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To Move or not to Move - that is the question


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Hi, we are a family of 5 with 3 daughters aged 7, 5 and 1 and we are seriously considering a job offer and move to the Perpignon area.

We have previously lived in Spain so are not unrealistic about what a move to a foreign-speaking country entails (our children learnt Spanish as toddlers but have now lost it). However, this time our eldest 2 are school age and currently speak no French. My head and all the information available tells me that if we put them straight into a French school that they will learn the language easily but my heart worries about the pain that this will cost. I've read the testimonies on thir forum both good and bad - can anybody give me some more positive feedback!

My specific questions are these:

Does anybody know about any intensive family French courses that we could attend before moving there?

What do they do when they start school - just sit looking at the teacher understanding nothing? Our eldest is at a very formative age, particularly sensitive, very anxious to do well and sometimes cries when she can't do her school work - we are really worried about how she would deal with it.

How long would it take before they are comfortable in school?

What could we do to ease the transition?

They are not especially outgoing but very socialable girls with many friends here in the UK and I am worried about them being lonely until they learn the French - is there anybody out there with similar age children in the Perpignon area? I think just having one or two friends can make all the difference.

This whole issue is our biggest stumbling block about whether or not to make the move. Can anybody help us with this decision?!
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We came over eighteen months ago with our then five year old. In the UK she was quite clingy and didn't like change. She was in reception class in the UK when we left and had made some lovely friends. We had the same reservations as you. However, we didn't overwhelm her with the language beforehand but played games with French words involving numbers, colours, animals etc. She started here at the Maternelle in the Grande section, local village school, no other English children. Eighteen months later, she's getting straight A's, loves school, is totally fluent and never ceases to amaze us. You will have hurdles to get over to begin with, but children are much more adaptable than us adults. You will also find that the children are treated as local celebrities and there will be no end to their friendliness. Good Luck and I hope this helps.
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As an add on to my previous post to you , both our children had extra help in school from a teacher who comes in to help any child with difficulties ie slow learner or as in our case nonfrench speaker. The elder girl said she was shown flip cards and asked what they were in french and after a while was not sent for again but comments that this teacher will find her at break times to ask questions,what is she eating ? Where did you go at weekend etc.The younger one goes each week for 3/4 hour to a teacher who has made us a tape to listen to which goes with her worksheets ,Aparently every none french speaking child is entitled to this extra tuition which we didn`t ask for..we were just ready for a long hard slog...but the school sent a note home for each child asking for permission to take them out of the class!(I supose the same way in UK if your child needs extra support you need to be aware)
Our eldest is staying in what we refere to as junior school for another year(should be going to senior in UK this time) to boost up her language and we are all happy with this.
The youngest is going into the `junior` school this year(7 in sept) so far,and as I said have grasped the lingo far beyond how we expected
Have you decided on a specific town or village yet?
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Yes, there may well be pain involved if you move to France, but your children will get over it as they are very young. Don't let it be a barrier to moving - if you think you can give them a better life over here, it will be worth the disruption.

We had lots of trauma, tears and parental guilt starting our 4-year-old at Maternelle (moyenne section) 18 months ago. The school was in a large village and had single-age classes of around 25. Our son was completely lost. He was at the school for a year and only made one friend towards the end of that time. The teachers were kind but there was no special help. He never spoke French there but did learn to understand it.

Things improved greatly when we moved to our permanent home and he transferred to the village school here, which is tiny (two classes, each with about 20 kids, mixed ages). Our 3-year-old also started school here. They immediately became part of the school community, and made friends quickly. They now speak French with their friends, but this has taken time. And they have all the advantages of space and life in the country that they couldn't have had in London.

In our experience, a small school was much easier for the children to adjust to. However, there is the problem of lack of facilities and lack of opportunities at tiny village schools. We envisage having to send our children to larger schools in the nearby town at around 8 or 9 - they would rot with boredom at the village school by the age of 11.

Also if your partner (or yourself) is going to work for a French company, be prepared for the fact that your children may hardly see him in the week due to the culture of long working hours among management ('cadres'). It's normal to stay at work until 7.30 or 8 pm - the 35 hour week is a myth except for hourly-paid workers and civil servants!

Good luck

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