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Sending DD(s) to French nursery, then having a break for a year or two, then back to French school at 5 - is this going to work?

(19 Posts)
Boobz Mon 19-Dec-11 06:20:13

We have 2 DDs aged 2.9 and 18 months. We are British parents with virtually no French language skills (DH speaks some, but not really to any fluency).

We live abroad (but not in a French speaking country) and have the opportunity to send our DDs to a nursery here and it will be paid for by DH's employer. DD1 will be just 3 when she starts, and DD2 will be just 2. DD1 has very good English language skills (or probably normal for her age - but it feels like she doesn't shut up!) and DD2 has about 50 words or more probably, and a couple of phrases and songs, all in English, obviously.

We are probably going to be posted here for 18 months, at which point we will return to the UK. DD1 will just about be starting Reception, and DD2 will still have another year of nursery to go.

Now, the thing is, the way DH's employer works, they will continue to pay for the French education system in the UK but only from 5 years old, so DD1 will have to go to an English speaking primary for a year (state, as we can't afford private) and DD2 for 2 years, before she in turn can start when she is 5, at the Lycee with her sister. They will then be in the French system until they are 18, either at the Lycee in London when we are at home, or at French schools internationally when we are posted abroad.

So, my long winded question is, will it matter that both DDs will have had 18 months worth of French nursery here, followed by 1 (or 2 in DD2's case) years of purely English primary / nursery education back in the UK, before going back into the French speaking system? Will they forget it all (as neither DH nor I can keep it up at home), or is it still better to start them off now, and then have this "enforced" break and then put them back into French only speaking school with at least some knowledge from their early years nursery time here?

Would you recommend having private French lessons, totally in French, for those years, once or twice a week, just to keep it up? Or do lots of kids get put into a different language school at 5 years old with no prior learning of the new language and do fine?

Any advice gratefully received!

MmeLindor. Mon 19-Dec-11 06:48:08

Are you likely to be sent back abroad where the DC will have to go into French schools?

In that case, I would do the French nursery and try to keep up the French a bit by having lessons. They won't be fluent, but it will help a bit.

Our DC went into French school at ages 4 and 6yo and were absolutely fine (having no French before). If they's have had a couple of months of French before that, then it would have been slightly easier.

Boobz Mon 19-Dec-11 08:20:47

And your 6 yo went straight into a totally French speaking school and had no problems at all? They just "got on" with it, did they? Was this because they were in a French speaking country? Will DDs struggle more because they go into a French speaking school at 5 in the UK (i.e. not immersed in the community in the language)?

We don't know where our postings will be, but they could be in French speaking countries.

MmeLindor. Mon 19-Dec-11 10:39:32

Yes, straight into French speaking school in Switzerland, so French surroundings. I won't say it was easy, but they are doing well.

They don't speak a lot of French out of school, as our friends are mainly English speaking.

Boobz Mon 19-Dec-11 11:50:02

How old are they now? Do you like the system?

MmeLindor. Mon 19-Dec-11 12:29:31

They are 7 and 9yo and doing well. Speaking French fairly fluently.

Swiss system is different to the French schools, but we are happy with the school.

natation Mon 19-Dec-11 22:50:08

Exactly which school do you plan to send your children to in London? The Lycee Francais group of schools give priority to French nationals, I am assuming you are not French???? I would contact the Lycee Francais in London and other providers of French education in London to assertain what waiting lists and fees are like, you may find you could not get a place in London in French in your price range.

If you don't speak French at home and the greater language environment where you are now is not French, your children may not speak much French for quite a while, comprehension will be there but may also come more slowly than if you were in a francophone environment. From the limited experience of 3 years in a francophone environment witnessing anglophone children learning French, it takes typically a year for those children to pick up sufficient French to be considered in any way fluent. I am guessing in a French school but an English (or other language) environment, it will take 2 or more years to be at the level approaching fluency, it depends also on the mother tongues of the other children at the French school where your children are going to attend - if most children are not actually French speaking at this school, expect it to take even longer - I'm only saying this based on the experience of a few "bilingual" French-English schools here near where we live where I haven't yet met a bilingual child, where French and English are the minority languages of the school and where many children speak German or Finnish or Spanish at home for example, so hardly surprising that their spoken French is not too great! Sorry this sounds rather pessimistic, I'm not deliberately being negative, just don't try and be too optimistic about the school your children will attend in the next 18 months. In the lycee Francais schools in London, French will without doubt be the mother tongue of a great number of children there, so in fact you might expect a bit more production of French from your children there. There are in fact quite a few private "bilingual" French / English nursery schools and primary schools in London, not run by the Lycee Francais, do look into those as well, you should get 3 year old funding for them too, so perhaps not as expensive as you think.

Boobz Tue 20-Dec-11 04:44:31

Thanks for the advice Natation.

We will check waiting lists, but we don't have to worry about fees from 5. If I were to put the DDs on the list now, do you think that would be early enough?

I think the the advantages starting now out-weigh the disadvantages, especially as it appears you can put them in from 5 without any prior learning and they still do well, so any extra practice at this age will help at least.

Will check up on the waiting lists...

SeoraeMaeul Tue 20-Dec-11 05:40:45

Absolutely second checking waiting lists at the lycee and the feeders (been out of UK and London for a while but a few years back there was one state primary (english but with french stream for lycee) in Clapham, private maternelles in Fulham and Clapham and one due to open Ealing way - not sure if state or private. You'll need to factor in living costs for these areas as well which are increasingly high. It is hard to get in - there are a lot of French in London and even some French nationals struggle. Transfers from lycées abroad are easier but not a given.

A lot of lycées - London and abroad - run bilingual streams. From my experience I recommend you start off in French only. It's tougher to begin with but they'll pick it up quicker and it will be a stronger foundation. (DS had first 2 years just French, DD started in bilingual - I can see a huge difference)

Longer term consideration is to look into the French system and make sure you are happy with it. It is different to the British and I know some people who didn't but jumped at the idea of a lycée and the language advantage and are now less happy. Also consider how you'll support their homework as they older if you aren't familiar in french never mind fluent.

It can be great if it's right for you and you've worked out how to support it at home eg French tv, DVD, playgroups maybe study groups or tutors as older. If you can get an assignment to France or a French speaking country even better.

MmeLindor. Tue 20-Dec-11 07:26:04

Agree with Natation. You should reckon with a year to two years for them to be fluent, depending on how immersed they are and if they have English speaking friends.

Our two would be more fluent if their friends were French speakers.

And yes, the degree of fluency may well be less than true bilinguals, which you may have to work on with extra tutoring.

Boobz Tue 20-Dec-11 10:38:00

Thanks for all the advice. We'll really look into it and make a decision soon.

natation Tue 20-Dec-11 17:38:24

I have quickly counted 8 French schools at primary level in London, but there might be even more... here's a few links which cover them.
brand new school CFBL
3 lycee francais primaries plus ecole Prévent
Ecole bilingue
Ecole de Battersea
Petite Ecole Francaise

There are even more schools which cover only up to 6 years, some of which will accept 3 years funding.

Boobz Wed 21-Dec-11 14:21:27

That is incredibly helpful natation, thank you so much.

homeaway Fri 23-Dec-11 21:05:11

A word of advice make sure you like the way they teach in french schools. We are in a french speaking country. My ds and dd went to a french school for three years and then on to a school where they are taught in english but did french as a second languarge in primary school and then several subjects in french such as history, geography, economics throughout secondary. All these subjects were taught by french mother tongue teachers. From my experience the french system is very rigid and totally unlike the English system. I remember my dd being distraught at aged 3 because she did not get a tick as she had coloured the balloon in the wrong colour but had coloured it beautifully. It really depends on the child and how confident they are as to how long it takes them to be fluent. My youngest ds took a long while to be confident at speaking but understood everything. Not all children are good at languages and it can hold them back if they have to write an essay in another language. Remember that if you put your kids in the french system they will do a bac in lots of subjects and will be competing for a university place if they go to the UK with students who only take three or maximum four subjects at A levels. The flip side is that they will be fluent in two languages. Good luck with your choice.

OhFraktiousTree Sat 24-Dec-11 07:08:02

Do bear in mind the LF doesn't have a waiting list - its a year on year application. Another thing to consider is that the school year is divided by age in calendar year, not Sept to sept so if you have a Sept-Dec baby you'll need to consider even more carefully.

