Calling French residents for advice on putting UK kids in school in France
Thread poster: Charlotte Allen

Charlotte Allen  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:52
French to English
Nov 17, 2004

My husband (half French, raised bilingually in UK) and I (French>English translator, near-native spoken French) are seriously considering moving temporarily to France. For various reasons, our children are nowhere near as competent in French as we had hoped they would be, and we thought that a school year spent in the French school system would help them enormously. They are 7, 4 and 18 months, and we would make the move next September. Our eldest has a reasonable comprehension of French but is very shy about speaking and is not really able to formulate sentences. The 4-year-old has less comprehension but is more confident about speaking.

Does anyone have any experience of this type of thing? I have heard that in general French schools are good and fairly accommodating to children coming in from abroad. Would a year be enough (considering the language they already have, and the fact that knowing we were going would be an added impetus to speak more French at home)?

Any and all comments (even negative!) welcome.


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xxxsarahl
Local time: 17:52
English to French
+ ...
My experience Nov 17, 2004

Hi Charlotte
My own experience with the French public school system has been less than positive. I don't know about private schools, but the public system is simply not equipped for children with other mother tongues. Your children would definitely learn to speak French like any other French kid, but it may be rough on them. Are you sure it's worth the hassle if you're only spending one year in France? Regular vacations in France might be a good solution, probably easier on your kids too.
My two eurocents
Sarah


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Anne McKee
Local time: 02:52
French to English
From an English person who has lived in France for 15 years Nov 17, 2004

Looking at the ages of your children, they will have no big problems in school. The two youngest will quickly adapt, your four year old will be in petite section or moyenne section in 'école maternelle'. I put my son into school at 4 as he didn't want to go before that, and he spoke just a couple of words of French as we speak only English at home. Within a couple of months, he was speaking French as well as the other children.He is also a little shy, so I put him in school just for the mornings for the first couple of months.

As for your oldest child, he/she will probably be in CE1, its only in this year that they really start to look at grammar. It could be good if you could read French story books together to build up his/her confidence and if you or someone else can help to review what he/she is learning at school I am sure it will be fine.

Children are very adaptable, they need the help and support of the ones they love and they learn very quickly.


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Charlotte Allen  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:52
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks! Nov 17, 2004

Hi Sarah,

Thanks for taking the time to read and reply to my post. I'm sorry your experience with French public schools has been less than positive. The reason we're taking such a 'drastic' step (and it would be drastic, because my husband would have to commute to England for his job and would be with us only 3 out of 7 days a week) is because all the things we've tried so far (including holidaying every year with French relatives) has failed to get us to the point where we can really call ourselves a 'bilingual family'.

However, it's good to hear about the downsides, as well as the upsides - helps us to make a reasoned decision. I think it would be a bit rough on the children, at least at first, and particularly on the eldest, but fortunately he is the one with the best comprehension of French.

So...we're definitely not sure yet whether it IS worth the hassle - and the more feedback we get from people with personal experience like yourself, the better!

Thanks again.

Charlotte


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Charlotte Allen  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:52
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for some very useful and practical advice. Nov 17, 2004

Hi Transanne - I recognise your name from the Kudoz French>English board, in fact I think I've attempted to answer a few questions for you recently (with little success, I'm afraid).

I was very interested to read what you had to say about school, and particularly about how quickly your son started to speak French. The advantage that we have is that if we do decide to go ahead with this move, we still have something like nine months to prepare the children, and knowing that we have that deadline would spur us on to speak a lot more French to them than we do at the moment. We would also have time to prepare Ashley (my eldest son) with a little reading and writing practice.

I was also interested to read that you put your son into school for the morning only for the first 'couple of months'. Are the schools so flexible that they let you decide if you want your child to do half-days or full? In the UK, you don't really have that choice. Also, is it true that there are school buses, and do you make use of these?

Thanks for your very helpful advice.

