A Bilingual Education in France

A bilingual education can start at a very early age in France. Here are some of the first questions that come to mind when considering this option, that for many will be a necessity.

What is the difference between a bilingual school and an international school?

Bilingual and international are both terms that designate schools offering more class hours of foreign language than is required by the normal cursus.

More often than not bilingual schools are private French system schools that include a minimum of 90 minutes a day of foreign language instruction - generally English. Many of these schools take children starting at three or four years of age, while others start only at middle school and go through high school.

Certain bilingual schools are non-French system schools and in this case they often follow Montessori based methods. It is possible to find institutions offering half-day instruction in English and half-day instruction in French. Another option is to have an English and a French teacher in the classroom at the same time. Schools using these less traditional practices generally concern only the nursery school and primary school grades.

Those carrying the label International School sometimes offer more languages than a bilingual school, but this is not necessarily so. The term International School can also denote non French system institutions which follow an all English program such as that of the International Baccalaureate Organization and which teach French as a foreign language.

What are the advantages of bilingual and international schools?

The first advantage is that your child will have a better opportunity to maintain or improve his mother tongue language skills because there are more hours of instruction in English and because native and fluent speakers are most often together for language class . As your child moves into the later primary grades and onto middle school, other subjects such as art or science can also be taught in English rather than in French.

The second advantage is that your child will have the possibility to use his mother tongue outside the classroom with friends of his age. This is particularly important for dual language families and for those who will be spending more than 3 or 4 years in France while their children are young. When French is used in school, it quickly becomes the predominate language for communicating and maintaining a good level in English becomes more difficult for many students in these circumstances.

Lastly, as well as offering the French Baccalaureate these schools usually propose the International Option of the French "Bac" and prepare students for entrance exams that lead to higher education institutions in countries such as England or the United States.

Does the public sector also have bilingual and international schools?

Yes. Public sector schools with extensive foreign language instruction are those that have what is referred to as "internationale sections." Students in these sections spend between 6 and 8 hours per week of grade equivalent instruction for the curriculum of their country of origin while receiving a French public school education. Public schools can also provide European Sections. Schools with this option offer more class hours in foreign languages, but cater mainly to French students who are good in a particular foreign language while the international sections are for very fluent speakers.

French public schools with international sections are generally located close to important cities such as Paris, Lyon, Nice, Bordeaux, Strasbourg and Toulouse. There are more middle schools (collèges) and high schools (lycèes) than primary schools proposing this alternative. European sections are more common but concern middle schools and high schools.

Can my children maintain and perfect their English language skills and learn French at the same time?

Yes, but you can't expect your children to advance in their mother tongue language skills as rapidly as they would if they were dealing with only one language. A school adapted to their needs will make the transition from one language to the other easier.


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