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Moving to France (Toulouse) for 6 months - would you do it?

(52 Posts)
Wimpling Sat 05-Aug-17 12:08:19

As part of my job in the UK, I have the chance to spend 6 months in France next year - would be from Jan-Jul 2018. I’d be coming with my 3 DC, all primary aged, and it would be a chance for me to improve my French, and DC to learn it for the first time. Looking at a couple of bilingual schools in Toulouse (all private, with mixed reports, but the priority would be for the DC to learn French). DH would stay at home, as his work wouldn’t transfer.

My French is good and I know the area a bit (lived there a long time ago!). My question to those of you who’ve made a move abroad for a short time is: is it worth it for the cultural and linguistic gain, or is it too much practical and emotional upheaval, esp. for the DC, for 6 months?

SquareWord Sat 05-Aug-17 17:13:31

My main concern would be whether or not you'd be able to get your children back into their schools when you return to the UK. If the schools they attend are over subscribed then I'm not sure that I would risk it. Other than that I think it's a fantastic opportunity.

Wimpling Sat 05-Aug-17 17:54:28

That’s a good point - I wouldn’t go unless the school confirmed that the DC could get back in, but it doesn’t seem to be over-subscribed (another family took their DC out for 4 months and came back without any problems).

I reckon it takes at least 3-4 months to begin to settle somewhere new abroad, so I’m a bit worried that the DC might have all the negatives of a new place without getting to enjoy the benefits before it’s time to leave. But maybe I’m being pessimistic?

flickertee Sat 05-Aug-17 18:32:50

Yes do it do it do it.

I lived in a couple of different European countries when DS was primary school aged and it was such an experience for him. He learnt two new languages and made great friends. The international schools were full of different cultures and it really opened his eyes (we are from a very small village).

I'd do it again in a heartbeat - so would he!

BonApp Sat 05-Aug-17 22:38:23

I think "yes go" overall but don't expect too much from the DC in terms of picking up that much French, particularly in a bilingual school as having the English to fall back on will slow them down.

How old are your DC? Do you think they would cope well with the move/disruption?

MarciaBlaine Sat 05-Aug-17 22:40:15

6 months is not long enough for them to be immersed. I wouldn't put them through the upheaval. If your dh needs to stay in UK I would leave them with him.

Amatree Sat 05-Aug-17 22:44:50

I would be very concerned about living separately from your DH for six months. That's long enough to establish separate lives and could be very dangerous for even a solid marriage. And how will it affect his relationship with your children? IMO a family stays together and if that isn't an option you shouldn't go to France. As PP said, huge upheaval for the DC by pulling the rug from under their family unit.

Wimpling Mon 07-Aug-17 10:15:05

Sorry, back now! We’re in France at the moment, and the wifi is very dodgy. Thanks for the replies! To respond to some of the things raised: the DC would struggle to settle in a French public school, because of the language and also the different educational approach, but I think they’d manage OK in the smaller school setting I’m looking at.

DH and I have spent 3 months living apart before, and done it for a month at a time with the DC. He’d fly out for a few days every 2/3 weeks. I’m not too worried about the separate lives: I’m realistic about how much of a social life I could build as a lone parent at home in the evenings (plus I’ll mainly be in a library during the day), and he tends to work v hard when we’re not around.

I’m expecting the DC to end up understanding a lot of French, and maybe not being able to say a huge amount after 6 months. It’s not ideal but still their best bet of learning a second language?

I kind of feel this is the only opportunity to live abroad with them, as the older DC will be in secondary soon and I wouldn’t want the upheaval then. But replies so far have been quite mixed - any other thoughts from those of you who’ve made the move abroad?

Cruciatus Mon 07-Aug-17 10:19:54

Absolutely, go for it! We are planning on doing this from Jan- July 2019 but in our case we will take the children out of school. One will be home schooled and one will repeat the year. We will also not be working but taking a sabbatical. Also where we live there is no problem with school places. So not much good to you for advice as we will not have any of your specific problems. However it will be an upheaval but it is only 6 months, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity, whether you all improve your French or not it will be a shared experience and if you hate it - it's only 6 months!!! Keep us posted on how you get on.

danTDM Mon 07-Aug-17 10:26:40

No, French bureaucracy with two children/schools/residency/right to even be there for only 6 months will be a nightmare and it is unfair to them. That is no time at all to settle in or learn the language. They would learn zilch, probably go backwards.

If anything, leave them with your DH where they are and go solo.

