Education Quandary

'How can we encourage our children to practise their French while we're on holiday in France?'
Click to follow

Hilary's advice

It can be hard if your children are reluctant linguists, and they always have someone else, like mum and dad, to speak up for them. And, as you say, you don't want to spoil the holiday by forcing foreign language lessons down their throat.

But it would be good to seize the moment, and demonstrate to them how speaking to people in another language will enhance their lives. Tell them that their contribution to the holiday will be getting the bread every morning, or ordering drinks at a café. They can rehearse what they need to say for that circumstance, and once they have spoken a sentence or two, and discovered the thrill of being able to communicate in another language, they may be emboldened to go further.

Teresa Tinsley of CILT, the national centre for languages, suggests doing a lot by way of casually pointing out words, getting your children to recognise them, and maybe pointing out the similarities and differences in the language. Car journeys can be good for that - an accident is un accident, for example, but the words "right" and "left" bear no resemblance to la droit and le gauche. "Or," she says, "parents can encourage their children to read things out, or help write a shopping list."

If things go well, think about planning a French exchange for your children later. Even if they seem reluctant, try to persuade them that that is when their language will really take off, and that once it has, they won't look back.

Readers' advice

Encourage your children by you, the parents, using and extending your own French, and asking your children to teach you the French they know. This could be done at every opportunity, or for a few minutes several times a day. You might all enjoy counting how many words you know on a menu or a poster, or seeing how many words everyone can catch from listening to spoken French. Bonne vacances.
M Jackman by e-mail

My advice would be, don't teach them, give them the opportunity to learn. They want to buy something in a shop? Give them the money and then conveniently melt away. They like the look of the kids playing football/eating ice creams/ showing a bit of leg in your vicinity? Make time for them to be able to get on with it. Or not; if the youngsters in question don't get the beachball/kick-about/ ice cream/snog they are after, then next year you may find a lot more French being spoken.
Geoff Saunders, London E3

If you're concerned that your children should grow up multilingual, or at least bilingual in English and French, move to France as a family and find work there. The downside is that you will pay higher taxes, but because you have two children, you'll pay low income tax. The upside is that you'll have better health care, more formal but better education for the children, better public services and transport infrastructure, and in so many ways a better quality of life.

How do I know? I've done it with my children.

Paul Hampton, Espelette, France

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary,

I have a profoundly autistic son who is beginning to go into adolescence He is also starting a new school in September. I know he needs me to help him to navigate these changes and learn how to behave as a young man. But how do I to prepare him for this next stage in life? He has very little language.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to arrive no later than next Monday 31 July at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser