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Is 6 too old to put a child into a non-English speaking school when that is her only language?

(99 Posts)
Boobz Mon 08-Oct-12 11:47:23

Will they cope, because kids just do?

I have 3 kids and want them all to go into the French system. They are currently 3.5, 2.5 and 7 months.

Due to a lot of boring policy / bureacracy, the children are likely to only enter a full French education when they are 6, 5 and 3. We are going to try to do it earlier, but we're unlikely to get them in to any Lycees in the UK because we are not French nationals, etc etc. We will apply, but I don't think it will work out.

However in 2015, when DD1 is 6, we will move abroad and will definitely be able to put her into a French school. Is this too old for her to go in - it is cruel to just expect her to pick it up, or am I underestimating childrens' abilities for languages? She would then stay in the French system until she finished her education...

If you think she could pick it up, how long would it take for her to be comfortable in French? A few months? A year? Or would she never sound properly native because of the late start?

Both DH and I are English speaking only (well, DH might say he has passable conversational French) and obviously this will be the only language spoken at home.


Jux Mon 08-Oct-12 11:50:51

A couple we know with a dd moved to France and the dd, aged 6 then, was speaking pretty fluent French by the end of her first term. She coped fine. Children are very adaptable at that age, and learning another language at that age is among one of the best things you can do for brain development.

Where/what? (terribly nosey!)

Minty82 Mon 08-Oct-12 12:00:21

I think if she's then going to be in the French system for the rest of school she'd be fine. I went to a French school (in an English speaking country) for a year when I was six, and was miserable because, having done reception class in English and thrived, I hated suddenly not being able to read and write - I think that bothered me more than the speaking, though the communication barrier made me quite lonely too.

But if your daughter always knew that was the plan, and you were able to prepare her a bit with French songs, TV etc over the next couple of years it should work. You're right that it's easier the younger you are - my nursery age siblings were perfectly happy. And it did get my French off to a great start.

Frontpaw Mon 08-Oct-12 12:01:48

She'll be fine. Some family members switched languages at around that age and have high-fallutin' degrees from top UK universities in Very Hard Subjects.

One thing I have notice though, from my own observation (our school gets loads of kids dropping in with basic or no english) is that the kids do 'act out' a bit when they first arrive. Not to sugar-coat it, the majority are little buggers until they settle down. Not sure if its because they have had big moves, or that with their language skills they get upset at their lack of ability to communicate, but a decent schook will have a dedicated teacher, or extra classes to get them up to speed. They all settle down!

Boobz Mon 08-Oct-12 12:04:21

Thanks Jux.

We're currently in Nairobi, Kenya, but about to move back home to the UK for 3 years. We will then move on again (no idea where - DH is with the Foreign Office) and we will put the kids straight into the French school when we go on this next overseas posting.

Problem is, we have these 3 years back in the UK and the Foreign Office won't pay for private foreign language school until aged 5 (and even then only if they had started in the foreign language at their previous post, which our kids are too young to have done) so we have to put them into the UK state primary system (as we can't afford private) until we go again.

But they do pay when abroad, and then once they're in and started in that language, they can continue in it during any subsequent UK postings. So it's just this fuzzy start we have to deal with.

Glad to hear 6 isn't too old!

bradbourne Mon 08-Oct-12 12:05:05

I've seen this the other way round - a French family I know introduced children aged 6, 8 and 11 into the UK system following an unexpecetd posting to the UK. The younger ones picked up English very quickly and were fully fluent with no accent within a year (they were pretty good at English within 3 months). The older one also speaks English very well, but still has a discernable French accent 3 years later.

bradbourne Mon 08-Oct-12 12:07:08

Just athought, but coud you maybe get a French au pair when you come back to the UK to help your children learn French?

Frontpaw Mon 08-Oct-12 12:08:01

In our family, the oldest one was about 9 and does have a slight americany accent (as a lot of people who learn english do) but in the US people coo over 'such a cute English accent'. Most of the kids I know have an accent but speak and think fluently in both languages - which I find amazing.

