole family. My daughter in Grade 3 wants to know everything her brother learns every day in IF so she can teach her classmates and my daughter in Grade 9 Core French comes to her brother to get help! You can imagine the effect this has had on his self-esteem.”

Parents’ comments

“Intensive French is a way we can become bilingual faster.”

“It is a new way to learn French that is fun and has lots of things to do.”

“At first I was scared to start Intensive French. After just two weeks, I saw that it was okay to make mistakes and that people could still understand me. Now I like speaking French in front of people.”

Students’ comments