School in other languages

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Do any of you have experience with schools in countries where the main language isn't one you and/or your kids know very well? If so, do you have any advice for this? Maybe some of you went through this as a kid yourself, or have done it as a kid. We're about to do it for our three kids---gulp---and while I have anecdotal evidence that kids pick up new languages like sponges, all of the people in r/l that I've talked to about this went through it so long ago that they aren't disposed to offer advice.

deep olives (Euler), Friday, 14 August 2009 11:41 (twelve years ago) link

I only have "experience" in re to parents speaking different languages. A lot of relatives/friends are in mixed relationships (mainly Japanese). I only know that it's extremely important not to mix the languages up. I know one couple that spoke English, Dutch and Japanese all mixed up. They ended up having to go to a specialist because the girl had problems. So uh, yeah, not terribly good advice. :-)

What language will they have to learn? French? Why did you decide to do this? (Great idea btw!!!!)

Nathalie (stevienixed), Sunday, 16 August 2009 20:04 (twelve years ago) link

We're living in France this year for work reasons, and we're going to send them to French public school (in just a few weeks now!). All our kids are fluent in English already so I'm thinking we won't have language mixing problems. We're doing language exercises with the kids every day, and have been for a long time, but it's so much different when it's total immersion and we can't provide that in our house, because my spoken French is bad and my wife's is only a little better. I suspect there is no magic advice as to how to make this work, but mostly I'm looking to collect more anecdotal evidence. I suspect that the first month or two is going to be very hard and I'm going to need reminders that children do indeed learn languages like a sponge, though perhaps not immediately.

afternoon "delight" (Euler), Monday, 17 August 2009 07:40 (twelve years ago) link

exciting! no advice, sorry. :(

Tracer Hand, Tuesday, 18 August 2009 17:13 (twelve years ago) link

How old are they? I went to a French kindergarten for a year or two and picked up French very rapidly, to the extent where I was more fluent than my mom. However, I quickly forgot it all when we moved back to the U.S. and I started at an American elementary school. The only thing I retained was the ability to do the accent when I started taking French lessons again in middle school.

congratulations (n/a), Tuesday, 18 August 2009 17:17 (twelve years ago) link

i think age makes a huge difference. i went to a french kindergarten when i was 3 and got along wonderfully, picked up french well (i'm told my french r was perfect!), and had a blast. i didn't forget it all because my elementary (woo montessori!) did miniature french lessons, and yeah, later when i studied in high school/college, i did pretty well. especially with diction. my sister, who was 5-6 while we were there, absolutely HATED it. she got teased a lot (this could just be because she was a huge dork) and may have eventually switched classes (i only vaguely remember because i was 3).

tehresa, Tuesday, 18 August 2009 17:35 (twelve years ago) link


(probably not, i was in lyons)

congratulations (n/a), Tuesday, 18 August 2009 17:54 (twelve years ago) link

hahaha i was in clermont-ferrand

tehresa, Tuesday, 18 August 2009 17:57 (twelve years ago) link

My kids are 3, 6, and 9. The littlest one is going to maternelle for only half days, and I'm more worried about it being her first school experience than it being her first French school experience. The others ones, I'm more worried about. Whether they keep it after we leave...well, I hope we'll come back again while they're still kids for another extended stay, so I hope they keep it that long. I hope more that they don't hate it. My oldest is very outgoing and has made French-speaking friends already, but she's also extremely verbal and so may struggle with being unable to communicate well. When she plays with the other French-speaking kids here, they communicate kinda like I do in a boulangerie, by pointing and saying a few scattered words (knowing that the game tag is called 'chat' here helps a lot). My 6 year old is very smart and I think is doing better in his lessons in French than my oldest, but he's a lot less social than his older sister. But anyway, those are the details. There's probably nothing we can do now but be supportive of them, since it's likely to be a hard month no matter what.

afternoon "delight" (Euler), Tuesday, 18 August 2009 18:13 (twelve years ago) link

oh and we're in (a banlieue of) Paris, for what that's worth.

afternoon "delight" (Euler), Tuesday, 18 August 2009 18:18 (twelve years ago) link

I used to babysit for a lovely little French girl called Fanny. A term after beginning her formal education in England, she was at a different school and known as Helene. So, if your child's name translates as something rude, think carefully!

