Children learning French in Ottawa

By Noémie Ipou

In Ottawa, the percentage of people who speak primarily French at home dropped from 10 per cent in 2016 to 8.4 per cent in 2021, according to the Ottawa Citizen. There are several reasons for this alarming decline.

Role of parents in learning

the mother tongue

In 2021, English was the most spoken language in Ottawa households. According to a 2013 article in Le Droit based on data from the 2011 census, more than two-thirds of Franco-Ontarian families are exogamous – only one parent has French as a mother tongue. Since 1970, exogamous couples have only increased, with an acceleration since 1996. According to Statistics Canada, the gender of the francophone parent can make all the difference for language transmission. In 90 per cent of cases, children with two francophone parents will retain their languages. Francophone mother, non-francophone father? 40.8 per cent. The reverse? We fall to 19 per cent.

Impact of the media on learning

Even if parents try to pass on French to their children by enrolling them in French schools, they are less likely to speak French in the playground and more likely to speak English. The Survey on the Vitality of Official-Language Minorities (SVOLM) sheds light on the language used in five daily activities: watching television, surfing the internet, organized sports, non-sports activities and reading. English remains the dominant language. Most of the children’s favourite series, movies, shows, games, books and social media are predominantly English.

How does the community influence the desire to learn a language?

Children’s use of French is linked to the linguistic dynamics of the community. Among the children of francophone parents who lived in a francophone-minority setting in 2006, 33 per cent used French exclusively or mainly for reading and only 12 per cent used French exclusively or mainly for watching television.

The importance of Francophone learning structures

French grammar can seem scary at first. However, French is not just grammar. The culture, history and values that are linked to it are important aspects of learning French and transmitting it to children. It is a heritage that gives access to a rich universal culture.

For Anne-Marie Guévin, assistant coordinator at the Ottawa Centre for Children and Families ON y va-Grandir ensemble, “Learning French from a very young age not only promotes its acquisition but also the construction of a child’s identity, which will enable him or her to define and recognize himself or herself through the French-speaking world throughout life. It also gives them the confidence and desire to express themselves in this language, a key element in strengthening the vitality of Francophone communities, particularly in minority settings. Therefore, it is important to offer structures that allow children to learn French from an early age. The development of knowledge and skills in the French language will enable children to become involved and contribute fully to the development of the Francophone community.” This is why Grandir Ensemble offers activities for toddlers all across the city, including weekly activities at the Alliance Française Ottawa.

With 21 French-language elementary schools and 14 French-language high schools, the number of students studying in French in Ottawa is 11,000. This number demonstrates the continued interest in French. But schools are not the only way to promote French language learning.

Kids activities in Ottawa for learning French

The City of Ottawa has put in place several francophone programs to encourage children to learn French. Children’s workshops are a fun and educational way to introduce them to this beautiful language. Alliance Française Ottawa created Les petits penseurs, an introductory workshop on philosophy for children aged 6 to 12, whether they are francophones, anglophones or FSL learners, even beginners. Its goal is to accompany the children in their learning of French but also in their cognitive, affective and social development. These workshops are held at the same time as the Alliance Francaise Ottawa’s book club to allow parents who wish to accompany their children to also participate in intellectual exchanges in French.

Noémie Ipou is communications and marketing manager at Alliance Française Ottawa.

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