Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

"I Wouldn't Want to Impose!" Intercultural Mediation in French Immersion

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

"I Wouldn't Want to Impose!" Intercultural Mediation in French Immersion

Article excerpt

The Challenge

The cultural learning outcomes for New Brunswick's French immersion program have incongruities. While cultural learning and appreciation are expected, cultural adoption and personal transformation are not. How are these conflicts understood and expressed by classroom teachers, particularly in immersion classrooms?


At its sesquicentennial in 2017, Canada had distinguished itself as an officially bilingual country, with the internationally lauded Canadian Multiculturalism Policy (Bokhorst-Heng, 2007). With nearly 50 years of French-English bilingualism and 45 years of multiculturalism (Bokhorst-Heng, 2007; Haque, 2012), public education seems well poised to foster intercultural competence (ICC)1 among young Canadians-particularly as public education plays a key role in socializing civically engaged citizens (Branson, 1998). Canada's French immersion (FI) programs are especially well positioned to develop Anglophone students' intercultural consciousness regarding French-English bilingualism and Francophone cultures. However, questions remain concerning, for example, FI programs' aims for the development of students' ICC as well as teachers' perceptions of their role in implementing these objectives. This article addresses these topics in the context of FI in New Brunswick (NB).

Located within Canada's only officially bilingual province, NB's FI program allows unique insights into the cultural objectives of immersion education. First, FI education in NB, a program distinct from French language education for NB's Francophones, is intimately connected to broader historical minority/majority tensions between the province's Francophone and Anglophone communities (Edwards, 1986). Second, as stipulated in the province's Official Languages Act (Government of NB, 2002) and Education Policy 309 (NB Department of Education, 1994), French second language (FSL) education is mandated for all Anglophones, and FI must legally be provided where resources and conditions allow. In this context, and with a faculty predominantly composed of bilingual Francophone teachers, NB's FI program could create connections between the two linguistic communities through the purposeful development of Anglophone students' ICC. Yet while Canadian FI has been the focus of much research (e.g., Hayday, 2015; Lepage & Corbeil, 2013; Martel & Pâquet, 2012), none has looked specifically at teachers' perceptions of their role in cultural mediation.

This article presents data from semi-structured interviews that were conducted in 2015 and focused on the perspectives of four third-grade FI teachers in southeastern NB on Francophone culture and cultural mediation in their classrooms. It offers a demographic overview of NB, the history of its dual education system and FI policy, and the resulting incongruity between the cultural learning outcomes in the Francophone sector's French language and Anglophone sector's FI curricula, then introduces the theoretical constructs of culture as discourse, language as a socio-semiotic system, language teachers as intercultural mediators, and ICC in language education. The analysis focuses particularly on the perspectives of the four FI teachers who each represent different linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Finally, implications that may inform teacher preparation and language curriculum development are offered.


2.1 | Historical background

Francophones (mostly Acadian)2 form just less than one third of NB's population. The province was originally part of a French territory called Acadie, established in 1604 in today's Maritime Provinces. Because of its strategic military location, France and Britain frequently clashed over possession of Acadie before it was ceded to Britain in 1713 (Daigle, 1982). Afterward, the Acadians steadfastly refused to sign an oath of loyalty to the British Crown, leading to their deportation from 1755 to 1763 in events called the Grand Derangement. …

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