(note for Americans: the word means something related but different in Brit English)

Madchen, Saturday, 29 August 2009 12:04 (twelve years ago) link

haha, we can't even figure out when school starts here! And it's next week! We ask (in our pitiful French) and they say "ask at the school" but the school hasn't yet opened up after summer holiday. The internet says Wednesday but also says some departments don't have school on Wednesdays and we think we're in one of those departments. But we're not sure. What fun.

my dixie wrecked (Euler), Saturday, 29 August 2009 20:51 (twelve years ago) link

oh yeah, i remember wednesdays off! and going on saturday mornings, too i think? how silly. i didn't realize they were still doing that! i would say just show up thursday and if you missed a day oh well but then i worry some frenchie will say it is INTERDIT to start late and you have to wait til next year or something bc man do they love their rules!

tehresa, Sunday, 30 August 2009 03:39 (twelve years ago) link

We THINK Saturday mornings are no longer school days but in this place you never know. It's like we're in a world where everyone else knows exactly what to do but we don't, and no one will tell us anything. I'm not sure it's just our bad French, but rather a general unwillingness to help. I love France in most ways but it's the most conservative place I've ever lived in lots of ways (I don't mean wrt sex of course, but there's lots to being conservative besides sexual hang-ups). And the place we're living is extremely diverse, but I think people, once they're "in", absorb the attitude of "no one helped us so we won't help you"). Well, my friends here try to help but they live elsewhere in the city and there's not great consistency in how things run even from school to school. Fuck it, we're going to Disneyland Paris today.

my dixie wrecked (Euler), Sunday, 30 August 2009 05:26 (twelve years ago) link

Pretty sure it's the same as in Belgium. We get wednesday afternoon off. Saturday/sunday no school.

Apparently now it's required to attend kindergarten (from the third year). I suppose this has much to do with the fact non-native Dutch speaking kids have to learn the language. In some classes (in elementary school) half the kids don't speak a word of Dutch.

Nathalie (stevienixed), Tuesday, 1 September 2009 12:02 (twelve years ago) link

Yes, we've finally confirmed that that's how things are here (no Wednesdays, no Saturdays). The headmistress at the school that's 30 meters from our apartment said our kids can't attend there, because our kids know so little French; but they're enrolled in a French-as-a-second-language public school about 15 minutes walk from our apartment instead. It starts Thursday. It should be ok, I hope. Maybe they'll learn French quickly and be able to transfer to the "real" school this stay, or (hopefully) we'll come back for another long-stay soon and they'll have learned/retained enough French to go to a real school from the start next time.

Houston (Euler), Tuesday, 1 September 2009 12:06 (twelve years ago) link

this continues to be exciting!!

Tracer Hand, Tuesday, 1 September 2009 14:45 (twelve years ago) link

We made it through the first two days. My two bigger kids are together in a single class for French as a second language, along with four other children (from the Middle East, Latin America, West Africa, and Eastern Europe). So the small class size should be helpful. They're in this for 6 hours a day (minus recess time), until they learn enough French to begin attending regular classes in e.g. mathematics at the school. It was funny when they came home yesterday: I started talking to them (in English) and I watched them switch back, suddenly, to thinking/talking in English; I could tell from their faces that they were momentarily disoriented. That's great! I'm more or less bilingual (in Spanish + English) so I know how it is to switch between languages.

My little one started at maternelle today and had a difficult time but it's her first time in any school so it's not purely the language that's the problem. She'll get used to it. All they do is play (she just turned 3 this summer, it's not really school or even pre-school).

My bigger kids are staying for lunch at school and the menus are fabulous! It's like they get to eat at a French restaurant daily. The menus for August, September and October are posted here if you want to take a look. There's even a cheese course! My son says that they come around and refill the bread baskets when they're empty. Compared to the garbage that's served at the public schools our kids attend in the US (e.g. corn dogs, funnel cakes, pizza), this is amazing. I may have to sneak over and share with them.

Houston (Euler), Friday, 4 September 2009 18:55 (twelve years ago) link

That menu is so great. And cute - dosette de vinaigrette!

Madchen, Friday, 4 September 2009 21:27 (twelve years ago) link

The menus in Sept. and Oct., when school is in session, seem even more incredible. For instance, these are Monday and Tuesday's menus:

Chou fleur vinaigrette [a cauliflower vinaigrette salad]
Sauté d'agneau à la catalane (oignon, poivron, tomate) [sauteed lamb, Catalonian-style, with onion, pepper and tomato in the sauce I presume]
Semoule au beurre [semolina with butter]
Tome blanche [a cheese from Savoy]
Pomme [apple]

Pastèque [watermelon]
Brochette de dinde sauce charcutière (cornichon, tomate) [grilled turkey with charcutière sauce, a tomato base with chopped cornichon]
Haricots verts extra fins [green beans]
Mousse chocolat

I've paid decent coin for meals like that! Of course it depends on the quality of the food, but my children say it's been good so far.