Charlotte


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xxxsarahl
Local time: 17:52
English to French
+ ...
Practical info Nov 17, 2004

Hi Charlotte !
You will have flexibility if your children are in maternelle,
they can go only mornings if that's what you want to do, they
can skip the occasional day, so on.
None of these apply for primary school, however, students have
to be there all day and everyday, that's usually 8:30 to 11:30 in the am, then 1:30 to 4:30 in the pm, am only on saturdays.
If you are in a town, usually there is no school transportation system. If you choose to put your children in a public school, you will have several within walking distance of your house. Private schools are another story.
Another point that may be relevant to your particular situation: if your children go back to their regular school in the UK after one year in France, they may forget what they learned in France. It happened to several children in my family.
HTH
Sarah


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Jeff Allen  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 02:52
Member (2011)
Multiplelanguages
+ ...
children with other mother tongues in French public schools Nov 20, 2004

It's hard to generalize about whether or not the French public school system would work for your situation. Everything really depends on the local community and school that you children would be attending. I have seen in general that the French public system is not adapted to special needs cases, and have heard many cases from friends also living in France about this. Keep in mind that the French public school system in general is not funded very well compared with other countries. This is a factor.
Yet then, it's not an expensive system either. It's affordable for everyone. Nothing is free, and someone has to pay for it, so either it comes directly from the customers, or via the tax system.

For your move, it would be good to carefully look into where you would be moving, and investigate / interview/ evaluate the local schools. If you can choose where you want to live for the 1-year period, then it might be important to use the evaluation of "local schools" as an important criterion.

Much will depend in what region you choose to live, and if there is openness to foreigners and their monolingual children attending school.

The fact that you and your husband are both francophone will make things much easier for you compared with cases of my friends and former colleagues who came to France to live.

Jeff
http://www.geocities.com/jeffallenpubs/


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Buzzy
Local time: 02:52
French to English
There are a lot of satisfied British parents here in Normandy... Nov 22, 2004

... whose children speak rather a lot more French than them!
Hi Charlotte.
I live in Normandy, where there are plenty of Brits who have arrived in the last few years, often with hardly any French (ie their kids were less aware of French than yours), and are full of praise for the schools. (I meet lots of them when I translate for house sales, so that's how I know: my own children are born-in-France bilinguals).
These families often move into country areas where the local schools are tiny village affairs. It's true I may not have heard about the bad experiences, but there's plenty of evidence that a lot of schools are very helpful when it comes to integrating British pupils. In some cases it's English families that have saved the village school from closure by increasing the population of local children! Most children are more interested in communicating than "getting it right" initially and pick up French with apparently no difficulty - as Transanne found. So the local experiences here don't seem to echo Sarahl's. You do have to bear in mind, though, that a school isn't OBLIGED to do anything special to help, so if you happen to get a very busy teacher, especially in a multilevel class, or just someone with a "jobsworth" attitude, that can affect the whole setup.
Along with sarahl, I was wondering if a one-year move is actually necessary, especially if the main aim is to get them to speak French. I had a university friend who had lived 2 years in France when he was about ten, but was (very) far fom fluent at 21. But I'm sure it would help them pick up the accent, which will stay "in store" even if they stop using it for a while (I have a good enough French accent to be taken for a native speaker, but had only been to France perhaps 6 or 7 times before leaving school, 6 weeks maximum: but I had heard enough as a child to know what it should sound like when I started formal French lessons). I also spoke to an English mum whose 8 year old loves school here and is picking up French well (since September), but whose English spelling is apparently becoming very strange... I don't think that's a long-term problem, I just marvel at how much they can pick up at once! but it's worth bearing in mind that they may need extra support in English too.
It's true children are adaptable, but it's also true that this kind of move can be difficult for them. Some seem to thrive on change and "adventure", others get anxious. Only you can guess at how your own children might feel, and your own attitude counts for a lot. Since there are lots of links to France and French in your family, France shouldn't frighten them; having their dad away half the week might worry them, but might not.
Re school buses: In the villages and country areas round here, school buses do exist, but may mean your child has to take the bus at 7.15 to be at school for 8.30 even if school is only 10 minutes away, because the bus does the rounds of all the villages so takes ages. And the return journey would be in the evening only, not at lunchtimes. It can be a very long day for small children!
These are some of the pros and cons as I see them. Good luck with your plans.


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Charlotte Allen  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:52
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Buzzy - big thank you for a very thoughtful reply Nov 22, 2004

Hi Buzzy,

Thanks for your very full reply which covered all the areas I had been wondering about. It's good to hear about as many different experiences as possible, and I am a little bit reassured to hear positive things about the French public school system.

I should probably have mentioned in my initial post that what we want to achieve is for the children to have sufficient comprehension of French for us to continue speaking French full-time to them in the home even after we return, thereby building on what they have learned and hopefully preventing them from forgetting their French. When my first child was small, we had the 'French at home, English outside' rule, and he had very good comprehension of both languages, but because his speech was delayed, and because he showed such a clear preference for speaking English back to us, we gradually drifted into speaking mainly English. More recently, we brought in 'French Saturdays', and that had such good results with the children's comprehension of French that we tried to go back to our original French inside, English outside plan, but for various reasons this failed again.

