SLLT, Vol. 1, 2001

Céline Brault


Linguistic and cultural competence will be the mark of the well-educated citizen of the 21st century.  If we are to meet the social and economic challenges of the new millennium, we must take bold initiatives to put language and cross-cultural competence front and center in basic education... (Genesee & Cloud, 1998, p. 65).

Much has been written and debated about how to best meet the challenges of life in a globalized world in the post-modern era (Angus, 1991; Limerick, Cunnington & Crowther, 1998; Senge, 1990). Within academic circles which have debated on the political, economic and social challenges facing the citizenry of the global village, it has been suggested that truly viable solutions may come only from the creation of new paradigmic constructs which can take into account the new and continuously changing boundaries within which we must now operate (Furtado, 2000).

As educational practitioners, clearly, we are responsible to ask the following: What role will education play in preparing our students for the challenges of diversity in a global context? Answers to this have already impacted on the shape and form of educational policy around the world.  In many Western countries, for example, public education systems now place increased emphasis on technological innovation, cost effectiveness and accountability (notably in terms of students results and in administrative decision-making).  As language teachers, we must examine our particular role in preparing students to meet the challenges of an increasingly diverse and rapidly changing world.  Specifically, if our students are to compete successfully in the global market while living comfortably and productively in a multilingual, multicultural world, basic education in the next millennium must include competence in second (and even third) languages.  Furthermore, we must recognise that along with the development of linguistic ability, intercultural understanding and cross-cultural competency are necessary in increasingly diverse national and international contexts (Genesee & Cloud, 1998).

The following paper is an attempt at articulating a solution to the current and future linguistic and cross-cultural needs of the school community in which I teach.  It builds on two previous assignments: the first, which describes the bilingual education programme currently being used in Chelsea Elementary School, and the second, which outlines a proposal for double immersion, a modified form of two way immersion, in the school.

As a means of establishing what we regard as a solution, we will begin by considering some of the key research findings about second language teaching, bilingual education and immersion that have emerged during the past three decades. We will then examine a particular educational model called two way immersion (TWI), which seeks to expand students' linguistic and cross-cultural competencies while aiming for high academic achievement for all. In the second half of the paper, we will try to assess to what extent TWI represents a viable model in the current Quebec educational context. To assist in this task, we will examine the Quebec language laws relating to second language teaching. As well, we will consider the bain linguistique model which has been used to teach ESL in some French schools in Quebec. From there, we will make some  recommendations as to the way forward in developing programmes that will best prepare our students for work and community living in the post modern era.


During the 1960's and 70's, much of the literature on bilingualism was focused on documenting the linguistic, cognitive and social benefits associated with the acquisition of a second language  (Lambert, 1990). In Canada, much of this research was aimed at addressing the concerns of parents of French immersion students, as well as teachers and school administrators, who feared that this experimental bilingual programme might have some negative effects on the students in the programme (Safty, 1989). With little exception, these studies helped to dispel the old-fashioned myth that early exposure to two languages can be detrimental to linguistic and cognitive development. In fact many of these studies have supported the idea that the more a child moves towards full or balanced bilingualism, the greater the potential linguistic, social and cognitive advantages (Baker, 1996; Lambert, 1990).

The Thresholds Theory, postulated by Cummins (1976) and Toukomaa and Skutnabb-Kangas (1977) attempted to deal with practical questions concerning the relation between a child's level of development in the second language and the resulting cognitive advantages that can be expected from bilingualism. Specifically, it proposed that research evidence on bilingualism and cognition could be explained in terms of two thresholds in both L1 and L2 development. The first threshold describes a level of linguistic competence that a child must reach in order to avoid the negative consequences of bilingualism, while the second represents a level of linguistic competence required to access the possible cognitive advantages of bilingualism (Baker, 1996; Lambert, 1990).

The Threshold Theory can be depicted as a three story house where the bottom floor represents those children whose levels of competence in both languages are insufficiently developed for their age group. The Theory postulates that in such cases, the cognitive effects of bilingualism may be negative, as linguistic weaknesses may prevent the child from adequately coping in the classroom regardless of the language used. The middle level represents children who have developed age appropriate language competence in one but not both languages. Typically at this level, we find children with age appropriate first language skills but who cannot learn or function productively in the L2. The Theory postulates that at this level, there will be little cognitive differences compared with a monolingual child and as such, the benefits that can be expected are neutral.  The top floor of the house represents children who are balanced bilinguals who will have age appropriate competence in both languages. Since at this level, children can learn and cope with content in either language, the benefits to cognition from bilingualism will be positive (Baker, 1996).

