Local school for language excellence

Carole Hallett MobbsLanguage, Local school, Personal stories, School options7 Comments

The word school spelled out in blocks

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Benefits of educating children in a local school

Are you considering putting your child into a local school, where the teaching is conducted in a different language? If so, you may be feeling rather anxious about that decision.

Most children are remarkably resilient and there are many benefits to be gained by joining the local school. For a start, they will pick up the language very rapidly, and another major advantage is that they will have local friends.

Here you will find excerpts from a blog written by a mother who did just that.

In July 2007 Kate moved to Switzerland with her husband and two boys who were eight and six at the time. She documented their experience in her very informative blog which is an invaluable resource to any parent contemplating a move to Switzerland.

(Readers should be aware that the Swiss school system is, according to Kate, “quirky, to say the least. The system varies from Kanton to Kanton, to such an extent that even the cut off dates for when the year groups fall varies from Kanton to Kanton: if you move Kanton, your child might end up repeating a school year simply because of when his or her birthday falls.”)

Over to Kate…

Education in Switzerland

We moved from the UK to Switzerland in July 2007. The boys were eight and six and had just finished Years 3 and 1 respectively in the UK. They went into an international school for the first year, until July 2008. Then they transferred into local school at ages nine and seven. We are now in our 6th year here, and their 5th year of local schooling.

Making the school decision

International school

We chose a small international school in Zurich for the first couple of years here, knowing that we would have to consider our options quite soon. My husband and I both felt that living in Switzerland but being educated in English is sensible to start with for the boys, to help them get used to our new life.

The boys started at their international school, and were taught German 4 days a week. In this subject they are streamed within each year group into Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced. Both boys started in the Beginners stream and rapidly transferred into Intermediate. Their teacher informed me that they were both doing very well. In fact it got me thinking – if we don’t immerse them in the Swiss system now it could be a huge opportunity to develop their language skills – lost.

However, having walked the boys to school in the UK, I loathed the school run. It was tiring, time-consuming and not remotely environmentally friendly. Added to this, the children were reluctant to “play out” in a country where it’s safe to do so, as they didn’t know anyone in the street.

But we were still very keen on the International Baccalaureate system. So we visited another international school in the city where my husband works. The school is excellent and they had places available.

But when I got home I realised that I had just driven 70 km. This would mean 140km and 3 hours in the car every day just to get them to school. Factor in the after school activities and the party invitations as far as the German and Austrian borders and what do you get? Me in the loony bin. And we would still have to find money for fees – and the boys still wouldn’t know anyone in the village. I love the IB and I love this school, but we also love where we live and don’t want to move, and to choose this school at this stage would make no sense.

Local school

There are two primary schools in the village. We visited one school and were impressed with the facilities and the staff. Perhaps this wouldn’t be such a bad move after all… the childrens’ language development would be very good, and they would have friends in the village at last. But we hear that they might have to be kept back a year because their German might not be very good to start with.

We decided to visit the other Swiss village school. This one we liked even more than the first one. The head teacher was able to explain a number of things, including:

  • He would ensure that the children end up in the same school as each other (which isn’t always the case in Switzerland – family members are often separated).
  • That they have a policy of not keeping auslander children back a year as it has repercussions at puberty when they are then not with their immediate peer group.
  • The boys would be placed in the main class but would get extra German tuition (rather than being in a special class until their German is good enough for them to join the main class.)

We came out of the meeting thoroughly cheered: this is clearly a very sensible option for us. They really do seem genuinely happy to welcome us auslanders and they seem happy to help us integrate.

It’s done: we’re going Swiss!

… Continued here…

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7 Comments on “Local school for language excellence”

  1. the second school was very smart to say your children should join their own age group. When I moved to the UK (40 years ago) we were put in the year below our age group because they thought we would be able to adjust better. But a foreign language is a foreign language whatever level your child starts at. They will soon become bilingual anyway. Much better to put them in with their own age group. And children at that age don’t need special FL classes, they will pick it up anyway. Much better to spend that time doing what the other children are doing. At first it all sounds like gobbledygook, then it all starts to make sense.
    I started with just the words Yes, No and Shop, and at some point I was bilingual and in the front row (you sat each week according to your weekly test result. Front row left had the top mark, back row right the lowest mark. …I know, crazy!)

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  3. One of the biggest factors in where we chose our home came down to the school. I wasn’t sure, International, or local…. I debated and debated. Finally it came down to the fact that the International schools were just too far away from where we wanted to be living, and my boys being MUCH younger (4 and twins at 2) I decided we would be ok to start with just immersion. They don’t start until Feburary when my oldest is 4 and the twins are just over 2 in the day care, but we will see. We move at the end of the month to the Netherlands and are hoping for a great experience.

    1. Hi Farah,
      Thank you for commenting. It’s such a hard choice, isn’t it? And one that would be just as hard ‘back home’ apart from the language differences.
      I believe, with your children being so much younger, they will pick up Dutch so quickly it will amaze you. My daughter started learning Japanese aged 5 and she found it incredibly easy (!).
      Once you’re in the Netherlands, tune into local TV and it will give them a head start… I mean, what better way to entice a kid to learn a language than to be allowed to watch television!
      Have you read Kate’s latest post today http://expatchild.com/local-schooling-overseas/ ? It has a great outcome!
      Good luck with the move and do keep in touch 🙂

    2. You will be fine. I did it the other way round many years ago, aged 5, without any additional language learning aids. I remember offering to hold the long skipping rope, something I never offered to do in Holland, because in England I realised I’d not need any language for that role! No ‘Go on!’ or ‘Don’t push!’ when you hold the rope. I also remember one day thinking if I talked gobbledygook, like they did, then they’d understand me. But I still couldn’t understand their gobbledygood answers haha! We became bilingual, I don’t know how long it took, but we were BL when we moved back to Holland two years later. We spoke Dutch en famille in our English home. When we moved back to Holland temporarily, Dad had ‘Princess’ magazine delivered for us to keep up our English. When you move, in the beginning, the other parents should be able to also speak English with you, depending which part of Holland you are going to. In the west, the majority speak English.

      1. Thank you for sharing your positive experiences. Love the ‘talking gobbledygook’!

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