Growing up in Cape Town, South Africa, we were taught English as our first language and Afrikaans as our second language in school. This was my norm and that of my children, so when we decided to move to France, everyone said the french language would be difficult for the children to grasp. We saw it as an opportunity for the children to be exposed to learning a new language, what better way to learn something new than to be immersed in it all.
Our intention from the onset was to get the children all into an International School where they could still learn English and the French language. My two older kids were lucky in that regard as they got accepted into the International School in Strasbourg, where they got English as a subject and were taught History in English also. All their other school subjects, including Maths and Chemistry, were taught in French!
The two smaller ones were accepted into an all-French school with no English at all! Unfortunately, when the international primary school was full, putting them into an all-French school was our only other option! They were given FLE (French as a foreign language) classes twice a week to assist them with learning the French language, but it has been challenging for them. Many people say that the younger they are, the better as they tend to grasp a new language faster, but unfortunately, not for my kids! I think, in our case, it was a little too much for them all at once. Moving away from home, having to go to a new school, making new friends, new teachers, new routines, etc.
Just imagine, going to school and everyone around you speaks a language you don’t understand. They all talking and then start laughing so you as a child assume that they are laughing at you. The teacher tells a story upfront in the classroom, and everyone starts clapping hands, and you just sit there, because you don’t know what they are clapping for. One of your classmates comes up to you and asks you a question, you just stand there without answering back. This is how it was for my two younger children every day for about a year and a half.
My two older children were surrounded by children from all over the world at the International school based in Strasbourg. Children from Spain, Italy, Russia, America, Iran, China as well as Kenya. They were taught FLE, and this was incorporated into their weekly calendar to assist them. It was sometimes challenging to communicate with other children who didn’t know English and whose mother tongue was, maybe Arabic or Russian, and so on – so two very different situations but still challenging nevertheless.
We eventually decided to make an intervention and get them the assistance they needed. We had to get a medical doctor to refer them to see a speech therapist (Orthophoniste), and she sees them twice a week for about 30 minutes each. She started working with them since the beginning of the lockdown back in March, and to date, she has seen a significant improvement in their ability to read, write, and speak French YAY!!!! Algamdulilah, all their hard work is finally paying off!
Looking back at all the challenges we’ve had to overcome since living here in France – I would definitely say it was learning the French language. My children would come home every day frustrated because they didn’t understand anyone, and nobody understood them.
Still, children are amazing, and they genuinely know how to communicate without having to do it verbally! After going to school for a few weeks, the small ones told me they had made friends! This made me curious – I would ask them if they understood their new friends, and they would say no, but as time passed by, they would come home, and I would hear them sing songs and play new games they’ve learned from their new friends. *doing the happy dance* Children have their own universal language called play with no boundary of language!
I spoke to another expat who moved to France from America, and she told me, “Our stress as adults about our children learning a new language shouldn’t be that of our kids as they don’t see it as we do.” As adults, we stress about how our children would adapt to new surroundings, how they would make friends and settle in, but children don’t have that fear in them. Children are resilient and will push forward, no matter what! They don’t let fear or worry stand in their way like us adults as we instill that fear in them, and it’s based on our own insecurities, which keeps us from reaching our own potential. We should learn from them!
“Speak a new language so that the world will be a new world.” – Rumi
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