In some schools, foreign children who cannot understand the language may be neglected and just expected to get on with it. In your early days, it’s important to check exactly what your children are doing at school and whether they’re making progress (not just with the language, but also with their lessons). As a parent, you should be prepared to support your children through this difficult period. If you aren’t fluent in French, you will already be aware how frustrating it is being unable to express yourself adequately, which can easily lead to feelings of inferiority or inadequacy.
It’s also important for parents to ensure that their children maintain their native language, as it can easily be neglected (surveys show that the children of English-speaking residents are losing their ability to read and write English).
For many, the experience of schooling and living in a foreign land is a stimulating challenge, providing invaluable cultural and educational experiences. Your child may become bilingual and will certainly become a ‘world’ citizen, less likely to be prejudiced against foreigners and foreign ideas. This is particularly true if he attends an international school with pupils from different countries (many state schools also have pupils from a number of countries and backgrounds). However, before making major decisions about your child’s future education, it’s important to consider his ability, character and needs.
It’s possible for children over 15 to experience the French school system before moving by participating in an international exchange programme such as that run by AFS International Youth Development ( 0113-242 6136, http://www.afsuk.org). Parents with young children who are planning to move to France may be interested in En Famille France, an exchange organisation founded in the late ‘70s by Frenchman Jacques Pinault. It specialises in six-month exchange visits for children aged 9 to 13 between European countries and France. Children stay with a French family and attend a French school.
One of the most important aspects of the scheme, however, is that children must be enthusiastic about the exchange. It can take up to a year to match two families, so you should make enquiries as early as possible. For further information contact En Famille France ( 05 57 43 52 48, http://www.enfamille.com).
This article is an extract from Living and working in France. Click here to get a copy now.