Study in French? Why not?

Study in French? Why not?

Maeghan McGaraughty (Communication) and Priyanka Rawat (Biology) were, back in 2017, fourth-year students enrolled in French Immersion Studies at uOttawa. The program celebrated its 10th anniversary that year.

By Marc Gobeil

For most young English-speaking students in immersion, extended or core French in high school, their contact with the French language ends when they graduate. However, others will choose to go to university in a bilingual environment.

French immersion at the University of Ottawa, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2017, was created to help students get the most from the bilingual setting at the University and to allow francophiles to polish their French language skills while studying in their field of interest.

“I thought it would be very intimidating to take science courses in French, my second language,” says Priyanka Rawat, a biology student originally from Markham, Ontario. “But I soon realized that the professors were there to help, and the francophone students were perfectly at ease having English-speaking students in the courses.”

French second language professors attend a number of the students’ first and second year courses. The professors have developed language support classes for immersion students so they can work on their comprehension and speaking skills using the course material from their lectures. This allows students to gain greater knowledge of the language used in their field of study, something they wouldn’t have had much exposure to before.

Laurence Thibault, one of the professors providing language support for students, sees first-hand the challenges they face.

“It can be difficult for some students to understand the vocabulary used in the discipline or to understand complex readings, in sociology or political science courses, for example," she says. "Because it can take immersion students twice as long, or more, to get through a text than it would if they were reading in English, we — the language support professors — are right there with them from the beginning to help make sure they get off to a good start.”

The success of French immersion at the University of Ottawa stems in large part from the drive and tenacity of our students and the dedication of our professors and academic staff.

Fast facts:

  • Between 2007 and 2017, registration in French immersion went from 200 to 600 students a year.
  • In January 2017, there were 1,900 students in immersion.
  • Since 2006, more than 5,200 students have completed at least part of their program in French immersion.
  • Since the immersion program was created, French immersion students account for a total of 38,000 registrations in classes taught in French.

Marc Gobeil is the former director of French immersion at uOttawa (2007-2017).

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