Houston (Euler), Saturday, 5 September 2009 06:38 (twelve years ago) link

one month passes...

We are now in our first vacation here in France (la Toussaint, all Saints), and school is going well. My mother-in-law is visiting us, and to impress/annoy her, my older kids (ages 9 and 6) had a full-out conversation in French together at dinner last night. It was great! They were just talking silly talk about how they were going to put chickens and pigs in her bed and so on, but it was really cool to hear them talking in French so well. Their accents are already way better than mine---I am going to have to step it up, but then again my job doesn't involve speaking in French basically at all and they are immersed in it daily. Still, for a little under two months time I'm very impressed, and looking forward to the next leaps. I have a feeling that French is just going to click for them soon, and they'll be thinking in French some of the time.

My younger daughter, age 3, is attending maternelle for half days and is, naturally, less far along verbally, but she refers to colors now in French rather than English in her ordinary speech so clearly things are taking. With her I would be fine if she had a cognitive foundation for French even if she didn't emerge from this year fully fluent, since I hope we'll return to France soon for another extended stay and she can build on that foundation later.

Euler, Tuesday, 27 October 2009 16:39 (twelve years ago) link

Euler do you mind me asking what your job is that allows you to be in France yet not have to speak in French?

Tracer Hand, Wednesday, 28 October 2009 11:54 (twelve years ago) link

Tracer, I'm a professor from the USA on sabbatical in France this year. I'm working with a team of French scholars in my area who all speak / write/ read English, and moreover want to improve their English because it's increasingly becoming the language of science, broadly construed, even in France. They would prefer I spoke French, but they understand that that's a luxury for a researcher today (I read French at least). The goal is to help integrate French researchers in my area into the greater worldwide community of scholars---at present many French scholars write only in French and thus only for other French scholars; the rest of the world moves on, and the worldwide university rankings reflect this (as Sarkozy has become so fond of pointing out). Like everything related to the language in France this integration is tense and there is some resistance. But now that Sarkozy is linking continued funding of research in France to improvement in international rankings, things are changing (last year's university strikes were related to this, of course).

Anyway, I hope that helps.

Euler, Wednesday, 28 October 2009 14:12 (twelve years ago) link

That was pretty interesting. Never thought about it but it makes total sense. I wonder if the same problem applies to those other holdouts who refuse to learn English, the Japanese. But I guess at least they have Momus to translate for them.

When Baron Saturday Comes (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 28 October 2009 14:17 (twelve years ago) link

In my areas I know several Japanese authors who write in English, and so their work is decently well-known in the USA and Europe...but the French in my area are pretty much ignored b/c it's too much work to read them. Also there are publishing houses here that the French are proud of, but their books aren't readily available outside of France, or even Paris sometimes. So I have French colleagues who get butthurt when I don't cite their paper but it's simply a matter of my ignorance that such a paper existed. The internet obviously helps, as does living here and being in the middle of all the interesting tension.

Euler, Wednesday, 28 October 2009 14:21 (twelve years ago) link


Maybe this thing I have about the Japanese doesn't apply in academia. In fact now that I think of it, the great mathematician Shizuo Kakutani (father of Michiko) was forced to retire my freshman in college, so I never got to take any classes with him, but the few times I watched him give some other kind of lecture he may have had a little bit of an accent but was very well-spoken, mesmerizing really. On the other hand, now that I think about it, Ronald Coifman, who I think was French or Francophone Swiss, was a terrible teacher! Anyway, never mind my personal beefs, back to the topic at hand.

When Baron Saturday Comes (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 28 October 2009 14:35 (twelve years ago) link

Naw, Coifman was born in Israel, but he was educated in Switzerland, and spoke English with a French accent, saying "substract" instead of "subtract."

When Baron Saturday Comes (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 28 October 2009 14:43 (twelve years ago) link

You're certainly right to compare those two groups of nationals re. their national inwardness. It's just that, given how many more scholars in my area there are in France than there are in the USA (like at least 10 to 1 more here than in the USA), I'm more conscious how out of the mainstream French scholarship in my area remains. This isn't true, I gather, in lit and history, but it's certainly true in history and philosophy of mathematics.