The Thresholds Theory, and its suggestion that students who are provided with greater opportunities to develop their skills in the L2 would benefit from greater cognitive advantages associated with bilingualism, provided excellent theoretical backing for the development of immersion language teaching in Canada and elsewhere in the world. Since the Thresholds Theory proposed that the cognitive benefits from bilingualism are narrowly linked with a child's level of development the L1 as well, it also portends that ideal bilingual education programmes are those which promote additive bilingualism, that is development and maintenance of both L1 and L2 linguistic competence. Specifically, where the intention is that learners benefit maximally from the cognitive advantages associated with bilingualism, this is most likely to occur when the addition of the addition of the L2 is also accompanied by the simultaneous development of first language skills, that is through partial or two way immersion, as opposed to full immersion (Baker, 1996; Berthold, 1999; Lambert, 1990).

In Canada and the United states, more recent studies have focussed on selected aspects of second language learning (such as the development of productive language skills of immersion students) and discussions of the implications of immersion research findings for the development of second language programmes in the future. Research results from evaluations of alternative forms of second language immersion have suggested the following:  instructional approaches based on the integration of content and language are generally more effective than approaches in which language is taught in isolation; that instructional strategies and student tasks requiring the use of active discourse, preferably with native speakers of the target language will be most effective; and that the development of cross cultural awareness is a central aspect of second language learning (Genesee, 1994).

Despite the fact that French immersion has been described as a quiet language revolution and as the most successful programme ever recorded in the professional language teaching literature, in Canada, the findings from research on immersion suggest that the time has come for re-evaluating and revamping immersion programmes (Stern & Krashen cited in Safty, 1989). As some have suggested, the word, immersion does not reflect the current pedagogical situation, since in most immersion contexts students are not actually immersed in a French speaking milieu, but rather take some of their courses in French. Three decades later, the time has come for reassessing the goals of immersion, examining its programmes, instructional materials, as well as its methods of evaluation. As aptly put by Benyekhlef (1995) from the PAPT, one of the largest teachers unions in Quebec, immersion is now clearly in need of a facelift.

As Genesee, suggests, if we (as educators) are to assist our students in meeting the economic and social challenges of the 21st century, we had better learn from our mistakes and take bold steps to place linguistic and cross-cultural competence as centre in the curriculum.  Three decades of experience has yielded valuable information which has helped to create the  models for reaching these goals.  All we need now is the vision to provide our students with the best of what there is to offer (Genesee, 1998).

In the following section, we will examine one such model, two way immersion (TWI), which has already proven to be highly successful in many schools in the United States. By creating a learning environment which brings students from two different language groups and cultures together in the same classroom, TWI represents unique opportunities for language and cross-cultural learning in bilingual communities.


Definition and Goals

Two-way immersion, also known as two-way bilingual education, bilingual immersion, developmental bilingual and dual language programmes, integrates language minority and language majority students in the same classroom with the goal of academic excellence and bilingual proficiency for both groups. Students in these programmes develop dual language proficiency by receiving instruction in English and another language, in a classroom that is usually comprised of half native English speakers and half native speakers of the target language. Equal status is given to both languages within the curriculum, as well as within the classroom and school environment (Baker, 1996; Christian, 1996; Eric Digest, 2000).

Two way bilingual schools aim to produce bilingual, biliterate and multicultural children. As such, two-way immersion programmes work towards academic, language and affective goals. Programme goals include:


Originating in 1963 within the exiled Cuban community in Florida, the two-way immersion model was first developed in Spanish and English to help meet the linguistic needs of these perceived temporary residents of the US. In the past three decades, particularly since 1989, this model has been duplicated in other states in the US and also modified to include other target languages such as Japanese, Cantonese, Korean, Portuguese, French, Russian, Haitian Creole, and Navajo (Baker, 1996; Eric Digest, 2000).

Language Learning as Resource

The hallmark of two-way bilingual education is that it treats language learning as a resource for all students, with each group of students teaching their native languages to the other. In contrast to transitional bilingual education (TBE) programmes which keep students of limited-English proficiency LEP separated from their English speaking peers until they acquire sufficient SL skills to make it in a regular English language programme, TWI represent a viable and challenging opportunity for combining first and second-language learning in schools whose communities are bicultural and bilingual. Unlike TBE which aims to gradually replace the home language with the majority target language, effectively treating language learning as a problem rather than a resource, two-way programmes represent a strong form of additive bilingualism whereby the addition of a second language in no way represents a threat to primary language development and the associated culture (Baecher & Coletti, 1988; Lambert, 1990).

When compared to enriched bilingual education for language majority children (the type of SL programme currently being offered in Chelsea School), and to all other forms of so called immersion, two-way programmes allow students (and teachers) to access the range of available linguistic and cultural resources available within the school community (Baker, 1996). It is an easily observable and well documented fact, for example, that children learn a great deal from each other. Compared to other immersion classrooms, where, most (if not all) of the pupils are non-native speakers of the target language, the TWI classroom offers the added modelling and stimulus of fellow pupils. Unlike all other SL programmes where the teacher is essentially the only native speaker and principle model of the target language, the TWI classroom provides each student with multiple second language teachers to learn from, both within the classroom and on the playground.

