Moving back to the UK


I have 3 year old twins who have been going to French school since their second birthdays so are now starting to speak French which is great. We're planning to move back to the UK at some point in the next few years, and I was thinking that ideally it would coincide with them starting UK primary school, a year in September. This is because we are likely to be moving to an area with competition for schools, so I presume it's easier to find 2 places for the first year than subsequent years, and also because when they start learning to read and write, I would prefer they did it in English. I've heard that teaching small children to read and write in 2 languages at the same time can set them back in both.

Are my thoughts valid, or isn't it that important if we miss 'the deadline'? Has anyone here had experience of re-locating back to the UK with primary school aged children?

thanks, Jemima

I suppose this is another example of statistics gone wild. My sources are two, front page of Le Dauphine and the Economist, both were referring to a recent report issued by an EU committee. Sorry I did not take note of their source. Shame and very unprofessional of me.
Where I live this would be no surprise, but it is not fair of me to judge the entire nation based on personal observation in a remote region, so I found the two articles interesting.
If the early childhood education is superb then we can all look forward to vast improvements in th society, bravo

Careful, the 25 place in the EU is not right. France leads in early childhood enrolment against the UK seventh in the world, by the end of school years the UK is 8th and France 13th entering tertiary education (not just uni but also apprenticeships and so on with formal/qualified training) whereby France scores better on completion of that level. Despite what is so well publicised about youth unemployment, the UK has about the same as France in percentage terms and of those 15-19 year olds in France 49% are actually still formally in education compared to only 29% in the UK. In fact, within the EU with Finland at the top, then the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Ireland and Sweden the UK comes in at 7th and France 8th, so only a hair's breadth between them, but no way France is 25 out of the 28. Indeed even among the 47 states member of the Council of Europe or 30 members of the EEA both are in very similar positions.

Interesting reading it as statistics like this. I am somewhat critical as it is, especially with one daughter in special education that is not ranked but I find disgracefully poor here. However, primary is weak and secondary education too rote learning based compared to other countries I have lived and worked in on this continent. England and Wales is increasingly following much the same route with curricularisation. Scotland fares a little better. Both systems shrink compared to Ireland or Germany where education is flexible and imaginative. Bottom line: swings and roundabouts.

At least, from what I am gleaning out of this book I can see that it is interesting (except for me as editor) and that I can approve it for publication. I reckon it will ensure many people a good night's sleep, it is more soporific than cocoa!

Thanks Brian, your replies are always complete with even more information.
No wonder you are still working.

I just happen to know because it is part of the book I am reviewing by coincidence. The UK is rated 14th behind Norway, Australia, Switzerland, Netherlands,USA,Germany, New Zealand,Canada, Singapore, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden and Iceland in that order. France is in 20th position. It is out of a 'score' of 1 so that Norway scores 0.944 at the top, the UK 0.892 and France 0.884. Those are in the Human Development Indicators for 2013 as compiled in 2014, so as up to date as any. The lowest score in the top 50, which is what I have before me, is Argentina scoring 0.808.

Historically, both the UK and France were much higher, certainly Ireland (one of only three that have slipped down a couple of points in the 50) used to be far, far lower. Both were n the top five for many years until they plummeted around 20 years ago and have appeared to be in gradual decline as other countries pass them. In short, neither is significantly worse than the other.

Out of interest, what's the British school system rated?

Do not worry - just do it.
Kids can cope.
In our family we all can speak bits of about 12 languages, and use whichever fits the occasion.
Be grateful you will be taking your kids out of a school system rated 25 in the EU.
And reflect, what are they going to do with the French language if they do not live here?
In multilingual cities and schools kids talk to each other in whatever language works to communicate their ideas and intentions. We adults should try the same.
BTW grammar in any language is easy to attain with a short amount of diligence. Accumulating vocabulary takes a life time.

OK, primary school but where in the English classes the teacher asked my daughter to read out the lesson content so that the class could get the pronunciation. Incidentally there was another English speaker in the class, pretty low in the class and not the best French either. But nonetheless it appears not to have qualified him to the teacher's job instead of her.

I think they can cope with pupils who have learnt French and speak another language at home especially if it isn't a language that's taught at school; what causes trouble is growing up properly bilingual in a desirable language that IS taught in school. Some of my daughters have had one teacher (luckily an exception) who speaks like a Spanish cow and yet has to go on & on & on to them in class about all the English exams she has passed so, so, therefore, she is RIGHT and native speakers are not; even though she may talk about oRANges and poLYSTyrene & have a limited vocabulary etc etc. She'll be retiring soon luckily.

I do not know of specail training for teachers regarding bilingualism. I'll ask around as I work in a school. Also I did teachers' training about 7 yrs ago in the Aadémie of Nantes. Not heard a word about it.

