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French exchanges - do children in England still do these and how are they organised?

(89 Posts)
Anna8888 Thu 03-Jul-08 11:12:35

We were talking about this last night. Both of us remember from our youth that schools in England and France had long-standing agreements and sent children back and forth at the end of the summer term on a regular basis, with children attending school either end.

Does this still happen? If not, how do parents ensure their children learn French (and other languages) beyond what they acquire in the classroom?

Anna8888 Thu 03-Jul-08 11:30:40


Bink Thu 03-Jul-08 11:36:20

Can't answer for current schools policy - perhaps some parents of secondary-attenders can help there.

However - I did one of those school French exchanges myself, and learnt precisely 0 - apart from how to gawp at teenagers being allowed to smoke between lessons, and that really no-one would notice you unless you were wearing a navy-blue v-neck with UCLA embroidered on it. [?]

On the other hand, I spent three summers in a row with a French family, and learned to speak fluently and to cook and to recognise the architectural styles of the various centuries (courtesy of such a boring big brother, but you never know when that might come in handy). So my children will be doing exchanges with families, whether or not they also do completely useless school trips too.

Anna8888 Thu 03-Jul-08 11:39:14

Bink - thanks.

And how do you go about finding the family, when you are in England? Personal contacts?

Bink Thu 03-Jul-08 11:43:19

We found the family I went to via friends-of-friends - neighbours who were a Brit with a French wife who had relatives who knew a family with a girl same age as me ... the usual sort of sequence.

We've got a good lot of overseas friends (dh same business sch as you) and will use those contacts when the time comes.

Anna8888 Thu 03-Jul-08 11:45:58

So how do people without international networks do it?

I get asked incessantly by friends of my partner whether I don't know "a nice family in England" for their offspring to stay with...

Lilymaid Thu 03-Jul-08 11:49:28

Both my DS went on French exchanges - their schools had a long established exchange programmes. But the exchanges were only for one week and involved a large group going to France (and vice versa). I didn't think it helped their French much as they spent much of the time with their English group. Back in the olden days, my exchange trip was for four weeks and we travelled alone so we were forced to learn French to survive!

Anna8888 Thu 03-Jul-08 11:51:41

Lilymaid - indeed, the English grammar school I briefly attended in the 1970s had a long-standing three weeks either way exchange programme, starting in the second year (so aged 12/13).

One week isn't really worth the bother.

cat64 Thu 03-Jul-08 11:53:31

Message withdrawn

Bink Thu 03-Jul-08 11:58:09

But everybody has some sort of international network don't they? And presumably if you let people you know in England that you are constantly getting queries from nice French families, word would get around, and in due course nice English families would start popping up? (But it's whether you want to get involved in match-making, I suppose!)

Re match-making - the things my school did re assigning girls to families was pretty shocking. Eg - a friend who was an only child with a widowed mother, and who desperately wanted (and expressly asked for) a family with siblings got - an only child with a widowed mother.

castille Thu 03-Jul-08 12:01:56

Anna, me too - I get people wanting me to find them English au pairs endlessly too.

I tend to point families wanting exchanges in the direction of organisations such as this one

Anna8888 Thu 03-Jul-08 12:03:07

I'm not keen at all on match-making (far too much responsibility for no return), so would rather orientate enquiries towards organisations smile.

My partner's friends don't have English contacts at all - they have US ones (being Jewish) but are generally reluctant to send their offspring quite so far away for a first stay.

Anna8888 Thu 03-Jul-08 12:04:31

castille - thanks for the link smile

frogs Thu 03-Jul-08 12:06:55

This is one set-up I've come across, but it is pretty extreme as you're expected to send your child for 6 months!

It is more difficult than you'd think, Bink -- I spent ages trying to find a German exchange for dd1. Despite having loads of friends and family there we drew a blank, I think because I had dd1 relatively early and so most of my friends had younger children. But finding an exchange for my ds should be easier...

Lilymaid Thu 03-Jul-08 12:07:14

I remember that agencies used to organise individual exchange trips - and they still do

WendyWeber Thu 03-Jul-08 12:08:24


Only for ages 8-11 though - they do 6 months each way. I know one family who did it with their son when he was about 9 - he managed to break his leg in France so that was a bit hairy but he survived & came back fluent (of course).

Our grammar school just does a one-week exchange in Y10/11 - they come here in May, ours go there in Sept/Oct. (And it costs about £300 shock)

WendyWeber Thu 03-Jul-08 12:09:01

Oh sorry frogs, yours wasn't there when I went off looking for the link grin

Anna8888 Thu 03-Jul-08 12:10:21

WW - lovely, but I can't see the French-Jewish mamas I know sending their primary school offspring away for six months shock - culturally quite impossible to contemplate.

WendyWeber Thu 03-Jul-08 12:13:57

I don't think many families would do it here either, Anna - it does need a very mature and self-confident child, like the broken-legged one! (When his French boy came back here for the return leg they were living in a caravan some of the time while their house was being built!!!)

Their DD, 2 years younger, refused to go.

Bink Thu 03-Jul-08 12:14:35

Frogs - perhaps this is an amusing variant of the farcical naivety of expectant parents ("Yes, she'll sleep through the night, I've got a book about it.")

More on the point, I'm a bit taken aback by the ages mentioned in that link - I didn't do my first exchange till I was 14, and that was fully early enough for me. (So isn't there time yet for dd1?)

Bink Thu 03-Jul-08 12:16:06

Oh - also, doing an exchange at 14/15/16 as I did makes efficient use of the Kevin-&-Perry phenomenon - so, of course, I was a delight chez my French family instead of being a Pill at home.

WendyWeber Thu 03-Jul-08 12:17:11

Bink, I think it has to be done at primary school age because it's so much easier to get an extra child into a class then. Also the English child would need to be here for May in Y6 because of those sodding SATs. I would imagine Y5 is the one to go for.

I agree, 6 months is an awfully long time at that age.

Anna8888 Thu 03-Jul-08 12:18:14

My partner was sent to England every summer from age 10... his English is pretty good for someone who has never lived outside France or studied/worked in English. Not super-colloquial though.

And schools in England that do English language programmes for foreigners start at 7-ish (Millfield...).

Anna8888 Thu 03-Jul-08 12:19:16

People don't like the price of the schools programmes, however - hence the asking for families...

Marina Thu 03-Jul-08 12:22:31

Bink, many people don't have relevant international connections though. All my current ones are tenderly nurtured relics of my year abroad as a mod lang student. They are also the product of what else I got up to that year rather than formally linked to my studies there...
Although school exchanges can start out as fairly uninformative and homesickness-ridden experiences, they can develop into much longer-term relationships. I got my penfriend through a town-twinning scheme, very much in vogue in the 70s.
We drifted apart in the end because our life choices were too different, sadly, but I had a cordial relationship with my French penfriend for over 20 years and we met up every so often as adults, and went on holiday with each other as teenagers etc.
If only she had wanted children

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