Food for thought: When Majority Language schooling confirms decision of raising trilingual

The summer holidays are looming over here in Europe.  School children in France will finish tomorrow, and in prevision are bringing home to keep their exercise books that have spent the last academic year in their pigeonhole at school.

Tuesday night, my eldest hit home with the heaviest of school bags.  On Wednesday morning, she unpacked it to remove all the books that are to be put away.  Among the pile was her English exercise book. English being our minority language, my curiosity was violently piqued, as I had so far never seen it and my daughter had never had English homework.  Although I did not expect much from 1 hour of English a week for Year 2 kids in a Majority Language (ML) state school, I was in for a shock. 7 worksheets. That is all that they did since last October, first date featured in the exercise book (when the school year began at the beginning of September…).  Of course, I am sure there must have been a lot of repetition (language learning requires a lot of it!) and oral activities besides these written exercises, but I still found it very little. Here are the pictures of all the worksheets to believe it:

In Year 2, schooling prioritises ML literacy and numeracy skills ; which I naturally and unconditionally support as they are the foundations of education.  With respect to foreign languages at this class level, the aim of the ML national school programme is to initiate children to a foreign language so they can understand, speak and take part in a conversation; which sounds ambitious and promising.  However, an hour a week seems too little even for such an aim, especially if you want a decent end-result by the time the child finishes school. Of course, hours and work will increase throughout the schooling, but not in a constructive way when it comes to fostering a fluency, let alone bilingualism. 

This approach to foreign languages is precisely what decided my husband and I to raise our daughters in English in addition to Spanish, which is my husband’s mother tongue. Though I am no native English-speaker, I speak the language well enough and am comfortable to raise our children in it.  And by doing so, we offer them language opportunities the ML state school does not provide, unlike in other countries; such as the Netherland, Sweden or Finland, where children do not necessarily start earlier but seem to have a better language education approach. Undoubtedly, there is always a question of means in state schools.  Yet, I cannot help but feel like there is more to it: a cultural issue. It is funny that last Tuesday I happened to discuss the topic over lunch-time with a colleague, who also believes France, our ML country, has a cultural issue with language learning.

Obviously, I do not rely on these school lessons to support our trilingual aim as regards English.  My daughter already knew all of these topics and could communicate in English well before starting primary school.  At best, in the long-run English lessons at school will just act as a support in the acquisition of English writing skills (grammar, conjugation, spelling…).

Discovering what my daughter has been taught this year gives me a real feel of what it would have been like relying on ML school  to teach her English. And more than ever, it comforts me in our trilingual education decision, in spite of the challenges.  

If you are a parent considering raising your child in English because your ML schooling has this kind of flaws, I cannot encourage you enough to go ahead.  Raising bilingual is a daily challenge, but it is so rewarding besides blessing your child with a wonderful gift they are unlikely to acquire otherwise.

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