Fredericton — Jeff Springer, 17, is set to graduate this spring from Leo Hayes High School on Fredericton’s north side. Like many of his graduating class, he began the French immersion program in Grade 7 when he was a student at Devon Middle School. Unlike any other students in the class of 2015, however, he somehow managed to retain the French he was taught during those 6 formative years.
“It’s unbelievable, really,” said Springer’s math teacher, Mme. Savoie, who taught Springer quadratic equations and geometry all in French for the past 2 years. “I spoke French day in and day out to this entire graduating class of about 1,000 kids, and not one of them other than Jeff came out of it bilingual. We certainly didn’t expect any of them to actually be able to function in the world in both French and English, but Springer’s a miracle kid — not sure what happened with him.”
Children who begin taking French immersion in Grade 1 or even Grade 4 often become bilingual, and this opens doors for them later in life with increased job opportunities and higher pay ranges, especially if they decide to remain in New Brunswick, Canada’s only officially bilingual province. While most parents know late immersion is just a joke, Springer’s parents were convinced their son was a prodigy who would beat the odds — and they were right.
“Jeffrey was always special,” said his mom, Theresa. “It was just something about him; we knew he was one in a million … or in this case about one in a thousand.”
The Manatee‘s news staff caught up with Springer in one of the school’s oddly curved hallways this morning, just to the right of the “cafetorium” where he and a group of friends were conversing — in English. Springer didn’t seem to agree with his mother that he’s special, just that he cared slightly more than the other 999 or so. “All I really did was put on a fake French accent pretty early on,” he admitted. “I guess it sounded real enough to fool the teachers, so I got good grades, and the better my grades got the more interested I was in keeping up the charade. So now I can sound really French when I want to.”
Our reporter interviewed a few of Springer’s friends who also took late immersion. Beyond basic classroom queries such as “Est-ce que je peux tailler mon crayon?” and “Est-ce que je peux aller aux toilettes?” the students were lost. When questioned (in English) as to how they managed to learn so little in so much time immersed in the French language, the group paused until one timid student eventually ventured: “…J’ai oublié mes devoirs.”
Springer has already been receiving calls from the U.N. from representatives wanting to recruit him as a translator, but he says that due to his bilingual abilities, he was personally guaranteed a high-paying job in New Brunswick government by Premier Brian Gallant.