SIGNAL HILL - In a small classroom in Signal Hill, French teacher Chantal Harzig reviews the colors of the rainbow with a handful of preschoolers.

"Rouge, bleu, violet," she says, as the children eagerly repeat.

"They catch on so fast at this age," said Harzig, a former Long Beach Unified French teacher.

While Spanish may seem like the most practical foreign language to learn in Southern California, Harzig said she's seen a growing number of parents seeking out French lessons for their children.

"They like it because it's highly sophisticated," she said. "It's a Latin language, so once you learn French, it's much easier to learn other Latin languages like Spanish, Italian and Portuguese."

On Jan.

Chantal Harzig, left,  a former Long Beach Unified French teacher, has opened the area’s first French immersion school called First French Immersion,
Chantal Harzig, left, a former Long Beach Unified French teacher, has opened the area's first French immersion school called First French Immersion, a school for preschoolers in Signal Hill. (Stephen Carr / Staff Photographer)
15, Harzig, a Paris native and teacher for more than 30 years, opened what may be the area's French immersion program for preschoolers at 2301 E. 28th St. She has four students but hopes to grow the program.

In a colorful classroom, students are fully immersed in French. They sing songs, play games, banter with sock puppets and recite the alphabet.

"Ninety percent of the class is in French," she said. "If students want to go to the bathroom, they ask in French. Snack time is in French."

More than 900,000 California students studied a foreign language in school in 2008, according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Nationally, Spanish was the most popular choice with 72 percent of all foreign language enrollment, followed by French at 14 percent.

Harzig said students who study a foreign language perform better overall academically.

Long Beach resident Fred Gregorian speaks Armenian and his wife speaks Spanish, so the couple decided to enroll their 3-year-old Evan in the French immersion program as a way to challenge him.

"We figured it would be pretty easy for him to learn Spanish, so we thought French would be a good choice," Gregorian said. "So far he's liking it."

Classes are held Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon. Enrollment is $130 for a five-month course.

For more information on the preschool, call 562-304-0121.

kelly.puente@presstelegram.com, twitter.com/kellypuentept, 562-714-2181