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I was 'condemned' the same way as VĂ©ro. I did German O level early and A level when others did Os. Only six of us from two school years did the language, each of the others having German mothers thus that language within the family. Although the teacher was good and a very nice person to boot, the school's attitude was to shove us through the system as fast as possible to get rid of us. They had a couple of years below us with little or no demand and therefore justified dropping the subject. However, all of us had done compulsory French, Latin and a couple of us did Greek as well. We did those exams at the regular time. I can't remember the exact debacle, but as a result of half a dozen of us doing German early over something like three years then there being nobody, the school's language exam performance 'dropped' so they resolved it by getting rid of Greek! The fact that a lot of us were failing English because of the worst imaginable teacher and another who nobody even took the slightest notice of, and as I have often said I never got even O level, was never taken into account. It was taken for granted that because we were English first language they could theoretically have put a baboon in and we would have done better than we did at 'foreign' stuff. They might as well have.

For me, ever since it has summed up the native attitude to languages, thus the same pervades here. As often as not it takes an insightful teacher like the one Tracy is describing and never the 'experts' VĂ©ro and Debra are describing. As for turning noses up at bilingualism which was the target France set some years ago, then it is the teachers who deserve to be marked down rather than the children. In their case for pure ignorance.

There are idiots everywhere. I was banned from French lessons at school in the UK because once I had done O level, when I was 12, & got my A, I was a 'nuisance' & they wouldn't let me do A level any earlier. They got me in to read dictations and make tapes for the others to do aural comprehension. As I'd done a couple of other subjects early I filled up my time-table with other languages, much more fun.

I have pupils in class in lycée who get 20 as a matter of course in tests, I do, however, have others who, while technically bilingual, in fact are not - I put it down to not reading anough and not writing English at the level they should relative to children their own age in the UK. They still generally get very good marks except sometimes in comprehension because they simply don't have a sophisticated enough vocabulary in English and don't necessarily have the sophisticated French vocabulary that would help them to understand more abstruse but 'transparent' words.

There is also a range of intelligence and a child who isn't particularly academic isn't suddenly going to become academic in another country, even doing his/her native language. The requirements for the Bac are very strict in terms of keeping on the subject, and a lot of native speakers rush their way through because they can - and end up dropping points for silly mistakes. SO irritating!! I sit there with my red pen thinking oh for god's sake why are you shooting yourself in the foot.

Unfortunately when we mark the Bac we have to mark the answers on the paper, we don't have a telepathic link with the candidate. my English-speaking pupils are great ones for saying "Oh but I meant xyz" & I have to say, "yes perhaps, but that's not what you actually wrote!"

In class I find myself saying alternately "yes exactly" and "are you quite sure about that?" to many of my native English speakers. I'm not doing them any favours if I don't expect a very high standard of English from them, because they may wish to go to an English-speaking country for higher education and I don't want them to be at a disadvantage. They do need plenty of practise and a rigorous and analytical approach to language, the sort they would get at school in the UK doing A levels, if the playing field is to be level for them later on.

That doesn't alter the fact that when I mark them, I mark them as if they were just ordinary French pupils, anything alse would be ridiculous and unfair.

When my kids were in GS their teacher told me to teach English reading at the same time as she was teaching French reading as that way they would consider it completely normal not an extra skill to learn.

Worked for us although now my eldest is in CM2 she is lucky enough to have started German as an option and she is loving 'learning' a foreign language just like the others. Most kids just want to be the same as the rest.

Oh dear. So called usually self-appointed 'experts' in bilingualism. Whatever you do will be considered wrong so for what it is worth here is my advice: just do what suits your child(ren) and your family and don't tell anyone beforehand or even while you're doing it.

One parent one language (aka OPOL) is fine for some people, I'm a product of both parents speaking the other's language as well all the time and as a result I speak English like my father & French like my mother ie I'm a native-speaker of both.

I speak both to my children & they cannot be distinguished from native speakers in either language. They all read, a great deal, in both - they started in English because they were in petite section and obviously not learning to read at school, but they wanted to learn.

So I thought they could learn to read English & their teacher could get the credit for the unusually rapid acquisition of deciphering skills in French later.

Obviously they then immediately started reading in both so I was rumbled. They were allowed to go to school & read their own books from home in either language so no problem.

I have come across a great deal of monolingual people who think they know all about being (properly) bilingual because they have learnt a language at school and will go on about it very dogmatically - unfortunately they don't have a clue.

So to recap: do what suits you & keep schtum!