Its emphasis on cross-language and cross-cultural contact within the classroom explains the superior potential of TWI for promoting accelerated language learning. As research on Canadian immersion programmes have shown, results generally reflect high levels of receptive competence in the L2 and "realistically adjust expectancy levels on productive proficiency to take in to account those features of linguistic ability that cannot reasonably be produced by an educational system alone" (Beardsmore, 1993, p. 117, cited in Baker, 1996). It is reasonable to expect higher levels of both receptive and productive skills from TWI as language learning is not restricted to activities involving teacher contact.

Instructional Methods and Programme Types

As in other immersion programmes, the two-way curriculum is content based, whereby "the mastery of academic skills and information provides a natural basis for second language teaching and learning" (Genesee, 1994, p. 3). Because TWI primarily focuses on the development of strong academic achievement in two languages, techniques that aim to make instruction more comprehensible are preferred.  Techniques that maximize comprehensible input, promoting both SL acquisition and academic achievement include hands-on activities, peer interaction and multiple cues (gestures, facial expressions, use of pectoral and graphic representations) giving students greater opportunity to master concepts.  Where language must be the focus of instructional attention, whole language approaches are preferred to grammar-based approaches (Eric Digest, 2000; Genesee, 1994; Krashen, 1991).

While the goals of TWI generally remain constant, local conditions, such as staffing requirements, demographics and community attitudes determine the methods through which these goals are realized. As a result, different TW programmes may opt from a variety of modes of instruction. For example, while some programmes allocate the two languages by content (e.g., social studies, physical education and math are taught in French, while science, music and arts may be taught in English), other programmes allocate the languages by time (e.g., instruction in each language on alternate days). While some programmes operate within a specific catchment area, others are strictly community programmes (Eric Digest, 2000).

Two-way programmes may also be based on different language development models. Currently in the United States, the most popular is the 50/50 model, in which students receive equal instruction time in both languages. Also common is the 90/10 model in which 90% of the instruction time is in the target language with about 10% in English in the early grades, gradually moving toward 50/50 in the higher grades. The way in which students are integrated varies as well. While most TW programmes integrate both language groups for all instructional and recreational activities, some schools may provide separate second language instruction on a daily basis. However, as Christian (1996) points out, maximum cross-group interaction will generally assist students in realizing the full benefits of the two-way approach, and as such be more conducive to second language learning (CAL, 2000; Eric Digest, 2000). Although there may be variations between different two-way programme types, central are the use of only one language within each period of instruction. For obvious reasons, community and parental support are also crucial for the creation and prolonged existence of these programmes (Baker, 1996).


In the United States, statistics on TWI programmes indicate that while in 1980, only 9 such programmes had been developed, by 2000 the number of TWI programmes had grown to 253. This remarkable growth of new programmes in the past two decades clearly supports research claims that two-way immersion represents the programme with the highest long-term academic success (Thomas & Collier, 1997, cited in CAL, 2001; Cazabon, Nicoladis & Lambert, 2000).

Results on Effectiveness

During the past decade, numerous reports and statistics have revealed that two-way immersion is effective not only in the teaching of languages, but also in the development of academic excellence and superior socio-cultural awareness.  Results from research indicate that these benefits extend to both language groups and to all students in two-way programmes (Baker, 1996; Eric Digest, 2000; Genesee & Cloud, 1998).

A National Perspective

Christian (1996) describes the current state of two-way bilingual education in the United States. The report presents findings from a study which collected information about two-way programmes from over 160 schools during the 1991-1992, 1992-1993, and 1993-1994 school years (Christian & Mahrer, 1992, 1993; Christian & Montone, 1994). Christian reports that in a study of school districts in California using two-way immersion, Lindholm and Gavlek (1994) found that, in four schools offering two-way immersion at grade 5 and 6, 75% to 92% of the non-native English-speaking students were rated as fluent in English (on the Student Oral Language Observation Matrix, or SOLOM, a teacher rating instrument). On standardized math achievement tests, the same group ranked in the 25th to 72nd percentile in English and in the 25th to 90th percentile in Spanish. In the same schools, 67% to 100% of the native English-speaking students were rated as fluent in Spanish (on the SOLOM) by grade 5, with math achievement results of 54th to 91st percentile in English, and 37th to 96th percentile in Spanish. Christian states that from these results, the authors of the study conclude that despite the variations within and across school sites, their results demonstrate "the success of the bilingual immersion model in achieving the desired outcomes of bilingual proficiency and achievement at or above grade level" (Lindholm & Gavlek, 1994, p. 98, cited in Christian, 1996).

The Port Chester Two-Way Bilingual Program

The Port Chester, New York Two-Way Bilingual programme began in 1984 as a result of the rapidly changing demographics within the school community. As the student population approached 70% Hispanic, parents, teachers and the school administration opted to begin an innovative two-way bilingual programme, with the intent of maximizing first and second language development for both native-English and native-Spanish speaking students. Funded by the New York State Bureau of Bilingual Education, the Port Chester programme was one of 11 other similar programmes to be implemented in New York State between 1984 and 1987.

