How to improve holidays with chidren

Hey Mum, let's learn a new language
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The Independent Travel

We have just returned from France, and we've all come back rather different in our own little ways. All my clothes appear to have shrunk, for example, while Stanley has lost both his baby front teeth. The loss was traumatic for him, not least because he didn't think the tooth fairy would be able to find our provençal hamlet (she had sat-nav, thankfully).

However, it's my 10-year-old who has had the most significant "personal journey", because, in the space of two, short weeks in France, he's done some growing up. For starters, he's taken his first independent steps in the big, wide world - we let him go into the village all on his own - and he's finally learnt the point of after-school French club.

As he ambled off to the boulangerie, he was struck by a horrifying realisation: he'd have to actually speak to someone when he got there. He's never taken any interest in learning the language before, but at that moment he realised something very important: being able to parle a bit of français can be rather useful in getting you what you want - pains au chocolat, for example. He's been pretty much glued to his French phrasebook ever since.

I'm pleased because Patrick is doing something I wish I'd done as a child. I daydreamed through French lessons, and it's left me with embarrassingly poor skills - my kids love to tell everyone how I ordered jus de pomme de terre last time they asked me for apple juice at the local restaurant.

So to avoid future embarrassment on my part, and to keep Patrick's interest kindled, I've decided that the whole family needs some French lessons - and where better to have them than in France? A number of mini-courses for children and their rusty parents can be found, and you get to stay in some beautiful places.

One British company, Experience Language (0845-458 0578; experiencelanguage.co.uk), which describes itself as a "language travel agent", offers accommodation at "Le Château", a school set in spacious grounds near Nice, where you and your kids can take lessons with like-minded families. The programme includes an afternoon sailing, day trips and sports and games (parents and children under 12 have their own school in the nearby village of St Raphael).

French companies specialising in language holidays include the Centre International d'Antibes (00 33 870 40 7434; cia-france.com/family), which will accommodate you in a selected residence on the Côte d'Azur and offers tuition and activities tailored to your family's specific requirements. Accord Language School runs similar courses in Paris (0845 458 0578; paris-junior.com).

But if you don't fancy going back to the classroom, why not book a tutor to come to you? I've got my eye on the Maison Haute, a lovely, old restored gîte with pool in the Dordogne, where you can book a personal French tutor for your little treasures (dordognehomes.com, property 24366). I'm already dreaming about having my whole family sitting round the table in the pretty, old courtyard, speaking French to each other over dinner. Jus de pomme, anyone?

Katy's top tip

For a whole array of kids' residential courses in France, Italy, Spain or Germany, check out the Junior Language Holidays offered by Cactus (0845- 130 4775; www.cactuslanguage.com).

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