TheNumberfaker Mon 07-Aug-17 10:28:47

Put them in French only schools if you want them to learn French. Otherwise they will just speak English.

MrsWooster Mon 07-Aug-17 10:29:09

Could you negotiate to extend a bit - start as early as possible, at least pre-christmas, and have an extended whole family holiday there before January and then remain until just before school starts in September? It seems different to frame it as a 9 month family adventure, with dad working back in UK for the middle bit, and it gives time to enjoy the experience before and after going into the intensive library /school section which might be a bit alien to the dc?

BonApp Mon 07-Aug-17 10:55:49

In a bilingual school in 6 months they really won't learn that much. They will gravitate to the English speakers and will not be in much of a position where they have to learn French.

French public school will be better if learning French is your priority.

Additionally, how will you keep up the French when they get back to the U.K.?

I say this as someone who moved to a French speaking country in January with a 5 and 3 year old. 5 year old is in public school (different system to France, less intense in the early years, and part time hours to begin with so not getting 9am-3pm French exposure) but has not picked up French as quickly as I had expected (not a problem from my side, we will be here for a few years at least, so no rush). That's partly due to the part time hours, and the fact that there are a couple of other English speakers in her class so she finds it easier/more natural to speak to them. But I would imagine a bilingual school on a full time basis would give the same kind exposure to French that my DD has had.

I would say it took 5 months for her to start playing with the French speaking kids and then just before the summer holidays she started to really pick up more (she understands more than she'll speak like me )

She hates speaking French with me (don't blame her!!) and she's also lost some already since the summer hols started in early July.

Honestly, if your main motivation is for your children to learn French, I'm not sure this set-up is going to do that.

senua Mon 07-Aug-17 11:13:03

If you were contemplating a big adventure, something like living in a rainforest, then it might be worth it. But you're talking about the next-door European country. Meh. Not worth the disruption.
You said "We’re in France at the moment". Do you mean that you are on holiday? - so they have already encountered some of the culture, what more will they learn in six months?
Do they actually like languages?

LinoleumBlownapart Mon 07-Aug-17 12:16:31

We moved to a Spanish speaking country for 6 months. Best thing we ever did. 6 months is plenty of time. We are a bilingual family anyway and one of the languages is very similar to Spanish, so it was slightly easier but even so, it's only 6 months, my children are now fluent in Spanish. Put them in a local school. Don't bother with bilingual schools, as it won't be worth it.
My 7 year old has a classmate who lived in France for 6 months at around 5 years old, we recently had a group of French children staying in the village for a holiday, they came to the school as their auntie works there, DS's classmate was chatting away with them, so 6 months was long enough for her to learn. Her mum keeps French up at home now with duolingo and other activities. So I would say go for it.

Madamfrog Mon 07-Aug-17 12:34:45

If you were francophone and spoke nothing but French at home and put your children onto normal French school then they would get fairly fluent fairly quickly, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
Go for the experience because it will be interesting, fun and enriching but don't expect your children to speak more French than bonjour/merci/au revoir etc, if they are in an international school they will end up speaking more English than anything else and after school you will presumably also be speaking English with one another so the amount of French they are really exposed to and need to use will be fairly minimal.
I know people here in France who speak practically no French even though they have been living here for many years. It is really easy just to stick to the anglosphere, without even setting out to do so.

Madamfrog Mon 07-Aug-17 12:36:01

Into normal French school, not onto, sorry.

danTDM Mon 07-Aug-17 13:47:34

I live in Spain, so a bit different. Have seen tens of parents come with English DC's and leave after 6 months. DC's can't speak a word of Spanish and have had a miserable time. It is a private school as registering for public you need all sorts of documents ahead of time. Getting in to the public system is very hard. I think you have already missed the boat. And I have a Spanish DH and DD. It is the same system in France. Don't underestimate this.

I repeat, the bureaucracy is dire. You will spend the six months sorting that out.

(Lived in Paris too)

danTDM Mon 07-Aug-17 14:21:40

linoleum your children are younger and their brains are already totally different as they are bilingual.

My DD picks up languages easily as she is from a bilingual house.

Very different situation IMO and my (very real) experience.

Nice on paper...

Madamfrog Mon 07-Aug-17 14:46:06

Actually in France for primary school it is very easy, if you are living in a commune (village or town), that commune's school is obliged to take your children if they are of compulsory education age. They aren't obliged to take them in maternelle because maternelle isn't compulsory.

