As a former teacher, I’m always fascinated to hear about how education looks from the other side of the classroom. I know from my own experience and from working with local immobiliers that whereas ten or twelve years ago, the typical house hunter would have been around retirement age, we’re now also seeing increasing numbers of younger people with families making a permanent move to our area of Deux Sèvres and to the South Vendée.
It’s only natural that a major consideration of such a move will be how the children will cope in school. Last week I was lucky enough to discuss this with someone who entered the French education system at the age of 14 totally unable to speak the language and who now, six years on is a fluent French speaker who passed her Baccalauréat aged 18. Catherine is a poised, confident and highly articulate young woman in her final year at Lycée who is looking forward to starting work as a PA for an International company later in the year. The first to admit that life as a teenager in a foreign country was, at times far from easy, her success has been achieved through determination and steady effort.
I thought that her comments might be a useful point of reference.
When I asked for her best advice for young people, she left the room, returning a moment later holding a pair of wickedly high heels. (Catherine, I should mention is in no danger of being overlooked being both tall and striking to look at). “If you run as fast as you can in high heels, even if you trip up, everything seems easier afterwards”, she said. I love that analogy. As she pointed out, even if you can’t speak the language very well, the very best thing to do is go for it. You might worry about tripping up but energy and determination will take you a long way. Come to think of it, that’s great advice for adults as well, although I guess most of the men I know might struggle with the running-in -heels bit!
Learning within the family situation by watching TV in French together was suggested as helpful for language learning but also as a positive experience for the whole family to share. She particularly recommended The Simpsons for its familiarity and visual humour. Trying to talk French at mealtimes is also a good way forward. Though now fluent herself, Catherine confessed to being both touched and proud when her parents try out their language skills on her French boyfriend round the dinner table.
On a more cautious note, Catherine advised all parents to avoid getting too lost in their own vision of what they want life in France to be. Teenagers, she cautions, are particularly fragile anyway and might find it much more difficult to adjust than younger children. This aside her final comment will, I hope, reassure parents thinking of making the move.
“Moving to France…”, she said, “… is the best thing my parents have ever done for me. My life is far richer. I’ve learned a new language, I have great relationships and I love life here. I’ve been pushed to extend my limits and am really proud of what I’ve achieved”.
So, if you’re considering making the move, best get out those high heels!