Good grief. Our older daughter is Down Syndrome. We came here when she was eight. She had been in an integrated class in the UK. Here she was shoved into speech therapy, still is at 13, because she has difficulty with some sounds. We were 'advised' to only speak French with her at home, not have UK TV and so on. However, in four years at primary (she was extended one year) she was no further on in any respect than when we came. However, by then she was bilingual. Her mother's first language is Italian, although she is now multi-lingual, and I am bilingual with other language skills. So our younger daughter has at least a smattering of several. In that respect, our children are allowed to take their own course with language. We even explained that rather than teach them our languages we let they pick up what they can. We had lots of speeches about that being pedagogically wrong, they must concentrate on French and avoid other languages that would distract.

Our younger daughter was always in the top three in her class in primary, but never the top in English as they expected. She was simply too far ahead of the class, yet nobody advised she stop using English any longer. But then she was fluent in French in two years and wrote it as well as speaking it by then. She is now learning German at college. She has learned some spoken German from me but not reading and writing. One she had got used to accented letters in the German she proclaimed that reading is just like speaking when you know the letters. I guess it is true, I had never thought about it.

One year and a bit at college, albeit in a ULIS, our older daughter now reads, slowly but well enough, moreover understands what she reads. She also recently got 19.5 out of 20 for English and was so proud of herself. The younger is now at college and in this first term has discovered diversity and is now racing on.

Just this evening whilst 'stealing' a piece of cheese as we prepared dinner, she read the wrapper. Pecorino romano. She read it with an Italian 'pronunciation' and then said to me that it is Italiano. When she goes on family visits she understands if not says much, but then my Italian is only minimally better. The psychologist and speech therapist were both at one of the parent school meetings last year and making those disapproving sucking in of air noises when we made example of her being technically trilingual. We had been told 100% certainly she would never be bilingual.

I could ramble on. It is a farce at times. They tell us what we should do and not do, we do pretty well the opposite in most cases. We are both professionals who study children, not educationally and not linguistically, but I have pushing 45 years of work directly with children and youth and two generations of my own bilingual children behind me. Tell them that and they will say "Ah, but...".

So, kind of leaning toward what Kathrin, Debra and Christine are saying, it is probably most important that you a) follow your children's own instincts, b) let your own instincts follow theirs, c) ignore most of what teachers tell you and d) help them maintain their bilingualism as an asset for the future.

No you won't Deborah! Just keep him supplied with loads of good books and he will be fine! x

Hi Kathryn.

You wrote "I was teaching my son to read in English but the school asked me to leave it until he was happy reading in French first. ".

That's the kind of attitude from French teachers that really makes me mad. THey have no training in bilingual matters and they want to tell you what's best for your child, i.e. French is better over English, basically (since it's what they teach best...). I had to deal with the same when my daughter was about 6. I listened patiently to " the experts recommend that...". I told the teacher : I understand what you're saying but I do not agree with it. I've seen both languages being taught at the same time, including reading and writing and it does work."Thinking about it I should have asked for the experts' names. That would have been interesting (being sarcastic) ! I also told him that it was our way of living at home and I did not intend to change it just to please him. It would have been like having to choose a limb from your body and get rid of it !

Do not underestimate children. They can differenciate between languages. Yes, sometimes they get mixed up a bit - so what ? the same thing can happen within one system language (for ex. getting confused about château and chapeau, bat and date... ).

However I do not recommend that you teach your children to read in French unless you speak it like a native.

So English is fine.

If you need to listen to your children read in French though (for homework...), fair enough, but never interfere with the reading or get someone French to do this instead. Even an older French kid will do.

Hi Jemima,

I have to agree with Christine: the idea of being 'set back' is from an old school of thought. Children can learn two languages concurrently. I come from Montreal, where there a large multilingual population and many linguistically mixed couples raising children together, children who learn French and English at the same time, and in some cases, a third language that may have been traditionally spoken in the family. There are lots of perfectly bilingual and even trilingual children as a result. My three year old nephew speaks proper French with his mother, proper English with his father, and does not confuse the two languages. My eight year old nephew does the same, and his school day is divided into a half day in English and a half day in French. When I hear that some people are afraid of "exposing" their child to a "foreign" language too early, (I know that's not your case, but that school of thought persists in France and other parts of Canada). There are a few European countries that make sure their children come out of school with 3 languages, and it's much to their advantage. Don't let your children lose their French if they move back to the UK. It's a lifetime skill that will be useful and may even be profitable later on, and it makes for more intelligent and culturally sensitive citizens, too.

I agree, my son and daughter were in French school for a year aged 6 and 9 respectively. We returned to the UK and even at secondary school our son chose German and Latin over French! My daughter did well, made French friends then went on to do French and German at Oxford University. I did not want either to have their schooling in France permanently, but that is another debate!

Hi, we have a boy and a girl and interestingly the boy's language skills (in both English and French) are better. We live in a very isolated area here in France so we put them into school early so as they could start mixing with other children (and of course because it's free childcare!) They've really loved it and it's great that they're learning French, I just hope we can keep it up in some way once we go back to the UK.