I’ve been inspired to write this post by a message I received a few days ago from a reader who is planning a move to France in about 18 months. She has three small children, and is desperate for information from experienced families who have already made the transition. In this particular family, nobody speaks French for the time being, though they’re very interested in starting to learn before making the move.
While searching school options in France, there are a few options…
For those who have the financial means, the desire to do so, and the possibility of living in or near a large city with lots of expats, there are exclusive international and bilingual schools. I don’t have any experience with these kinds of establishments, so I can’t really comment as to whether I would send my children there. I have known American families who have come to France for work, and their companies have paid for schooling for the children. Everyone I know in this situation seems to have had a positive experience, but the kids didn’t necessarily go back to the States fully bilingual. I’m assuming that’s because many of their classes were taught in English, most of their friends spoke English, and the parents didn’t learn French to the point where they were speaking it at home with the kids.
A much more economical solution, and the most “natural” in my opinion, is to send your children to French school. Public or private, this particular option seems like the most frightening, especially for parents, but it is the most efficient way of immersing your family into French culture and learning the language. Now, it’s true that before moving to France last summer, our children were already bilingual (we’d always made a special effort to speak only in French at home while living in the U.S., and their dad is French). However, when we got married sixteen years ago, we did spend almost a year living in Béziers. At that time, my eldest son (who is now almost 23!) was only 7, and he didn’t speak a lick of French when we put him in French school. He was fully bilingual (using the subjunctive correctly and everything) by January 1. Enrolling your children in French school is a way to help them integrate, find friends in the community, and it’s also an excellent means by which your family can befriend other families in the area.
Depending on where your’e coming from, French “private” schools (and by that, I mostly mean Catholic schools) are a lot less expensive than you may be expecting. I’m saying that from an American point of view, but all I can say is that in St. Louis, we were paying almost $800 per MONTH for two children to attend a parochial school (yes, it’s a great school, but come on). Here in France, the equivalent costs us 114€ per month for two children.
Here’s a question I have for anyone reading this post who may have a response, because I personally don’t know, and I haven’t heard any of my anglophone friends here in France mention it. Are there FLE (français langue étrangère) resources for non-native speakers in public French schools, like the ESL resources provided in American public schools? I’ll see if anyone has any knowledge on that topic, and I’ll also ask around here in town to see what kind of response I can find.
I’d be very curious to hear input on this topic. Feel free to share your opinion: public, private, bilingual? Reasons why?