There’s a waiting list at all 29 of the state’s public French immersion programs, and this year at least one school — the International School of Louisiana in New Orleans — received more applications for its French program than ever before.
Demand for Spanish language education remains strong, both for local use and as a language of inter-American commerce. But even some Spanish-speakers are seeking French language education for their children.
Gayle Perez, a New Orleans native who grew up speaking Spanish because of her Ecuadorean parents, enrolled her son in ISL’s French program. Now 10 years old, Alejandro Perez, is fluent in English, Spanish and French.
“It was the best thing I could have done for my son,” Perez said. “He’s not just learning a new language. He is learning that there’s another part of the world out there, one that’s not only English-speaking or only Spanish-speaking.”
Perez said she chose French for her son partly because of the language’s place in New Orleans’ history but mostly because of its place in the world. French is spoken in more than 30 countries across the globe, and it is the official language of the United Nations.
“Knowing French, knowing any other language, it opens up the world,” Perez said. “It will make my son more interested in the world and make him more relevant in the world. He will be able to do anything he wants to do.”
There’s been increasing demand for children to learn a second language as non-English tongues have become more commonplace in the U.S. and on TV news, said Sean Wilson, head of ISL, which offers immersion in both French and Spanish, as well as classes in Mandarin Chinese.
“We live in a world that is very interconnected,” Wilson said. “Now more than ever, we’re hearing Arabic, Spanish, Hindi, Portuguese, and there’s an increase in demand when something is heard more frequently.”
Though French isn’t heard as often as some other languages — even in New Orleans — Wilson said there are many benefits to learning it. Bilingual students have a better chance of being academically successful and outperform their monolingual peers on an average of 10 percent on standardized tests, he said.
“Many parents see immersion as an opportunity for their children to succeed,” he said.
Louisiana’s push for a resurgence in the French language began in 1968 with the creation of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, also known as CODOFIL, after the language had been in sharp decline for decades.
“At first, the idea was to learn French so we could communicate with our grandparents,” said Joseph Dunn, who heads CODOFIL, which is based in the Cajun French-heavy city of Lafayette, La., and was created to protect and develop the language in Louisiana. “Now we’re looking at positioning French with reasons for it to live, for it to be relevant today.”