One question that comes up from time to time is: How did the children cope with French?

The short answer is: Better than us.

When we arrived in France, The Daughter was six and a half. Despite the best efforts of Her Outdoors, she knew next to no French. But she’s a very sociable person and we didn’t worry too much about how she would cope at school.

On the first day, it was hard to send this little person into a playground where she knew no one and had no way of communicating. But by the end of the day she had both English-speaking and bilingual friends. Before the week was out, she’d been invited back to a new best friend’s house and everything looked OK.

There were some downs as well as ups, like when the teacher (rightly) banned English speaking in the classroom, but the desire to play overcame everything and after three months she spoke French very well. By the end of the year she was fluent. And by the second year she not only spoke with the village accent, but was at the top of her class in French (where she remains, jockeying for first place with another English girl).

So it would be hard not to say she’s coped pretty well. Only her name gives her away as a non-French person.

Boy had a gentler introduction to the language. After we’d been here about a year, he went to a childminder a few mornings a week. He was going to start school in the September and we felt he should at least know what he was being asked to do, even if he couldn’t say much himself. The childminder had no English, so he had no option but to learn.

His first year at school was tough, but he was very little (his class was actually called “Very Little”) and it would have been tough anywhere. But, again, by the end of the year he was happy and competent. We hardly ever hear him speak French, as we just use English at home, but I’m beginning to ask him for pronunciation advice of difficult words (his rolled “r” is incredible), while we consult The Daughter on the meaning of expressions that don’t translate.

Our French isn’t terrible. And maybe with eight hours of lessons a day, four days a week, we would have been fluent after a year. But I doubt it. For adults, I think it takes a little bit longer.

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