We feel as if this is our 'last chance' to get the children to a level that we can call 'bilingual'; I also think it would be good for my idiomatic French and for absorbing the culture (useful for my translation work). Plus, I love France and think it would be fun for me (safe in the knowledge that I would be returning at the end of a year). The only spanner in the works is Dad having to commute. From the children's point of view, I genuinely feel they would hardly notice, not because they don't love him (!) but because they're so used to him working long hours during the week and not seeing him for days on end. For me (and him), it would be more of a sacrifice, although there would be the compensations of great food, trips to Paris, beautiful scenery etc.

I realise that this may seem like a lot of upheaval for not much return (like yourself, I only learned French from the age of 11, but am often mistaken for a native speaker, whereas my husband (raised bilingually) gets 'accused' of being Belgian, or Swiss!). However, my husband and I feel it would be almost criminal for our children not to grow up speaking fluent French when we are both bilingual, and we are very frustrated by our failures so far. We don't want to put the children through a lot of stress for nothing; on the other hand, they might adore it and have great memories of it for the rest of their lives. I will do what it takes to support their schoolwork and keep up their English reading and writing.

We are still talking and thinking about this move, but a great big thank you to everyone who has contributed their thoughts and experiences!






... whose children speak rather a lot more French than them!
Hi Charlotte.
I live in Normandy, where there are plenty of Brits who have arrived in the last few years, often with hardly any French (ie their kids were less aware of French than yours), and are full of praise for the schools. (I meet lots of them when I translate for house sales, so that's how I know: my own children are born-in-France bilinguals).
These families often move into country areas where the local schools are tiny village affairs. It's true I may not have heard about the bad experiences, but there's plenty of evidence that a lot of schools are very helpful when it comes to integrating British pupils. In some cases it's English families that have saved the village school from closure by increasing the population of local children! Most children are more interested in communicating than "getting it right" initially and pick up French with apparently no difficulty - as Transanne found. So the local experiences here don't seem to echo Sarahl's. You do have to bear in mind, though, that a school isn't OBLIGED to do anything special to help, so if you happen to get a very busy teacher, especially in a multilevel class, or just someone with a "jobsworth" attitude, that can affect the whole setup.
Along with sarahl, I was wondering if a one-year move is actually necessary, especially if the main aim is to get them to speak French. I had a university friend who had lived 2 years in France when he was about ten, but was (very) far fom fluent at 21. But I'm sure it would help them pick up the accent, which will stay "in store" even if they stop using it for a while (I have a good enough French accent to be taken for a native speaker, but had only been to France perhaps 6 or 7 times before leaving school, 6 weeks maximum: but I had heard enough as a child to know what it should sound like when I started formal French lessons). I also spoke to an English mum whose 8 year old loves school here and is picking up French well (since September), but whose English spelling is apparently becoming very strange... I don't think that's a long-term problem, I just marvel at how much they can pick up at once! but it's worth bearing in mind that they may need extra support in English too.
It's true children are adaptable, but it's also true that this kind of move can be difficult for them. Some seem to thrive on change and "adventure", others get anxious. Only you can guess at how your own children might feel, and your own attitude counts for a lot. Since there are lots of links to France and French in your family, France shouldn't frighten them; having their dad away half the week might worry them, but might not.
Re school buses: In the villages and country areas round here, school buses do exist, but may mean your child has to take the bus at 7.15 to be at school for 8.30 even if school is only 10 minutes away, because the bus does the rounds of all the villages so takes ages. And the return journey would be in the evening only, not at lunchtimes. It can be a very long day for small children!
These are some of the pros and cons as I see them. Good luck with your plans.[/quote]


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Amanda Grey  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 02:52
French to English
Useful forum Nov 22, 2004

Hi Charlotte,

May I suggest you have a look at this forum:

http://brittany.angloinfo.com/af/11/

I have the opposite problem - my kids' mother tongue is English, but since they have started school, have become very reluctant to speak English! Their only source of English is me and Walt Disney and the Teletubbies on DVD!

There is no perfect solution!

Bon courage with your project.

Amanda


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Calling French residents for advice on putting UK kids in school in France

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