Immersion Schools: A Dangerous Proposition

A cute mother's day note I got from Oliver. I have no idea what it says.
A cute mother’s day note I got from Oliver. I have no idea what it says.

There are plenty of risks to immersing your kid in water or sand, but no one talks about the dangers of immersing your kid in a foreign language!

Sure, sure, we hear all of the benefits. It makes them mentally flexible and more sensitive, and there’s also the less known benefit that one day they’ll be able to take you around Paris and order crêpes for you. Oh, and your soups will be so smooth and creamy. Hang on – that’s an immersion blender. (Also a very good idea.)

But what about the drawbacks? Surely there are negatives to having your kids in a school where English isn’t the primary language, right? Well, after spending over four years as a parent of children in a French school, I’m here to give it to you straight.

I have no idea what my kids are saying.

While there is nothing cuter than hearing a bunch of kids jabber away in French in the car on the way home from school, for all I know they’re talking about “le farts” and “une Power Ranger rouge.”

I probably should have committed to learning French once we decided to send the boys to school there, but I never did. And now my brain is old and calcified and nothing like the sponges that are apparently in their tiny little heads.

Also, apparently when I enrolled them in their school, I neglected to remember that I have triplets? Forget the secret languages that multiples make up – I just gave them one on a silver platter.

They learned how to dance. IN FRENCH.
They learned how to dance. IN FRENCH.

My kids make me feel like a complete moron.

“No mommy, it’s not “rouge”, it’s “[insert throat-clearing sound]ouge.” Eye rolls shortly follow, and desperate pleas never to attempt to read them a French storybook again.

While I took many, many years of Spanish in middle school, high school, and college, I didn’t progress beyond using the present tense and basic vocabulary. (However, in my defense, I was able to successfully eat food and get around Barcelona without too much humiliation, so I guess it wasn’t a total waste.) (I have no idea what I ate or where I was going, but I had a great time.)

My children’s teachers are extremely chic.

It’s bad enough that I work from home and my work wardrobe consists of WordPress t-shirts and cropped sweatpants. Their teachers wear stilettos and skinny jeans and little scarves and always look impeccable, even after spending eight hours with a bunch of paste-eating five year-olds.

I can’t help them with their homework.

I polled some other parents, and they saw this as a drawback. I don’t know who these people are, because I consider this a definite benefit. I just sit at the kitchen table, sipping wine (you know, like French people do) and watch them do it themselves.

But don’t be too envious – I still have to help with their English homework, which I save until after I’ve finished the bottle glass.

On the bright side, they can help each other with their homework, since I can’t. Hopefully, they know what they’re doing.

On the whole, I’d definitely recommend sending your kids to an immersion school. Just don’t assume it’s all soleil et roses. (Thank you Google translate!)

Have you considered language immersion for your children?

My name is Pam, and I live in Algiers Point with my husband George and my identical triplets Linus, Oliver, and Miles. I work from home as a Happiness Engineer for Automattic. I enjoy reading and photography and sewing (and blogging!)


  1. This is really funny! And also, it really resonates for me. Actually if I were to really write on this topic, there would be several more layers…and it wouldn’t be funny. :-\

  2. Dear Pam,
    I’m one of those French teacher in an immersion school. Believe me I don’t wear any stilettos. Flat shoes and very comfortable clothes all week long! And I still feel like a mess after a day with my classroom. I admire the teachers who are looking good all day/week/year long.

    But as a preschool teacher, I have to sit down on the floor, crawl, run, paint and have dirty fingers touching my clothes. So I have to sacrifice my French fashion style!

    Anyway, immersion schools are the best for your children.

  3. Just throwing this out there since this was the first thing that sprang to mind: I read a study summary once that showed that kids who grow up fluently speaking two languages will be more than adept with their verbal skills in both languages, but their written grammar and reading skills will not be as strong in either language. This was about 10 years ago so I don’t know if more research has been done, but it might be worth looking into, and possibly working on their written communication skills as they get older!

  4. Fabulous and fun article! My granddaughter is in the dance picture with one of your talented sons. Her family gave me a nice French self-tutorial for Christmas. I concur that my brain is too old to learn a new language.
    My favorite letter in the French alphabet to hear is the W. When we are dining out, often my granddaughters will recite the French alphabet to total strangers dining nearby; much to their delight, I might add.

  5. Dear Pam,

    I want to start by saying I do not mean this as an attack on you or anyone. But after reading this article is seems you are saying that the true drawback of an immersion school is that you are to lazy to put in the work to learn the language as well. That is not really a drawback and really should not be presented as one. It is great that you decided to give your children that extra edge of a second language.
    You seem to be giving them that edge but then saying refusing to continue your own education is some how a drawback of that learning type. If you are unable to help your children with their homework then that is not a drawback of the school but a choice on your part not to empower yourself with that knowledge by putting in the needed work to do it.
    Using the excuse that you are older is simply that, an excuse. You seem very intelligent and I have no doubt that if you put the work in you could learn what you needed to stay current with what your children are learning. Perhaps you have other priorities. There is nothing wrong with that, but still that is a negative for the school. It is instead a life choice by you.
    As for the how the teachers dress, again that is your life choice. Not a negative for them.
    This is not an attack and I hope it does not seem that way. It just simple seems like a bad habit to pretend that your insecurities in some way make the good things that others around you are doing into a negative thing.
    This is simply my opinion after reading this article. I think you owe yourself more than what this article reflects in you.

  6. My daughter spent 9 years “immersed!” Wouldn’t change anything! So many funny stories! One of the best is that when we were evacuated for Katrina, we put a second grader that had Oy learned Spanish in school thus far, in a French language immersion school…after the first few days, her teacher called us in for a conference. There was a problem. Sophie didn’t seem to understand anything that was going on…and Sophie used question marks and exclamation points in the middle of a sentence and upside down…when Sophie came home on the first day of her new school, she said, “Mom, something is wrong with this school. Everyone is nice, but NO ONE speaks Spanish!”

  7. Our son is in immersion school, so this completely resonated with me. Loved the humor! I did figure out one way of helping with reading French homework. He corrects me readily after my horrible mispronounciations 🙂


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