Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few of the questions that we are regularly asked - we hope that they are useful.
What is bilingualism?
Bilingualism can be simply defined as the ability to use two languages to communicate. It can mean that the individual is fluent in both languages, but it can also be used when an individual is fluent in one language and can communicate in a second.
What is a literate bilingual?
A literate bilingual is someone who is able to read and write well (preferably in line with their peer group in each language) in two languages. At Accents we aim to produce literate bilinguals – children who can read and write at the same level as their peers in the UK and France.
My child can talk & understand English so why do they need lessons?
We often find that children arriving at Accents who have been in France from a young age are missing some of the phonemes which are the fundamental building blocks of the language - even in the UK, the ‘f’ and ‘th’ sounds are often difficult to grasp until into primary school. Without understanding the language through these basic building blocks, the mispronunciation of words such as ‘thing’ (fing) means that there can be fundamental mistakes being built in their spoken language. Whilst a young child may be perceived to speak well in English, this may not be the case. You can find a list of potential issues here.
However, to make the most of their native language, children need to be taught to read and write in English too, just as they would be if they attended an English language Primary School. Being taught to read and write in French will give children some transferable skills but there are many differences between the languages that need to be taught. Simple examples of the differences would be the pronunciation of e, i, j and g in the two languages or the spelling rules which are language specific.
Will learning English harm their French?
Our experience has shown quite the opposite – developing a child’s English and giving them a solid foundation in their maternal language has been shown time and again to improve their acquisition and development of French through their school life. By enlarging their English vocabulary, they are more able to decipher new French words and by becoming literate bilinguals their overall linguistic capability increases.
Can children learn two languages at the same time?
Yes – this is in fact the norm for many areas of the world where children are brought up with a local language which is not the national language. In fact, many young children are able to speak 3 or 4 languages. Even in the UK, many children grow up with Welsh or Gaelic and English.
Can children lose their English?
Unfortunately this is very common and takes less time than one would think. Unless English is maintained in the household as a priority, written English can be lost within a couple of years and there are instances of teenagers refusing to speak English at all, ending up with similar English ability to their French peers at the end of Collège.
I have heard that bilingual children are better learners – is this true?
More than 150 major research studies now broadly conclude that when children continue to develop their abilities in two or more languages throughout their primary school years, they gain a deeper understanding of language and how to use it effectively. This metalinguistic awareness will certainly help children learn languages in the future.
My child is going to start at Maternelle soon – what should I do to prepare her?
It really helps if your child can understand some basic commands in French before starting school – simple expressions that she will hear on her first day like take off your coat, put on your coat, stand up, sit down etc. A great way to do this is to put her in the local garderie or with a childminder (nou nou) for a couple of sessions each week. Whilst she may not be chatting back in French straight away, she will get used to the language and being separated from you before the big first day at school.
My Maternelle teacher has told me I need to read and talk in French but I can't speak French – what should I do?
It is important to remember that most Maternelle teachers are not experts in bilingualism and their main goal is to get the children comfortable in French as soon as possible. However, it has been proven many times that speaking to your child in a language you are not fluent in is harmful to their language acquisition. Children are highly perceptive to language in their early years, so hearing their most important influences (parents) speaking a language incorrectly will encourage them to pick up your faults. At the same time you are limiting their exposure to your native language and their opportunity to learn their maternal language. If your teacher asks you to read French books, we’d recommend that you explain why this has now been proved to be harmful and suggest that you make up an English story around the pictures in the book, after all this activity is as much about enjoying books together as it is a language lesson.
My child is muddling up his French and English – should I be worried?
This is quite normal - research indicates that the ability to switch back and forth between languages, sometimes called code-switching, is a sign of mastery of two linguistic systems, not a sign of language confusion, and that children as young as 2 are able to code-switch. Research also shows that many normally developing bilingual children mix their two languages, with the type and amount of code-switching depending on environmental factors, such as how much the parents or wider community engage in code-switching.
My child has been diagnosed with a speech impediment and I have been told it is because they are bilingual – what should I do?
Speech therapists who deal with mono-lingual children may not be aware of the latest research that clearly shows that there is no link proven link between bilingualism and speech impediments, in fact experts now go further and state that bilingualism is not the cause of language delay and language disorder. It is therefore recommended that you continue to talk in English at home as previously and seek a knowledgeable professional to help with the underlying issues.
