Quebec Parents Drive Bid for Bilingualism A Solution for French-Canadian Children Not Schooled in English: Summer Camp

Article excerpt

On his US trip in May to coax American businesses to locate in Quebec, one of Premier Lucien Bouchard's selling points was the province's bilingual work force, able to switch from French to English with ease.

But many parents in Quebec worry that their children aren't learning enough English to be part of this future work force.

"My mother wants me to be bilingual by the end of my secondary school," says Vincent Gagnon. That leaves him three years. With no time to waste, Vincent is spending part of the summer at one of 30 English-language summer camps in Quebec.

Quebec's language law, passed almost 21 years ago, forbids French- speaking children from attending English-language schools. Children of immigrants also must attend French schools. Only Canadian children who have a parent who attended an English school in Canada may go to an English-language school.

French schools may start teaching English in Grade 4, and then for only one hour a week. While this has made the French language more secure in Quebec, it has produced many monolingual children whose parents worry they won't be able to compete in the North American job market.

At the Quebec Lodge Camp, just north of the border with Vermont, Vincent is one of the more fluent English speakers in his group. Many of the children can't put together a simple sentence in English.

On the playground it is easy to see - or rather hear - the problem. The 19 ESL (English as a Second Language) students are playing soccer. Two teachers tell them that if they speak French during the game, it will mean a penalty shot for the other side. The students soon solve the problem - they play in silence.

But this is only Day 2 at camp. The campers have two English lessons a day, and the rest of the time they mix with the English speakers. That's where they pick up most of their English, says Marilyn Magwood, a camp teacher. …