Initially implemented at the Grade 2-3 level, the Port Chester programme paired two groups of youngsters, an English proficient EP class of 15-17 pupils with a limited English proficiency LEP class consisting of 13-20 language minority students for a period of three years. Since enrolments at any grade level were too low to form single classes, both the EP and LEP classes were combined classes. Both classes were taught by one teacher who was responsible for teaching all subjects including reading, language arts and second language for both grades (Baecher & Coletti, 1988).

"A unique feature of Port Chester's programme was the cross-age, cross-cultural process whereby twice a week, EP and LEP children were paired and learned one another's languages in the same classroom." (Baecher & Coletti, 1988, p. 5) Twice weekly, the pupils of the combined EP and LEP classes were reassigned to form two single-level (cross-language, cross-cultural) classes in which they would spend the morning learning English and Spanish together.  During these sessions, methods focusing on co-operative learning, natural communication and peer interaction placed pupils (as opposed to the teacher ) at the center of the learning process (Baecher & Coletti, 1988).

For purposes of evaluating the effectiveness of Port Chester Two-Way Bilingual Programme, the school was required to collect results from standardized test data as well as student perceptions of their classroom over the 3-year period from 1984-87. One definite conclusion that emerged from the analysis of the longitudinal results of the programme were the positive and cumulative academic effects of integrating native language approach in the education of language minority students. These results confirmed the findings and theories of Cummins (1984) and Lambert (1990) on the importance of first language maintenance in the acquisition of second languages.

The results from academic testing in the EP class were somewhat mixed, indicating that while pupils definitely benefited and made remarkable gains in the development of their second language skills, to a limited extent this seemed to occur at the expense of continued progress in native language reading and in math. In drawing this conclusion, however, the authors of the study point out that numerous difficulties experienced by the EP classroom teacher in managing a combined curriculum in all subject areas, (eventually leading to her dismissal mid-way during the first year of the project), also indicate that "future implementation efforts require careful monitoring of student outcomes in relation to teacher performance" (Baecher & Coletti, 1988, p. 16).

Another important aim of the Port Chester TW Programme was to assess student perceptions of their classroom environment.  For this purpose, the My Class Inventory (MCI) (Fraser et al., 1982) was administered to both groups at the end of each year of the project (in English and in Spanish) "to ascertain students' level of satisfaction, friction, competitiveness, difficulty and cohesiveness within their classrooms" (Fraser et al., 1982, cited in Baecher & Coletti, 1988, p. 17).  Overall, data from MCI confirmed the highly positive classroom environments as well as high levels of student satisfaction with their learning experiences in the programme.

Baecher and Coletti conclude that the longitudinal data on the Post Chester Two-Way Bilingual Programme are very encouraging for second language learning programmes in general. They argue that where language-learning-as-resource, (in contrast to language-learning-as-problem) permeates instructional practices, the benefits of bilingualism will be diffused to the entire school community.

While the Port Chester Two-Way experiment provides an example of a TW model based on partial immersion (twice weekly), results from its three-year implementation study nevertheless indicate that the native languages of both student groups represent valuable resources for further learning. As such, these results also indicate how other conventional models of immersion education forsake important linguistic and cultural resources within the school community.

The Amigos Programme

Established in 1985-86 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Amigos programme features as one of the most successful and well documented two-way immersion programmes in the United States. Serving well over 300 students by 1994, the Amigos programme was born from the collaborative effort of parents, teachers and school administrators who wanted to develop a programme that would combine the best features of transitional bilingual education for LEP students, and language immersion for native-English speakers.  Based on the 50/50 model, half of the students in the programme are LEP Hispanics, while the other half are non-Hispanic English speakers.  Each class is taught by two teachers, one who is Spanish-speaking and the other English-speaking.  The two teachers maintain separate language environments (i.e., classrooms) for the students, and work co-operatively on planning and student follow-up. Students in the Amigos programme are fully integrated for all content instruction. Individual and group progress is evaluated by means of standardized testing and portfolio assessment (Cazabon, Nicoladis & Lambert, 2000).

In 1992, Cazabon, Lambert and Hall conducted an assessment of the Amigos programme which compared students in the programme with two separate groups in the Cambridge Public Schools. The English-Amigos were compared with English native speakers from an all-English public school programme, while the Spanish-Amigos were compared with native Spanish speakers in a conventional bilingual education programme.  The control groups were matched with Amigos students on social class background and a non-verbal measure of intelligence.

In order to compare the students' achievement in both languages, a series of tests were given to the Amigos and control groups. On the California Achievement Test, English-Amigos performed generally better than the English controls.  On the same test, Spanish-Amigos scored above the norm and higher than the Spanish controls. On the English-based maths tests, both the English and Spanish Amigos scored higher than the controls, demonstrating the Spanish-Amigos ability to apply English to other subjects. On Spanish language tests, both English and Spanish Amigos demonstrated grade-level progress in reading and math. Cazabon, Lambert and Hall conclude that because the tests differ in the way they measure students' language skills and academic achievement, their results are even more indicative of the programme's success (Cazabon, Nicoladis & Lambert, 2000).