Boobz Mon 08-Oct-12 15:32:02

Looks like we have nothing to worry about then - phew!

Yes yes to the au pair idea - it's just making sure we can trade up to a bigger house to do it. We left our 3 bed house 2 years ago with 1 child and 1 dog, and now we have 3 children and 2 dogs as we return to it! Hmmmm.

natation Mon 08-Oct-12 22:29:49

Our no 2 was 10 years old and he's doing fine in French in 3rd year of secondary (4th year of UK secondary). Spoken French has an accent, written French is completely indistinguishable from his class mates, outshines his class mates in Dutch, Latin and of course English!
Our no 3 was 6 years old and she's doing fine still in last year of primary and is consistently top of the class, along with 3 other bilinguals, leaving the francophones behind, 2 of the other 3 bilinguals started in French after the age of 6 too! English and French are about the same level, spoken and written.
Our no 4 started in French at age 3 and it's by far her strongest language.

Ironically, in 2 years time, they might end up back in English, having looked at the lycee francais at the most likely FCO post we will end up at, but doubt they'll ever lose their French so I'm not really worried about going the other way.

HaveringGold Mon 08-Oct-12 22:41:30

Just a quick word of warning - from the my experience and also of friends who are diplomats - the lycées in some countries get very over subscribed eg London, New York so postings there can be problematic. And I'm assuming you have come back to the UK some times so London maybe a challenge - check what priorities/guarantees you get.
Secondly in some countries the Lycées are 'very French' - the French community being pretty large, there French will be spoken in class and socially. Others are smaller and with a smaller French community 'less French' and local language or more often English will be spoken at breaks/play etc. if you can get a posting to a 'more French' place first it will help cement the language esp as your kids socialise in it - tougher of course but better in the long run.
And lastly can I suggest you both start French lesson - getting with school staff and other parents will help if you can make passable conversation in French.

Boobz Tue 09-Oct-12 04:42:15

Natation - that's all good to hear. We were thinking of going for a number 4... not sure I have the energy!

Havering - thanks for all the good advice... will take it all on board.

Just wish we didn't have to go baclk to the UK at this particular juncture!

DelGirl Tue 09-Oct-12 04:56:31

We moved to Italy when my dd was 5.5. She picked up the language within 3 months and pretty fluent within 6. She has picked up the local accent apparently (I wouldn't know). Now, 2 years later she is more Italian than English and I am just starting to pick up that she is losing a few English words. So, time for more English I think though she does read books in both.

Boobz Tue 09-Oct-12 09:51:55

Is your DH Italian Delgirl?

DelGirl Tue 09-Oct-12 10:00:33

No, i'm widowed Boobz, just we as in me and dd. Is there likely to be many other English speaking children there when you go? I would say to mix with children who speak only French or certainly as their first language. hth

Boobz Tue 09-Oct-12 10:28:23

Oh I'm sorry - my bad assumption.

We really don't know where we're going in 3 years time but will try to make sure she mixes with the French lot more than the other FCO English lot! Thanks.

CakeBump Tue 09-Oct-12 10:36:07

Just to confirm what other posters have said, I'm a Year 2 teacher (so 6 and 7 year olds) in a non-UK English medium international school.

I have had a few 6 year olds start the year with no English, and they have all been absolutely fine. I'm sure you will support your DCs with French DVD's, books etc (and I would start doing this as early as possible) and as long as the children have this parental support with the language I would not anticipate a problem.

On average, the children I have taught have had an adequate level of comprehension and basic levels of conversation after 3 or 4 months. By the end of the school year they have been conversationally pretty fluent and have known enough to get through Year 2 tests in Maths, and Science. Written English (or in your case French) takes a little longer, but I would expect basic sentences beginning to be joined together by the end of a year.

Is there no possibility of continuing with the English system in your next posting? It's usually pretty easy to find English medium, or at least American system international schools pretty much anywhere....

CakeBump Tue 09-Oct-12 10:38:44

Oh yes, and I second looking at "how French" the school will be, if you can.

Our children tend to speak the language native to the country they are in at breaks and lunch, not English, and this can mean that they become "lazy" in the classroom and slip back into the native language.

