We sought to give a human face to an extremely complex issue.
We assessed the lexical, morphological, syntactical and pragmatic knowledge, as well as the reading and writing skills, of 601 students from kindergarten to sixth grade. During a second visit, we had participants complete a questionnaire on language habits and administered a small Innu language test to students in Grades 4, 5 and 6. All participants attended six schools in Québec’s Côte-Nord region. Twenty children spoke French or another language other than Innu. All other participants were Innu speakers.
Innu children have to move from the mode of knowledge transmission learned at home to a completely different mode at school.
It appears that the linguistic, cultural and socioeconomic context of Innu children strongly influences their linguistic development. Although they are non-native French speakers, this status is not recognized by the school system and they are largely left to themselves to learn French. Without help, they have trouble developing the lexical assets needed for the acquisition of French and the development of literacy.
The fact that their ancestral tongue is a language with an oral rather than a written tradition also has an impact on their linguistic development. Compared with allophone students in Montréal, Innu students are slower to develop writing awareness and a knowledge of grapheme-phoneme correspondence. Finally, Innu children have to move from the mode of knowledge transmission learned at home (observational learning) to a completely different mode at school (participatory learning).
We reached the conclusion that the vast majority of Innu students do not develop the French skills needed for academic success because they are faced with a series of impossible tasks when they enter school.
Lori Morris, Université du Québec à Montréal
Deposit of the research report: August 2007