Bilingualism is a very common phenomenon throughout the world and a reality for a number of
Francophone children living in a minority setting. (Landry, 2003) The For My Child reports mention that a
considerable number of participants spoke a second language, often English. Caspe (2006) notes that
many adult Franco-Ontarians received all or a part of their education in English, which means that the
acquisition of a language (in this case, English) has occurred to the detriment of the first language
(French). This kind of bilingualism often leads to assimilation and the loss of identity. On the other hand,
what ib known as "additive bilingualism" is characterised by a high level of competence in both languages
(Landry and Allard, 1990). Family literacy programs in a minority setting allow participants greater
exposure to French and thus encourage additive bilingualism.
As we will see in chapter 5, many family literacy programs in the United States target participants from
exogamous households. The number of exogamous households is continually increasing in Canada among
Francophones (Landry and Allard, 1990). It is therefore important that practitioners be informed about
bilingualism in order to have a better understanding of the linguistic and cultural context of their program
participants and to adapt their intervention accordingly.13
In a bdok devoted to child development, Hoff (2001) describes factors that influence bilingualism
- The length of time of exposure to each language: The time devoted to a language influences
the rate of learning of the language and the level of skill in using it.
- The age of the child: The younger the child is when exposed to a second language, the more
his mastery of its grammar and punctuation will resemble that of his first language.
- Changes in the language-learning environments (a move or beginning school, for example): A change in the child's life that affects the proportion of time he uses one language can lead to a corresponding change in his level of skill in the other language.
Some important aspects of bilingualism (Hoff, 2001)
- The time spent speaking a language influences the level of ability in that language. The
presence of French in the contexts to which a child is exposed influences his ability to use this
- Bilingual children have to deal with more information than unilingual children. Therefore they
need more support fromtheir families, schools, and community.
- The attitude of people in their surroundings toward bilingualism influences the attitudes of
children learning a second language.
- The attitude of the non-francophone parent toward the French language influences the child's
perception of French.
- Immersion in a language facilitates learning that language.
- A child who learns two languages at the same time can transfer vocabulary and grammar from
one language to the other. This gives the impression that he is mixing the languages up but in
fact this phenomenon is normal and reflects the learning process. The "mixing" of languages
gradually disappears over time.
- Linguistic mistakes are a learning opportunity for the child. When a child experiments with
verbal expression and makes mistakes, these mistakes reflect normal language development
and an evolving understanding of how the language works.
- The most complex and the most important part of learning a language is producing messages
13 Further information on this point can be found in Éducation, langue(s) et culture(s) de l'enfant du couple francophone-anglophone, by Allard, Essiembre and Arseneau (2003).