Education Quandary

'Our children have enjoyed learning French, but are moving to a primary offering a taste of many languages. How can we keep up their French?'
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Hilary's advice

With the wisdom of hindsight, I'd say there are two areas where parents need to stay firmly on top of children if they don't want them to miss out for ever – learning a musical instrument, and acquiring a language. In general, I am firmly against pressure parenting, but these skills need work and persistence, and both have a kind of hump that children really have to push themselves past if they are to enjoy the rewards of proficiency. Parents need to be on the case.

I know the same could be said, perhaps, of maths and science, but the truth is, if you suddenly decide you want to become a doctor at 30, you can sit down and learn what you have to, but learning a language and an instrument are both so much harder without the flexibility of youth.

I share your concerns about dabbling in languages. I've never seen the point of children learning languages such as Arabic and Mandarin except as an interesting, intellectual taster, because it seems to me that it must be almost impossible to get to any useful level of proficiency through the brief sessions offered in primary school.

Check carefully to see what your children's new school does offer. It may keep up some focused French, alongside other languages. If not, and if you can afford it, get a tutor. It would seem terrible to lose your children's learning and enthusiasm for acquiring another language because of this change of location.

Readers' advice

After teaching French in our primary for several years, we are now going to offer different languages to pupils, possibly focusing on a different one for 12 months at a time. In an ever-changing, technological world, it is vital that children have the skills to access new information independently, to prepare them for life after school. An approach that acknowledges "learning to learn" is the way forward. It will result in pupils being able to adapt rapidly to new situations and opportunities – people can now expect to change occupations on average eight times in their lifetime.

Chris Stringer, Lancashire

Our family recently decided to learn French together, and we came across a really easy and fun way of doing so using the Michel Thomas method of language learning. It's an audio way of learning, so there's no reading or writing involved and the kids actually think it's fun to learn French. Perhaps the parents might consider trying this method so that their kids can keep up with their French conversational skills, and leave the new school to give them a taste of other languages.

Laura Harvey, Solihull

If you speak French, why not declare one day a week French Day and use only French on that day? Take holidays in France, and as soon as your children are old enough, find them a French family to stay with.

M yra Lascalles, London SW1

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary,

I want to take an MA to enhance my career prospects, and there are several courses I'm interested in. However, I work and have a young family, and I'm worried about managing extra studies. Distance learning would be easiest, but I hanker after the stimulation of classes. What should I do? Should I just postpone my plans until later?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to arrive no later than Monday 8 October, to 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or email Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition