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Bilingual education - cruel or kind?

(27 Posts)
tryingtoleave Tue 24-May-11 01:13:36

I am having a dilemma.

DS (who is almost five) has been at a bilingual french-english preschool for a year and a half. We sent him there because the preschool suited us in many ways and it fed into an excellent state bilingual school. He has been happy there, has done much better than we expected (we were worried about his behaviour before he started) and we have been very impressed with the school generally.

But now we suddenly have to move. I have spoken to the french school where we are moving and they think they will have room for him in the grande section in August. But, unlike ds's preschool (where most of the children speak English as their first langauge), this school is predominantly French. DH doesn't have any French and my french is very passive - I can read fairly well and understand a bit but I can't speak much. So I'm worried that DS could feel a bit excluded, that he might struggle with his work, that we might not be able to help him enough and that generally we might be making his schooling harder for him than it need be. I also worry that the school might have quite a transient expat population, so friends would move away. Also, I think he will be young in his class - while if I just put him in a normal Australian school in February he would be one of the oldest. OTOH, I think languages are generally taught very badly here and this could be a great opportunity for ds.

So, I was wondering if anyone has experience with this kind of thing? Or any advice?

freerangeeggs Thu 26-May-11 20:42:51

Just in terms of bilingualism - research shows that bilingual students have better problem solving skills and are more creative. If I remember my uni research correctly it doesn't create any more of a cognitive demand at that age than speaking one language (someone might correct me on this).

I think I personally would jump at the chance to send my kid to a bilingual school. You'd be giving him a real gift that he could use later in life.

I'm sure they'll provide extra support if he needs it, and if they're any good smile

MK1993 Fri 27-May-11 00:28:41

I know its a different kettle of fish entirely, but I was bilingually educated in Welsh and English and it was great. I had a wonderful education and the fact neither of my parents spoke the language was no problem.

I'm learning French now, and I would have loved to have learnt it by exposure when I was younger. It's a good opportunity.

tryingtoleave Fri 27-May-11 08:41:58

Ooh - I got some replies. I was planning to bump this evening.

They do say they have extra support - a french as a second language teacher for children who can't manage to pick it up on their own - but I worry about helping him with his reading etc, when I have such an appalling accent.

MK - were there other children in your situation at your school?

MmeLindor. Fri 27-May-11 08:49:16

We are in French speaking Switzerland and our children go to local school. They spoke absolutely no French when we arrived 2.5years ago and are now fluent. DS was 4yo, DD 6yo. They are pretty well integrated in the school, and have both English and French speaking friends.

Since your DS already speaks a bit of French, I don't think it would be a problem for him.

DH and I don't speak French either, but we have managed (with the help of google translate, and sometimes Mumsnet) to solve any homework problems.

The only thing that I would think about is the distance to school. Is that going to be more difficult for him to make friends in your neighbourhood. Would you have to travel to school/playdates?

tryingtoleave Fri 27-May-11 09:11:18

Thanks, MmeLindor - that is encouraging. DS hasn't actually picked up as much French as I expected in the last year and a half, but I think that is because the children all speak English to each other. So, in that way, being with more French children would be helpful.

We are moving city, so if we decided to send him to French school we would move near the school.

MmeLindor. Fri 27-May-11 09:14:01

Are you likely to move to another country?

We are considering leaving the DC in French schools (if possible) when we move. There are a lot of expats who do this; it is a good alternative to the International Schools.

ErnesttheBavarian Fri 27-May-11 09:19:30

we only speak english at home. kids go to german speaking school. started with either little or no german, they coped fine, all now bilingual, apparently accent free. very pleased with how it's gone

At age 5 I wouldn't hesitate and say, go for it.

We have parents here who have been here long time, say 10 or even more years, who chose to send their kids to IS to avoid the language problem, but that in itself can,(not does, nbut can ) cause HUGE problem.s If you plan to stay I would def go with local school.

Pedallleur Fri 27-May-11 09:23:20

Kids are like sponges so he will be fine but why not get a French tutor in once a week for a while

MmeLindor. Fri 27-May-11 09:31:55

Sorry to contradict, but the "kids are like sponges" thing makes me a bit cross.

Yes, they pick up the language easier than adults, but it is bloody hard work. Mainly for the parents. You do have to work at it, as do the DC.

We always hear this "oh, your DC are so lucky, they have just picked up three languages so easily". Well, yes they are lucky but they have to work bloody hard. It is not easy learning three sets of grammar - and that is what they have to do eventually.

So, yes. Go for it, but be prepared to work at it.

EverSoLagom Fri 27-May-11 09:37:28


We're a bilingual family and in my experience at the age of 5 your son shouldn't have any problems.

Any chance you could get a french au pair or similar, even just for the summer months? The other solution of course would be for you and your husband to take french lessons yourself, daunting though it may be!!

I'd definitely go for it, the benefits of bilingual fluency are huge.

tryingtoleave Fri 27-May-11 09:41:56

We might move os in the future (I'm an academic, so it is always a possibility) but we haven't made plans that far ahead. We started DS in the preschool because there weren't really any other good options for preschool for three year olds and because there was the possibility of going on to the bilingual primary school, which has a very good reputation. (We're in Canberra, so there is a big diplomatic community using the school, for just the reason you say, MmeLindor).

Thanks Ernest - that is the sort of thing I want to hear. DH suggested a tutor if DS really found things difficult, but I just hope it won't be too difficult.

Does anyone know what the expectations are of the children in grande section? Are they expected to work hard, or is there still a lot of playing?

frakyouveryverymuch Fri 27-May-11 10:01:14

GS lots of play, socialisation, laying the foundations of literacy and numeracy - he needs to have a good grounding in the language before CP though as they expect reading and writing to come very fast.

Kids are like sponges, both ways. They soak it up quickly but unless you leave the sponge immersed it drains away and dries up quickly as well.

tryingtoleave Fri 27-May-11 10:11:43

So it is more like a transition year between preschool and primary then, frak?

Got to go bath dcs - I will be back when they (eventually) get to sleep.

OTheHugeManatee Fri 27-May-11 10:17:05

My parents had to move around Europe when I was a child, and I just got plonked into the local native-language school. Aged 5, I have no recollection of learning French - I just soaked it up. Aged 7, I can remember not being able to speak German but not for long. Neither of my parents spoke much French or German, but I was fluent pretty quickly both times. I wouldn't worry - your DS will be running bilingual rings round you in no time grin

Cortina Fri 27-May-11 10:18:03

Go for it. We seem to be v insular & fearful about learning a second language in the UK, the head of our primary told me that a second language was 'too difficult' for children of this age to learn. I am sure that there are many advantages, it's a great opportunity as you say and what's the worse that can happen? It doesn't work and you change schools?

chimchar Fri 27-May-11 10:23:28

my kids all are educated bilingually, all started school at 4 with very little, basic knowledge of their second language, and now, they are fluent. ds only started in september!

i have been learning the language though for 4 years, so have a good basic vocabulary.

i feel its a really special thing for kids to be able to do....if he doesn't get on, you can remove him, but it will be harder all round to try and do it the other way round iykwim?

tryingtoleave Fri 27-May-11 11:13:33

Well, I'm afraid that the worst that could happen is that he would find that school was difficult and think he was bad at it, when otherwise I think he would find at least the first few years fairly straightfoward. But everyone on here is so positive that I am thinking more favourably about it again.

If I did send DS there, I would definitely do lessons to improve my level of French, but I think I am at an age now where I have to accept that I am never going to speak particularly well.

MK1993 Fri 27-May-11 11:44:46

"MK - were there other children in your situation at your school?"
There were, yeah, but it was a minority.

It doesn't bother young children at all. The new language comes so naturally when you're little.

frakyouveryverymuch Fri 27-May-11 11:48:06

Assuming you're looking at an AEFE school it will be much the same as mainstream French education where the curriculum is set by the govt - here. Stick it into google translate and you should get an idea of what they're on about.

IMO it's quite telling that the presentation of the curriculum on the ministry website focuses first on language and second on 'becoming a pupil'. IME those are the big targets in maternelle and the second is where children who don't attend maternelle, regardless of whether they've been at another setting, fall down and therefore don't progress as well in CP.

It could well be seen as a transitional year. There isn't much focus on 'book learning' but a lot of foundations are laid for learning, particularly in terms of fine motor skills, and they do take the view that a child should have pretty wide vocabulary, be able to express themselves clearly etc and also be familiar enough with school rules and rhythms to settle quickly in CP which means more learning and less crowd control takes place.

I have to say that I wouldn't hesitate to put a child who had some/no French into GS but I would think very, very hard about throwing them in at CP. After CP I'd think quite hard about putting a child who had no experience of French education into the system full stop.

He shouldn't find school 'difficult' or feel he's bad at it in GS. There's nothing like the amount of overt assessment in GS as there is later although IME they do start to introduce the concept.

MmeLindor. Fri 27-May-11 12:20:12

The DC actually quite like that my French is so abysmal. It is nice for them to be able to teach me something.

DD recently said that she would read the bedtime story because my accent was hurting her ears

tryingtoleave Fri 27-May-11 13:48:19

Yes, it is an aefe school. I just get confused because although I read that gs is part of the preschool they put them in with the primary school and call it 'kindy'- in a nod to the Australian system, I guess. But kindy here means learning to read. If it is just another year of preparation for school and language acquisition I would feel much better- especially as he will jump from half way though moyenne section into gs (because our school year only stared in February but the new school starts in august)

sprogger Fri 27-May-11 13:52:09

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

tryingtoleave Fri 27-May-11 14:10:43

Is that meant to be a link to cakes, sprogger?

tryingtoleave Fri 27-May-11 14:11:22

Not that I mind cakes, mind...

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