If you can fund your DD1 a transfer from a French school (EN, sous contrat or AEFE) will be easiest entry into lycee and DD2 will get in under the sibling rule.

The LF in London is among the busiest in the world, even French civil servants aren't guaranteed a place which is virtually unheard of, so do investigate what the employer will and won't pay for and consider other schools.

Good luck! FWIW I would try to stay in one system but if you can't don't get too stressed. Children that age will eventually adapt.

natation Sat 24-Dec-11 13:00:47

There is a 9th primaire to consider, another under the wings of the lycee francais is Fulham.

Things to bear in mind therefore :
- location of maternelle/primaire if it matters to you
- 7 out of 9 primaires (6-11) in London do not have a college (11-15) right on campus, so you need to think of ease of 11 year old eventually travelling to college, when transferring from one of the stand-alone primaires
- I am guessing the primaires under wings of lycee francais do calendar year division of classes, possibly the non lycee francais schools do September/August divide, you would have to ask each school directly
- I am guessing the non lycee francais schools might be more English national curriculum modified, so their teaching methods might be a bit more "British" than lycee francais
- I think in your situation, I would seek to enrol your children into a French maternelle, ideally one attached to a primaire, at 3 and 4 years old, rather than going French 18 months - English 12/24 months - French again. I would look at 3 and 4 year EYFS funding from the UK LEA at one of the French maternelles - on the Ecole Bilingue in Paddington Green's OFSTED report, it says all the 3 and 4 year olds there get funding, so this will bring down the fees quite a bit (it's £6900 per year at Ecole Bilingue). It might be a considerable financial burden for 2 years, but to me it could be worth it to keep education in one language for the whole period.

Boobz Thu 29-Dec-11 08:48:18

Thank you everyone, and especially you Natation, for all your help and guidance. It looks a bit more complicated than I initially thought, but definitely do-able. We have managed to get both DDs down for a place at the French school here where we live, starting in the new school year in September, when DD1 will be 3 and a bit, and DD2 just 2, so we're thrilled about that as we thought DD2 might be too young, and there is a waiting list etc. They will be in the full French nursery for a year before we then return to the UK.

We'll probably use savings to try and keep them in a French maternelle for the time until they start school properly at 5 (either after their 5th birthday or Aug/Sept, depending on school) - but we'll have to see if that is affordable! DH and I are going to get to work at researching all the schools and opportunities and email and call all the different options in the New Year so we know what we are getting into before committing to the French system (or at least committing sending them to French nursery for a year here).

Thanks again.

natation Thu 29-Dec-11 17:29:24

Thought I'd play around with batchgeo and made a little map of French schools and child care providers in London.

Boobz Fri 13-Feb-15 11:02:38

Zombie thread! But it's my own thread so I think I am allowed.

Lots of people gave good advice on here - thank you for that (if any of you are still around the site!)

As it turned out we didn't go back to the UK and instead ended up in Rome. The 3 children (I had a third - the thread above only talks about 2 DDs) went to a French/Italian/English speaking nursery for a year, and then both DDs went into the local Lycee here aged 5 and 4. Their 3 yo brother will join them in September.

The girls seem to be doing well (although do mix up their Italian and French a lot in the classroom I am told!) but I was wondering whether anyone had some good ideas to help them along. I had a quick chat with the older DD's teacher today (in my rubbish French) and she said that although DD is a lovely girl, very enthusiastic, very creative etc etc, her French is still "clumsy" (I think is the best translation) and we should try and get her to watch more French TV / get a French au pair etc. She has only been in full French education immersion since September, so only 5 months really, and had a year before that of French/Italian/English nursery. Should I be worried? We already have an French tutor come for 2 hours a week for both girls to do reading with, and play games etc, but do you think I should up the hours or do something more formal in a classroom setting?

French TV I can sort, I will do that today. I can't really do anything about a French au pair as we have an amazing nanny (Filipino) who has been with us for 4 years so I can't really change her as she is part of the family now.

We are commited to making this work, and are amazed when our 3 kids swap in and out of French/Italian/English at such a young age depending on who they are talking to, but I do worry with no French being spoken by either parent at home that we are setting them up for a fall...

Lynn - no idea if you are still around the site, but would love to know how your kids are getting on, and whether you or your DH speak French to them at home?

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