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What to do when your French Immersion Child can’t read English

Heather van Mil5 comments4757 views
What to do when your french immersion child can’t read english

What to do when your french immersion child can’t read english

I have always prided myself on being very involved in my children’s education. I actively researched the many educational options available to us before deciding to enrol my eldest in a French Immersion school. I volunteer for as many school events as possible, and have had weekly roles in her classroom since she started kindergarten. During the school year we read and practice spelling daily, and during the summer we invested in workbooks and french apps on the iPad to keep her language skills current. We even switched all her Netflix viewing to French! I was feeling quite pleased with how her education was progressing, confident that we were covering all bases, until I realized that my child couldn’t read English! 

That may sound overly dramatic, so allow me to explain. Before she started Kindergarten, my daughter knew her alphabet, the sounds they made and could read simple phonetic words (in English). Once she started kindergarten, all of the learning switched to French. I proudly watched her learn the French alphabet, progressing from single letter sounds to diphthongs to non phonetic sight words, never realizing that her English language development was frozen at her pre-kindergarten level. 

Adri playing Ooka Island

Her lack of English skills became glaringly obvious when we started using Ooka Island, a game based reading program that teaches mastery of the five foundational reading skills – phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. I watched her play one day and was surprised when she couldn’t recognize some common letter combinations, like “ing” or “ou”. We often sounded out english words together, and aside from the occasional reminder to “use english sounds, not french” (especially with e/i and j/g), she did ok. It never occurred to me to dig a little deeper into her abilities. 

Ooka Island is the culmination of 25 years of passionate research and determination by Dr. Kay MacPhee to teach all children, including her own profoundly deaf son, how to read. After years of research, Dr. MacPhee launched SpellRead, a reading program for older children and adults. Dr. MacPhee’s program was ranked #1 for developing reading comprehension by the Institute of Education Sciences. Building on her scientifically proven reading concepts, Dr. MacPhee shifted her focus to tackle the root of the issue: helping children build a strong foundation for reading at an early age with Ooka Island.  Children learn read confidently with a variety of fun and interactive games, and parents can keep track of it all through the weekly progress reports. 

Adri's Ooka Island Progress Report

I find my daughter’s progress particularly interesting. For example, her comprehension is much more developed in relation to her other skills, despite a lack of reading and writing practice, as she has continued to speak English and grow her vocabulary. Comprehension is arguably the most complex skill, and typically is one of the last skills to develop when learning a new language. In French, she can sound out many words correctly when reading or spelling, but doesn’t always understand what they mean. In English, this has been somewhat reversed.  

When we started Ooka Island, I had it in my mind that it would be a good English language support tool to complement her French learning in school. I didn’t realize how essential it would actually be! Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not at all against French Immersion schooling. I am still completely confident in my educational choice for her and am beyond pleased at how fluent she already is. I only wish I hadn’t neglected her English learning at the same time, and am thrilled to have found Ooka Island to help me in that area. Thankfully my daughter enjoys Ooka Island just as much as I do, and is constantly asking to play! 

Stay tuned next month as I share her progress in learning to read with Ooka Island. You can learn more about Ooka Island by visiting their website, finding them on Facebook, Twitter, or by downloading their app

All on the table disclaimer: While I did receive compensation for this post, all opinions are completely honest and totally my own and you know I would never share anything less than superbly stellar with all my fave readers.



  1. Glad you found a helpful program to help out! I’m curious how her school provides for English reading? Or they do just expect you to handle that part?

    1. Formal English education starts in Grade 4, just as in an English speaking school, formal French starts in Grade 4. I didn’t want to wait that long, and I think there is some expectation that kids will still get English support at home as well.

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