A small percentage of children enrolled in Early French Immersion (EFI) programs have difficulty learning to read. How can we prevent those who struggle to acquire reading skills from experiencing persistent reading problems? Studies have shown that providing struggling readers with supplemental reading instruction at an early stage in their literacy development sets them up for later academic success. Interestingly, reading difficulties are one of the most important factors influencing parents to switch their children from EFI to English-only programs. These decisions are often made prior to the end of Grade 3.

Phonological Awareness (PA) Training to the Rescue

Phonological awareness (PA) training has been shown to be an effective way to facilitate reading acquisition in the EFI context (Wise & Chen, 2009, 2010, 2015; Wise, D’Angelo, & Chen, 2016). Struggling readers benefit from early intervention that focuses on strengthening their PA; that is, the awareness that spoken words are made up of individual sounds (phonemes), and that letters are used to represent speech sounds. Students who lack such awareness are likely to have difficulty acquiring early reading skills. Several investigations conducted in the EFI context have demonstrated that children who are provided with PA training begin to close the achievement gap between the lowest-achieving readers and their peers. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that young children in EFI programs who are in the initial stages of reading development and are provided with evidence-based PA training will become proficient readers in both French and English, Canada’s two official languages.

Research tells us:

  • PA training has been found to produce the greatest reading gains when it is provided in conjunction with letter-sound correspondence instruction.
  • Due to cross-language transfer, explicit and systematic PA training in English can result in improvements in reading achievement in French that are sustained over time. Similarly, PA training in French can result in improvements in reading achievement in English that are sustained over time.
  • The provision of supplemental PA training, which reinforces the daily instructional practices of Grades 1-3 EFI teachers in the classroom setting, is most effective while the achievement gap between strong and weak readers is still relatively small.
  • Children from varied language backgrounds benefit from supplemental PA training.


Wise, N., D’Angelo, N., & Chen, X. (2016). A school-based phonological awareness intervention for struggling readers in early French immersion. Reading and Writing, 29(2), 183-205.

Wise, N., & Chen, X. (2015). Early intervention for struggling readers in grade one French immersion. Canadian Modern Language Review, 71(3), 288-306.

Wise, N., & Chen, X. (2010). At-risk readers in French immersion: Early identification and early intervention. Canadian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 13(2), 128-149.

Wise, N., & Chen, X. (2009). Early identification and intervention for at-risk readers in French immersion.

What Works: Research into Practice. Toronto, Ontario: Ontario Ministry of Education.

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