Plus, I had a japanese girl transfer to my school from the American school, where there were so many japanese children that she wasn't picking up enough English.

frenchfancy Tue 09-Oct-12 10:45:46

6 yr old should be fine. It would be best not to leave it later simply because the year they are 6 is the CP year in school which is the year they learn to read and write. It will be much easier for them later if they do this year in the French system.

Boobz Tue 09-Oct-12 10:59:35

Great thanks everyone.

Cakebump, yes there will be English schools but we want them to be bilingual. Also, the way the FCO works, putting them in the French system means they can always be with us (UK and abroad). If we put them into the English private system, they have to stay in the UK and board when we go abroad, and we're not happy with boarding our kids (although totally understand why others do). So it's a means of getting the kids to be bilingual, educated privately, and always with us throughout our postings. Can't do that in the English system I'm afraid.

Thanks for all the tips and advice - am writing them all down.

Bonsoir Tue 09-Oct-12 14:27:03

Gosh. I think anyone who is not French and decides to use the French school system of their own freewill is very brave. Please be aware that the education your DCs will receive will be entirely different to the education they would receive in an English school. And that you will need to be very involved in homework support (how do you feel about Physics in French? Philosophy in French) right up until the end.

Boobz Tue 09-Oct-12 15:39:56

Thanks for the heads up Bonsoir. Yes I've heard it is very academic, very rigid and quite strict. But I think that does help a bit with a child who is then going to be changing school every 3 or 4 years - apparently they leave one school at one page in the book and then arrive at the next one in exactly the same place having not missed a beat.

I have friends here whose children are doing exactly what we intend to do and they haven't mentioned any problems with homework (they are not French speakers themselves despite 3 children who are, aged 14, 11 and 10). But this is something to think about, and I guess if I do take up French lessons to help integrate in the school community, then this will go some way to helping them with homework. A French tutor might help with this as well I suppose?

In any event, to have bilingual children educated privately in the French system has got to be less brave than putting them into the local state primary and comprehensives where we live in Lambeth - almost all schools within our catchment are failing (and even those are over-subscribed - there just aren't enough primary places full stop where we live) and we can't afford to move at the moment. There are some good church schools near us, but my husband won't find God unfortunately, not even for their education (quite right, I know!)

natation Tue 09-Oct-12 21:38:05

I have to ask, why would your children not be allowed to come on postings abroad with you? There are FCO child dependents around the globe in international English medium schools, some where embassies have strong connections.

There have been some very good points made, so think hard about the fact you may find no places in certain lycees, the older your children get, the harder it becomes to help your children with homework if you can't speak French, the French system is pretty structured and the fact that it comes in for much criticism by the French, doesn't score highly in personal satisfaction surveys (do you like school y/n?).

I suppose it's different for us, our children already speak French, it means there is no such desire to search for bilingualism. We're faced in 2 years time with a choice of an English International school with after-school native French which is on one site and not 3 like the LF, which does not finish at 2.30pm like LF, which has sporting facilities without parallel unlike the LF, which has a choice of final exam certificates unlike LF, well then it makes it quite difficult to choose LF.

sashh Wed 10-Oct-12 06:50:48

A friend moved to Spain, Her then 12 year old brother started in the Spanish system with no previous Spanish. He left aged 18 with an award for being the top student.

I taught a Polish girl, she arrided in the UK aged 14 with no English. At 16 she had 10 GCSEs A-C, unfortunately her English was a D grade so she had to resit.

6 is fine.

Boobz Wed 10-Oct-12 11:22:02

Natation, they are allowed to come on post with us, and would go to the English medium schools there whilst at post, but then when we came home to the UK, they would have to go the local state primary / secondary comp where we live in London (bad schools). If we go the French route, they will go to the private French school of our choice (within a certain £££ limit) both in the UK and at post, and thus don't have to board, and don't have to send to failing Streatham school.

But am definitely taking everything people are saying on board about making sure kids mix in French, are as immersed as possible, take French lessons ourselves as parents, get a French au pair, get a French tutor and so on.

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