In a subsequent study, Cazabon, Lambert and Hall (1993) attempted to investigate the social and psychological outcomes of two-way bilingual programmes.  For this purpose, the authors examined the social networks in the classroom and perceived competence ratings among students in the Amigos programme. Using sociometric questionnaires, they found that by grade three, students develop friendships in the classroom quite independent of race or ethnicity. On perceived competence, a measure of self-esteem, both Spanish-background and English-background students showed high levels of academic and personal satisfaction. In a 1994 study Lambert and Cazabon found a clear preference for having friends from both [Anglo and Hispanic] groups and for mixed ethnic/racial classrooms as opposed to ethnically segregated schooling. The results of these two studies clearly "indicate that social and psychological goals related to attitudes and self-esteem may be fostered by the two-way bilingual approach" (Christian, 1996, p. 73-74).


The results and reports from various studies in the United States demonstrate that two-way immersion can be an effective model for teaching other languages to English-speaking students, for teaching English to students from other language backgrounds, for teaching academic subjects, and for fostering positive cross-cultural attitudes and self-esteem among students. In contexts where the community demographics are suitable and where there is good support for such a programme at the school and community level, clearly, the two-way model represents an attractive alternative to conventional models of bilingual education.

With respect to the suitability of community demographics, the interest and support of parents for developing more effective bilingual education programmes, and most important, the availability of committed and suitably trained teachers, Quebec presents an ideal context for the implementation of two-way immersion programmes (Gazette, 1999, June 4; Le Devoir, 1999, March 17). Although it would be difficult to develop two-way programmes in most French-speaking rural communities, as student enrollment would be insufficient to allow for an adequate 50/50 language balance, in urban contexts, such as in the greater Montreal and Quebec City areas, and in the highly bilingual Western Quebec region, the more even split between French and English present far more favourable situations. With respect to the suitability of educational context, we can already conclude that in certain regions of Quebec, two-way immersion in French and English represents a very viable model for SL teaching.

As we shall see in the following section, because in Quebec, second language teaching takes place in a unique social and political context, the story does not end here. While Canada (Quebec) is considered the birthplace of immersion education, and while many lessons have been learned worldwide from the numerous studies that have been conducted on French immersion in Canada since the St Lambert experiment in 1963, it seems puzzling that there are no two-way programme in Canada (Genesee, Personal Communication).  As two-way immersion continues to  grow in popularity in the United States, what has prevented this particular trend from crossing the border? Certainly for Quebec, the answer to this lies in the political context of ESL teaching.


The Historical and Political Context of Current Educational Policy

«Le Parti Québécois est un parti vivant, à l'image du Québec. Notre parti a trois raisons d'être : la souveraineté, le progrès social et la promotion du français. Ce sont les trois grandes causes qui nous unissent, les trois fondements de notre action.» (The parti Québécois  is a vibrant party that reflects the aspirations of the people of Quebec.  Our party has three ultimate aims: political sovereignty, social progress and the promotion of the French language.  These are the three great causes which unite us and form the basis of our action.) (Bouchard, 2000).

The Quebec educational context can only be adequately understood while considering the historical and political contexts which have inevitably shaped it. Educational policy in Quebec, especially that which relates to language, can only be understood in reference to the Quiet Revolution of the 1960's which marked the irrevocable separation between Church and State in Quebec, and which symbolized the ultimate struggle of French Quebeckers for political independence. In 1976, in what was the continuation of a social and political process which had begun more than a decade earlier, the pro-separatist Parti Québécois won its first ever mandate to govern. Over a quarter of a century later, the Parti Québécois is still in power today. Having been reelected in all but one of the four general elections since its assent to power, the Parti Québécois and its social-democratic style of government has no doubt enjoyed the popular support of Quebeckers. As Premier Lucien Bouchard indicates, the policies of the Parti Québécois government must be viewed in the context of its wider goals of achieving Quebec's sovereignty, of promoting social progress and of promulgating the development of French in Quebec.

An Overview of Legislation and Educational Policy Relating to Language of Instruction

Although internationally, Canada is perceived as an officially bilingual country, offering federal government services in both French and English to all its citizens, since the election of the pro-sovereignist Parti Québecois government and the introduction of La charte de la langue francaise in the mid-1970's, Quebec has had only one official language: French. Within the Quebec political context, there has been a strong concern for the protection and preservation of French. As such, although English-speaking Quebeckers still have access to numerous provincial government services in English, the enactment of legislation making French the only official language of Quebec changed many things in Quebec (Lightbown & Spada, 1994; MEQ, 1996).