Euler, Wednesday, 28 October 2009 14:57 (twelve years ago) link

Is that what you do, philosophy of math? Do you know Hilary Putnam?

When Baron Saturday Comes (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 28 October 2009 15:04 (twelve years ago) link

When in France, do you change your screenname to Cauchy? No, I guess not.

When Baron Saturday Comes (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 28 October 2009 15:08 (twelve years ago) link

I don't know Putnam personally, no. He's pretty old at this point and I'm just getting established. I have good friends who are good friends with him, though...and some who are kinda enemies of his too (philosophy is bloodsport).

xp haha I regret this dorky user name all the time...though at least it's true to my particular dorkiness.

Euler, Wednesday, 28 October 2009 15:10 (twelve years ago) link

I suppose he is pretty old. What about Ned Block? He's not quite so long in the tooth.

When Baron Saturday Comes (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 28 October 2009 15:22 (twelve years ago) link

No, I don't know Block either, but you're right, it's less age than area of specialization, and the fact that I rarely travel to the northeast (like for maybe two weeks total for everything northeast of Pittsburgh). Once again, though, I have good friends who are friends, at any rate, with him. It's a small world in analytic philosophy.

Euler, Wednesday, 28 October 2009 15:33 (twelve years ago) link


Next naive question, if I may. You are an analytic philosopher and you are in France with some colleagues. But in France, don't they do Continental philosophy? Are the analytic philosophers there some kind of persecuted minority over there like the Huguenots?

When Baron Saturday Comes (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 28 October 2009 15:38 (twelve years ago) link

haha no that's a good question. The people I spend most of my time aren't analytic philosophers in quite the same sense as in the USA; here they're more historically-oriented, more likely to ask questions like "what is the constitution of objects in geometry" etc, which sounds odd to an American-trained ear. But they're by no means post-modernists (I think I flirt with post-modernism more than my colleagues here do). There are continental philosophers here, of course, but I think they mostly work with people in literature, with whom I have no contact. I don't know the exact numbers, though---partly because are just sooooo many philosophers here (both in Paris and in the provinces).

Euler, Wednesday, 28 October 2009 15:42 (twelve years ago) link

Thanks Euler that's v interesting stuff! I've spent the last couple of months trying to improve my mainly present-tense conversational French since a move to France may be in my future. My son is going to know French come hell or high water and that's probably the only real way to do it. I'm not an academic but I do computer stuff, which has a whole lot of English involved with it so maybe I'd be OK.

Tracer Hand, Wednesday, 28 October 2009 22:54 (twelve years ago) link

Tracer, just to get you started, the French call the computer "l'ordinateur" and the computer science "l'informatique."

When Baron Saturday Comes (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 29 October 2009 06:35 (twelve years ago) link

Sweet, nothing can stop me now!

Tracer Hand, Thursday, 29 October 2009 08:53 (twelve years ago) link

Allez, Tracer! Du courage!

Now that I think of it, I had some friends who were Americans who moved to France as kids, but all I can remember them telling me is some stories about corporal punishment (this was back in the 70s) and something about a different way of structuring essays, an "hourglass" or "reverse hourglass" structure particular-to-general-back-to-particular or vice versa.

When Baron Saturday Comes (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 29 October 2009 13:50 (twelve years ago) link

two months pass...

Christmas break ends this weekend, so it's a good time to assess how things are going. In brief: my kids have been going to school in France, just outside of Paris, this academic year. They knew only a little French before the year started. My 8 year old and 6 year old have been in a French-as-a-second-language class, while my 3 year old is in half-day preschool. The 3 year old hasn't made lots of verbal progress, though I suspect her brain has been, and will continue to be, seeded to be receptive to French should we return for school here later. But my 8 and 6 year olds have come along tremendously. As I write my 8 year old is playing with a friend from our apartment complex, and they are speaking only French together and it's going just fine. About a month ago my 8 year old told me a story in French---it took her about 15 minutes to tell it, and she didn't drop into English at all. Plus it was no struggle, and she was animated and clearly adding flourishes to it, in French, the whole time. So in 3 months she went from no spontaneous French ability, to very good ability. My 6 year old has done just as well---in some ways, better, as his accent is better than hers (oh, to make the French "r" sound as well as he does)---in fact, his English is taking on a bit of a French accent! And now he's walking around the flat singing some song in French. It's quite remarkable!