My child receives English lessons at school so why should I consider extra lessons?
English lessons at French schools are based on Teaching English as a Foreign Language which means that the vocabulary and sentence structure is not age appropriate for a native English speaker. Whilst some teachers will give out work sheets to the English speakers to occupy them, there are few that will develop a curriculum that will ensure that their standard of English remains consistent with their peers in the UK. This is where Accents can help.
We already have a lot of homework to do – how could we cope with extra English too?
All children in French school have regular English lessons – as much as 5 hours per week in Collège. These are a great opportunity for Accents children to do their homework. We recommend that you take time to explain to the teacher the reasons why Accents is important and ask that they allow the homework to be done in the lessons. We have found that this still leaves plenty of time to help out in class with the conversation part but means that they are using the rest of the lesson productively.
Why does my child need to be able to read and write in English?
There is no doubt now that English is the commercial language of the world. Whilst it may not be the most widely spoken, it is the one language in which all nationalities can converse. It is the language of the internet, of science and international affairs. Anyone with an English-language background will be expected to be fully literate in their mother tongue, not being so will put children at a severe disadvantage when they set out to get a job, after all there will always be plenty of candidates who are fluent in their mother tongue as well as English. It’s estimated that about half of EU citizens can converse in a second language – that’s 450 million people, so it’s important to stand out in the crowd.
We’re returning to the UK – how can I prepare my child?
We would suggest that you get a realistic view of your child’s English level so that you can assess what can be realistically achieved before you return. Leaving France and their friends will already be a challenge, so being able to fit in at their new school will be especially important and being able to take part in and enjoy lessons will be central to this. If you require some help in this planning, contact us and we’ll see if we can help.Should we watch English or French television?
There is no right or wrong answer to this and it comes down to family choice. Watching French TV will help your child’s acquisition of French as well as help your child fit in with their peer group when discussing what was on on Saturday night. However, often TV is a time to wind down so English TV is preferred. In addition, after a day at school in French, English TV can help get the language balance equal as well as to ensure their English is current and evolving in line with the UK. Finally, English TV can help them understand the UK a bit more – who are the key people and what the customs and traditions are.
My child doesn’t recognise the Queen – does this matter?
A shared culture is important to all families and it helps children understand who they are. Often they feel neither French nor English but the flip side of this is that they can feel both. Culture is a key part of helping them feel comfortable with this split nationality, knowing how to be either British or French and fit in in both cultures is important as our children grow. Knowing about the traditions and people is important in this context and there are many ways this can be achieved from watching television through to regular visits to the UK.
Why does Accents charge for activities?
Accents prides itself on providing quality language support. To achieve this, we employ professionals to teach our children, purchase the best resources from the UK and ensure that insurance and other administrative tasks are taken care of. This all costs money and we receive no outside funding at all. We therefore have to cover these costs through our course fees but we do all we can to keep these to a minimum and are proud to have not implemented an increase in the 4 years we have been open.
What is an Association?
In France there is a special statute for not-for-profit organisations designated under a law passed in 1901 (“Loi 1901”). Associations benefit from generous allowances (no professional taxes etc.) but have to meet strict financial criteria. As an Association, Accents is owned by its members and no profit can be take out of the organisation (although individuals can be employed by the association).
Is there a discount of multiple children?
We offer a 20% discount on second child places for members of the same family.
Can I pay by instalments?
All our courses are payable in monthly instalments. The only thing we ask is that you provide us with all the cheques up front.
What happens if I have to leave the course?
If you need to leave the course and we can find someone to replace your child, then we will refund the fees still outstanding. However, if we are unable to fill the place then we are unable to refund the fees.
What programme does Accents follow?
Accents follows Ruth Miskin’s Read Write Inc. with the younger children. This is a popular and successful phonetic system developed in the UK and fits well with the methods in French schools. For older children we use a variety of resources all in use un UK schools.
What age can my child start at Accents?
We recommend that children start at Accents as they enter Grande Section. This means that they will have a year learning to read and write in English before learning to read and write in French. In the UK, they start to read and write even earlier but there is no proof that this results in an increased ability. Children can start later but they will be placed in a group with the same linguistic ability where the children may be younger.
Can French children join Accents?
French children are welcome to join the English literacy classes if they are fluent in English. As English is the language of instruction, it is essential that they fully understand the language verbally. For children who are not fluent in English, we recommend the other English language activities such as English Club.