The impact on educational policy has been most significant. Whereas previously, all parents had the choice of sending their children to either French or English schools, since the enactment of the French language charter, and the passing of the controversial Loi 101 (Bill 101), most students in Quebec's primary and secondary schools receive their education in French, regardless of their mother tongue. "The exceptions include (a) children whose parents had their early education in English in Quebec or another Canadian province and (b) children of immigrants who had their education in English in another country and who were residents in Quebec when the legislation was passed" (Lightbown & Spada, 1994, p. 564).

Under Bill 101, French speaking parents wishing to send their children to an English school, even on a temporary basis, can no longer do so. Also, as the teaching of English enjoys no special status, it must be taught strictly within the context of the ESL programme and classroom. Consequently, in 1977, in accordance with la Charte de la langue francaise, the MEQ declared that it "is not permitted, in French language schools, to use English as a medium of instruction for any subject matter, on the models of 'content-based instructionor' 'immersion'" (Lightbown & Spada, 1994, p. 564; MEQ, 1996).

Consequently, for most French-speaking students, the only opportunity to learn English is in the ESL classes offered in the French language schools. In conformity with the MEQ curriculum, Francophone students in Quebec can only legally begin ESL instruction in grade 4 (at about age 9). In grades 4, 5 and 6, students receive 120 minutes per week of ESL instruction, with instruction time going up to 150 minutes per week in the 5 years of secondary school (Lightbown & Spada, 1994). Within the English sector, however, French SL instruction typically begins in Kindergarten, with school boards offering a variety of Extended Core (content teaching in French) and immersion programmes.

In the current Quebec context, it would seem that any attempt to expand SL teaching in Francophone schools (let alone establish two-way bilingual programmes!) would be doomed. In fact, this has not been so. Although the MEQ does establish curriculum content and certain aspects of pedagogical practice for primary and secondary schools, "local school boards may, for some period of time, offer innovative or experimental programmes that differ from the standard programmes mandated by the MEQ" (Lightbown & Spada, 1994, p. 565). Thus, it was within the scope of this loophole that an innovation for ESL termed bain linguistique occured in the late 1970's. As described in the 1996 MEQ information document on intensive ESL teaching in Quebec, the bain linguistique model emerged from "the creative and innovative spirit which characterizes the educational milieu and the teaching of second languages in Quebec" (MEQ, 1996, p. 4).

In the following section, we will take a closer look at the bain linguistique model for ESL teaching. Our aim will be to outline an example of a creative response to the dissatisfaction of teachers, parents and students with existing SL programmes in the French schools of Quebec.


In the mid-1970's, an innovation in ESL education emerged in the French-language schools of Quebec. Developed largely at the grass roots level through the co-operative efforts of individual school boards, local administrators, teachers and parents, the intensive ESL programme, referred to as cours intensif d'anglais or bain linguistique (literally, language bath), represented an attempt to expand ESL instruction time in French primary schools beyond the requirements of the regular programme (Lightbown & Spada, 1997). Inspiring itself from the classes d'acceuil et de francisation which were developed in the mid-1970's to teach immigrant children French in the schools of Quebec, the cours intensif d'anglais aimed to offer French-speaking students an alternative to the regular ESL programme and to  immersion, which by law is not permitted in the French schools of Quebec. According to MEQ regulation, schools offering these classes (or any other classes focusing on special interests such as fine arts, music or computers) were simply required to fulfill the regular curriculum objectives established by the Ministère for all subject matters, including ESL (Lightbown, 1997; Lightbown, 2000, August 9).

Intensive ESL has been defined by the Ministère de l'Education du Quebec (MEQ) in terms of three factors: (1) the amount of time given to the teaching of English (30-44%) of the total teaching time in a given school year; (2) the concentration of the teaching time; and (3) the enrichment of the basic MEQ ESL programme (MEQ, 1996). Throughout the late 1970's, only a handful of school boards offered optional intensive ESL programmes to students in the French primary sector.  Since the mid-1980's, however, different models of intensive ESL have emerged in several school boards across Quebec. In the most widespread one, students receive intensive ESL instruction for five months of the school year (usually in Grade 5 or 6) and complete their academic work in French during the remaining five months. In the 4 month/6 month model, the formula essentially remains the same while allowing one additional month for the completion of the French academic programme. In the 10 month model, students typically receive ESL instruction in half days throughout the school year (Collins, Halter, Lightbown & Spada, 1998; Lightbown & Spada, 1997).

As the above programme descriptions suggest, intensive ESL differs from immersion in two main ways.  First, whereas immersion programmes cover the entire range of academic subject matter, language learning is clearly the main goal of ESL instruction. In French immersion, students are expected to learn French as well as the content of science, mathematics and social studies, etc. through French (Genesee, 1987). In intensive ESL classes, instruction focuses on topics and themes geared to the age and social interest of the students, however, they are not intended to cover any subject matter included in the regular school curriculum. The second major  difference between intensive ESL and immersion relates to the overall time that is devoted to SL learning. Whereas in most intensive ESL programmes one five-month period in one school year is the only time students get more than the 120 minutes allotted to the regular programme, in immersion, students invest several years in SL learning (Lightbown & Spada, 1997).