Over the break the two of them have had lots of conversations together in French: they're typically silly, but then again, so is much of what they say in English. So far, then, I'd say this has been extremely successfully. I'd hoped in this year they'd reach this point of development, and they reached it in only 3 months. In the next 6 months I'm starting to think they'll reach pretty much full fluency. They're in school so they also do math and reading and so on, and that's all going well too. I'm proud of them: none of this experience has phased them at all; if anything, it's made them kinda cocky (they know they're kicking ass).

Euler, Saturday, 2 January 2010 16:30 (twelve years ago) link

I want to add: they're in a French-as-a-second-language class in a normal public school, and they attend math class each day with the regular students in their grades. We have friends here who are paying for fancy private bilingual schools, to ease the transition for their kids, and they're not making anything like the progress my kids are making.

Euler, Saturday, 2 January 2010 16:34 (twelve years ago) link

Well done.

nico anemic cinema icon (James Redd and the Blecchs), Saturday, 2 January 2010 17:02 (twelve years ago) link

seven months pass...

One last report for now, as our kids begin school in the USA again tomorrow. As a recap, my kids went to school in France last year, in an ordinary French public school. They didn't know much French going in---they'd done some computer exercises for learning French, but nothing rigorous. After a year of ordinary French public schooling, in a French as a second language program that the schools offer for new immigrants to France, my two oldest kids (now ten & seven) are conversationally fluent in French (speaking & listening), read excellently, and write French well also. They were cleared to enter the ordinary French classes in the next school year, which sadly they won't do as we had to go back to the USA. But we hope to be back in France again very soon, so now the challenge is to work on preserving their linguistic competency.

My littlest one (now four) spent the year in half-days in French public preschool (that is, not a class for immigrants only). She seems to understand French as well as English, & has taken to singing in French. But it's hard to know how much exactly she learned. I suspect a lot, but I think it will only come out when she's immersed in French next time.

I think this was an astonishingly successful thing for our children to have done: in addition to the sheer practical value of speaking two languages at native levels, they have the confidence of navigating a foreign culture from scratch. They've gained a great deal of self-confidence, & awareness of possibilities. It was a wonderful

Euler, Monday, 23 August 2010 17:01 (eleven years ago) link

I suggest you find some american cartoon dvds w/ foreign language options and have them watch the french versions. I used to do this w/ the simpsons - I imagine they're too young for that, but in 2010 it's pretty easy to get french content in america. (esp via the internet)

iatee, Monday, 23 August 2010 17:08 (eleven years ago) link

one nice thing is learning the language at that age, even if they have to relearn stuff, they're gonna have fantastic accents.

iatee, Monday, 23 August 2010 17:13 (eleven years ago) link

Yeah, we should get on that---we have a bunch of Disney dvds we were given as gifts that have French tracks in addition to English. I need to talk to the schools here to see if there's anything they can do. I have colleagues in other places in the USA who've persuaded their school districts to let their kids enroll in high school or even university French courses, despite their being in elementary school. Since I work at the university I can probably arrange the university part w/o the participation of the school district but I'm wondering if there's some way they can do this as part of their ordinary schooling (since they're in school here in the USA a ridiculous amount of time each day, without breaks, daily time is scarce).

xp yeah their accents make me weep, they're so good; my two younger kids actually say their English "R"s like French "R"s sometimes. Relatedly, my oldest was talking to me about muscular "bras" the other day, & I recognized that she was blurring French & English rather than talking about lingerie, but I didn't say anything b/c she'd be self-conscious & b/c I like seeing that she's thinking in French un-self-consciously.

Euler, Monday, 23 August 2010 17:16 (eleven years ago) link

ehh I dunno if I were 10 or 7 I would be intimidated as hell in a hs or college class. maybe find some tutor for an hour or something? my college french classes pretty regularly hit on subject matter that wouldn't be appropriate for a 10 year old.

iatee, Monday, 23 August 2010 17:19 (eleven years ago) link

That's a good point---at this point I just want to sort out what's possible, which might be nothing more than a tutor. I would like to find a "native" tutor rather than just a college major, if possible---since it's a university town there might be exchange students---anyway I'm just thinking out loud as it were.

Euler, Monday, 23 August 2010 17:22 (eleven years ago) link

Have you got an Alliance Francaise near you? They do kids' clubs, film screenings, summer activities etc.

Madchen, Tuesday, 24 August 2010 11:02 (eleven years ago) link

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