Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Bonnes Vacances!

School has finished for this scholastic year and for Nic in particular it is a milestone - she has progressed right through from maternelle to the end of primaire, and will go on to college in September. LeeLee will be starting her second year (of her three-year Science Baccalaureate) at lycee - taking her French Bac exams this coming year, and her Science Bac exams the following year. It made Richard and I realise how we as a family (and the children in particular) have moved on.

Five years ago (28 April 2002), Richard moved down here with the girls and the first thing he did was get them into school. I was still working my notice period (until August) and so all the hard work fell to him.

For Nic, he turned up at the front door of the Ecole Paul Valery in Lamalou, walked in and at the first classroom he came to - knocked on the door. The teacher called entrez and as Richard and Nic entered, all the children immediately stood up. That impressed him! It turned out to be the top class (CM2) and the teacher was the Headmaster Mr Fillou. Richard explained in French what he was there for, and Mr Fillou walked them immediately to the reception class (CP) and introduced Nic to her new teacher - and left her there, saying to Richard to come back at the end of the day to pick Nic up and to complete the forms! And that was it! Nic loved it from day one!

Three points became apparent when Richard returned.
One, that Nic was actually too young to be in CP and so from the next day was to be in the last class at maternelle - she would return to CP in September.
Two, the school took everything in their stride and although they all had some English, the teachers only resorted to it if Nic needed help - they knew from experience that immersing a child in French from day one was the best way forward.
Three, the other children in the school were so welcoming and thrilled to have a foreign child in the school - they were all falling over themselves to play with Nic!

For LeeLee it was more complicated. Richard presented himself and LeeLee at the college and spoke to the secrétariat (the fount of all knowledge, as we were to learn). She explained that LeeLee would start there in September, but for the last few months of that school year, she would go to a primaire (class CM2). Her official primaire was the one in Lamalou, but the secretariat recommended that she went to Herepian instead where the teacher spoke better English and could help LeeLee more - and she immediately phoned the two schools, got their agreement and it was all sorted.

(first day at school - picture)
Richard drove straight away to the Herepian school, LeeLee was introduced to her new class and teacher, and Richard was told to go home and come back for her at the end of the day. The other children were thrilled to welcome LeeLee and each day for the first month, she was invited home to different houses for lunch. Talk about thrown in at the deep end. LeeLee was almost eleven years of age when we moved here, and we worried that it would be a more difficult transition for her - supposedly a child's ability to absorb a new language wanes by the age of ten. But I can confidently say that this is not the case!

Both children are totally fluent in French, although Nic has the strongest local accent - villagers find it amazing that she sounds indistinguishable from the local children. A temporary teacher came to teach her class English whilst their normal teacher was away - and complimented Nic on her very good pronunciation and accent. The whole class went into fits of laughter - and an embarrassed Nic had to explain to the teacher that she was indeed English. The teacher could not believe that it was possible - so the children went and got the teacher next door to confirm it!

When Nic joined a ballet class last year, Richard was surprised to be approached by one of the other fathers dropping their children off - he was English and they had a chat. It turned out his daughter was in the class with Nic - but what was interesting (or a shame in fact) was that she did not know or speak any English. With a French wife, the parents had decided it would be easier for their daughter to just get introduced to one language - what an opportunity lost!

So to anyone contemplating moving out here with children - irrespective to what you hear to the contrary, dropping them in at the deep end is the best! It does seem cruel, but do not give in - it is by far the best in the long run. Nic was fluent within two months; LeeLee within six.

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