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What I’ve noticed schooling my bilingual expat children during lockdown – from a language teacher’s point of view

Lockdown has been a unique situation for all of us.  We have all had our own challenges during this time.  On top of this, many of us have had the challenge of home-schooling our children.  My children were born in France, they went to a French childminder (nounou) from an early age and then continued on to a local French school where their education is all in French.  We speak English at home and a mix of French and English with all of our friends and at their clubs and activities.

On the surface, they appear to be completely fluent in French….they have the accent, the chat, they fit in with their mates and they are doing well at school.  They speak without hesitation, they aren’t shy about speaking French and they can speak to anyone in any situation and be understood and have a full conversation with adults and children about any everyday topic of conversation.

However, home-schooling them has been a real eye-opener!  Doing their homework with them on a daily basis, we would always go over what they had been doing at school, not doing new topics or introducing new concepts.  They would fly through their homework and give me the impression that it was as easy as pie.  However during our home-schooling adventure, we have been introducing new subjects, reading new pages and books, learning about things for the first time and learning the meaning of new parts of the language.

When you dig deeper, there are big gaps in their understanding of French, largely due to a lack of vocabulary.  They know all the everyday words, things they come across in their everyday life, but being bilingual they are exposed to less situations in French, their life is split between 2 languages so this is completely normal for bilingual children.  However, just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s something that doesn’t need thought.  They are going to go through their schooling in France and I don’t want to see them struggle in the future because I didn’t ensure they had a good grounding in the language.  Their finer understanding of the language isn’t there, they can get the gist of texts but they can’t delve deeper into them to extract the nuances and the finer meaning of what they are reading about.  Because of this, they struggle with comprehension exercises, problem solving, analysing and understanding what they are reading.

Their English vocabulary is also limited as they are only spending part of their life speaking English and most of this is at home or playing with English-speaking friends so their English vocabulary is also limited…..they don’t have the exposure to the wider language they would have if their education was in English.

None of this is a dramatic problem, just something to be aware of.  Inspired from this experience came the development of our additional Summer Camp programmes for local children.  The idea behind the different programmes is to address different parts of expat children’s education:

  1.  French: there aren’t many expat children who couldn’t benefit from a little boost for their French especially during their summer holidays when they have less exposure to French. Our courses are always fun and children don’t really realise they are learning as it’s all interactive and through play
  2. Catching up on work missed during lockdown: while us parents are doing our best, we aren’t teachers and our children will have missed out on things during this period. The idea behind this course is to cover any subjects missed or any subjects that children are struggling with after being left with mum and dad school instead of a qualified teacher!
  3. English: as I mentioned before, often expat children also have a somewhat limited English vocabulary.  Parents don’t realise this as they are perfect at everyday family language, but they aren’t educated in English so their vocabulary and knowledge of the English language can do with a helping hand.  In the English education system, children often do topic-based learning and this is the idea behind our Inspire in English weeks.  Children will learn about a range of subjects that interest them using fun, engaging teaching methods to continue learning in a different way during the summer break.

Read more about our new ideas here……


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