I had a cousin from UK staying with me for a couple of months with her primary aged children this year, all they needed was a declaration that they were living with me to prove their address, and school took them from Easter until the end of the summer term. Their French was nowhere near fluent when they left but still betterbthan when they arrived, and they had a great time.

LinoleumBlownapart Mon 07-Aug-17 15:04:22

danTDM I didn't say the ages of my children confused. My friend's child was 5 when she went to France for 6 months.

My children were 3, 6 and 8 when they moved from the UK to another country to go to school, they knew the language as it is their father's language but they never spoke/wrote it. Then when they were 5, 8 and 10 they went to another country for 6 months, where they were schooled exclusively in a third language that they had not heard before. They were talking in a month. By three months they were fluent.

Wimpling Mon 07-Aug-17 15:05:12

Thanks for all the replies so far! I totally understand the comments about people who get by without using the host language.

The schools I’ve been looking at aren’t international schools - they’re very small private ones which call themselves ‘bilingual’ and have at least one native English speaking teacher. From speaking to the head of the most likely one, I don’t think there are currently other English speaking children there; it’s more French children whose parents want them to learn some English alongside other subjects. So I think that most of the day will be in French (but there will be someone who can understand my DC if they’re completely lost!).

To the PP who asked about the DC’s existing knowledge, we spend a month in France every year (but that is definitely English-speaking holiday, and we’d do that next summer too), and visit 2 sets of French friends (pretty much non-English-speaking) for a few days each year, and the DC learn v basic French at school and do Duolingo daily. So they have a good awareness of French culture, and have avenues which would possibly help them maintain any linguistic gain, but almost no language at present.

Wimpling Mon 07-Aug-17 15:22:11

Linoleum, your children’s experience sounds amazing! envy

And Madam I had no idea that it was so straightforward to get into a French primary. Very useful to know!

There’s a definite divide here between very positive and very negative experiences (both totally understandable). Can’t help wondering which side we’d end up on!

BonApp Mon 07-Aug-17 15:25:26

OP where I am there are international schools and smaller local private bilingual schools too which are also run by French speaking / local people. Honestly, all the English speaking children there, even after a few years, do not have a very good grasp of French. It's basic at best, which yes, may be sufficient for what you hope to achieve but I think you need to be prepared for this to be a huge upheaval in their little lives for relatively short-term and small gain.

I am the first to say that living abroad is a fantastic experience and overall, as I said in a previous post, I think you should do it. But just don't expect them to be fluent in such a short time and don't expect them to stay interested after you get back to the UK either.

I can feel your eagerness and enthusiasm coming through in your posts, and giving my children the opportunity to learn French "organically" was one of the selling points of us living here, so I get it. But it has been a longer and slower process than I imagined and everyone had told me that they would be fluent in 3 months. If my eldest (DD - 5) was doing 6 hours a day in school with no exposure to English during that time, I'm sure her French would be better than it is now. As it stands with part-time hours and two other English speakers in her class, plus the teacher who will speak in English if necessary, it hasn't been as quick as everyone said (Oh she'll be fluent in 3 months).

Talking to the teacher about it she says that she could separate the English speakers and she could speak only French in the classroom, but she feels that is a bit harsh for a newcomer who is settling in and getting used to all sorts of new things in a different country. Next year she will reduce the English she speaks (she keeps the same teacher) to DD as she feels she will have had a good grounding in the language and that she'll be that bit older and will cope with it more then. I am comfortable with this approach and rather than ramming French down DD's neck, she can pick it up at her own pace, along with adjusting to everything else a move abroad entails (missing friends, different food, different TV, no grandparents etc - ok slightly different if it's just for 6 months, but your children won't grasp the timescales...).

If there is the possibility to revert to English, this is what your kids will do. It's more natural to them and if they know it's possible to communicate in English, they will. Immersion is far more effective (but harsh) and would be a better way to get them to a fluent level in the 6 months that you have.

I also think that keeping it up at home afterwards will be a huge task.

BonApp Mon 07-Aug-17 15:28:37

One thing I would say too is that all the bilingual schools I've come across will focus primarily on the English. This is a selling point to locals and expats as everyone knows how valuable English is on an international playing field. So look carefully at how the bilingual schools will split the languages...

Did I miss how old your children are? I moved to a new school at 8 and found it really stressful. I adapted quickly but it was difficult.

Can you not ask for a 2 year assignment to France instead? Much better all round methinks!

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