In spite of these differences, however, it has been pointed out that most intensive ESL and French immersion classes share an important pedagogical orientation: students are expected to acquire a great deal of second language incidentally, while they focus their attention on meanings which are carried by the language (Lightbown & Spada, 1997). While in the immersion classroom, these meanings are drawn from the regular curriculum, in intensive ESL, they are drawn from the various tasks and activities associated with communicative language teaching (Lightbown & Spada, 1997).

As some critics of immersion have suggested, efforts to expand intensive ESL instruction are proof that English immersion is unnecessary and inappropriate in the Quebec context (Billy, 1980; Lightbown, 2000). Although such issues remain highly contested (and devoid of any practical application in the Quebec educational context), the substantial growth in the demand for intensives ESL classes in recent years, and the corresponding increase in the number of board offering the courses remains one sure thing (Le Devoir, 1999, March 17). 

Accompanying this growth of interest in and implementation of intensive ESL courses, has been the development of research activity designed to evaluate different aspects of student achievement in these courses as compared to students in regular programmes (Lightbown & Spada, 1989). Most of these studies have focused on the 5 month model which has and continues to be the most widespread. Results from both scientific and casual observations of this model have revealed that it is highly successful in assisting students to develop communicative language skills in English (Lightbown & Spada, 1994); in helping students to maintain acquired language skills over the longer term (i.e., into the secondary school level) (Lightbown & Spada, 1991); in promoting positive student attitudes towards the learning of English (Lightbown & Spada, 1989); and in promoting good academic performance in all other areas of the curriculum in French (Collins et al., 1989).

A recent study by Collins, Halter, Lightbown and Spada (1999) focuses on time and the distribution of time in intensive ESL instruction. Contrary to the findings of cognitive psychology and the general education literature which present substantial evidence in favor of the distributed over massed practice, this study of 700 students, which compares the learning outcomes of students in the massed (5 month) programmes with those of students in the distributed (10 month) programme with similar previous exposure to English, reveals "superior outcomes for the massed conditions" (Collins et al., 1999, p. 655). As the authors note, given the differences in learning targets and general learning conditions, it should be no surprise that the communicative SL classroom context yields different findings.

Most interesting, and particularly relevant to the development of new programmes, were the best results from what the authors call the massed-plus programmes.  Although both the overall amount and distribution of instructional time was the same in the massed and massed-plus programmes, (i.e., students spent 5 months in full-day intensive ESL classes), in the massed-plus programme, school policy (along with the fact that all students in the school were in Grade 6 and in intensive ESL) explicitly encouraged and fostered opportunities for exposure to English outside of the classroom. In the massed-plus programmes the use of English permeated school life from the playground to the principal's office, allowing students to be truly immersed in their SL (Collins et al., 1999).


Despite the many indications that two-way bilingual programmes could be successfully implemented in certain regions of Quebec (notably in many of the school communities of Western Quebec), the current policy which prohibits the use of English to teach academic content in French schools means that this model is unviable in the present Quebec context. In this concluding section, however, I would like to propose that far from foretelling the end of the line, our current understandings of second language acquisition, as well as lessons learned from two-way immersion experiences in the United States and from bain linguistique in the French schools of Quebec indicate that there remains considerable scope for improving the effectiveness of SL instruction and for expanding bilingual education in the Quebec context.

Whatever the programme, a reasonable objective for all SL teaching contexts must be to prepare students to use the language they are learning when they encounter it outside of the classroom. The goal of preparing students to benefit from opportunities to use their SL in real-life situations "goes far beyond our perfectly reasonable concern that they see the language as a means to a functional or communicative end, such as ordering food in a restaurant or asking for directions. These communicative ends turn out to be means to another end, namely more language learning" (Lightbown, 1986, p. 9). By preparing our students to use language outside of the classroom, we are also indirectly providing more input, more opportunity to practice and last but not least, real-world motivation (Lightbown, 1986).

In light of this argument and of our current understanding of language acquisition which suggests that language learning does not occur in a linear fashion, but rather depends on the built-in syllabus of learners as suggested by Corder, I would like to propose that all SL teachers have a professional responsibility to uphold effective teaching practices, which while presenting opportunities for language learning and development, also involve students in meaningful communication activities.  As professionals in the field of language learning and teaching, we must also work to make these practices understood and respected within their school communities. As suggested by Lightbown (1986), we must make the best use of class time by providing our students with experiences in class which build confidence and ability to use language in the real world. By applying effective teaching techniques and by making the best use of class time, we can improve the quality of SL instruction for all students within the French and English school sectors in Quebec, and this regardless of the confines of policy and curriculum requirements.

Beyond a fundamental commitment to excellence in teaching, SL teachers, together with parents and the school administration, must also consider different ways of expanding existing SL programmes at the school level. As described above, although the MEQ does establish curriculum content and certain aspects of pedagogical practice for primary and secondary schools, schools and local school boards do have some measure of freedom for offering innovative programmes that differ from the standard programmes mandated by the MEQ. Thus, within the scope of this loophole it remains possible to develop innovative programmes which, as we have seen with bain linguistique, can expand both the time and the quality of second language instruction.

Even within the constraints of current MEQ policy, it would be possible to build a cross-language cross-cultural component onto the regular ESL or bain linguistique programmes in the French sector and the Core French, Extended Core and immersion programmes in the English sector. For example, within bilingual communities, French and English schools could co-operate to develop programmes that offer joint learning opportunities for French and English-speaking students.  Within the Chelsea community, where the local French and English elementary schools are situated only a few kilometers apart, a programme could be established allowing students from grades 4, 5 and 6 the opportunity, for example, to learn about their local history in both languages. Students could meet once or even twice weekly and alternate venues between schools to learn about their common local heritage in each other's language. Onto this, community cultural activities and exchanges could be developed allowing for even greater community involvement and participation. Topics and themes in either local history, fine arts and drama, for example, could complement the content of the basic MEQ curriculum, while allowing for valuable enrichment of the SL programmes. While adhering to the curriculum and language requirements of MEQ policy, such a programme could easily be viewed as a modified inter-schools version of two-way immersion.

Although it is clearly not within the scope of this paper to outline the various details and components of such a programme, suffice it to say that given the political will, a project to expand SL instruction in such a way in the later grades would surely be feasible. As results from studies on bain linguistique have shown, intensifying SL instruction in their later years would assist students to further develop communicative language skills in their SL. In addition, it would help students to maintain acquired language skills over the longer term, promote good academic performance in other areas of the regular curriculum and last but not least, promote positive student attitudes towards the learning of English and French. Also, as evidenced in massed-plus bain linguistique programmes, and even more so in two-way immersion, by allowing for the added stimulus of fellow students, such programmes would make better use of the full range of linguistic and cultural resources within the school community. This type of programme would promote enhanced language learning by providing students  with a rich range of models on which to base their own language development.  Direct contact with first language speakers would promote the development of cross-cultural awareness within the community and provide students with real-life motivation for learning the target language.

Complementing efforts at the ground level, however, SL teachers must continue to advocate the truth about SL learning. As mentioned above, results from extensive research in the field of SL learning and teaching have clearly proven that SL acquisition does not inhibit first language development as long as first language learning and development is strongly supported. In fact, most of these results also indicate potential linguistic, social and cognitive advantages that can result from bilingualism. Politics aside, it must be recognized that such findings do pose a serious challenge to educational policy relating to language of instruction in Quebec. As professionals in the field of SL learning and teaching, we must not give up on trying to "persuade the educational authorities that teaching some subjects matter courses through the medium of English could be very effective... This approach has been very successful... and the fact that it is not currently acceptable for ESL teaching in Quebec does not mean that we should forget about it" (Lightbown, 1986, p. 11). SL teachers have an important role to play in exposing what are proving to be inherent weaknesses in educational policy.


As suggested in the title, the first goal of this paper was to determine the viability of two-way immersion in the current Quebec context. Although an examination of educational policy in Quebec has compelled us to conclude that this model is not viable in the current educational context, in pedagogical terms, for some regions of Quebec and Canada two-way models continue to present highly attractive alternative to existing SL programmes in both the French and English sectors.

Far from being some fly-by-night educational experiment, two-way immersion has proven to be a highly successful model of bilingual education presenting cognitive, linguistic and social benefits that go far beyond the scope of traditional models of SL instruction, including immersion.  For well over two decades, the remarkable success of two-way immersion in the United States has prompted a rapid growth in the development of two-way programmes in that country. While the American influence permeates virtually every aspect of Canadian life, from international politics to popular culture, why has this impressive educational trend failed to cross the border into Canada? In a country which prides itself of its bilingual status and multicultural character, what has impeded the development of two-way education? Clearly, in the Quebec context, the answer has to do with politics.

As SL teachers, whose prime concern remains that of our students (and not of politics), I would like to suggest that we have a responsibility to challenge the restrictions that educational policy imposes upon learning. If two-way immersion can better address the linguistic and cross-cultural requirements of our students who are called to live and work in an increasingly globalized and multi-cultural world, then we should not back down on finding solutions for developing two-way programmes.

As professionals in the field of second language learning and teaching, if we wish, through our work, to continue adhering to the principle of "taking children as they are, from where they are, to whatever heights are possible," we must strive to gain a clear understanding of the parameters within which we must operate, and from there fight for what we know works best (Porter, 1991, cited in Sturman, 1997). Although in political terms, two-way bilingual immersion may currently be in the order of a pipe dream in Quebec, this does not mean that we should forget about it. As the parents, teachers and researchers behind the St Lambert experiment proved, significant change often requires that we challenge the status quo -- and from there, that we work hard to achieve our goal of implementing the most effective and appropriate SL programmes.


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